Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Willie Mae, Bikes and Right of Free Petition

I don't know how long it's been since Rep. Willie Mae Allen has been on a bike. However, for a very modest bill about to have a hearing, she has been cycle friendly.

In January, I exercised my right of free petition to request that my rep and senator (Marian Walsh) file which may be the first of several small bills to advance bicycle safety here. Rep. Allen called me back to say that she'd defer to Sen. Walsh and would advance it if the senator did not.

Walsh must have been busy planning her latest temporary resignation. She didn't act, but Willie Mae did.

It is a wee bill making a small tweak to state law to give cyclists slight breathing room in a crowded, potentially crunching, set of roads. Designed after a Montana law I found, it lets cyclists pass a stop sign after slowing down, so long as the way is clear. The idea is that they are safer and drivers less nervous if the bicycle gets a little head start and any motor vehicles overtake the cyclist rather than find themselves starting from the intersection simultaneously. In the latter way lies madness, anxiety and swerving.

My rep is in the 6th Suffolk. She found a co-sponsor, Martin J. Walsh in the 13th Suffolk. From the looks of him, Rep. Walsh may well be a cyclist, someone who groks the reasoning behind the bill.

They cleverly phrased House Bill 2190 as "An Act to Reduce Bicycle and Motor Vehicle Collisions at Intersections." That seems more likely to pass than "An Act Giving Those Crazy Bicyclists an Unfair Advantage."

Today, her legislative aide, Natalie Carithers, called to say there'd be a hearing on the bill Thursday, April 16th at 1 p.m. in room A1 of the State House. I'll drag my healing leg and cane down there.

Yet, this one-paragraph bill will probably not get a reading and maybe a 45-second consideration before being assigned to some committee. It surely is a practical waste of time to attend this, but this is my first bill and I savor the process like so many shards of a great piece of chocolate.

Those Funky Laws

The basis of this blog five years ago was the unusual Massachusetts laws. That was not only same-sex marriage, but such gems as one-day designated solemnization one. I have performed two marriage under our law allowing any adult of good character to perform one per year for one couple on one day in one chosen location. (You can also search in the box at the top for solemnize for numerous posts around this.)

Far more powerfully, our right to free petition, which I exercised with this bike bill, lets us propose any law we feel strongly about. This may be unique to Massachusetts and came with our original 1780 constitution.

Long before there was a ballot-initiative procedure, petitioning the legislature was standard here. Consider two commonwealth constitutional articles:
Article XIX. The people have a right, in an orderly and peaceable manner, to assemble to consult upon the common good; give instructions to their representatives, and to request of the legislative body, by the way of addresses, petitions, or remonstrances, redress of the wrongs done them, and of the grievances they suffer.

Article XXII. The legislature ought frequently to assemble for the redress of grievances, for correcting, strengthening and confirming the laws, and for making new laws, as the common good may require.
The commonwealth explains the process. It fundamentally involves:
  1. A citizen drafting the concept and ideally words of a law.
  2. When the legislator gets this from someone in the district, the response can be to let the citizen know something similar is in the works, to advance the bill, or less likely to blow it off. Lawmakers don't absolutely have to file citizen bills, but nearly all are smart enough to do so.
  3. If the bill gets put in the works, the legislator can pretty much guarantee it dies by appending "by request" after the lawmaker's name. That's code for disagreeing with the content.
  4. Otherwise, the bill gets a hearing and may be assigned to a committee. The hearing can result in an ought-to-pass or ought-not-to-pass or study decision (conducted in private after a brief public hearing. Only the favorable report (ought-to-pass) bills realistically have a chance.
For odds, the commonwealth notes that the House submits about 6,000 bills a session and the Senate about 2,000. Clearly the vast majority of those will be pro forma, placate the voter.

Mine is an okay bill, which will have a mildly positive effect if passed. I shall watch and report on its progress with considerable interest though. It could be the first and smallest of these. I'll save my emotions and efforts.

Followup: Over at UniversalHub, Adam cited this post and has a bunch of comments, largely predictable. Give cyclists a break; same roads/same rules; bikers almost kill me regularly....

Tags: , , , , , , ,


Kate said...

I really disagree with your bill. Why not expand it to cars? Why should anyone have to stop at a stop sign?

Because the stop signs are there for a reason.

massmarrier said...

It's to get the bikes out in front of the cars. Drivers often flip out when a bike starts from an intersection at the same moment. When they overtake the bike instead, they drive straight and are less likely to cause a wreck.

This bill is patterned after a law in Montana where it works like that and improves safety in their few cities.

To your point, stop signs are there to put drivers where they are still enough to look for oncoming traffic. A bike slowing is in the same alertness position as a car stopping. Plus, the cyclist has a much shorter stopping distance and upon leaving has much less momentum to overcome, speeding the clearing of the crosswalk area and intersection.

As with roads and paths restricted to either motor vehicles or cycles, some such differences bed for thought and accommodation.