AUGUSTA, Maine - Advocates for Maine's bicyclists and pedestrians are celebrating one of the rare examples of political harmony in Augusta: passage of a bill designed to make Maine roads safer for those who are traveling on two wheels or by foot.
The junction of Franklin Arterial and Marginal Way is Portland's busiest intersection. Twenty lanes of traffic converge on the edge of the downtown district of Maine's largest city. To miss a green light here can be frustrating, especially if you're in a hurry, says Brian Allenby.
"As a cyclist I ride through this intersection every single day, and I have seen many scofflaw cyclists who have chosen to navigate this intersection - because the lights are a little bit longer, because it is busy - they choose to navigate it in interesting, and often not legal, ways."
Allenby is with the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, a strong supporter of LD 1301 - An Act To Improve the Safety of Vulnerable Users in Traffic and To Clarify the Responsibilities of Bicyclists and Pedestrians.
Until now, Allenby says, traffic laws pertaining to bicycle use had been all over the place, codified in a number of different statutes. With the passage on June 12 of LD 1301, the responsibilities of cyclists are spelled out clearly and in one place.
"It's really clarifying that bicycles need to follow the laws in terms of stop signs, traffic signals, the same as cars do," Allenby says. "They need to drive on the same side of the road just as cars do. And that is probably the single, most common complaint that we get from the general public is, 'How can you expect motorists to follow the laws when cyclists don't follow the laws too?' "
In addition to encouraging bicycle users to ride safely, LD 1301 also aims to protect cyclists, as well as pedestrians and other non-motorists, by creating a new category of "vulnerable" road users. Allenby says that refers to anyone using the road who's not inside a motor vehicle, "that's not protected by a cage of steel that's designed to keep them safe. Having that language in law is a big step in bringing awareness to the fact that those users on the road who aren't in motor vehicles are vulnerable."
One of the law's major provisions is designed to make crosswalks safer for pedestrians. It does this by requiring drivers to yield to people who have made it clear that they intend to cross the road. Failure to do so, and they'll be looking at the standard fine of $165.
This part of the law means a lot to Kriss Evans, whose father, David Grant, was killed walking to work in Brewer just before Christmas last year. "He was hit on December 20th crossing the crosswalk to his barber's shop," Evans says. "It was actually the second time, he was hit the year previous at the same spot."
After the tragedy, Evans testified twice before lawmakers in Augusta, urging the passage of LD 1301. While there's no publicity campaign attached to it, the law does strengthen driver education programs by requiring increased instruction on the rights and protection of vulnerable road users.
Bill sponsor Amy Volk - a Republican state senator from Scarborough - is a runner who puts herself in this category. She says on many occasions she has encountered dangerous and inconsiderate driving. She hopes the law will encourage motorists to ask themselves some important questions.
"You know - what is your responsibility?" she says. "And kind of making people think in terms of, 'When I come across a biker or a runner or a walker or someone in a wheelchair whose using the road, is it going to really change my day to slow down or perhaps even come to a stop if I can't easily get around that person and give them plenty of distance?' "
According to estimates, more than 250 people are hit by cars every year in Maine, about a quarter of whom are struck while using a crosswalk or other approved crossing place.