For those who attended the Town Hall meeting last week in Gainesville for HB 689, it was obvious that I came prepared with specific remarks that I wanted to make sure were delivered directly between the eyes, so to speak, to the 3 sponsors of the Bill. Not taking any chance by relying on memory of what I wanted to say, I drafted a speech that took the entire day to craft.
Because of my untimely and certainly unexpected departure of the meeting, I did not get to finish my speech. BTW, I timed myself a few times and the length was 16 minutes. Guess I was a bit longer than that!!!
As I was literally being escorted out, I handed my speech to an individual who was also signed up to speak, and she said she would be happy to finish it. Well, her name was never called. Almost immediately, I began receiving emails, texts, Facebook messages and posts asking if I would share my speech. Now that I am over some stomach virus and feeling back to normal, I now have my wits about getting back to the grind. This post is part of my return. I hope you enjoy it and for those who were there, I hope this helps you to re-live the moment.
Oh, I did a bike ride with my bride Kelly this morning and we stopped at a Starbucks in Buford, across from the Mall of GA. Yes, we were wearing our yellow riding kits. All of the sudden, a FedEx guy came up to me and said, “Hey, we need to escort you out of here”, while showing me a picture on his cellphone of me being thrown out of the meeting. How cool is that and what are the odds of that happening? Oh well, we thought that was pretty cool so I wanted to share.
ENJOY THE SPEECH – – – – – – – – — – – – – – – – – – – – – — –
First off, I want to personally thank you for your time and attention and for your efforts in scheduling this Town Hall Mtg. I have several talking points with some being in the form of questions I will pose directly to you.
Since we have never met, my name is Robert Wilhite, a resident of Lawrenceville in Gwinnett County. I have lived in GA since 1981. I am a very small business owner as a professional cycling coach, when I started MyCycleCoach.com 10 years ago. The #1 aspect to cycling for me is safety and that is what I have chosen to build my business around. I am the past President of the largest cycling organization in the SouthEast and have written published monthly cycling articles for the past 5 years. Obviously, I am a cyclist but not just ANY cyclist. I am passionately engulfed with this sport. Cycling to me is not a hobby; it is a lifestyle. To date, I have ridden in excess of 150,000 miles in the past 16 years. With that many miles, I have seen it all and I have done just about as much. I have been the victim of a hit-and run, I have had crashes that were caused by other cyclists and I have had crashes that were totally my fault. I have lost friends who were killed while riding their bike. Just one month ago, a driver pulled a Glock 9mm on me and my friend while we were riding. I watched my new bride of just 6 months (at that time) fly through the air…literally…like a rag doll because a van made the willful choice to buzz us within one foot, while the oncoming lane was completely clear and open. I know what it is like running up to a loved one, sprawled out on the pavement, thinking she was dead. Her blood-curling scream, as she was flying through the air, is still one I can hear in my head. The road rash she sustained on her face left her totally unrecognizeable and ripped apart almost every ligament in one shoulder. Miscalculating a tight turn up in the N GA mountains, resulted in me riding off the edge of the mountain side leaving my leg filleted wide open (bleeding profusely) and my wrist bent completely backwards, and after several hours, thinking I was going to be one of those 60 minutes or 20/20 stories. I know what is at stake every time I clip in my pedals. Therefore, understand all my comments are not based on rhetoric, theory or political agendas…but real life.
1st Point: SAFETY–
Mr Hawkins. Are you a road cyclist? In an email comment you gave last week, you said, and I quote I signed onto the bill because of my concern with the issue of safety. Point #1 Respectfully, if that were the case, this Town Hall mtg should have been held (and many of them I might add) to allow you to hear from cyclists in great numbers…long before any HB 689 be drafted, let alone being introduced to the Legislative Session. Having this mtg now is completely backwards and seems to be how our government operates. But now that we are here, please explain to me and every cyclist in this room, why you believe creating multiple groups of 4 cyclists riding single file, being separated by a minimum of 50 feet is creating a safe environment?
This is for any one of you to respond.
Q: Again, if safety is really your concern, please share with us how you voted for HB 101 (3FT Law) and explain to us in detail what you have done to further expose/advance the 3FT Law since it was signed into law on July 1, 2011?
Q: If you haven’t done anything to literally help advance the 3FT Law, which clearly increases the safety of cyclists AND fulfill your stated concern for our safety in a real-life way, why would you ever expect me or any other cyclist here to believe that another bill…that clearly is NOT safe for cyclists, would make any more difference than 3FT Law? The majority of our state law enforcement doesn’t even have a clue about 3Ft Law (and therefore doesnt enforce it), how in the world would you get them to police your bill?
Before you answer, just last week, one of your own Hall County deputies, pulled a cycling friend of my over and was bullying him for not riding on the far right side of the lane. After some forceful words, the deputy backed down when my friend cited the law to him, in that he had the legal right to ride in whatever part of the lane that he deemed safe for the conditions. BTW, that deputy received ‘official counseling’ from his superiors. I could give you many more examples if I had time.
2nd POINT: TAG/FEES/REGISTRATION–
The following points/questions are not addressed to anyone specific.
Q: Your bill does not distinguish between a $10,000 carbon road bicycle and a Target or Walmart $100 bicycle. Therefore, if I were a parent and bought a Walmart bicycle for my child, your bill would force me to register this bicycle (at almost 10% of the actual cost of the bicycle) and if I did not, you would fine me for $100. We already know the answer to this question, but we want to give you the chance to share your perspective of #1. how this would affect future bicycle purchases like these, and #2, how would you explain this to the retailers as being “good for business”? Not to mention the loss of revenue…or tax dollars for our state.
Q: Since your bill has the implicit requirement to provide a valid civic address during the registration process, how would you make it possible for homeless people to comply with the law unless the State of Georgia provided them with free housing within 30 days of becoming homeless which is not provided for in your bill?
Q: I could specifically describe to you countless crashes of cyclists where part of their physical injuries were caused by coming in contact with parts of their bicycle, but for the sake of time, I won’t. With your bill, all bicycles would have a tag “at least four inches wide and not less than seven inches in length” and my guess it would be of the same material used for our vehicles. Back to your stated concerns for cyclists safety, why would you introduce a bill requiring a metal-type object to be required to be mounted on a bicycle, and therefore become a real and legitimate object that could cause serious physical injury…and in a worse case scenario, cut a main artery in a crash and become fatal? Is the state really ready to handle that type of lawsuits that would almost certainly come?
Q: There are countless charity events that collect broken or unused bicycles and refurbish them for low and underprivileged children. Do you really expect a charity to go and register each bicycle or pay a transfer fee, mount tags on each one and then distribute them to those deserving children? Who do you propose to keep track of each bicycle, so that the registration fees are renewed every 5 years? What you are proposing could quite literally shut down incredible organizations that are trying to make a positive difference in children’s lives. What possibly would you say to them to justify your bill?
POINT #3. RIGHT TO ASSEMBLE—
Your bill states and I quote When a roadway is part of the state highway system, the Department of Transportation may restrict persons from riding bicycles on the roadway or designate certain times when bicycle riding is permissible. When a roadway is part of a local road system, a local governing authority may restrict persons from riding bicycles on the roadway or designate certain times when bicycle riding is permissible.
Everyone in this room knows exactly what this means and opens up the door to: our government telling us where we can/cannot ride our bicycles. Forget every other absurd component of this bill; this verbiage telling us where/when we can ride our bicycles, is a direct violation of a free society. I promise you that the cycling community won’t just sit back and let that happen Period. Last time I checked, the state of GA is part of the United States…and if my history is correct, we are a free society. Our government is here to provide its citizens protection from all enemies, foreign or domestic and to uphold the Constitution. You are NOT in the bicycle recreation business. Every cyclist in this room and across this state will make sure it stays that way.
There are charity bicycle rides almost every weekend from March to October every year in this state. Many of them are staged in or near small towns and cities, bringing in revenue to local businesses. I started my own event (Jackson County Brevet) on behalf of my bride, who she and many others suffer from a very rare disease. In my experience living my entire life in this county, anytime any government, whether local, state or federal, is given the ability to institute restrictions or limitations on its citizens, it has always done so and even more than anticipated. Putting the decision of where cyclists can ride and at what times in the hands of bureaucrats is like giving me permission to walk into an operating room and performing brain surgery. I have no business or expertise in that area and neither do you or any government entity have the Constitutional authority telling us where/when we can or cannot ride. The direct result of your verbiage would or could dramatically affect how and where we organize our events, which is in existence for the sole purpose of raising awareness and funding for research for countless diseases. All it would take is to have one elected person in a jurisdiction who didn’t like cyclists (for whatever reason), to be the cause for my event to not happen.
Furthermore, bike shops everywhere typically have group rides from their shops. This is to promote riding together but it also promotes foot traffic in their shops, which means revenue. Start putting the authority in the hands of a rogue local official of where/when we can ride and you could jeopardize their revenue. I could give you countless other real-life scenarios but for the sake of time, I’ll limit to these I’ve highlighted. Bottom line, this type of proposed authority has nothing to do with safety. It has everything to do with government intrusion. We the people will not stand for this.
If Mr. Syfan is present, whose name seems to come up every time there is complaining of cyclists in Hall County, I would ask you to share with us cyclists the specific details behind your recent statement to the AJC, and I quote “I can’t tell you the times I’ve just about had to hit the ditch because of a bicyclist.” Every cyclist here is waiting with baited breath to hear how someone riding a bicycle that weighs approximately 17 lbs, wearing only spandex clothing and a helmet, WITHOUT the protection of multiple airbags, being surrounded by thousands of pounds of steel and seat belts, could possibly cause you…(who DOES have the protection of multiple airbags, being surrounded by thousands of pounds of steel and seat belts) to be so physically threatened that you “about had to hit the ditch”? My guess is that from your description, I could probably site countless issues where you were not patient enough to safely pass and were just inconvenienced too long for your own liking.
Are there cyclists who brake the cycling laws stated in the 3FT Law? Absolutely and they should be held accountable. Like when a motorist brakes the law, the police has to witness them during this infraction, in order to issue a ticket. Because the majority of cyclists tend to ride on roads less traveled, so is the limitation of police presence. Therefore, almost never is the realization of them ever witnessing a motorist brake the 3FT Law or any other unsafe maneuvering of their vehicles towards us.
Therefore, in closing, I want to leave you with several, practical, common sense suggestions that I challenge you to consider:
1. As in San Antonio TX and many other cities across the US, to have undercover police officers riding bicycles with a police car in parallel. Anytime a vehicle passes inside 3FT, they are immediately pulled over and ticketed. Some state fines are as much as $200. This practice not only pays for the salaries of the officers AND additional revenue, it is educating motorists that the state is serious about cycling safety and the enforcement of its 3FT Law.
2. Why not use the interstate signs that educates us about having to move over for ER/police vehicles and watching out for motorcycles, and begin to post the 3FT passing requirement?
3. Why not revise school driver education programs to include the 3Ft Law, thus educating teenagers about their responsibility?
4. Why not revise the state driving tests (that is required to obtain a GA license) to include the 3FT Law?
5. Take the time to review cycling initiatives across this country (ex. Portland OR, Denver, CO that are incredibly safe, popular, promote physical activity and countless other positive attributes?
6. Consider introducing an Amendment to the 3Ft Law that would allow cyclists, when approaching a Stop Sign, to be able to Yield vs. a complete stop when no vehicles are present…like many other cities? If you were a cyclist and frequently rode in group rides, then you would quickly realize this is much safer, which is why, by your own words, is the real reason your names are listed on this bill.
Again, I respectfully thank you for your time and attention.