BILLINGS — A bill that would have banned bicyclists from two-lane highways without shoulders is being re-drafted with input from the cycling community.
State Rep. Barry Usher, a Republican representing a district north of Billings, said his bill was drafted broadly by legislative aides, but his goal was to avoid vehicle collisions.
"I've been approached by a lot of people," Usher said Friday. "There's an issue of bike safety on a lot of roads, and it's because of the ones without shoulders."
Usher's bill hadn't been introduced to the Montana Legislature but drew negative attention from bicycle advocacy groups. Usher said he was open to changing the bill to make it less restrictive.
As drafted, the proposed bill said bicyclists "may not ride on a two-lane highway outside the boundaries of a municipality when there is no paved shoulder on which to ride." It had similar language for pedestrians and people who use wheelchairs.
Multiple members of Bike Walk Montana expressed concern with that language.
"It would be detrimental," said Melinda Barnes, executive director of Bike Walk Montana. "The majority of our rural roads have no shoulder. If that truly were a restriction, theoretically bicyclists wouldn't be able to travel through Montana."
On Sunday, Usher gave notice that he was pulling back the bill to draft it again. In an email, he said that the new effort would be in concert with Cycle Greater Yellowstone, Bike Walk Montana and other groups. Usher promised no bicycle or pedestrian restrictions.
Barnes said she and Usher had a conversation Sunday, and they agreed to work on another bill for bicycle safety.
As it was originally written, Barnes said the bill would cut off long-haul cyclists from Montana roads.
Outside of city limits, there are 7,600 miles of paved, two-lane public roads without shoulders in Montana, said Lynn Zanto, transportation planning division administrator for the Montana Department of Transportation.
Montana has an additional 41,000 miles of unpaved, two-lane public roadways, Zanto added.
Usher said when he researched those figures, he was surprised at how much highway lacks paved shoulders.
"It's a lot of roads," he said. "Way more than I ever anticipated."
He said safety was his primary concern.
In 2015 there were 1,224 fatal and serious injuries on Montana public roads, Zanto said. Of those, 22 involved bicycles and 64 involved pedestrians.
Barnes said Bike Walk Montana supports another bill, HB 267, that would put in place a minimum buffer space for vehicles passing bicyclists. That bill was heard Monday in a transportation committee hearing.
Another bill would place a $2 fee on vehicle registration to go toward path maintenance and education about bicyclists and pedestrians. That bill, HB 225, has been scheduled for a committee hearing.
It's not yet clear what will come out of a redraft of Usher's bill.