- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 20, 2015

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - After members of the Omaha and Lincoln cycling communities were involved in fatal accidents last year, Nebraska cyclists asked lawmakers for equal rights to the road Tuesday.

More than a dozen advocates showed up to the Legislature’s Transportation and Telecommunications Committee hearing to lend support for a bill that would require vehicles passing cyclists on the road to follow the same principles as when passing a car.

In order to pass a cyclist, motor vehicles would merge left on a four-lane road and completely cross the center line on a two-way road, according to the bill being sponsored by Sen. Rick Kolowski of Omaha.

Three cyclists said they had been struck by drivers who failed to give cyclists enough space.

“That driver needs to know that while she is protected by her car’s infrastructure, the rider’s helmet is all that he has for safety,” Isra Somanas said.

Somanas, of Lincoln, suffered traumatic brain injury two years ago after being hit by a car while riding his bike. He said current laws endanger cyclists.

Julie Harris of Nebraska Bicycling Alliance said regardless of how much slower cyclists might be, they have a legal right to be treated with courtesy and safety, just like a public bus that makes periodic stops.

“We need to value the people, not the convenience,” Harris said.

No one testified in opposition.

Three years ago, lawmakers passed a bill requiring a car keep three feet of distance when passing a cyclist.

But Jeff Bliemeister, Chief Deputy of Lancaster County Sheriff’s office, said it’s a policy that is difficult to enforce without a tape measure. Bliemeister said Kolowski’s bill would allow law enforcement more objective standards for monitoring traffic.

The measure would also eliminate a law made in 1968 that requires cyclists to use a bike path if one exists next to the roadway. Kolowski said debris or parked vehicles might make a bike path unsafe and cyclists shouldn’t fear prosecution if they have to use another route.

Last year, Nebraska slid to 45th in the nation in bikeability under the League of American Cyclists’ ratings, which compares legislation, policies and infrastructure. The 1968 law was a factor in Nebraska’s low rank, said Brent Davis, the chairman of the board of the Nebraska Bicycling Alliance.

The bill would also allow cyclists right-of-way on crosswalk.

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