After a nearly three-hour meeting Monday evening listening to hundreds of people upset by a bill regulating cycling, the three state lawmakers from Hall County who sponsored the bill declared it dead.
Reps. Carl Rogers, Lee Hawkins and Emory Dunahoo, all Gainesville Republicans, wrote and sponsored legislation that would tax and register all bicycles in the state and limit group riding after they said they received many complaints from motorists about cyclists misbehaving.
“Let me tell you the reason that this bill was dropped the last week of March, and I know most of you don’t like it; was to get everybody in this room,” Rogers said. “We continue to have concerns on either side. The main thing I heard tonight was education, we need to be polite — we need to do more of it because it’s good for us, and we all need to be good citizens, good Georgians and good Americans. This bill will be pulled first thing(this) morning.”
However, motorist complaints were barely mentioned as cyclist after cyclist stood up tell their stories about being cursed at, things being thrown at them from passing cars and being injured by cars and loose dogs as they’ve ridden on public streets.
More than 300 people, most of them cyclists, attended Monday night’s meeting. Many cyclists spoke, but only a few people spoke in support of the bill.
One person spoke sarcastically in favor of the bill, cyclist and auto dealership owner Jim Hardman.
This bill should go straight to Washington, D.C., for the nation, Hardman said.
“If you were to tax all the bikes in America, you would raise tens of billions, hundreds of billions of dollars for the federal government,” Hardman said. No. 2, it would create thousands of jobs in supervising people and instructing people how to ride bicycles. And No. 3, it would help people who need instruction to look out after them.”
He held up his shoe to ask the correct way to use it.
While Hardman’s remarks were humorous, there were moments of the meeting filled with anger and tension.
Robert Wilhite of Lawrenceville told several stories about himself or his wife being injured while cycling. He is a professional cycling coach.
He said he was the victim of a hit-and-run and had a gun pulled on him while riding his bike. Wilhite said his wife was injured when a van passed shortly after they were married.
“Imagine me running up to my bride of six months and thinking that she’s dead, sprawled across the road,” he said. “She had so much road rash she was unrecognizable.”
Rogers cut him off after several minutes and the audience exploded in an uproar. Audience speakers started chanting “Let him speak” as he was escorted out.
Russell McMurry, chief engineer of the Georgia Department of Transportation, said bike fatalities are up compared with 2012.
Lawmakers and supporters of the bill said safety was the main purpose of the legislation.
McMurry didn’t mention any motorist fatalities caused by bikes.
The DOT was trying to construct roads that could be accessed by all transportation users, a concept called “complete streets,” McMurry said.
Cyclists said existing laws can help with safety issues including the dog leash law and the 3-feet law.
The Georgia General Assembly passed a law that took effect in 2011 that allows for 3 feet of road to the right.
Many people also mentioned the obesity problem that many Georgians face and that cycling is good exercise.
A few motorists did speak about their concerns about safety and inconvenience of driving behind cyclists.
Lula resident Pam Miller said she was neither for or against the bill, but she had concerns because there are hilly and curvy roads in North Hall and sometimes she has turned the corner and had to slam on the brakes to avoid the riders.
Gainesville businessman Jim Syfan said he didn’t understand why he had become the face of the motorist complaints.
Calvin Stewart also supported the bill.
“All this boils down to to me is don’t ride in the mountains, don’t ride on state highway,’” Stewart said.
“I want to get to where I’m going. If I have a funeral to go to, I want to get there on time, if I’ve got a wedding to go to, I want to be on time, I want to go to work, I want to get there on time.”
The bill seemed unsual for Republicans who like small government and don’t like raising taxes.
Hawkins said the legislation was a way to address some of the issues motorists had and raise passions by drafting the bill.
He said he hoped the motorists will understand what the cyclist perspective was because of this meeting.
Hawkins suggested this was an attempt to bring the groups together to work out differences, something Rogers and Dunahoo also seemed to suggest.
“I’ve never voted for a tax increase in my life,” Hawkins said. “Putting a license plate on the bicycle of a 5-year-old, you couldn’t write that into law. There’s no law you could codify a license for a 5- year-old.
“When you hear complaints and complaints and complaints, you have to do something, draft something and drop something,” Rogers said.
“I’d never met with a group of cyclists or property owners or motorists and you can see that the bill was very active and lively.”