Bikers: Let Freedom Ride

On the same day that one state lawmaker reintroduced a bill to once again make motorcycle helmets mandatory, more than one hundred bikers rode to the state capitol for their annual motorcyclists’ rights rally.  It was no coincidence, according to Charles Umbenhauer with ABATE of PA.  “It’s probably a good idea to air both sides of this issue.  I certainly hoped we wouldn’t have to revisit it this early, but if we have to, it’s fine.”  ABATE stands for Alliance of Bikers Aimed Toward Education.   

“We do have a helmet law in Pennsylvania,” Umbenhauer stressed.  He says motorcyclists have to be at least 21, and either have two years of experience or complete a state-approved motorcycle safety course in order to choose to ride without a helmet.  Additionally, passengers can choose to ride helmetless if they are at least 21, and riding with an exempt motorcyclist.  The modified law has been in place since 2003. 

“We’re not anti-helmet, we’re not trying to get anybody to ride without a helmet,” Umbenhauer says.  Instead, ABATE focuses on education.  They believe the answer to motorcycle safety is training and awareness, not mandated helmet laws. 

While ABATE opposes State Rep. Dan Frankel’s (D-Allegheny) effort make motorcycle helmets mandatory for all riders again, the group is pushing several other bills.  For instance, they would like to see motorcycle learners’ permits limited to one year and to limit the number of times a person can apply for a learners permit.  Another bill ABATE endorses would address civil liability issues to encourage more owners of large parking lots to allow their property to be used for motorcycle safety courses. 

Numerous state lawmakers — like State Rep. Bill Kortz (D-Allegheny) — attended Monday’s motorcyclists’ rights rally.  Kortz used the occasion to unveil legislation that would make Harley-Davidson the official state motorcycle in Pennsylvania.  Kortz notes that Harley has a plant in York, PA, that they use American steel and American workers. 

Lt. Governor Jim Cawley also attended the rally to present Governor Tom Corbett’s proclamation proclaiming May 2011 as Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month in Pennsylvania.

Heavy Rains Have Led to Landslides in Western Pennsylvania

The rain is causing some costly problems for roads in Western Pennsylvania. 

There have been more rainy days than sunny days in the last month and a half, some with torrential downpours, leading to several dozen landslides.

Jim Struzzi, spokesman for PennDOT’s District 11 , says in some cases rocks and mud have fallen onto the road, and in others the roadway slope has slipped away, causing the travel lanes to subside and crack. District 11 covers Allegheny, Beaver and Lawrence Counties.

Struzzi says the due to the geography of the area, there are a lot of shale deposits that, when they become saturated, become loose and slick.  He says rocks then tend to give way.

Struzzi  says the immediate goal is to get the debris and mud cleared when slides occur so the roadway can be reopened to traffic,  if that’s possible.  Some of the affected roads still have lane closures. One of the major roads that has been hit with a landslide is Route 65, the Ohio Valley Boulevard.  Struzzi says it’s not the first time they’ve had to deal with rocks coming down on Route 65, because it does run along the Ohio River.

Struzzi says there were 32 active slides just in Allegheny County alone.

Repairs are expected to be costly. Struzzi says conservative estimates, just to deal with the major landslides, put the cost at between $15 and $25 million dollars.   He says that’s funding that they just do not have at this time. Struzzi says the situation will require  some tough decisions. 

Struzzi says with the way the weather has been going, and is predicted through July, they’re going to have additional landslides to deal with in Western Pennsylvania.