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Friday, January 30, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 17.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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Go ahead, hit a bicyclist
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After getting hit by a car and then ticketed, Day
Host-Jablonski put flags on her bike indicating the mandatory three-foot
After getting hit by a car and then ticketed, Day Host-Jablonski put flags on her bike indicating the mandatory three-foot clearance.
Credit:Carolyn Fath

A couple years back, Isthmus wrote about how Madison resident Linda Willsey was ticketed by police after getting "doored" by a car in downtown Madison ("Cops Ticket Biker Hit by Car Door," 8/14/08). That story helped prompt passage of a new state law requiring drivers to look before thrusting open their doors.

In late April, one of Willsey's fellow employees at Community Pharmacy had a similar experience. Day Host-Jablonski was hit by the mirror of a car as it passed too close to her on South Paterson Street just past East Washington Avenue. She was not injured, and the mirror (thank goodness) was not harmed.

By Host-Jablonski's account, she had words with the driver, who afterward "followed me for a while revving her engine." She jotted down the car's license plate number, which she reported to a parking enforcement officer.

Officer Shawn Kelly responded, and spoke to both Host-Jablonski and the driver. (The driver, according to his report, explained that scratched paint on her mirror was "old damage.") That night, Kelly issued a $63.60 citation - to Host-Jablonski!

The violation description on Host-Jablonski's ticket reads, "Bike rules - riding single file only." But the cited ordinance refers back to a state statute that says bicyclists "may ride two abreast if such operation does not impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic."

Art Ross, the city's bicycle-pedestrian safety coordinator, says it all "depends on how the statute is interpreted." He cites an analysis that suggests riding two abreast is usually legal. Indeed, "There are situations where one could argue it's safer to ride two abreast."

Even if it were illegal to ride two abreast, Host-Jablonski denies doing so. She says she was riding behind and a little to the left of another bicyclist: "I was by no means abreast of her." But Officer Kelly's report says Host-Jablonski, asked to diagram her position, placed an X to the left of the other bike, indicating she was in the roadway.

But while the legality of Host-Jablonski's conduct seems open to interpretation, the driver's does not. State Statute 346.075 clearly states that drivers must give bicycles at least three feet of clearance when passing.

Officer Kelly did not respond to an email contact, but Madison Police spokesman Joel DeSpain says police, on review, "did not find the driver culpable and she was not cited."

Clayton Griessmeyer, a Verona-based attorney who does pro bono work for local bicycle groups, has agreed to represent Host-Jablonski in contesting her citation and hopes the case will help clarify such situations.

"A lot of drivers in Wisconsin don't even know the law" about bicycle clearance, he says, noting that this is a subject on which he hears frequent complaints. And this case suggests "some police don't know the law either," or else choose not to enforce it.

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