W. MI lawmakers renew push for safe road sharing

Kalamazoo Cycling Tragedy, Ghost Bike
Meg Zapalowski delivers a ghost bike to a makeshift memorial in Cooper Township near where five bicyclists were killed when they were hit by a pickup truck. (June 8, 2016)


KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — As West Michigan marks one year since the Kalamazoo area bicycling tragedy, lawmakers are trying again to create rules for riders and drivers to safely share Michigan’s roads.

Nine bicyclists were hit by a pickup truck along a rural road in Cooper Township on June 7, 2016. Debbie Bradley, Melissa Fevig-Hughes, Tony Nelson, Larry Paulik and Suzanne Sippel were killed and four other riders were seriously injured.

Shortly after the crash, the cities of Portage and Kalamazoo passed ordinances requiring a 5-foot distance between passing drivers and bicyclists, but there aren’t similar rules at the state level.

Kalamazoo Cycling Tragedy victims
Top, left to right: Debbie Bradley and Melissa Fevig-Hughes. Bottom, left to right: Tony Nelson, Larry Paulik and Suzanne Sippel.

Republic Rep. Holly Hughes of Montague and Republican Sen. Margaret O’Brien of Portage introduced bills to change the rules of the road to help protect bicyclists. Those bills passed in the Senate, but they never made it through the House.

However, both lawmakers aren’t giving up.

In February, Hughes introduced House Bill 4265, which would require drivers to leave at least 5 feet cushion space between them and a bicyclist they are passing.

HB 4265 is currently in committee.

O’Brien introduced two bills in the Senate that would accomplish the same thing: Senate bill 123 and SB 170.

Another amendment O’Brien is pushing for would require drivers’ training to include lessons on how to safely share the road with bicyclists, motorcyclists and “other vulnerable roadway users.”

She also introduced SB 330, which would allow a driver whose license was suspended or revoked in another state to be charged with a felony if they cause a death on the road. The punishment would as long as 15 years in prison and/or a fine of $2,500 to $10,000.

Kalamazoo Cycling Tragedy, Ghost Bike
A ghost bike at a makeshift memorial in Cooper Township where five bicyclists were killed when they were hit by a pickup truck. (June 8, 2016)

A staff member for O’Brien’s office says she is looking to add a few more bills to the bicyclist safety package in the coming weeks, which they are hopeful will be voted on by the Legislature over the summer and into fall.

O’Brien also plans to take part in Wednesday’s “finish the ride” memorial for the bicyclists killed and injured in the crash one year ago.