Cycling advocates were applauding Thursday as the New Brunswick government introduced the so-called "Ellen's Law" with what one cyclist called "lightning speed."
The legislation, named for competitive cyclist Ellen Watters of Sussex, who died in December, will require drivers to leave one metre of space between their vehicles and cyclists on the road.
Watters died following a collision with a car, a tragedy that galvanized cycling groups who had been pushing for such a law.
Wayne Arrowsmith, one of those who'd lobbied for the legislation before Watters's death, said he was happy to see the legislation introduced "with lightning speed," less than two months after the fatal collision.
The bill, titled "An Act Respecting Ellen's Law," is expected to pass and take effect in the spring.
Tragedy the catalyst
Arrowsmith and others were reluctant to discuss why it took a tragic death to get the legislation moving, but it was clear that was the catalyst.
"Sometimes the story of one woman, or one man, changes everything," said Liberal cabinet minister Rick Doucet, a cyclist who survived a collision with a car himself about 12 years ago.
Public Safety Minister Denis Landry, who was first elected in 1995, said, "I've never experienced having a bill go through this quick."
In December, Arrowsmith said the province was "lukewarm" about what cycling advocates were asking for, and he was at a loss to understand why it hadn't moved faster.
But Thursday, Arrowsmith would not criticize the delays.
"The government had never closed the door on it," he said. "I think what's important is they realized this is important to the cycling community."
Other measures under study
Arrowsmith said the government has also promised to study other recommendations from cycling groups.
They include an even wider clearance space of 1.5 metres between cars and cyclists when speed limits are higher than 50 kilometres an hour.
Cyclists also want legal recognition of bike lanes, which are often blocked by parked cars, forcing cyclists into traffic.
"Any municipality in the province that has bike lanes — cars can park in them and there's nothing the police can do," he said.
'A little lack of respect'
Johanna Bertin and Bruce Pendrel, the parents of Olympic cyclist Catharine Pendrel, said it's not always easy to get drivers to recognize that bicycles are legitimate ways to get around on the province's roads.
"There's a little lack of respect, I think, for us," Bertin said. She pointed out many highways don't have any shoulder for cyclists to ride on, forcing them to ride on the road.
'The education part of this bill is huge.' - Johanna Bertin, mother of Catharine Pendrel
Pendrel said just the discussion of the proposed law would help increase awareness and make drivers more careful.
"The education part of this bill is huge," he said. "I think drivers will actually welcome the clarity that this law brings."
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Arrowsmith said if cycling becomes safer, it will become more popular, which in turn will make New Brunswickers healthier.
Thursday's bill with the one-metre restriction was drafted quickly, "it's probably the easier part," Landry said.
"We'll give ourselves around six months to make things happen, to talk with municipalities, to talk with the Department of Transportation," he said. "This is the first step. This is a two-phase approach and this is the first phase."