Connecticut has one of the nation’s best statewide Complete Streets laws, but Nutmeg State municipalities are limited in what kinds of bicycle infrastructure they can design and implement. You won’t find protected bike lanes, two-way cycle tracks, contra-flow lanes, or even bike lanes on the left side of one-way streets in Connecticut because, as advocates have heard over the years during conversations with engineers, they’re “illegal.”
What makes these context-sensitive bicycle facilities “illegal,” we learned, is that they contradict Section 14-286b of the state statutes, which says “Every person operating a bicycle upon a roadway shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable.” You can’t be “as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable” if you’re riding in a bike lane that’s been marked on the left side of a one-way or median-separated street. And more to the point, municipal engineers could find their livelihoods in jeopardy if someone were injured or killed using a bicycle facility which doesn’t jive with the state law.
The wording of Section 14-286b has stymied efforts to bring 21st century transportation infrastructure to cities and towns across Connecticut, including plans to install a two-way cycle track in New Haven. That prompted the City’s Transportation Director Doug Hausladen and advocates (including Tri-State), to push for state legislation that could free municipalities to build modern bicycle facilities.
Bill No. 502, also known as “the bike bill,” was introduced earlier this year by State Senator Beth Bye (D-West Hartford) and Representatives Roland Lemar (D-New Haven) and Cristin McCarthy Vahey (D-Fairfield). The bill has support from both sides of the aisle; co-sponsors include Rep. Aundré Bumgardner (R-New London), Rep. Patricia A. Dillon (D-New Haven), Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-Wilton), Rep. Matthew Ritter (D-Hartford) and Rep. Christopher Rosario (D-Bridgeport). Last week the proposed legislation took a critical step forward, becoming a Committee Bill.
The bike bill, if made into law, creates new exceptions to the state’s ride-to-the-right regulation: one which says people on bikes may “ride as near to the left-hand curb or edge of” one way streets, and another which permits “riding on parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles, including, but not limited to, counter-flow bicycle lanes, left-handed cycle tracks on one-way streets and two-way cycle tracks.” The bike bill would also add exceptions to the statute which requires vehicles to be parked within 12 inches of a curb or roadway edge, making it possible for cities and towns to install parking-protected bike lanes — common in many cities across the country, but not yet in Connecticut.
In addition to making room for modern bicycle facilities, the bill also clarifies how motor vehicles should pass slower moving road users, and encourages the Connecticut Department of Transportation to officially recognize the National Association of City Transportation Officials‘ Urban Street Design Guide and Urban Bikeway Design Guide.