Posted by: dean | May 7, 2009

Bike Video Thursday – Go by bike!



  1. Dean is in the opinion section of todays Daily Record. I couldn’t find it online yet. Go Dean!!!

  2. Thanks Crazy!
    I thought for sure they’d save that for bike to work week…
    heres a copy:
    This is in response to Valle Schloesser’s letter to the editor regarding a new law requiring 3 feet of clearance when an automobile passes a cyclist. I dont think 3 feet of clearance is safe in all circumstances. 3 feet in a residential area or a downtown is usually sufficient, but 3 feet on a rural backroad with a 45mph speed limit is unnerving. A tall cyclist could reach out and touch someones side mirror just 3 feet away!
    The law would be very difficult to enforce. The only sure way to know if the law was broken is if a cyclist is hit.
    While its nice to know the powers that be are thinking about the safety of cyclists, an unenforceable law is just an empty gesture.
    I think your efforts would be better served by a public campaign that informs drivers and cyclists of their rights and duties and by a program that teaches all road users to safely share the road.
    Dean Sanginari

    • Interesting. I was at a get together where people were talking about this, and one person suggestion that it should be half a lane, which was surprising to me and seemed really sensible at the same time.

    • I disagree on two counts — first, that the law would be particularly difficult to enforce, and second that a law which is difficult to enforce (not, as you suggest, unenforceable, which is something quite different) is an “empty gesture”.

      The 3-foot law, whatever its other failings, is no more difficult to enforce than the laws on speeding, drink-driving, or safety-belt and cell-phone use. All of these laws proscribe or require behavior which is not trivial to observe, and yet all are entirely enforceable and, indeed, in force in New Jersey. I see no reason to believe the 3-foot law would be any more difficult to enforce than these. Nor would it be necessary for a cyclist to be hit for the law to come into force; any police officer, observing a driver passing dangerously close to a cyclist, would have the option of stopping and citing the driver, just as they could today if they observe a driver operating a cell-phone or driving carelessly.

      Moreover, the relative difficulty of enforcing a law is, in my opinion, a weak argument against its passage. The laws against speeding are more observed in the breach, an indication of the difficulty of enforcement. But their presence on the books both permits officers to cite drivers who violate the laws and serves as a clear statement that excessive speed is unsafe and not socially acceptable (experience with typical traffic on Morris St. notwithstanding). The 3-foot law (or the half-lane variant) would similarly serve to make a clear and explicit legal statement about the duty of care owed by operators of other vehicles toward cyclists, even if it never resulted in a citation.

      Finally, I think your suggestion of a public education campaign, while valuable, sets up a false dichotomy. There’s no reason we can’t have the education campaign AND the law. The former, in fact, would be a necessary product of the latter, as the law would be added to driver’s manuals and tests.

  3. I found an Arizona pocket guide for sharing the road. In it is suggests 5 feet with a 3 foot min.


  4. What worries me is I can imagine drivers already hostile to bikers only giving 3 feet when more is necessary. If I was regularly passed with only 3 feet on some of the high speed roads I ride, I would stop riding.
    but I think close quarter city riding (granted theres not much of that around here) less than 3 feet clearance can be perfectly safe. And what about when a bike passes a car, say splits the lane at a light and passes a line of cars, does my bike need to give 3 feet clearance?
    Also , 3 feet from what? The drivers mirror? cyclist shoulder? I use a big pannier that sticks out a foot from my shoulder.

    • Do you think the half a lane rule would be better?

      • I don’t know that it much matters what arbitrary distance we pick, as long as there’s a standard on the books that vehicles are expected to maintain a safe distance from cyclists. That’s the real point of the statute and, in fact, wording to that effect might have some advantages over setting a specific distance standard. I’d guess that leaving that sort of ambiguity in a law would lead to endless debate over what constitutes a “safe distance”, but even that debate would increase awareness, and that’s no bad thing.

        As for the specifics of whether the law would be enforced on cyclists who split lanes or from which part of the car/bicycle the distance is measured: again, as in so many areas of law enforcement, I think it would be a judgment call. If a cyclist were riding dangerously close to cars, yes, I expect an officer might cite that cyclist. Similarly, a driver might argue successfully in their defense that a cyclist deliberately rode dangerously close. If a driver attempted to argue in court that they were operating their vehicle safely because their front quarter-panel was 3 feet from your wheel, when in fact their mirror was scraping your panniers, I imagine a judge might find against them.

        There are few absolutes in life, and we shouldn’t, I think, avoid constructing sensible law simply because we can’t make absolute predictions about enforcement. That’s what police officers, judges, and lawyers are for.

  5. I sort of like to avoid constructing sensible laws because I want to be in charge of everything.

  6. half a lane sounds like too much, theres just no pleasing me! I dunno, most cyclist hit by cars are’nt hit from behind anyhow BUT, I do think a safe passing law would send a message…. give way… bikes belong, but there must be another way to send it?

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