Calling Newark one of Delaware’s most bicycle-friendly towns, Gov. John Carney chose Main Street as the location to sign two bills intended to improve safety for cyclists last week.
Known as the Bicycle Friendly Delaware Act, one of the bills clarifies the law regarding cyclists and regulates how motorists must act when sharing a road with someone on a bike.
The most significant change, according to bill sponsor State Sen. David Sokola, allows cyclists to treat many stop signs as yield signs rather than having to come to a complete stop. Based on a similar law in Idaho, the measure permits cyclists to slow when approaching a stop sign and continue through as long as the intersection is clear.
It does not apply when there are more than two travel lanes or when there is already a car stopped at the stop sign.
Cycling advocates argue that stopping at stop signs breaks their momentum and that because they’re traveling slower than a car, they can safely scan the intersection while approaching it.
“When you are on a bike, you have all your senses,” Sokola said after the Oct. 5 signing ceremony along the Pomeroy Trail. “You can see and hear and you’re more alert to the dangers that can be there.”
He acknowledged that there needs to be an educational outreach effort to make sure cyclists understand the nuances of the new law as well as enforcement attention from police.
“It deserves a healthy dose of monitoring,” Sokola said. “We should make sure it’s not being abused.”
As part of an agreement that led to the Delaware State Police supporting the bill, the yield-at-stop-signs portion of the law will expire in four years unless renewed by the legislature.
Another part of the law prohibits motorists from beeping their horn at a bicyclist unless there is an immediate risk of a collision because a beep can startle a cyclist and cause a crash. Motorists must also change lanes in order to pass a cyclist, even if it means crossing a double-yellow line.
The bill also allows for the installation of bicycle-specific traffic signals to regulate travel in a bike lane or path. That was proposed in response to plans to build a two-way protected bicycle path adjacent to Delaware Avenue in Newark. Because the road is one-way for vehicles, bicycle-specific signals will be needed for westbound bicyclists.
The second bill increases the penalties for a motorist convicted of causing serious injury to a vulnerable user, such as a cyclist, pedestrian, person driving a tractor or person riding a skateboard or roller blades.
Speaking at last week’s signing ceremony, James Wilson, executive director of the advocacy group BikeDelaware, said cyclists often feel like an “embattled minority” when out on the road.
“It’s important to know we’re not alone,” he said after rattling off a list of politicians who helped pass the bills. “We have a lot of friends.”