Grand Rapids city commissioners are set to hear public comments Tuesday, Sept. 8, regarding proposed text amendments to the city’s bicycle safety code.
Suzanne Schulz, managing director of the Grand Rapids City Planning Department, said language in the current bicycle safety code dates as far back as the 1970s and 1980s. The code recently was reviewed as part of the Bicycle Education Safety Program, which noted the outdated language.
The bike education program’s steering committee and Grand Rapids Bicycle Coalition have proposed several updates to bring the code in line with current needs.
Proposed amendments address the following issues for bicycle safety and operations: allowance of e-assist or electric bicycles; bicycles regulated as vehicles; mandatory obedience to traffic control signals; required lighting; bicycle speed regulation; bicycle registration; safe passing distance; and opening vehicle doors.
Schulz addressed the proposed amendments in detail during her presentation to the Committee of the Whole this past Tuesday.
She noted the amendment concerning instituting a three-foot safe passing zone would make Grand Rapids a leader in the state. Currently, there is a group advocating for a statewide law regarding safe passing zones.
Another amendment would align bicycle speeds on sidewalks and trails that have a lot of pedestrian traffic with the Michigan Vehicle Code recommendation of 10 miles per hour.
The proposed amendments do not include helmet regulations.
“The state of Michigan doesn’t require motorcyclists to have helmets, so it’s hard to ask cyclists to wear them,” she said.
She said the goal is to increase the number of bicyclists in the city, and helmet laws often serve as a barrier.
“The greatest safety improvement we can do is get more people on bikes because the more bikes and walkers you see, the better drivers are about slowing down and paying attention,” she said.
The updates also remove registration requirements for bicycles.
Schulz said a campaign would be launched at the beginning of next spring to raise awareness of the city’s bike safety rules. She said it would be broad in scope so it has the potential of reaching the greatest amount of bikers and drivers.
“I want the entire community to be saturated with this information,” noted Third Ward City Commissioner Senita Lenear.
Lenear pointed out everyone needs to know the laws for bicyclists in order for biking and driving to coexist in the city.
“Bikes are legal road users and have to follow rules of the road,” Schulz said.