To truly improve safety for bicyclists, the issue must be addressed all year round
A quick look back:
On July 1st, 2010, Mississippi became the 16th state in nation to pass a 3 foot safe passing law. This effort was led by the combined efforts of Bike Walk Mississippi, bicycle advocates across the state and members of the state Legislature’s Transportation committee.
In 2010, following the passage of the law, Bike Walk Mississippi began a statewide effort to educate the public about the 3 foot law and partnered with the Frerer family and the Mississippi Department of Transportation to record multiple radio spots focused the 3 foot law and distributed across the state.
In 2011, Bike Walk Mississippi launched the first “Wear Yellow Day”, a statewide day of awareness for bicycle safety and a show of support from over 1,500 bicyclists and their loved ones. “Wear Yellow Day”, now an annual event brought new levels of public awareness to the issues surrounding bicycle safety in Mississippi.
In 2014, Bike Walk Mississippi partnered with the Natchez Trace Parkway Association, the Gary Holdiness Cycling Fund, the National Park Service and Adventure Cycling Association to hold a series of focus groups across the length of the Trace to help determine methods to make experiencing the park safer for both cyclists and motorists. These efforts resulted in a pilot program of increased signage and sharrows, safety testing and videos focusing on the need to view the Natchez Trace as a National park.
In 2014, Bike Walk Mississippi announced the launch of its statewide “Change Lanes to Pass” campaign, an effort to bring increased attention to the legal ability (1 of only 7 states) that ALLOWS a motorist to change lanes in a non-passing zone to pass a bicyclist after they have determined they can do so safely.
In 2015, the Change Lanes to Pass campaign:
- Launched a stand alone website, www.changelanestopass.com, which includes free bicycle safety information available for download including posters, pocket guides, an online reporting system and free brochures that clubs, advocates, schools or others can print and distribute.
- Released a series of videos focusing on educating the general public about Mississippi law, the ability to safely pass and focused on humanizing people riding bikes. In partnership with Moore’s Bike Shop and the John Paul Frerer Memorial Foundation, these videos also ran throughout south Mississippi on WDAM TV.
In 2016, Bike Walk Mississippi partnered with the Gulf Regional Planning Commission, Biloxi Police Department, the Chattanooga Police Department’s Safe Bicycling Initiative and Bike Law, a nationwide network of bicycle lawyers to host Mississippi’s first statewide dialog circle with law enforcement officers. From this gathering, Bike Walk Mississippi discovered patterns of behavior and misinformation (such as the unwillingness to write citations if officers did not personally witness the collision). Read more about the sessions here and here. Following the dialog session, several officers also took place in bicycle skills classes to learn on-bike skills and traffic safety.
Anyone who rides a bicycle or loves someone who rides has probably seen the helmet-cam video posted to social media this week involving a collision on the Natchez Trace. In this specific case, the driver has been arrested and charged with reckless endangerment with a deadly weapon, leaving the scene of an accident with injury, failure to report, and leaving the scene without rendering aid. If you are a cyclist in Mississippi, you know that this is not always the outcome. However, if you were to only look at the details of this collision on Facebook, you may end up scratching your head about what the actual law stipulates or so frustrated (never read the comments!) about the lack of compassion that so many can have for people riding bicycles. The video itself has made its way around the internet, even reaching the national news and bicycle advocates as far away as Australia. Bike Walk Mississippi has been working to improve safety for people who walk or ride bicycles for over two decades. If you drive a car, ride a bicycle, run or even cross a street walking, road safety is an issue that everyone can take efforts to change.
While we typically focus our efforts on state and local roads (the Natchez Trace has its own bicycle safety organization), as the statewide bicycle advocacy group in Mississippi, we have had many questions about the incident, particularly about the nuances involved, the proper right of way and the interpretation of the law. One thing to remember is that the Natchez Trace is national park and a Federal road that runs through three different states. Each state has its own laws that dictate proper passing on state and local roads. With that understanding and due to this particular occurrence in the the state of Tennessee and the unique issues due to the road’s federal jurisdiction, this issue is best clarified further by the Natchez Trace and Federal officials, you can find their statements here and here). Bike Walk Mississippi believes that the most productive way forward is to focus on long-term and sustainable changes, increased mutual respect, education, safety, enforcement and access for all people who walk or ride a bicycle in Mississippi, whether they do so by choice or by need. Much like other social issues of our time, it is not that the issues themselves that are new - in many cases, it is the camera’s that are new. And, like many issues that are brought into our view on news programs or social media, we must choose to make a difference by dedicating ourselves to chipping away at the solutions all year round. We are asking cyclists to use this opportunity to educate others about Mississippi law and to focus on a dialog that reminds all users of their rights and their responsibilities. Specifically, to use this time to remind friends and family that, in Mississippi it is legal to change lanes (even in a non-passing zone) in order to pass a bicyclist safely.
Bike Walk Mississippi has been working for over two decades to improve safety for bicyclists and pedestrians in Mississippi and to educate both the general public and law enforcement regarding safe passing. After working to pass Mississippi’s 3 foot law in 2010, Bike Walk Mississippi has been working for the past 7 years to increase awareness of the law. We have partnered with bicycle lawyers, enforcement officers, district attorneys and specialists from across the nation and we have created a statewide campaign based on national best practices. And, as an advocacy organization that has been working on these issues since the 90’s, that is to say - we are in it for the long haul. It is not our desire to simply express our anger or frustrations on social media but, to continue our work for justice, education and true reform. We want to truly change the system, influence public behavior and usher in a true culture shift in the us vs. them mentality. We want to encourage a shift in the public conversation from whether or not people believe bicyclists should be allowed on the roads to one that educates, guides and encourages good behavior and mutual respect on all sides. Sure, we understand that some are just bad apples, and that happens on both sides - but we must also live the change we want to see and do everything we can as people who ride bikes to remind motorist’s that we are also mother’s and fathers, daughter’s and sons. Just as easy as it is to lump all bicyclists together, it is easy to do that with motorists. But, most of us also drive, as do our family and friends. We must start with our actions as well by asking all bicyclists to be part of the solution by following the rules of the road and to do their part while we also expect motorists to do theirs. And, we must continue to have productive dialog and education with law enforcement, district attorney’s and the general public.
1. Have discussions with these friends and family and get their perspective on the law. Use this as a teaching opportunity to educate your friends and family that in Mississippi it is legal to change lanes to pass a bicyclists when in a non-passing zone (yes, that means a double yellow line), after they have determined they can do so safely. Yes, bicyclists have a right to road and have their fair share of responsibilities - it takes all of us.
2. Remember, the data shows there the more bicyclists are riding, the safer it becomes for everyone. Sometimes in times like this, fear can stop others from trying out something that you love - let’s encourage more people to ride bicycles in Mississippi and teach them the rules of the road and everything they can do to be safe. If they are able, we encourage bicyclists to wear camera’s and helmet mirrors and to use our online incident report to any issues of harassment, buzzing or other related issues (here). This helps Bike Walk Mississippi keep an online database of any incident and to use this information in our further advocacy.
3. If you have shared the video (or even if you haven’t), turn your outrage into positive action! Consider supporting the bicycle advocacy groups that are working to improve these issues every day. Be part of the change you want to see by helping us address these issues all year long by making a donation to Bike Walk Mississippi, Bike Walk Tennessee, AlaBike, the Gary Holdiness Cycling Fund, the Jeff Roth Cycling Foundation or others. Get a Share the Road License plate in Mississippi or Tennessee, which supports bicycle safety advocacy all year long.
4. Contact your local police department and invite them to send officers to participate in Bike Walk Mississippi’s all day bicycle safety training for law enforcement at the 4th annual statewide Mississippi Bike Walk Summit, Friday, November 3rd in New Albany, Mississippi. More details will be released this summer at www.bikewalksummit.com