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State bill aims to mandate safe passing distance

A bill introduced by Rep. Jamie Pedersen would require drivers to give cyclists space when passing. The bill also outlines required cyclist behavior, such as riding as far to the right as possible (or left if in the left lane of a one-way) and using bike facilities if deemed safe by the cyclist.

Pedersen, a bike commuter himself, tried for the bill last year, but it got held up in the senate. He said there was concern that last year’s bill did not outline cyclist behavior, so the new version includes language intended do just that.

Publicola reports the new rules for riding behavior:

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“Every person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at a rate of speed less than the legal and normal flow of traffic … shall, when traffic is present, ride as near to the right side of the right through lane as is judged reasonably safe by the bicyclist.” Later on, the bill defines “safe” as “a reasonable space of pavement on either side of the bicyclist, a position so as to be seen and safe from opening vehicle doors and to avoid being passed at less than a safe distance, and a surface that is free from hazards, pavement defects, and objects or materials, whether fixed or moveable, that may obstruct travel, cause a collision or fall, or damage the bicycle.”The bill also would require cyclists to use bike lanes or shoulders when they deem them safe, and to yield the right-of-way to pedestrians on sidewalks; and it lays out specific rules for cycling when a car is trying to pass on the left or the right (on one-way streets).

The bill would make it illegal to pass a cyclist within three feet while traveling less than 35 mph and five feet if traveling faster than 35.

A safe passing bill is absolutely vital. It’s actually crazy that it does not already exist. Driving a deadly vehicle closer than three feet from someone’s body is clearly wrong, and a law will help spread awareness about giving people space and will give bike riders more lawful footing when they are harassed by aggressive drivers.

I am a tiny bit concerned about the requirement to ride in bike lanes unless they are deemed unsafe. This city simply has too many bike lanes that are dangerous for faster travel. They may be good for people who do not ride quickly, but fast riders may need to take the general travel lane in order to ride safely (examples: downhill on 2nd downtown or downhill on Roosevelt in the U District). However, it is important to note that safe road positioning is explicitly left up to the rider’s discretion. I just hope it doesn’t stir up any more animosity towards those riders who choose not to ride in the lanes due to safety concerns (which they should still be able to do under the new law).

This bill has no price tag attached to it, which could help it get through during this budget-crunched session. I urge any senate members who want to score brownie points with the two-wheeled (or, you know, encourage road safety) to take this bill seriously. I can’t think of a single argument against it. There is no reason why a driver should ever have a legitimate reason to pass someone on a bike within three/five feet. Any driver who does so is driving recklessly and endangering lives.

As a side note, the headline for the P.I.’s post about this bill starts with “Cars versus bikes.” This is a ridiculous way to start a story about a bill that actually aims to decrease conflicts between people using each mode of transportation. It’s also silly to go ahead and assume there will be some sort of conflict over the bill, since there is really nothing here that I can see a safe car driver objecting to. I want to urge Seattle media to avoid using the “cars vs bikes” meme every time a story happens to include bicycles. When you cover the much-awaited Thunderdome match-up between a Cannondale and a rusty 80s Toyota, then feel free to say “cars vs bikes.”

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6 responses to “State bill aims to mandate safe passing distance”

  1. Mandatory bike lanes seem like a poor trade for passing requirements that few motorists will be aware of and which have never been enforced anywhere other than as proof the the laws actually exist. Just saying…

  2. Andres Salomon

    Hm, what about taking the lane when approaching an intersection, so as to not be hit by a car turning right? That’s a safety concern that a cyclist might have, but isn’t addressed by the defintion of “safe”. All in all, I’d prefer the bill to state that using a bicycle lane is left to the discretion of the cyclist, rather than a requirement if deemed safe.

  3. Despite the cautionary tone of the 1st two commenters, I applaud the efforts Mr. Pederson is making in bringing forward the proposed State Bill. At some point awareness that roads are for sharing and motorists are in control of machines that have the potential of real harm to cyclists – as well as to pedestrians – needs to be recognized and acknowledged. And in total agreement of the role the media needs to play. They need to stop the proverbial “stirring of the pot” and be involved with serving the people and providing real information, instead of “cheap thrill headlines”.

    1. chris

      paddyanne, when you say that roads are for sharing, I think you would agree that there is a noticeable amount of citizens who don’t believe that and quite possibly don’t believe it anymore. Meaning, they might have thought sharing was right when Seattle was much smaller or sharing is right in smaller towns but not in the world we live in now.

      When some cyclists post responses about this bill, there is overwhelming support for the benefits to them (responsibilities of motorists) but consistant pushback on their (cyclists) resposibilities. This is why there is so much anomosity in this town and a solution needs to be created that takes that tension level down.

      I am one of those motorists/cyclists who believes that bicycle commuting is a very good thing and needs to be promoted. However, resources need to be directed towards a more comprehensive effort to channel the cycling traffic. A network of BG type trails and/or bike boulevards need to be created and just like HOV lanes for cars that have time limits, we need to do everything to move cyclists into those lanes during commuting hours.

      Until then, there will continue to be this “cars vs. bikes” attitude.

  4. Bravo Seattle. This is good news. You are close to doing something that will save lives and I commend Rep. Jamie Pederson for rolling up his sleeves and leading the way to save cyclists’ lives.

    While cycling is safe, sharing space on our roads is becoming hazardous and the growing number of cyclists must find ways to protect themselves. Sixteen states have seen the wisdom and value of having such a law on the books that requires motorists to give cyclists at least 3 feet clearance when passing from the rear. The value of this law isn’t found in giving motorists tickets, but rather, using the law as a tool to help educate motorists on what is considered a minimum safe passing distance–at least 3 feet please. Simple and clearly understood.

    I warn that the naysayers will say the law is only a “feel good” law and unenforceable. I say hogwash. Energetic law enforcement agencies who understand their mission to protect and serve the members of their communities waste no time in rolling up their sleeves and finding ways to do their job. And some of the best do it without issuing one single ticket—pure education.

    Indeed, changing motorist behavior will save lives, but it is also important to understand that changing cyclist behavior is where we can make the greatest impact on cyclist safety. Bottom line, cyclists can solve a majority of their own problems by riding visibly and predictably.

    Let’s not waste time and energy talking about whether or not bikes belong on the roads…they do. Let’s focus our attention on taking reasonable steps to provide clear standards for behavior and ultimately safer roads for drivers, runners, cyclists pedestrians and all others. We have to push aside all the meaningless noise, get to work and do whatever we can to give vulnerable road users greater protection. And at the same time we need to let them know that they have rules to follow as well…and they too will be held acccountable.

    There is a lot of work to do on improving the behaviors of both motorists and cyclists. For the most part, the majority of motorists and cyclists get along very well on our roads. Yes, sadly, accidents will happen because some are just unavoidable. But, we must work harder to prevent the avoidable ones from happening. And the first step is to get past the adversarial relationship between motorists and cyclists so we can work together for the good of all…motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. At the heart of this change is the presence of a mutual respect for each other. This respect for fellow travellers is the foundation for preventing accidents and saving lives.

    The question is really very simple: will Rep. Pederson’s bill, if enacted, save lives? The answer is, YES. And here’s the great news: making cycling safer can encourage non-cyclists to give the sport a try. As more people appreciate and enjoy cycling, we improve safety for everyone. And when that happens we can all feel good.

    Now, I would suggest that Seattle’s cyclists need to get on the same page and do all you can to help Rep. Pederson move this bill forward to success. In the process you may have to give a little, but I assure you, this isn’t going to happen if think for one second that this is all about changing motorists’ behavior.

    Make it happen Seattle.

    Joe Mizereck
    Founder, The “3 Feet Please” Campaign

  5. JAT

    The questions that occur to me are what defines a bike lane, and what happens when the police officer feels a bike facility is safe and I don’t?

    When I ride to work from West Seattle on northbound on E Marginal Way there’s a bike lane on the side of the road until about Atlantic St (Edgar Martinez) where the grade separated mixed use path begins. Would I now be required to use the bi-directional head-on collision-prone, multiple dangerous road crossing plagued, and oblivious dog-walker strewn path or can I stay on the road?

    If I happen to see Rep Pederson and ask him, I’ll let you know what he says…

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