Bike Michiana

resources, news, observations and ideas about bicycling in the Michiana area

Pro-SB553 Viewpoint in Today’s Tribune

Posted by Henry Scott on January 30, 2009

Paul Taylor, a leader in the effort to revamp Indiana’s bicycle laws, wrote a Viewpoint that was published in today’s South Bend Tribune.

In a previous post to, Paul provided a detailed summary of the bill, complete with a government link to the actual bill and instructions for how to email your legislator. Please feel free to post comments with questions and concerns.

Tell legislators you support proposed bike safety law



Hoosier adults love to bicycle. Americans love to bicycle, yet less than one in three adults does so. Why? Largely because they’re afraid of automobile traffic. They shouldn’t be afraid, but they are. Respectful? Yes. Fearful? No.

Hoosier kids love to bicycle. And a majority of them do. But mostly around the block near home. Many would love to ride to the park, to friends, the library, or even to school. But they don’t. Why? Because their parents’ anxiety about automobile traffic keeps them on a short leash.

Indiana needs to update Hoosier bike laws.

Too many adults (and not enough children) frequently mention their concerns of being hit by a car, in spite of the fact that only 1 out of 10 cycling injuries involves a moving motor vehicle. We need a strengthened cycling law that will reduce riders’ uncertainty and alleviate some of their fears by confirming their rights and giving them extra protection on the road.

Many motorists don’t know how to treat cyclists: “Can I drive in a bike lane? Can I park there? Why is that biker pointing to the sky?” Many of Indiana’s vehicle laws go back to the days before bike lanes were even thought of — to when turns and stops were signaled by rolling down the window and sticking an arm out, when street cars were an important part of mass transit, when automated traffic signals did not exist. We need to strengthen the law that helps motorists and human powered vehicles share the road.

Senate Bill 553 (Bicycles and Safety) meets those needs.

The bill would eliminate the requirements that a cyclist must be equipped with a bell, but shall not be equipped with a whistle, and remove the redundant stipulation that a bike may not have a siren.

A cyclist would be allowed to carry a bundle in one hand.

A bicycle would be more clearly defined as a vehicle, rather than a device, and the law would include hand-powered cycles (used by some handicapped cyclists).

Baby seats and “tag-alongs” are clearly allowed by the proposed law.

It simplifies the language prohibiting cyclist from hitching rides on motor vehicles.

Bicycle brakes would not be required to make the braked wheel skid.

The penalty for violating this chapter of the law would be increased.

The bill would increase the visibility of bikes at night by continuing to require a headlight, adding a red taillight, and adding reflective material visible from the side. Either light could be flashing or solid.

The new law would make it clear that when on a sidewalk or cross walk, a bike has all the rights and privileges of a pedestrian, but must yield to pedestrians.

There would be significant improvements to turn signals. A cyclist may now signal a right turn by extending a right arm.

The bill has a new bicycle-passing provision modeled after the existing vehicle code, but enhanced for bikes: Other vehicles must pass with a minimum 3 feet of clearance.

“Bicycle lane” is defined in the proposed law. A bike lane is designated by pavement markings or signage and can be either part of the roadway or separated from the roadway. It is for the preferential or exclusive use of bicyclists. Motorist may not block the lane, and must yield to bikes that are using it.

If a bike can’t trip a traffic control sensor, the rider could treat the red light as a flashing red and proceed through the intersection.

Helmets would be required for children 17 and younger. Indiana would join 22 other states with similar laws.

The proposal requires a cyclist to carry personal identification listing his or her name and address, either on the cyclist’s person or attached to the bike.

There is an anti-harassment provision.

Indiana would be among the most progressive of states.

Once this law is enacted, cyclists will know they are more secure in riding their bikes, and more will take to the road and trails, getting valuable exercise. Safe routes to school will take on added meaning, and Indiana will be perceived to have improved quality of life. There will be increased mobility, especially for children, low-income earners and Hoosiers who shun motor vehicles on religious grounds.

Since 25 percent of all trips are made within a mile of the home, people will start using their bikes more for transportation, reducing oil consumption and improving air quality while reducing traffic congestion and parking woes.

Motorists will be more aware and understanding of cyclists due to the sections in the proposed law on bike lanes, hand signals, and nighttime bike visibility.

While we cannot legislate common sense, we have an obligation to make the rules of the road as clear and understandable as possible. SB 553 does that by strengthening two of the legs that support safe and healthful bicycling: the legs that govern motor and human powered vehicles on the road. And the bill has no impact on the budget or taxes, just on safety!

This bill is really needed.

Cyclists need to contact their state senators and representatives, showing support. The Indiana General Assembly needs to know it has the support of constituents, and it needs to pass this bill.

As President John F. Kennedy said, “Nothing compares with the simple pleasure of a bike ride.” We need to make that simple pleasure safer.

Paul L Taylor is secretary of the Bike Michiana Coalition. He lives in South Bend


12 Responses to “Pro-SB553 Viewpoint in Today’s Tribune”

  1. Paul Taylor said

    Many bikers in Michiana are contacting their legislators. One biker shared an e-mail exchange she had with her Representative. She wrote a well phrased e-mail to him, citing the provisions on bike lanes and penalties as being as being worthwhile, and asking for his support.

    His reply:

    “Sorry, but I think bicycles should be on the sidewalk not in the streets. I will not be supporting this bill. Craig Fry”

  2. Adam Bee said

    That’s the kind of arrogant rudeness you can expect from someone drunk on power. I guess voters in Indiana House 5th District (most of Mishiwaka, Osceola, and some of west Elkhart) know where they stand with Fry!

    Hopefully someone will mount a primary challenge in 2010. Someone who actually lives in the district and doesn’t get a kickback salary from a state institution like Ivy Tech.

  3. John Engbers said

    I wrote a similar email to Mr. Fry and received this respose:

    “Thanks for your comments, but bikes in the street cause a dangerous situation.

    Craig Fry”

    Ironically, in my comments I asked him to note that the bill was not whether or not it was legal for a bicycle to be in the street, but an update to rules regarding this and rules regarding bicycles on sidewalks. I was very respectful, but I wish that he had some better logic in his response.

  4. Henry Scott said

    Thanks for posting the response you received, John. Ironically, seeing these responses from Mr. Fry has dramatically increased my sense that improved legislation is needed.

  5. Jeff Nixa said

    Senator Broden received word today that our Senate Bill 553 will be heard in the Senate Committee on Homeland Security, Transportation and Veterans Affairs on Tuesday (Feb. 10th).

    Tim Mayer is checking to see if witnesses are needed/helpful at this early point in the bill’s journey.

  6. Paul Taylor said

    On Feb. 5, Senator Travis Holdman was added as second author of SB 0533. He is a Republican from District 19, which is an area between Fort Wayne and Muncie. With Sen. Holdman as an author, the bill now has bipartisan support, which greatly increases its viability.

    Regarding Rep. Fry. A number of people have shared with me their e-mail exchanges between themselves and Rep. Fry. I’ve accumulated quite a collection which I am quietly holding. To Rep. Fry’s credit, he answers his e-mail promptly, and speaks his mind; that’s something we can’t say of all our elected officials.

  7. Adam Bee said

    That’s true, and maybe he doesn’t realize how offensive and dangerous his responses are.

  8. Paul Taylor said

    The bill is slowly moving through the Senate. The bill will be heard tomorrow, February 10. Two members of the Bike Michiana Coalition’s Legislative Team (Tim Maher and myself) are going down to Indy for the hearing, where we will meet Nancy Tibbett, who is Executive Director of the Indiana Bicycle Coalition. Tim and Nancy will each have about 5 minutes to speak on behalf of the bill.

    The chair of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security, Transportation, & Veterans Affairs is Senator Wyss; Sen. Holdman, who is a 2nd author of the bill, is a member of that committee.

  9. Paul Taylor said

    Tim Maher and I were in Indy yesterday, Feb 10, to attend the Committee Hearing on the bill. We met Sen. Broden, Nancy Tibbett, and Sharon Repka, and all 5 of us testified in favor of the bill. You haven’t heard me mention Sharon before; I met her for the first time yesterday. She is an advocate from Fort Wayne.

    Before our bill was heard, we listened to testimony and discussion on the Red Light Camera bill, and a resolution stating that Indiana does not want prisoners from Guantanamo Bay. Interesting stuff.

    When our bill was heard and discussed, there were only two negative comments.

    1) A representative from the insurance industry spoke against a provision that exempts bicyclists from virtually any negligence. Without going into detail, I’ll just say that I consider this a technicality that crept into the wording, that we need to correct, and which we will correct. He also said that the bill had some good provisions. We had a nice chat with him in the hall after the hearing. He was a nice young man (young by by my standards), and is himself, a bicyclist.

    2) One of the Senators on the panel had a discouraging statement during their discussion following our testimony. She said she had a problem with the 3-foot passing provision. She voiced the opinion that if she allowed 3-feet clearance, that would mean she might have to cross the center-line; I forget her terminology, but bottom line is, she didn’t think a bike and this new law should force her to cross a yellow center-line.

    At the conclusion, the committee’s action was to hold the bill, which Sen. Broden had already told us would probably happen. In the next week, Sen. Broden will be able to file an amendment correcting the liability problem (and a sidewalk technicality also). Tim & Sen. Broden will get together to work out the language on those two issues. After that, we await a hearing on the amendment.

    All in all, I was quite pleased, and I got a nice education on the legislative process.

  10. Jeff Nixa said

    Very helpful update on the bill, Paul. And you only received two negative comments on the language? Both fixable or addressable? That’s a victory. Thanks to all four of you (and Sen. Broden) for your pro bono work on this.

  11. Paul Taylor said

    The following appeared on the VOICE OF THE PEOPLE page of the South Bend Tribune on February 14.

    Sometimes, problem is the cyclist

    In response to the Jan. 30 Viewpoint regarding Bicycles and Safety, Senate Bill 553, this bill seems to put the burden of proof in case of an accident on the motor vehicle operator and not on an irresponsible bicyclist.

    Allowing bicyclists to carry things in one hand, thereby making it difficult to brake and signal properly, is foolish and dangerous. There are backpacks and baskets for that purpose.

    Allowing bicycles to cross an intersection on a red light as if it were a flashing red light gives bicycles much more latitude than automobiles. And how many parents are going to make sure their children have ID with them at all times when they ride? I am a cyclist, but I do not agree with these changes to the current law.

    This is the time of year in Indiana when the weather becomes too dangerous for bicycles. Yet there are far too many bicyclists who think they are invincible and continue to ride in the snow. If it is dangerous to drive a car, it is life-threatening to ride a bike. Who is at fault if a cyclist loses control on ice or snow and is hit by a car?
    Sharon Norton
    South Bend

  12. Adam Bee said

    Some “cyclist”. I haven’t fallen once in two years since I got studded tires. Ms. Norton should give them a try sometime. With fewer drivers out I actually feel safer in the winter than in the summer, with fewer close calls.

    On what basis does Ms. Norton claim that riding in winter is too dangerous? Has she tried it herself? Certainly drivers have killed fewer cyclists in winter than they have in summer.

    Not only that, but I also have zero problems braking with both hands while having a banana or in one hand. Signaling with an object in one hand is so trivial that I can’t even imagine what she’s thinking. What’s difficult about signaling with a water bottle?

    Why shouldn’t cyclists have more latitude than drivers? After all, it’s their skin on the line. Drivers kill each other much more often than they kill cyclists. A cyclist has never yet killed any driver.

    I agree that the ID requirement is a bit silly, though.

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