May 2, 2012

Three-feet law, take two

When I moved to California, a little more than two years ago, cyclists in Illinois have already been benefiting from the 3-feet law for two years. In fact, soon after the law was enacted in Illinois, it was also adopted in Louisiana, a state which to this day incorporates some aspects of the Napoleonic Code into its justice system.

That’s why when I first wrote about it here, under the assumption that in a cycling-friendly state like California it must be the law, I was surprised when John swiftly rubbed my nose in my erroneous assumption.

What is the 3-feet law? It’s as simple as it’s sounds. In different jurisdictions that have adopted it, there are nuanced differences, but the main point is the same, whenever a vehicle passes a cyclists, the driver must give the cyclist at least three feet of room.

The first attempt to pass the 3-feet law under the current Brown administration ended in failure for reasons known only to Governor Brown and the coffers of the AAA -- SB 910 was promptly vetoed once it came across Brown’s desk.

In several recent press releases I’ve received from the California Bicycle Coalition, it appears a new 3-feet bill is before the California legislature and is quickly gaining momentum. SB 1464 was passed out of committee in a unanimous 8-0 vote and is on its way to the Senate, and then the Assembly. No one came to testify against the bill at the initial hearings. However, I was able to find at least one (in my opinion asinine) objection to the bill.

It just so happens, that this past weekend I was in Chicago, with a bike, and went for a ride with my former teammates in the north suburbs not known for their particular friendliness toward cyclists. Once the team ride was over and the coffee had been drunk, it was time for me to make the three-mile ride back to my parent’s house. The most direct route goes on some busy roads, Waukeegan, Kates and Pfingsten. None of them have much of a shoulder or bike lane, and all of them have speed limits of over 40mph.

As I began my ride home, I noticed that car after car passed me with enough room to fit at least another cyclists between the vehicle and me. No matter if there were two lanes heading in each direction or one, every single motorist gave me ample room to pass. That is not to say that I’ve never had or heard of driver/cyclist conflicts in the north burbs of Chicago, but on that day, during that short trip home, I remembered what it was like to be a beneficiary of the 3-feet law.

Contrast that with my daily commutes and training rides in San Francisco. I will never understand why nearly every motorist who passes me on the road decides to play a game of “how close can I possibly get to this cyclist.” Maybe I should take it as a compliment and assume that each driver has 100 percent confidence in the line I’m holding, but I would prefer they assume I’m some sort of Fred and can dart sideways at any moment.

The most unpleasant part of my commute is southbound on Market after it crosses Castro St. When I first started to take that route, I would stay as far to the right as possible while crossing the intersection, but then the cars would buzz within inches of my handlebars as they zoomed up Market Street. So I changed my tactics – I now take the entire right lane as I cross Castro and keep it until I have room to move sufficiently to the right where the cars and I can share the lane with enough room to make me comfortable. Whom does this benefit? No one. The cars are pissed that I’m slowing them down, and I’m always nervous that some texting teen will ram me from behind. (But I figure the chances of that are lower than some daredevil hitting my bars with his side-view mirror).

The bottom line is that California desperately needs the 3-feet law. It will keep cyclists safer and give guidance to motorists on how to properly overtake cyclists on the road. The passage and signing of this bill into law is only the first step, however, which will have to be followed by a state-wide campaign to educate drivers and cyclists on the new law and perhaps some enforcement measures for drivers to actually follow it.

The California Senate and Assembly will be voting on SB 1464 sometime this month, and if you’re a cyclists who cares about this issue, this is a as good of a time as any to write to your local senator/assemblyman and tell them why this bill is important to you. You can find the right person to contact by simply plugging your zip code into here.

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