TUPELO – Motorists who fail to respect the rights of pedestrians and bicyclists could face fines and possibly jail time if city leaders amend an existing ordinance.

The measure is the latest in a series of recent steps taken by Tupelo to promote safe, alternative transportation – namely, walking and bicycling.

“The time is poignant and right,” said Mayor Jack Reed Jr. during a City Council work session Monday at City Hall. “Especially with the deaths of John Paul Frerer and the cyclists on the Trace.”

Frerer was an 18-year-old Tupelo High School student who was killed this summer while bicycling to Oxford. Two other cyclists also died this year on the Natchez Trace Parkway, one in Prentiss County and one in Chickasaw County.

According to the proposed amendment, motorists must either switch lanes or provide a 3-6 foot buffer zone when passing someone on foot, horseback, bicycle, motorcycle, scooter or farm equipment.

Lane switching is required on roads with more than one lane running in the same direction, otherwise the buffer goes into effect. It mandates 3 feet for passenger vehicles and 6 feet for commercial vehicles.

The council will consider the issue at its Nov. 17 meeting. If passed, it will go into effect 30 days later.

“The idea for this change came from the two public meetings we held last month,” said city Senior Planner Renee Autumn Ray. “There was a general consensus that we need more education about rights.”

Ray led the meetings, which sought to gauge the level of interest for more city biking and walking paths. It also solicited public comment for where the city should begin in its efforts to promote biking and walking.

Many said it’d be helpful to educate motorists about the need to share the road – and to put some teeth behind it.

The current ordinance, which is identical to the state code, simply requires motorists to be careful and to honk when passing pedestrians, cyclists, children, or “any obviously confused, incapacitated or intoxicated person.”

Although the amendment doesn’t specify a punishment for violators, Police Chief Harold Chaffin said state law allows for up to a $500 fine and six months in jail.

Reed said he would consult with the Municipal Court to set an appropriate fine. It’s unclear right now what that will be.

“People ought to know,” Reed said, “that there is a consequence – even if there is no accident – for shaving a bicyclist.”

Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.

Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

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