A new ordinance restricting the behavior of bicyclists on West Feliciana Parish roads has angered the local cycling community whose members have responded by canceling races traditionally held there.
The ordinance has drawn heated criticism from cyclists since it was proposed earlier this summer following the tragic accident that killed East Baton Rouge Metro Councilman Buddy Amoroso. Opponents vowed to continue pushing back against the new restrictions — which include requirements that cyclists wear fluorescent garments and ride single file in groups of 10 or fewer — and have since fulfilled their promise by canceling upcoming races.
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The organizers of Rouge Roubaix were the first to announce their decision to pull out of West Feliciana in response to the ordinance.
The race has been taking place for 19 years and draws around 400 people to the St. Francisville area each spring — some traveling from across the country and around the world — for what organizers described as the largest bike race in Louisiana. Participants ride 105 miles through the back roads of rural Louisiana and Mississippi to complete the challenging course.
Organizers declined to comment on their recent decision but referred to statements on their website and social media accounts.
"The race committee and team have come to this decision based on the current view of cycling by the West Feliciana Parish Council," the website reads. "Rouge Roubaix is a massive undertaking (and) we have determined that we can better utilize time, man power and resources elsewhere."
Organizers announced their decision on Facebook two days after the parish council voted unanimously to enact the new ordinance. At least two other races have since canceled too, citing a similar sense that cyclists are not welcome in the parish.
Geaux Race, an amateur cycling team in Baton Rouge, also announced on its Facebook page that the Feliciana Road Race would be canceled "due to the disdain that West Feliciana residents have for cyclists." And the No Such Thing as Impossible ride, which raises money for adaptive bikes for children with disabilities, has also been canceled.
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New Orleans attorney Charlie Thomas, who focuses largely on bicycle related cases, said he's poised to file suit against the parish if and when someone is ticketed with violating the ordinance. He says the ordinance is "virtually unenforceable and violates state law."
The West Feliciana Parish Council formed a committee not long after Buddy Amoroso's death to study enhanced safety measures for cyclists in the parish, which has become a popular biking destination thanks to its rolling hills and rural landscape. Amoroso was killed while riding on Tunica Trace north of St. Francisville. The driver involved was arrested after police determined he was at fault.
Buddy Amoroso's wife, Denise Amoroso, said she's sad to see the recent impacts on the local cycling community, especially since Buddy was exercising caution and following the basic safety measures outlined in the new ordinance.
"All of this is a reaction to what happened to my husband in June. But this ordinance wouldn't have saved his life," she said. "Buddy never would have wanted this — to have cyclists feel they're not welcome because of what happened to him."
Denise Amoroso has taken her husband's seat on the East Baton Rouge Metro Council and said she plans to advocate for local and state legislation that would establish better protections for cyclists and pedestrians.
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The ordinance was passed after several public meetings that included contentious debate from both supporters and opponents of the proposal.
Supporters pointed to the hassle and danger they face when trying to navigate around inconsiderate bicyclists, with some arguing that people who visit West Feliciana just for biking shouldn't get to dictate how residents use their own roads. Council members said residents have long complained about the problem and it's time public officials did something about it.
However, council members also expressed appreciation for the influx of visitors who pass through West Feliciana to take advantage of the cycling opportunities, often stopping at local hotels and restaurants and stimulating the local economy in the process.
Cyclists who took to social media in response to the race cancellation announcements said their money could be better spent elsewhere.
The ordinance includes the following new rules:
- That cyclists "wear an outer garment above the waist of which a majority of the material must be high visibility fluorescent colors and must have a forward and rear facing light with daylight visibility a minimum of one half a mile."
- That except for when passing, cyclists "will ride single file within two feet of the right hand side of the road" and "complete their passing procedure within 1/10 of a mile."
- And that cyclists "will ride in groups of no more than 10 riders with a minimum separation between cycling groups of at least a quarter mile."