A Town Hall & Reactive Advocacy

Nanney Town HallI attended one Town Hall and a few speaking events in the past few months, all in response to H.4923, the “bike liability bill” proposed by Representative Nanney in March 2013.  This bill died and we’re better for it.  However, Wendy Nanney and all of her constituents are our neighbors and we need to remember that.  But more on that later.

The Town Hall took place at Bob Jones University and was initiated by Representative Wendy Nanney.  Three (3) people showed up in support of H.4923.  Approximately 50 people opposed to H.4923 were present.

The “conversation” generated at this town hall was quite interesting.  A constituent asked Rep. Nanney to help by defining the problem.  She stated there are lots of bikes on the roads, they’re slowing traffic, and the problem is bikes are causing cars to hit each other and they should be liable.  She further stated bicyclists aren’t carrying IDs if they are caught breaking the law, and she just wants the law to state that bicyclists should yield to cars.  Law enforcement leadership from Greenville County were on hand, and they stated more education and enforcement may be needed, but they did not find a serious problem of bicyclists breaking laws in the roadways, relative to motor vehicle traffic enforcement, outside of the Swamp Rabbit Trail.  The Coalition currently has a statewide Education initiative, supported in part by the SC Department of Public Safety.

To Rep. Nanney’s credit, she invited anyone to speak for 5 minutes.  Some spoke of the real need to focus on Engineering first, and Education and Enforcement secondary to that.  Others spoke of the road rage problem we face, and that this bill will not make a dent in what is a larger societal problem.  Ricky Darwin of the Spartanburg Freewheelers, an upstate bike club with the largest membership base in the country, stated any related legislation would merely heighten the existing sense of entitlement with drivers.  Scott McCrary spoke eloquently about the need for visionary politicians, not ones who just listen to the squeaky wheels. The real question is ‘what do we want our cities to look like and how do we want people to behave’?  I mentioned some basic stats that demonstrate bicyclists are here to stay in SC:  the urban population shift, the 50% increase in bike commuters in the last decade, gas prices and reductions in car travel, millenials not purchasing cars, and the costs savings in infrastructure and our pocketbooks from bicycling.

I think we all know H.4923 died for a good reason, because the legality and costs of regulating a non-dangerous vehicle didn’t work in other states, and South Carolinians certainly won’t let it stand.  The news hasn’t died.  I spoke at Outspokin’ Bicycle Shop in Columbia soon after visiting Greenville for Nanney’s Town Hall. Aaron West was there, and he thought on how we need to move forward after this reactive advocacy that we engaged in.  After all, Wendy and others that do not bike now are actually future bicyclists, believe it or not. Yes, we need to respond quickly, accurately, and sometimes reactively, but we’ve lost the fight if we don’t believe Nanney is a future bicyclist.  Aaron nailed it with this blog excerpt:  

“Following traffic laws is just a small part of what we can do. I try to be aware of when cars are behind me. If there are several that cannot pass, then sometimes I will stop and let them go by. Sure, I cannot stand it, but it makes a difference. When a car waits patiently to pass me and gives me a wide berth, I will acknowledge with a friendly wave as they pass, thanking them for their courtesy. Some may still curse me as they drive by, but some will momentarily think: ‘That cyclist was a nice guy. I’m glad I was patient with him.’ The little things make a difference …. We have to be aware that there will be people who will try to slow us down, literally and figuratively. We have to be prepared for it …. and keep pushing for progress in our community.”  

Thanks, Aaron, and any others willing to put your thoughts in print.  If you’re so inclined to write a Letter to the Editor or blogpost, see our tips.  

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Amy Johnson Ely

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