HB689 is a bill proposed by 3 Hall County Georgia lawmakers (Rep. Carl Rogers and supported by Reps. Lee Hawkins and Emory Dunahoo, all Hall County Republicans) that would require all bicycles in the state to be tagged and registered for a $15 fee, would limit riders to 4 at a time single file with 50 feet of space between groups, and would allow authorities to deem any road they they see fit to be off limits to bicyclists. Needless to say there is huge opposition from the cycling community. Tonight there was a public meeting about the bill which I attended.
The room packed out completely, I would estimate about 300 in attendance. There was a brief introduction and then people from the audience were allowed 3 minutes to speak. The first speaker delicately took the side of motorists, and genuinely seemed concerned for the safety of the cyclists and herself. Then the cycling crowd began to rock the mic one by one.
The most exciting part of the meeting happened when a gentleman named Robert Wilhite spoke at length very passionately and got the crowd fired up, then was asked to stop speaking as he was over his time limit. He tried to make his closing point but was asked again to stop, to which the assembled crowd started chanting “Let Him Speak”. Mr. Wilhite did sit down but the crowd continued to voice their displeasure with him not being allowed to close. Then a security gaurd stepped over to Mr Wilhite, who had sat down and was complying with the instruction to not conclude his speech. But for some reason, as the crowd got more and more vocal, the security gaurd ended up removing Mr. Wilhite from the meeting. I doubt he was arrested as he was complying with their demand. I hope he wasn’t anyway.
More speakers took to the mic and there were some very good points raised. Two speakers actually raised the point that I had hoped for all along, which was that we as cyclists need to realize that we aren’t always setting the best example, and that there are loads of cyclists out there who take the “Share the Road” mentality to mean that they can just ride however they want to and motorists should deal with it. This is a horrible attitude and does not promote a sharing atmosphere at all. Examples were given about how cyclists could be more courteous and also how their actions could be interpreted as smug and defiant. It was great when someone pointed out that almost every cyclist in the room was ALSO a motorist and that we have all witnessed bad form by cyclists when driving. You may not like that but it is true. Each commentor that brought this up left the room with words of encouragement to NOT be that kind of cyclist as it ends up contributing to the polarizing effect.
One of my favorite speeches of the night was by a lady who I believe represented a tourism organization in Lumpkin County. She made excellent use of her time by providing examples of how fantastic the Six Gap ride is to Lumpkin County financially, citing 2600 riders in attendance from 31 states. Then explained that since this legislation has been introduced that she has been fielding messages from out of state participants who are concerned that they’ll have to tag thier bike in order to participate in the ride at risk of being ticketed. It really made an impact on the room when the issue got down to losing dollars because of legislation that was not well thought out.
The speech with the most impact though, happened early on in the meeting. A man used a visual aid to illustrate the group ride that he was in this past weekend which had 32 riders riding 2 abreast. The length of the entire group was 111ft, a manageable length for a car to pass providing the road allowed for it to be done safely. Then, with the help of another participant, he brought out a visual aid of that same ride adhering to the specs of the bill…no more than 4 riders to a group with 50 ft between each group. People started applauding as the visual aid kept unrolling and unrolling, eventually stretching across a large section of the front of the room, representing the 638 feet that the group would now consist of if adhering to HB689. No single moment of the night illustrated the absurdity of the bill as well.
Several other great points were made by advocates of the cycling community, including one great suggestion that the pocket cycling guide from georgiabikes.org be given out with each new bike sold in the state.
Another interesting moment happened when Jim Sysfan spoke. Mr Syfan is a local businessman and has been largely regarded as the source of getting the representatives to write the bill. He began by apologizing to the crowd if he had gotten any of us upset. He made a comment that resulted in a heckler from the crowd shouting rudely, trying to make a point that money was some sort of factor in Mr Sylers influence. The heckler would not reveal; his identity when pressed, and truthfully, it was probably for the better. Mr. Syfan continued, and was obviously very nervous in hostile territory, but tried to make a point that the reason for his involvement was because he was concerned for the safety of the cyclists. Unfortunately he was not able to strongly make his point and ended up coming off like he was backpedaling on his stance.
I left the meeting before it concluded, and at the time of writing this I am happy to see that Rep. Rogers concluded that the point of the bill was to get everyone together and begin a dialogue, and that since that process has been accomplished, nothing more will be done on HB689 and the bill will be pulled in the morning.
Congratulations Georgia cycling community, you have done yourselves well! Let’s all do our part to make the roads safer for cyclists and motorists alike.