Bill Dooley had been a lawyer and insurance industry lobbyist who retired at age 55 and devoted much of his time and know-how lobbying for his passions: cycling and transit.
Just four days before he died from thyroid cancer in December, he chaired a Zoom meeting of the legislative committee of the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota, talking about legislation that combined bike safety issues with funding proposals.
Now that bill — House File 677 and Senate File 912 — will be named the Bill Dooley Bicycle Safety Act should it pass the Legislature in 2023. It includes improvements to school bike safety programs, dedicates federal funds to bikeway projects, and makes changes to traffic rules including adding Minnesota to the dozen states that allows the “Idaho Stop” at stop signs and lights.
“From time to time we name bills in honor of someone who has made significant contributions to the topic of discussion,” said Rep. Frank Hornstein, the Minneapolis DFLer who chairs the House Transportation Committee. “Bill Dooley … was a real champion of the issue.”
Attending Tuesday’s hearing on the bill was Dooley’s wife Susan Dooley, daughters Laura Glenn and Shana York and son-in-law Duncan York.
The bill would require bike safety programs in public schools, training that is now encouraged but not mandatory. Dorian Grilley, the executive director of the alliance, called the changes to bike safety programs the heart of the bill, telling the committee that one of Dooley’s joys was passing a school while safety training was being taught.
“The Bicycle Alliance feels that bike education and community engagement are essential investments needed to maximize the return on investment on infrastructure,” Grilley said. A curriculum called Walk, Bike, Fun was developed and is coordinated by the Minnesota Department of Transportation. About 100,000 children take that training each year, he said.
But Grilley said districts could do less than offer the full curriculum. Pedestrian safety is already taught as part of districts’ bus safety training.
“All we would be adding is a few minutes of bike training,” Grilley said. “A bookmark, a flier and a few minutes of school time once a year would be the minimum that you are requiring.”
There was some pushback on the mandate from legislators representing more rural areas of Minnesota. Rep. Bjorn Olson, R-Fairmont, said the school his children attend is a half mile from home, and Olson said he was five miles from a school when he grew up.
“How many students do you expect to ride to school in the country?” he asked. Grilley said it might not increase the number of children riding bikes to school “but they should learn how to use the existing infrastructure safely.” For example, the city of Wabasha has received a grant to build a trail that connects to a school there, he said.
The bill would add two bike routes to the state bicycle route network: the Mississippi River Trail and the Jim Oberstar Bikeway. It also revives a citizen advisory board on nonmotorized transportation issues.
In addition, it provides specific designations of federal transportation funds that must be spent on nonmotorized transportation, not including transit. It would send $10 million a year to the safe routes to school program that provides grants for planning and bikeway projects and $25 million for the active transportation program that grants money to local communities.
Finally, the bill makes some legal changes that respond to frequent complaints from cyclists. It would make Minnesota the 13th state to adopt the Idaho Stop, which allows cyclists in most circumstances to slow down at stop signs and signals and proceed without making a complete stop if it is safe to do so. It clarifies that a cyclist who comes to a right turn lane can proceed straight through the intersection from the left edge of the right turn lane without having to merge into the traffic lane first, as current law states. The bill clarifies how much room drivers must give when passing cyclists from three feet to the greater of three feet or half the width of the vehicle.
Grilley said the road rule changes match with national best practices from the National Conference of State Legislatures for how cyclists and drivers interact.
“I don’t think we should penalize bicyclists for doing the best practice and something that is widely accepted,” he said.
Hornstein called Dooley a “one-person clipping service” who sent emails to policymakers, advocates and reporters with any news article that related the bike policy, transit and urbanism. He was also an active member of the state affiliate of the Major Taylor Bicycle Club, named for a cyclist who in 1899 became the first African American world cycling champion.
One of his last emails came on Dec. 7.
“In 2017, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer and was able to defeat it with surgery,” Dooley wrote. “This summer, at the age of 73, I was hit with an aggressive form of thyroid cancer. After 30 radiation treatments and 6 chemo treatments at the University of Minnesota Cancer Center, I am home trying to regain my strength for additional chemo treatments.”
Dooley died Dec. 23.
Correction: This article was changed to remove a paragraph saying the bill would empower local governments to set lower speed limits around schools and on safe routes to schools corridors, whether those roads were under the jurisdiction of the city or not. That language was removed from the original bill.