GAINESVILLE - After a two and a half hour public hearing at the Hall County Government Center in front of a standing room only audience mostly opposed to proposed bicycle legislation, Gainesville State Representative Carl Rogers announced the bill would go no further.
Rogers said his main concern was safety for North Georgia cyclists and motorists; the bill would have governed bike travel on public roads and required bike registration and licensing; cyclist opponents made their voices heard, and Rogers responded.
"This bill will be pulled first thing in the morning," Rogers told the crowd. "There will be no further action done on this bill."
Applause rang out across the county commission meeting room. Several speakers told Rogers and his co-sponsors Gainesville Representatives Lee Hawkins and Emory Dunahoo that the measure, still in draft form, would do more harm than good and if anything, bicycle regulation was a local, not a state issue.
Earlier in the meeting Rogers drew boos after ordering after ordering Robert Wilhite of Lawrenceville escorted from the room by county marshals. Wilhite, Head Cycling Coach of the Atlanta Trialthon Club, questioned the legislators about why they were proposing the bike legislation when an existing law, known as the 'three foot law', was already on the books, but unknown to law officers.
Wilhite called the bill a 'direct violation of free society' and then began to direct his comments toward Gainesville businessman Jim Syfan, a bill supporter, calling on him to explain recent media comments about having to 'just about hit the ditch because of bicyclists'.
"My guess is that from your description I could probably site countless issues where you were either not patient enough to pass safely or you were just inconvenienced to long for your own liking," Wilhite said.
Rogers told Wilhite that was enough, that his time was up and refused Wilhite's request for 30 more seconds, instructing the marshal to escort him out.The result was a chorus from the audience of "Let him speak, let him speak", followed by boos.
"I let him go way past three minutes, I'm sorry, that's my fault, I shouldn't have done that," Rogers said. "We're here to talk about both sides of the issues."
Syfan said he did not want to inhibit cyclists or bring undue pressure but added he wanted something done to stop cycling fatalities, adding that he did not know why he was tagged as the 'whipping boy' on the cycle bill issue.Chiding recent media coverage, Syfan said most reporters he talked to left out the fact that he was concerned about everybody's health and safety.
"I just can't figure for the life of me what's got you guys so upset registering your bikes," Syfan said. "I'm trying to understand."
The bill was not without its supporters in addition to Syfan. Pam Miller from Lula said she was concerned about safety because the roads in her area were hilly, curvy, and not suited for cycling.
"I have been in my car, and top a hill and have a group of cyclists that are stopped dead still in the road," she said. "Many times I've had to hit my brakes and swerve to the other side of the road and it's a very big safety issue."
Calvin Stewart suggested that cyclists needed to come up with ideas to prevent motorists like him being delayed because the cyclists were blocking the road.
Chad Hayes told the legislators that bicycle legislation similar to what they proposed had failed in other areas.
Amie Booker, President of the Dahlonega/Lumpkin County Chamber of Commerce, said the bill would hurt her community economically. She said out of state cyclists who come to local events like the popular "Six-Gap" were emailing her that they would stop coming.
"This is anti-cycling is what they're telling us," Booker said. "They're saying we won't come there to train and ride. We just want you to take into consideration the economic impact that cycling means our community and to the whole region."
Michael Casper challenged the assertion that 'you drop a bill in the hopper and then you take public comment'.
'What you have done is you've polarized the community on this issue and now you're stuck with it," Casper said. "So we're all here and now you're going to have to take a step backwards and do what should have been done before, which is bring two groups together to work for the common good, but right now you guys are stuck with the mess that you all have created."