Three Foot Law

Recently, the local paper asked for their readers to share their opionions on a proposal to pass a law requiring a three foot gap between a passing car and a bicycle. (read it here) There were some interesting responses, and I’d like to reply to a few.

That’s just common sense. People should be doing that, anyway. What do we need a law for? – Daniel O’Connor

True, but passing the law will help raise awareness of the safety of bicycle riders.

Unenforceable! – J. Martin Mlynarik

Several of the responders felt that enforcement would be impossible, and I agree. But this is about encouraging safe driving, not passing out tickets.

Actually, that is a good start, but I would prefer a complete lane change where there will be no argument about how many feet the car was away from you. What will be the penalties for getting too close? As a cyclist, I consider myself and my bike a vehicle bound by the same laws of the road as any vehicle, therefore it would be good if the law treated me like any vehicle. – Chloe Harshman

This comment from local cyclist Chloe Harshman echoes my feelings on the matter. When on my bicycle, I am operating a vehicle, and receive all the rights and responsibilities as any other user of the road. (Not likely to happen) If the driver can’t use the next lane to pass he/she should be waiting until it is clear.

I think that it would be a very difficult if not an almost impossible law to enforce. I try to give cyclists as much room as possible when passing them, but it can be difficult when they are riding two or three abreast. I would like to see more cyclists obey the rules of the road as they should, such as stopping at red lights, stop signs and not going the wrong way down a one-way street. – Eleanor Mlynarik

This comment shows that many people don’t understand how traffic law applies to cyclists. Riding two abreast is legal in the State of Indiana, and is reenforced in the city code of both Lafayette and West Lafayette. Three abreast? Not so much, but I’m sure she hasn’t seen that very often.

Based on her last sentence, I guess she thinks that just because some cyclists don’t follow the law, then the safety of every cyclist is therefore forfieted. Should my life be endangered because someone else did something wrong?

Only on three conditions: 1. there is no marked bike lane; 2. allowing a three-foot clearance does not force the passing car into oncoming lane; 3. cyclist is not abreast of other cyclists. I live in West Lafayette and frankly feel that cyclist groups are a real hazard, as they ride abreast blocking roads and going well below posted limits. – Don Shipley

This comment really set me off. Let’s tackle them one at a time:

  1. So if there is a marked bike lane, we aren’t allowed to ride outside of it? Wrong! There are many reasons why a cyclist would be outside of the lane, plus the law doesn’t require us to use it. Regardless, this is no reason for you to barrel on through.

  2. Don, let’s think about this. You are behind a cyclist and want to pass, but there is oncoming traffic. So it is OK for you to squeeze between that car and the bike, endangering both the driver and the rider? Do you see how entitled that sounds? Here’s what a sensible driver would do – WAIT UNTIL IT IS SAFE TO PASS! If there were a slow moving tractor in front of you, you wouldn’t pass when the opposite lane wasn’t clear. It is on narrow roads where this law makes the most sense. I am often passed on Newman Road where its narrow lanes don’t allow a car and bike to fit side by side, and the inevitable oncoming car has to slow or pull into the grass on the side to escape a collision.

  3. I already wrote about the two abreast thing, but now speed limits too? You expect a cyclist to maintain a speed of 35MPH just so you don’t have to slow down for 10 seconds until you can pass? A speed limit is the UPPER limit, not the lower. Let me make myself perfectly clear – You don’t have the right to drive as fast as you wish, and I have no requirement to stay out of your way.

I’m not sure I would ever pass one that close. Does that mean cyclists must stay three feet from cars and not ride between parked cars and cars stopped for a light? – Carl V. Covely, Jr.

Yes, Carl, it does.

Many times I had to nearly stop and get way over in the opposite lane in order not to hit a cyclist. I don’t believe an ordinance is a viable solution. – Furman A. Powell

What? You had to react in some way to not kill or maim another human?

I think cyclists and semis should have their own lanes. Always in the way when trying to get somewhere. – Mark Acles

Mark, it’s not all about you.

When I started this post, I was trying to be civil, but these responses just made me angry. Serves me right for reading comments in the paper.

bike lane blocked by a stump

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One Response to Three Foot Law

  1. Melissa McCurley says:

    Dan, thank you for your sensible remarks. You mentioned raising awareness of the safety of cyclists. May is National Bike Month. There are some local biking events scheduled that may make cyclists more visible in our community– and, I hope, swell the ranks of local cyclists.

    I’m a member of the Wabash River Cycle Club. The WRCC is one of the groups organizing Bike to Work Day on May 17. This year, there will be two locations for bike commuters to meet: at the parking lot off Salisbury Street in West Lafayette where the Farmers Market is held and the bus turnaround at 11th and Main Streets in downtown Lafayette. The next day, the WRCC is having a new rider callout with rides of varying length to encourage people to try recreational cycling. More info on both events can be found on the club website: http://www.wrcc-in.org/ or in the “events” tab on the club Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/WRCCIndiana . Another local group, Bicycle Lafayette (http://www.bicyclelafayette.org/), has special cycling events this month, too. You are most cordially invited to attend any of these.* Otherwise, I’ll see you on the roads!

    *I’ll add the caveat that some of the Bicycle Lafayette activities require the purchase of a ticket, and I’m not offering to buy the ticket 😉 .

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