Last updated: June 17. 2014 1:06AM - 239 Views

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West Virginia is not considered a top state to enjoy bicycling.

For example, the League of American Bicyclists rates West Virginia as 44th in its 2014 rankings for its Bicycle Friendly State program.

But it is not the state’s rugged terrain and narrow, winding roads at issue. The evaluation is a look at the access and opportunities bicyclists have to ride and the state’s approaches to sharing the roadways.

The Mountain State gets poor marks in the categories of legislation and enforcement, infrastructure and funding, and evaluation and planning. It rates a little better in the education and encouragement category and yet a rung higher — about average — for policies and programs.

But 44th is a step up from the state’s ranking of 50th just three years ago. And there are signs that the improvement trend will continue, from both state and local perspectives.

A new law, passed by the Legislature earlier this year and effective last week, catches up West Virginia with many other states by requiring motorists to provide at least three feet of space between their vehicles and a bicycle when passing. The law also eliminates a former requirement that bicyclists must use an adjacent path instead of the road if that path, perhaps a sidewalk, was available.

That latter change recognizes that bicyclists have a right to be on the road while the three-foot requirement gives them a safety cushion, if motorists obey. A motorist found guilty of not allowing the safety space faces a $100 fine for the first offense, $200 for a second offense and $500 for subsequent offenses.

Bicycle enthusiasts and organizations generally reacted favorably to the changes. “This new rule creates an easily visualized distance for police to enforce and for motorists to employ when passing bicyclists,” Kasey Russell, director of West Virginia Connecting Communities, a nonprofit concerned with alternative transportation, told the Charleston Daily Mail. “It also increases awareness that bicyclists are legitimate road users and establishes a bicyclist’s right to space and improves interactions with motorists.”

The new law also details some requirements for bicyclists, too, regarding night-time lighting and reflectors as well as prohibiting groups of cyclists from riding more than two abreast except on paths or roadways that are for bicycle use only. Those steps should improve safety.

The Huntington area, as well as other parts of the state, have seen a significant growth in cycling interest in the last few years, fueled by organized events aimed at families as well as infrastructure improvements. Among the latter are bicycle lanes established on some city streets as well as development of the Paul Ambrose Trail for Health, which is aimed at walkers, runners and bicyclists.

Local enthusiasts say they believe the environment for bicycling has improved markedly over the last couple of decades, and the recent law changes can only help make it even better.

— Herald-Dispatch, Huntington

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