Cyclists, drivers weigh in on safety at town hall

State Rep. Brandt Iden, Sen. Margaret O'Brien
State Rep. Brandt Iden and Sen. Margaret O'Brien hold a bicycle safety listening tour in Portage. (Nov. 6, 2017)

PORTAGE, Mich. (WOOD) — Kalamazoo County has seen more than its share of tragedies involving bicycles, from the crash in Cooper Township that killed five in 2016 to the August crash that killed a bicyclist in Portage. After so much death, legislators and community leaders are looking for answers.

State Sen. Margaret O’Brien and Rep. Brandt Iden, both Portage Republicans, hosted a bicycling safety town hall Monday night in their hometown to get feedback from their constituents about legislation affecting cars and bicycles. It was a packed house as cyclists, school bus drivers and truck drivers shared their concerns about sharing the road.

“I am one of those people with a $7,000 bike,” said Angela Bowers, who describes herself as a competitive and noncompetitive road cyclist and mountain biker.

Bowers said she’s a safe rider who obeys all the traffic laws, but she understands drivers’ frustrations with some cyclists.

“I see my fellow riders follow rules, but then I see riders that are the ones that drivers hate,” Bowers said.

O’Brien is sponsoring a bill that would require cars passing cyclists to give a five-foot passing zone. Some municipalities, including Portage, already require that.

“The state is debating right now whether or not to have one statewide law,” O’Brien said.

Some professional drivers worry the proposed law would create problems.

“On a dedicated route like mine, I only have so much time to get there,” an audience member told the panel of speakers. “And if I have a group of bicyclists in the road and they ignore me or I can’t get around them, then I’m late, and I get points for being late.”

“It’s hard for me when you see the battles of people that will say, ‘Get off the road, you don’t pay taxes’ or ‘You don’t belong on the road,'” Bowers said. “I just want to stop someone and introduce myself and say, ‘Hi, I am a resident, I do own vehicles, I do contribute, but I also like to be on my bike.’”

A Senate committee unanimously approved O’Brien’s bill the end of September, sending it to the full Senate for consideration.