Another chance for Lansing to protect bike riders
First, there is no question that what Brandon Nickson did is reprehensible. The former Casco Township resident confessed to beating his girlfriend’s dog to death in April. Despite the evidence, his lawyer argued at his sentencing Monday that Nickson didn’t torture the animal and that his only failing was as a pet owner.
Nickson pleaded guilty in a deal to avoid felony charges. He was sentenced to a year in jail.
To animal advocates complaining that it doesn’t seem like much punishment, consider that if he had killed a bicycle rider instead he would probably be out of jail already. He might have been sentenced to six months in jail, and with credit for time served, he would be back on the streets about now.
State lawmakers are looking at laws that would make Michigan safer for bicycle riders. Motivated in part by the tragic deaths last year in Kalamazoo of five cyclists, lawmakers have again introduced safe-passing legislation. The bills would require drivers to give bicycle riders at least five feet of space when passing them.
Thirty states have safe passing distance laws to protect bicyclists and other vulnerable roadway users. Most set the standard at 3 feet. Pennsylvania requires 4 feet. South Dakota requires 6 feet at speeds greater than 35 mph and 3 feet at lower speeds.
Roadway safety experts argue the standard keeps bicycle riders, pedestrians and motorists safer by keeping them out of each others’ way. Legal authorities argue that it makes it easier to police bad behavior by drivers and bicycle riders. That’s because when there is a clear line delineating who should be where, it is easier to tell who is doing something they shouldn’t.
It works in other states. There is no reason to believe that asking Michigan drivers to pass only when it is safe to do so would create gridlock on Court Street.
This isn’t the first time the Michigan Legislature has considered a safe passing distance bill. Previous versions have died in committee. Perhaps the Kalamazoo massacre will motivate passage of the current bill.
It would be a start toward making our streets safer for all users. Companion bills raising penalties for causing an accident while texting or phoning would help as well.