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Two bicycles lue on the side of La. 66 in West Feliciana Parish after a fatal crash causing the death of Baton Rouge Metro Councilman Buddy Amoroso. Amoroso and Thomas Clement were struck by a Chevrolet Tahoe while riding.

New rules aimed at boosting bicycle safety in West Feliciana Parish have moved one step closer to fruition despite criticism from bicycling enthusiasts who challenge what they describe as the poor timing — and poor taste — of the proposed ordinance.

West Feliciana leaders decided to address the issue after East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Councilman Buddy Amoroso was hit and killed earlier this summer while biking in their parish, which has become a popular destination for bicyclists looking to enjoy its rolling hills and rural landscape.

The parish council formed a committee to study possible steps to enhance safety. And that group voted Wednesday evening to pass three recommendations along to the full council, which could in turn vote those suggestions into law in coming months — including requirements that bicyclists wear fluorescent garments and ride single file in groups of 10 or less.

Committee members have emphasized that Amoroso's death simply hastened their efforts to address the dangers of biking in West Feliciana; those efforts were already under consideration before his Saturday morning bike ride on June 30 ended in tragedy. Leaders argue residents have long complained about the risks and inconvenience of having to swerve around cyclists on the parish's country roads.

Some bike advocates have taken offense at the proposals, worried the result would be an unnecessary crackdown on biking, especially after police determined the driver was at fault in the crash that killed Amoroso. Those opponents argue that distracted driving places bicyclists' lives in danger, no matter how many flashing lights or fluorescent garments are alerting drivers to their presence.

Nicholas Alexander, 21, of Lafayette, was arrested after his SUV plowed into Amoroso and another bicyclist, who suffered critical injuries but survived. Alexander was booked into West Feliciana Parish jail on counts of negligent homicide, negligent injuring and limitations on passing bicycles.

"This just seems opportunistic," said Brian Fitzgerald, an avid cyclist who lives outside St. Francisville. "It feels like we're being punished for the actions of one driver. Driving, cycling, motorcycling — it's all dangerous. (Amoroso) was doing all the right things. … Cyclists aren't the problem, that driver was the problem."

Fitzgerald, who also serves on the board of the Baton Rouge Bicycle Club, said he and his wife moved to West Feliciana in part for the biking opportunities — a major asset to the vibrant cycling community in the Baton Rouge area.

The committee previously held two public meetings, both of which devolved into heated discussion as advocates voiced their concern and displeasure at the proposed rules.

Committee Chairman Mel Percy started the Wednesday meeting by apologizing both to the Amoroso family and to the cycling community for the poor timing of recent discussions.

"Hindsight being 20/20, I should have waited longer before bringing this issue up," he told the roughly two dozen people, mostly cyclists, who attended the meeting. "However, I did not anticipate that some among you would use the accident to stir emotions and try to (turn people) against what we're trying to do."

Percy also reiterated that safety concerns should have been addressed long before Amoroso was killed — but acknowledged that leaders have "kicked the can down the road" and avoided confronting a "touchy subject."

While some people in attendance continued to publicly criticize the proposals, others voiced their appreciation of the committee's willingness to hear their comments and incorporate them into the proposed ordinance. The overall tone of the meeting was one of acceptance accompanied by some lingering exasperation on both sides.

In response to feedback from cyclists, committee members had added some conditions to their proposed ordinance, which would "not apply to homeowners or renters living and riding within their … subdivisions, major organized bike rides that are legally permitted, … individual riders on crosscountry rides … or citizens that use a bicycle as their main mode of transportation."

The proposal includes three recommended rules for the parish council to consider:

  • That cyclists "wear an outer garment above the waist of which at least 75 percent 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."

Committee members said their recommendations will be introduced at the next parish council meeting as a proposed ordinance, but not publicly discussed until later — either at the next monthly meeting or another special public meeting. Then the council will vote on whether to enact the ordinance.


Follow Lea Skene on Twitter, @lea_skene.