Less than two weeks after Baton Rouge Metro Councilman Buddy Amoroso was killed by a motorist while biking in West Feliciana Parish, leaders in that parish have formed a committee to study new bicycle regulations — a move concerning local cyclists for its seemingly "victim blaming" response.
West Feliciana Parish leaders emphasized Monday night at the council meeting that the new committee is not related to the crash that killed Amoroso, instead calling biking on parish roads a long-standing source of complaints. Councilman Mel Percy, however, did admit that Amoroso's death made the issue a priority.
"We’ve been needing to study it for some time. There’s been complaints for years," Percy said. "With the tragedy, everyone started talking about it on Facebook, it stirred up a lot of emotion on both sides. … We have to finally address this, we can’t keep kicking it down the road."
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Percy said the committee, on which he and two other council members sit, does not have a deadline to make its recommendations, but he hopes they can reach a middle ground among people who believe cyclists should not be on the road, people who think it's too dangerous and those who support the vibrant cycling community.
Parish President Kevin Couhig on Monday night showed a video of cyclists blocking a parish roadway and the council's discussion focused on groups of bikers that can create a nuisance for motorists.
However, some cyclists in the Baton Rouge area are worried the committee will focus on ways to restrict biking, which they called an unfair consequence of Amoroso's death — especially after police determined the motorist was at fault in the crash.
"The fact of the matter is a person was killed and no one ever wants that to happen, especially something that could have been prevented," said Will Jones, a cyclist and the organizer of yearly Rouge Roublaix race in St. Francisville. "But the fact that he was operating a bicycle within his legal right and died shouldn’t all of a sudden take away the rights of (other cyclists) when he wasn’t the one at fault.”
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Amoroso was killed June 30 when, State Police say, Nicholas Alexander, 21, of Lafayette, struck him and a friend while they were bicycling on La. 66, which runs from just north of St. Francisville to the main entrance of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.
Alexander was booked into West Feliciana Parish jail on counts of negligent homicide, negligent injuring and limitations on passing bicycles, and has since posted bond.
Louisiana law gives bicyclists equal right to travel on roadways.
While new safety measures would be welcomed by local bikers, limiting access to biking or creating a burdensome regulation process would not, said Doug Moore, the president of nonprofit Bike Baton Rouge, which promotes bicycling in the region.
"Unfortunately after a crash, really no matter who’s fault it was, we hear a lot of victim blaming," Moore said, such as "He shouldn’t have been out there, he shouldn’t have been riding on that road. ... "
"We just want to remind people bike riding in and of itself is not inherently dangerous, driving a car is inherently dangerous," he said.
Both Moore and Jones said the timing of the committee makes it inherently tied to the death of Amoroso, who was a huge supporter of cycling.
But Percy said parish laws could not even regulate where Amoroso was killed, because it is a state road.
“That tragedy started a huge conversation which brought up a lot of other issues," Percy said. "Timewise, they’re tied together, but really these are two separate issues.”
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Bruce Wicker, the ride chairman for the Baton Rouge Bike Club, said he helped West Feliciana officials years ago implement a permitting process for large biking events, like Rouge Roublaix, and said he would be willing to work with leaders again if they were making improvements.
“If they’re interested in improving safety, I'm all about it," Wicker said, suggesting public service announcements for drivers and cyclists alike, as well as better signage or adding bike lanes. But he said any limiting or restricting biking would be disappointing.