Bicycling is Laura Vie’s ticket to freedom. Since childhood, riding has been the 43-year-old’s escape from daily life’s responsibilities.
“When I ride, my mind is free to think clearly,” said Vie, an exercise physiologist at Progressive Spine Care & Rehab in Columbia. “It’s very satisfying being able to travel miles down quiet rural roads.”
Vie, an MU graduate, said Missouri has a bad reputation among the cycling community, mostly because of bad road conditions and what is perceived as intolerance by motorists.
Now, as secretary of the Missouri Bicycle Federation, Vie and other cyclists are working to make the state’s roads safer for those who travel on two wheels and four.
The group is pushing legislation in hopes that some minor legal changes can make a big impact for Missouri cyclists.
The first priority, said federation chairman Brent Hugh, is to clean up regulations that govern bike lanes, road shoulders and the exact definition of a bicycle. These small issues seem to be causing cyclists unintentional, but real, problems.
“We have trouble getting federal funding to improve rural highway shoulders for bicycling because the law is unclear,” said Hugh, a Raytown resident and avid cyclist for five years. “We don’t know whether or not bicycles can legally ride on these shoulders.”
The group is also seeking a standard 20 mph speed limit for school zones.
“Every parent and teacher I know is 100 percent in support of this. Even just slowing down from 25 to 20 mph makes the area twice as safe,” Hugh said.
The cycling advocacy group wants all of the state’s roads to be accessible and safe for walking, bicycling and driving. That part of the legislative proposal has been dubbed “Complete Streets” to reflect the notion that streets must meet the needs of all users.
In addition, the group is seeking these changes:
- Assignment of points against drivers who strike a bicyclist.
- Strengthening the language and penalties for motorist infractions against bicyclists and pedestrians.
- Prohibiting driving in designated bike lanes.
- Allowing cyclists to signal a right turn with the right arm.
“Communities must be built for people, not automobiles,” Hugh said. “We must meet the needs for the 45,000 Missourians who walk or bicycle to work and the 17 percent who have some sort of disability.”
Such measures are already required by federal law, but Missouri and other states are behind in putting such planning tools in place, Hugh said.
Caryn Giarratano, bicycle and pedestrian coordinator with the state Department of Transportation, said the state is well aware of the needs of bicyclists.
“At MoDOT, we are changing policies to accommodate bicyclists,” Giarratano said. “They are considered even before the pen hits the paper in any planning phase.”
Still, Giarratano said the cyclists’ concerns have strong merit.
“It’s very frustrating for people,” she said. “When you are trying to go somewhere and the road ends.”
And where that road ends, the Missouri Bicycle Federation wants to start bridging the gap. The group will wait to push its platform until early next year when the state legislature convenes.