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Is Equal Justice for Bicyclists on the Horizon?

The Streetsblog Network is buzzing with bike news this morning, much of it related to the National Bike Summit in Washington, DC, where the mood sounds really upbeat. Bike Portland has been doing some great reporting from the summit; yesterday, we brought you their summary of DOT Secretary Ray LaHood's pledge to be a "full partner" with bike advocates.

3345894317_2df06d49c5_m_1.jpgRep. Jim Oberstar (D-MN) speaks to the National Bike Summit. Photo by Jonathan Maus for Bike Portland.
Bike Portland also has news of some exciting developments on the prospect for drafting "the country’s first piece of legal policy that would directly relate to the respect and recognition of bicycles as users of our roadways." Here's what Jonathan Maus reported yesterday about how Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-MN) might use his position as Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to make that kind of respect a reality:

According to Portland bike lawyer Ray Thomas, he was one of a handful of legal minds tapped by the League of American Bicyclist’s Advocacy Director Walter Finch to meet with Oberstar to discuss the idea.…

Thomas describes the initiative as a way to create a federal law to ensure equitable treatment of people on bicycles who are involved in crashes. Too often, he says, drivers do not receive serious charges in collision cases. The way the system is set up now, police officers and prosecutors (for a variety of reasons) will often not even attempt to press serious charges against motorists.

Oberstar wants to fix the system so there’s a better chance that justice will be done.

League of American Bicyclists Executive Director Andy Clarke told me this morning that the initiative could result in language being put into the transportation bill that would give more “legal standing to bicycles as a mode of transportation”.

How important is such a legislative initiative? Well, take a look at just a few items from the network that came up over the last 24 hours:

EcoVelo has a video featuring footage from a Fox News photographer in Wisconsin who attached a camera to his bike to film drivers who endanger him by getting too close. Problem is, he's found that sometimes police refuse to recognize his right to be in the lane of travel at all. Tucson Bike Lawyer has two sad stories that highlight how dangerous it is out there for bikers: one about a drunk driver who was acquitted after killing a teenager on his bike, and one about a police officer who was struck from behind and killed by a car. (Maybe charges will be filed in that case.)

Meanwhile, Bike Commute Tips writes about how the mainstream media is starting to recognize that bike commuting can improve your life. It's part of a growing sense, echoed in a piece reprinted on Bike Providence, that momentum is building in favor of biking as transportation.