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Cyclists ride for safety legislation, awareness

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Biking advocates took to the streets of Charleston on Sunday to raise awareness for everyone who shares West Virginia's country roads.

West Virginia Connecting Communities and the Mountain State Wheelers Bicycle Club held a Legislative Bike Ride Sunday afternoon. The event, geared toward promoting alternative modes of transportation and encouraging more safety laws for cyclists and pedestrians, began at the state Capitol Complex and included citizens, club members and a few state legislators.

Kasey Russell, a member of the Charleston City Council and WVCC, said the initiative is designed to highlight the advantages of biking and promote clearer legislation surrounding road safety for cyclists.

"Across the country, cycling and walking issues often have a lot of attention and resources put to them, and communities really look to make themselves biking friendly and walking friendly," Russell said. "In West Virginia, we're a little behind the times, it seems. We have an overweight population, and we aren't doing things in a biking friendly, walking friendly way all the time, so we hope to introduce some new bills to help change that."

WVCC's legislative goals include adding a passing rule to state code, which would require motorists to pass cyclists at a reduced speed and no closer than 4 feet from a cyclist. Russell said they also hope to strike the "ride to the right" language from state code to avoid confusion for cyclists and motorists and improve safety.

"We want to focus on safety, so that cars will have to give space -- perhaps even a whole lane -- to pass a cyclist. It's not necessarily just safety; it's also awareness," she said. "We want to avoid cyclists and pedestrians being hit."

An elderly woman was killed while crossing the street in front of the Capitol Complex on Thursday. Russell said WVCC, which is about a year old, was created to advocate for cyclist and pedestrian safety in order to avoid similar accidents in the future.

Charleston plans to create bicycle lanes along stretches of Kanawha Boulevard -- something Russell hopes might be replicated in other parts of the city.

"I think, all across the country you'll find the same concerns; we're a car-focused society," she said. "That's just the way it is, but with rising gas prices and the amazing health benefits associated with riding your bike or walking for even 20 or 30 minutes a day, I think more and more people will be getting on their bikes or walking, and I'm not sure our infrastructure is where we need it to be yet."

The cyclists started at the Capitol Complex and traveled down Quarrier Street and through downtown Charleston before returning to the Capitol on Kanawha Boulevard. Charlie Nutt, president of the Mountain State Wheelers, said the club helped with the event because the issue of safety for non-motorists on the road is something he and other Wheelers are passionate about.

"It's important because it promotes cycling in the state, and hopefully it will make the legislators aware there are a lot of cyclists out there and we need to do more to protect cyclists and walkers," Nutt said.

Delegates Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, and Danny Wells, D-Kanawha, made the ride with the other bikers.

Fleischauer said the district she represents has a vested interest in alternative modes of transportation, and as an avid walker, she believes more encompassing safety laws are important for the state.

"I do believe there is global warming and I think we have a really severe obesity problem, and biking hits both of those as a potential solution," she said. "I want to see West Virginians live longer and be healthier."

WVCC is a nonprofit organization designed to promote alternative transportation and safety through advocacy and education. For more information, visit www.wvconnectingcommunities.com.

Reach Lydia Nuzum at lydia.nuzum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189.


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