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Posted by on Apr 6, 2009 in Essays, Safety | 54 comments

Law Enforcement Bias and the 3ft Law

So, I finally got around to reading through the links Eric provided in the heartbreaking post about David Meek.

Regarding enforcement of the 3-foot law

This quote is from one of the TV news story links Eric provided. The officer is explaining the legitimate difficulty of enforcing the law, but throws in another little gem of absolute car-centric bias:

“It’s very hard to do. The officer has to be in the right place and he has to observe a vehicle not giving the cyclist three feet. And if there’s on coming traffic, it’s hard for the motorist” said Dusty Stokes of the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department.

Excuse me? Hard for the motorist? Because the motorist HAS to pass? Because his car will explode if he takes his foot off the gas and waits until it is safe to pass with adequate clearance?

This is exactly the kind of institutionalized anti-cycling bias that undermines the foundation of the advocacy pyramid. Cyclists are not drivers of vehicles to this official, they are an obstruction that poor motorists have to get around. Those poor motorists, in their comfortable seats and climate-controlled shells, having to wait a second.

Sorry. I’m not anti-motoring. I’m anti-entitlement (for either party). We are all equal users of the road, so let’s kill this notion that having to slow down to safely pass a slow vehicle is some kind of hardship.

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this kind of “sympathy” for motorists having to wait. It’s been framed in terms of potential downstream road rage, too. If law enforcement is worried about the causes of delay-induced frustration, they might want to take a look at traffic light signal timing! Let’s have some official love for the hardship of long red lights, and freight trains, and school buses—cripes, you can’t even pass those things!

And now I have a few things to say about the 3-foot law

  1. It is virtually unenforceable unless a cyclist is actually hit. We’ve seen, repeatedly, that it’s not being enforced even then. Even here in Orlando—last year a cyclist was hit with a landscape trailer and the motorist was not cited with anything.
  2. There were already applicable laws on the books which cover safe passing of vehicles. All this one did was codify a minimum distance for bicycles—a minimum that is way to close in the most critical circumstances.
  3. Safe passing clearance is a variable that depends on speed differential and vehicle size. If a motorist is passing at a speed close to mine, I don’t mind letting him come by with less space (a foot or two, even, if the situation warrants it). I’ve had Lynx buses give me exactly three feet—that’s intimidating at any speed. High speed differentials make three feet feel like 6 inches, even with small cars. Really, there is only a small window of speed at which it feels comfortable for a small vehicle to pass at 3 feet. “But it says ‘minimum!’” I hear you cry. Need I remind you, all interpretations default to the minimum? Especially for bicyclists.
  4. Cyclists can get way more than 3 feet of passing clearance with good lane position. I rarely get less than 5 feet. The occasional close pass is one in many hundreds of drivers that pass me. That’s a REALLY SMALL target audience for all the energy people want to spend advertising this law. Of the tiny minority of drivers who pass me too close, most are doing it on purpose. Do you think they give a rat’s ass if there’s a law against it? I don’t.

When you’re used to getting space, your perspective changes

A year or so ago, a small group I was riding with was passed by a utility truck on Markham Woods Rd. It felt kinda close, but it was at least 4 feet away. That group had been using good lane position for a few months and they had quickly become accustomed to much greater passing clearance. When we stopped, they all remarked about how close that truck was… not realizing it was more than 3 feet.

Here’s some perspective demonstrated by research

Click the image for a larger view.

Brian and Dan of CyclistView rode a series of video passes on a 6-lane arterial road. They gradually increased their distance from the edge and measured the passing clearance. This chart shows how lane position influences the behavior of overtaking drivers and results in increasing passing clearance with leftward lane position. There are corresponding screen shots and video clips to show you what each of these passes looks like (here).

The following description applies to multi-lane roads. The optimal lane position is essential on a high speed road, where maximum passing clearance is most critical.

If you ride at the right edge of the lane, many motorists will pass within the lane, even if the other lanes are empty. At the left edge of the Exclusion Zone, most motorists will move over if the next lane is empty. But, if a platoon approaches at high speed, many motorists will squeeze through rather than wait to merge. This results in uncomfortable and unsafe passing. It’s a terrifying experience.

Riding in the Optimal Zone communicates, from a distance, the need for motorists to change lanes. With this information, they change lanes early, at speed, and traffic files into the next lane over well in advance of the cyclist. The result is an increasing gap as the lane clears behind the cyclist—a virtual 11 foot bike lane. The few that aren’t paying attention will have to slow and wait until they can merge. That’s their problem. And don’t think you’re delaying them, you’ll see the whole platoon waiting together at the next traffic light.

In this video, the above-described practice is demonstrated on University Boulevard. The passing clearance you see is ~6ft at the closest, most cars are 8 or more feet away. At those speeds, I would not want them any closer.

Included in this clip are the high-speed entrance and exit ramps for the 417. Toward the end, Brian’s microphone picks up an unintelligible territorial noise, which neither of us heard while riding.

We need to reach higher than three feet

Publicize this!

Want awareness of your rights? Publicize this!

The 3ft law has become a distraction from solving core problems. Now, every time there is a discussion about harassment problems or cycling safety, someone talks about publicizing the 3ft law. Awareness of that law isn’t going to solve either of those problems! First of all, we need to attack intimidation and  aggressive driving for what it is—assault and reckless endangerment. Passing clearance is the least of the issue with abusive behavior. Second, no matter how much you publicize that law, it is not going to make up for bad lane position. If cyclists ride so far right that motorists can squeeze through, they will. They just can’t help it! Impatience plus opportunity overrides reason, consideration and law. I mean, c’mon, look at the other stuff drivers do that EVERYONE knows is illegal!

If we truly want cyclists to be safe, we have to educate them (and the public) about how cyclists protect themselves. We need to remove the stigma of being slow in a fast world. We need to enforce the laws that protect all road users—speed limits, following distance and safe passing. We need to make hostility and aggressiveness socially unacceptable, with some legal teeth. There are so many bigger problems we aren’t finding solutions for when we waste energy trying to make people aware of an inadequate and unenforceable law.

54 Comments

  1. Well said.

  2. “It is virtually unenforceable unless a cyclist is actually hit. We’ve seen, repeatedly, that it’s not being enforced even then. Even here in Orlando—last year a cyclist was hit with a landscape trailer and the motorist was not cited with anything.”

    I think I was the cyclist! I was hit on Alafaya near Waterford Lakes. Of course, I think it was a couple of years ago, not last year.

  3. I think this one was on Goldenrod or Forsythe. The driver tried to squeeze past and get back in the lane as an oncoming car approached. He swiped the cyclist with the trailer, stopped, got out of the truck and started yelling at the cyclist (who was laying on the ground) for being in the road.

    What was your experience, Richard?

  4. Great information, Keri. Especially in light of the crap we are having to deal with here in Texas. So-called cycling advocates are pressing for a “Safe Passing” statute here; using tired, irrational arguments to do so.

    Your lane position was ideal and all of the motorists were, for the most part, able to pass without impediment to their existing speed. Those who did slow seemed unphased by the minor inconvenience. Exactly what I experience here, in “cyclist unfriendly” Dallas.

    Documenting the speed differentials was also an important aspect of that clip.

    I noted the contra-flow sidewalk cyclist at around timepoint 2:50. It often makes me wonder what they think to themselves when they see competent vehicular cyclists operating on the roadway …where they belong. Mind you, not that I care, but it would be interesting to know if it inspires them in any way to reform their cowering ways.

  5. I also noted the comment that comment “if there’s on coming traffic, it’s hard for the motorist” and recognized that it was the type of statement from the “car-head” culture that too much of our society has become.

    That person should have been taken to task immediately and publicly, but until that happens, we are still being relegated to the back burner, so to speak.

    Keri’s comment in another part of this electronic world directly matches my feelings for some time, but is much better phrased. Her comment about safety being something we do, not something that’s purchased, or built-in, or manufactured, or a design feature, or a reason to purchase one vehicle over another is dead spot-on, in my opinion.

    Think of all the comments people make about bicycles, small vehicles, motorcycles. Those people don’t think about people, only about features and alleged safety.

    If (when?) all bicyclists realize that an eleven or twelve foot lane is a bike lane and motorists accept it, the three foot passing law will be as meaningless as it is now, but for a different reason.

  6. Herman, I often wonder about posts in various locations about bicycle unfriendly cities or regions. Since I’ve been managing the lane, I’ve found far less conflict and this is echoed by other cyclists who operate in this manner.

    Prior to my education from the LAB, I had occasion to ride in Naples, FL on my other recumbent. The lanes of those roadways on which I had to ride were probably ten feet wide or less and even though I had not taken the RR1 course, I pretty much controlled the lane. I had to, in order to survive six-lane bumper to bumper traffic at speeds from 40-60 mph. Crazy drivers in that part of the state. Tailgating at speed from one traffic light to another.

    I probably got more horn honks in one 20 mile ride that day than I had in the previous year in Daytona Beach. I swore I’d never ride there again, but I’ve since changed my philosophy and learned more.

    The next time I need to ride in Naples, I’ll ride more to the center of the lane and wave more with each horn honk, which is what I do here.

  7. Herman said: “I noted the contra-flow sidewalk cyclist at around timepoint 2:50. It often makes me wonder what they think to themselves when they see competent vehicular cyclists operating on the roadway…”

    My guess is they think I’m certifiably insane :-)

    Seriously, the safety of cycling on a road like that is completely counter-intuitive. Even knowing what I know—having first-hand experience—I can stand on the sidewalk of a road like that with traffic speeding past and still experience a rush of hind-brain anxiety at the notion of riding a bike there. So, I can’t say I blame people for choosing an empty sidewalk rather than the road.

    Now, sidewalk-riding on residential streets is another story. I see a lot of that and it makes me scratch my head.

  8. BTW, I never thought of riding that far left until I watched Dan & Brian’s videos and read their presentations at cyclistview.com.

  9. And to be honest, I used to ride further right – in the right tire track as is often suggested as being sufficient by some League Cycling Instructors. But I’d get the more-than-occasional close pass by motorists straddling the lane. I showed one of the earlier video clips to another instructor who lived in my area at the time, and he said I was too far right. I really resisted believing it at the time, but then when I moved further left, the difference was amazing!

  10. Keri,
    Nice lane control work. It’s always gratifying to see one of my “students” displaying good lane control technique. ;-)

    BTW, University is a nice clean and smooth six lane arterial with sparse, fast moving traffic. The 6 lane arterials I typically use in Southern California on my 25 mile commute route are truck routes which invariably have much rougher pavement, and denser traffic that is just as fast, so University looks like a nice easy and enjoyable road to me. It is much more mellow than my commute route.

  11. What works in one community doesn’t necessarily work in another. Just got back from Naples where there are many cycling commuters who use sidewalks instead of taking the lane. West of 41 the streets are friendly and many have bike lanes and STR signs.

    However, to the east, the average speed ranges between 55-75 although marked for 45. In addition, the intersections are so large that at least three cars in a single lane run red lights because of the delay time for those with the green. Most now conclude that slowing down on yellows is far too risky. Local cyclists take their recreational rides in large groups so they can be seen but wouldn’t ever consider riding their bikes one mile to buy a newspaper. No respect whatsoever…

  12. Jack wrote: “What works in one community doesn’t necessarily work in another.”

    Brian and I hear this a lot, but our hundreds of hours of video documented experience in traffic in urban areas thoughout the US doesn’t agree; provided one is controlling a lane. Lane control works everywhere for bicycle drivers (just like it does for motorcyclists and car drivers). Drivers everywhere do know how to treat a cyclist who acts as a driver. I’ve cycled in affluent neighborhoods, and high crime areas, 2, 4, 6 and 8 lane roads, and everything in-between, and without exception motorists change lanes to pass me when I control lanes. This has happened so many hundreds of thousands of times in my bicycle driving, that I view it as quite routine. I realize that those of you that haven’t logged over 100k arterial miles, most of it controlling lanes, across many different regions of the US, probably don’t realize that this is not subject to much if any regional variation.

    I do however observe there is a lot of regional variation in how curb huggers are treated. I’ve seen one part of a city in which drivers routinely will changes lanes to pass curb huggers, and other parts of the same city where it is typical for a long line of cars to make close (2ft or less) in-lane passes, and in yet other areas of the city, cyclists will get some of each. This highlights Keri’s point, which is point of the bar chart I created, rather nicely:

    “Riding in the Optimal Zone communicates, from a distance, the need for motorists to change lanes. With this information, they change lanes early, at speed, and traffic files into the next lane over well in advance of the cyclist.”

    In effect you aren’t giving motorists an easy option to make close in-lane passes or close straddle passes; instead you give them the same two options they have with other traffic:
    1) change lanes, or
    2) wait behind
    Most opt for the former, as you see in the video. And I would add that this is a universal aspect of bicycle driving; really a universal aspect of driving (provided that bicyclists act as drivers). This is one of the important principles we teach in our traffic skills classes: “You first have to act as a driver for other drivers to treat you like a driver”.

    BTW, I also bicycle in areas where motorists rush through yellow lights, yet they can’t when I control a lane, so my lane doesn’t have this problem! If this weren’t true across the US, Brian and I would have been killed a long time ago.

    For more, please check out our lane control videos on YouTube on the CyclistLorax channel:
    http://www.YouTube.com/user/CyclistLorax

  13. Good essay Keri! I agree that it is going to have to be cyclists asserting their proper lane position that will make the roads safer for themselves. We need to educate cyclists (and eventually motorists) as to the meaning of far to the right (FTR) rules.

    What do FTR rules really mean? In Texas there are two of them. One for cyclists, and one for motor vehicles:

    “…a person operating a bicycle on a roadway who is moving slower than the other traffic on the roadway shall ride as near as practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway, unless…(4) the person is operating a bicycle in an outside lane that is:

    (A) less than 14 feet in width and does not have a designated bicycle lane adjacent to that lane; or
    (B) too narrow for a bicycle and a motor vehicle to safely travel side by side.”
    Sec 551.104(a)(4)

    The vast majority of lanes in the Dallas area, and 100% of the lanes on the roads I normally travel on, are less than 14 feet wide. Even the two lane 70 MPH state highways.

    “An operator of a vehicle on a roadway moving more slowly than the normal speed of other vehicles at the time and place under the existing conditions shall drive in the right-hand lane available for vehicles, or as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway…” Sec. 545.051(b)

    So in Texas, motorists have an identical FTR provision if the roadway is not divided into lanes as cyclists have to a lane. But motorists are not instructed where to travel within a marked lane, while cyclists are under some rare circumstances.

    However, this is the overarching law:

    “A person operating a bicycle has the rights and duties applicable to a driver operating a vehicle under this subtitle, unless:
    (1) a provision of this chapter alters a right or duty; or
    (2) a right or duty applicable to a driver operating a vehicle cannot by its nature apply to a person operating a bicycle.” Sec 551.101

    I therefore submit that the operator of a bicycle in Texas has no obligation to ever ride further to the right in a lane than where the left wheels of a motor vehicle practicably travels.

    The principles Keri highlights of being seen early to afford overtaking vehicles maximum distance to maneuver work just as elegantly on high speed two lane roads. In fact, I am now so unconcerned of overtaking traffic that I have discarded my mirrors. Seeing traffic behind me is simply a pointless distraction that diverts my attention from where my real hazards lie- in front of me!

    I find that motorist’s expressions of frustration are more frequent when there is a paved shoulder next to the roadway. Motorists will sometimes elect to pass me illegally on the paved shoulder to my right. (But they will still afford me five or more feet of space!)

  14. As I’ve noted to some, I’m reading “Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City” by Peter Norton.

    According to Norton, 100 years ago police saw their role as maintaining safety first and foremost. They saw motorist speed as the primary problem (urban speed limits were around 10 mph in those days). Traffic control back then meant keeping motorists going slow in order to protect pedestrians. Congestion was seen as positive; it slowed motorists. A cop in those days would have never thought to force cyclists to the edge to help motorists go faster. Since then police have been increasingly brought into the traffic engineering fold and used to “keep traffic (motor traffic actually) moving.”

    We need to help the police get back to their roots.

  15. Mighk said: “We need to help the police get back to their roots.”

    AMEN!

  16. Recent news item: traffic fatalities down due to reduced driving and reduced speed (to save gas)

    What if cops and cyclists were seen as teaming up to improve safety for all. We all know “speed kills.”

    Instead of cyclist lane control being about cyclist safety, let’s make it about safety for everyone. The more cyclists controlling lanes, the slower motor traffic will be and the fewer deaths we will have.

    Lower speed also means better air quality, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, less noise…

  17. ChipSeal wrote: “What do FTR rules really mean? In Texas there are two of them. One for cyclists, and one for motor vehicles…”
    .
    Unfortunately most states have much more restrictive FTR laws than Texas, which is unique among US states in specifying 14′ as the minimum lane width for lane sharing. In most US states, there is no specified minimum, and police often interpret such laws in way that are highly unfavorable to cyclists. This is why such laws, even the less restrictive Texas law, which also serves as a mandatory bike lane law, must be repealed so cyclists can act as full and equal drivers. Please don’t think this is my own idea; it is the official policy of the League of American Bicyclists as articulated in the recently approved “Cyclist Equity Statement”, URL:
    http://www.bikeleague.org/images/equity_statement_1-05-09.pdf

    Relevant text:
    Equality – The equal legal status and equal treatment of cyclists in traffic law. All US states must adopt fair, equitable and uniform traffic laws, that are “vehicle-neutral” to the greatest extent possible. Cyclists’ ability to access to all destinations must be protected. State and local laws that discriminate against cyclists, or restrict their right to travel, or reduce their relative safety, must be repealed.
    .
    Bottom line: Cyclists should be held to the same movement laws as motorists for the same safety reasons that allow motorists and motorcyclists to control lanes. We should also have the same right to use any lane position we see fit in a marked right hand lane when we are slower than other traffic.

    On the subject of mirrors: I much prefer to use mirror to quickly read traffic prior to initiating maneuvers (to quickly look for gaps, etc.), just like I do when in my car. It is precisely because I consider what’s in front of me to be most important that I use a mirror; so I won’t have to turn my head around (and lose sight of forward traffic) to do most rear scanning.

  18. @fred_dot_u
    “Her comment about safety being something we do, not something that’s purchased, or built-in, or manufactured, or a design feature, or a reason to purchase one vehicle over another…”

    …or legislated.

    @Keri
    “Even knowing what I know…I can’t say I blame people for choosing an empty sidewalk rather than the road.”

    Egads, really! I guess my brain is wired differently, but my response is different. The roads which concern me most are those with WOLs (i.e. ≥14′). Since legally, I am required to ride as far right as practicable, the prospect of sharing a lane with someone whose experience and competency is an unknown raises the hair on my neck. By contrast, no matter what the differential speed of prevailing traffic, if the lanes are under fourteen feet, having the legal right to take the entire lane and force every overtaking vehicle to change lanes, results in a much more comfortable commute for me.

  19. Herman,

    I’d prefer to see cyclists to ride in the road. I just think their gut instincts have so much social/cultural underpinning, that it is understandable for them to choose the sidewalk… especially on a fast road. They’re acting within social norms. We’ve already escaped the matrix.

    We’re at the beginning of the Rogers Innovation Adoption Curve… the early adopters. My goal has been to find a way to convert an early majority and then let the momentum do the rest.

    What bugs me more than sidewalk riders:
    1) the guys in full racing team kit riding way faster than I could ever dream of, but skimming the edgeline or gutter seam. They are, unfortunately, viewed as “experts” by the general, non-cycling public.
    2) club riders who browbeat recent Road 1 graduates who try to use good lane position, telling them they are being rude and dangerous. It’s hard enough to educate people without having peer pressure undermine it.

    I agree with you about the WOLs. I am much more comfortable in a narrow lane. The requirement to share a wide lane puts a cyclist at a huge disadvantage—the worst part of the road, the greatest risk of not being seen and the potential of being hit by a trailer or extended mirror.

  20. Dan, in many cases my experiences confirm and mirror yours. However my experiences in riding in many cities also contradict your data. I have numerous experiences with drivers who resent cyclists taking the lane (riding in the center) and they announce it in words and more dangerously with actions (drive within inches at high speeds) and in some cases literally cutting off cyclists. In last year alone, I witnessed such in over 40 situations in where taking the lane led to more hostility and greater risks.

    Most disturbing was when this behavior was experienced with my young sons. The three of us were forced off the road by an SUV speeding over 50 mph in a 35 zone. We got the police involved. They got the driver who stated he “felt threatened by my sons and acted accordingly”. The police said it was “self defense” and no tickets issued.

    In another instance, I witnessed a speeding van attempt to pass a friend riding in front of me so close that the van’s mirror hit my friend (he didn’t fall). Again we met up with a police officer and he suggested that we go to the police station to file a report.

    In another one of my rides last year, a large semi approached from behind on a six lane road as I was riding in the center of the right lane. He clearly had no interest in moving into another lane and blew his air horn repeatedly, drove within inches when he did pass (half the truck in my lane) and swung his trailer directly in front of me.

    As Keri has explained repeatedly, “When motorists feel entitled to honk and yell at a cyclist while passing, unimpeded, on a 6-lane road, we have a respect problem. When a survey of attitudes reveals that the majority of motorists think it’s dangerous and stupid for cyclists to ride in traffic, regardless of whether or not it’s legal, we have an ignorance problem. When a significant percentage admit they will harass a cyclist because of this belief, we have a respect problem.”

    Too true and Dan is lucky to be surrounded by many drivers who obviously have respect for cyclists. But this does not make good science nor does it recognize dramatic differences in attitudes.

  21. The kind of hostility Jack describes is not unusual in parts of Florida… even parts of Orlando. My friend Ellen has shared some stories with me of abusive things motorists do on her commute. It’s not fun. Frankly, I wouldn’t have the stomach for that crap day after day. The most outstanding story was of a van passing in the left lane, then hooking a right turn across her path (she was claiming the right lane). Clearly deliberate, as he squealed the tires in the process of turning too fast for his vehicle. She actually found a deputy and stopped to report it… typical story: “if we didn’t see it…”

    I set Brian up to film her commute when he was here. Of course, everyone was nice that day ;-) … we did still get some terrific video of her riding in dense traffic. It will be posted someday soon.

    I hope to capture some of the bad motorist behavior on video some day. I think it will be helpful in initiating a meeting with law enforcement and community leaders to see what we can do about it. This arrogant disrespect for humans on bicycles is something we need to tackle head on.

    I would encourage anyone who rides regularly in a problem area to try to do this, if you can. There are some reasonably-priced cameras that mount easily on a helmet.

  22. Come on Jack, it’s not about you!

    A motorist expressing himself in annoying and even a recklessly dangerous way is not doing so because they have no respect for cyclists. They have no respect for anyone on the road.

    They are actually treating you as they would any other motorist who has the misfortune of being in their path.

  23. The kind of behavior Jack described has been experienced by many, many cyclists who were hugging the right edge as well. My perspective is that if a motorist is going to try to intimidate me, I’d rather have some extra room to my right to deal with it rather than to already be up against the curb or edge.

    At how many inches/feet from the curb does the motorist’s anger and hostility become “legit”?

    Jack wrote:
    “Dan is lucky to be surrounded by many drivers who obviously have respect for cyclists. But this does not make good science nor does it recognize dramatic differences in attitudes.”

    In keeping with the desire for good science, we really don’t know objectively how motorist attitude in Dan’s neck of the woods compares with ours. Nearly everywhere I’ve gone around the country (except for those places know particularly to be “bike friendly;” attributed mostly to facilities), locals have insisted that their drivers are the worst. The grass is always greener. (But then I met a guy not long ago who said he got better treatment here than in the SF bay area.)

    Being at the cutting edge will always mean there will be some conflict and dicey situations. But who else is going to look out for our interests and rights? As Ben Franklin said, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” And let’s remember that lane control means we improve our safety with the vast majority of motorists. It is only the smallest percentage of motorists who are so ignorant and disturbed as to behave as Jack describes. They are bullies, plain and simple, and bullies must be stood up to.

  24. Mighk said: “My perspective is that if a motorist is going to try to intimidate me, I’d rather have some extra room to my right to deal with it rather than to already be up against the curb or edge.”

    This is an EXTREMELY important point! It’s so critical to leave yourself someplace to go.

    My experience (in Orlando) with lane control is that when I get yelled at or honked at, it is by someone who is passing me safely in the next lane over… or by someone who is 2 lanes over and never had to change lanes at all but just hates that I’m on the road.

  25. “The kind of behavior Jack described has been experienced by many, many cyclists who were hugging the right edge as well.”

    I agree. I’m trying to remember when the first person shouted at me and purposefully endangered me with their car. I think it was in the middle ’80′s. About the same time that road rage was starting. Prior to that, I was pretty much ignored, so I was shocked the first time it happened.

    Something else we can blame on “All Government is Bad Government” extremists and the people that seem to think they should enforce the “laws” (as they think they ought to exist) with some sort of twisted vigilante justice.

  26. I was just thinking about this last night: trucks have a maximum allowable width of 8′-6″. If one of these trucks is passing another on the interstate, and each truck is centered in a 12′ lane, then the passing distance is 3′-6″. Cars passing each other will be a lot more. So why are cyclists begging for less distance, especially at higher speed differential?

  27. Same reason they beg for 4 feet of gutter when they already have 11ft lanes to ride in. Lack of self-respect as legitimate vehicle drivers.

    The foundation of the advocacy pyramid is missing.

    As Jack Taylor said:
    “If American bicycle advocacy leaders had championed the civil rights movement, the “Dream” would have been reserved seating in the back of the bus.”

    If we want the best for cyclists, we not only have to stand up to the bias of a car-centric culture, we have to stand up to low-reaching bike advocates who really can do more harm than good.

  28. I recently started commuting, and after being buzzed 5 times in less than 30 seconds while riding along the curb, I made the decision to take the lane. Since then, I always take the lane (except on one or two freeway crossings where the overpass has a wide, clean shoulder), and have yet to have a motorist honk or yell.

  29. “Reserved seating in the back of the bus” is exactly correct. Local politicians love to hear that it’s “technique not infrastructure” to blame for injuries and bad blood between drivers-cyclists as it saves time, money and political capital. The result? On governing boards, VCs get appointed to key positions of authority to represent cycling community.

    Nice to think we have all the infrastructure we need to coexist but it’s just not true as Allen has explained in his sprawl examples.
    (http://www.bikexprt.com/bikepol/facil/sprawl.htm)

    What Dan explains is valuable, in many cases quite effective and my thanks to Dan (and others like him). Our urban cores have been made more sprawl like without supporting infrastructure for safer cycling. The streets around my neighborhood have gone from four lanes to six-eight and with higher speed limits. This cost money and politicians don’t want to hear that Complete Streets, which costs even more, should have been properly considered.

    These conditions have been made more hostile, more intimidating by making motorized vehicles larger, faster and equipped with home entertainment systems, all managed by a driver on a cell phone drinking super hot coffee.

    Advocates who preach what politicians like to hear can make a good living from providing the cover politicians prefer. Cyclists need to be mutually respectful and work together to make man’s greatest invention the preferred solution instead of a source of disagreement and an aggravation to drivers.

  30. Jack, you’re making a very good point about the infrastructure — the overemphasis on moving huge volumes of private autos at high speed and excluding everyone else (particularly pedestrians). The fact that we’ve engineered the humanity out of the system and focused entirely on moving fast machines has very much influenced the social expectations people have about roads.

    Your accusation of vehicular cyclists getting in the way of accommodating cyclists really isn’t true. What VC advocates fight is the tokenism that politicians are so fond of. Politicians actually love awards and recognition. If you tell them they can shoehorn a door zone bike lane here, or stripe off a wide curb lane there and someone will give them an award and take their picture… woohoo! They’re all over it. Meanwhile, the burbs are still full of broccoli subdivisions, the roads into town are getting bigger and faster, motorists are still resenting “interlopers” on their roads, cyclists still don’t know how to protect themselves. The all-important invisible changes don’t get made because the politicos can’t point to them and pat themselves on the back.

    Smart advocacy is a combination of realism—teaching cyclists to fare best in the existing environment (that’s what Dan and Brian do so well)—and long-term vision about what kind of physical and social changes are necessary to create the BEST POSSIBLE conditions for cyclists.

    I love the concept of complete streets, but I hate the prevailing application. I don’t believe it is in the long-term interests of cyclists, or a healthy community, to segregate cyclists into the worst part of the road for the convenience of motorists. That kind of “accommodation” reinforces the very social expectations we need to change in order to give cyclists access to every destination.

  31. The best infrastructure for cyclists is multi-lane streets with very narrow curbside lanes and no on street parking.

    What could be better than 10 plus feet of “bicycle” lane that is swept clean by motor vehicle traffic? There are no snow removal issues in the winter time either.

  32. Jack wrote: “Our urban cores have been made more sprawl like without supporting infrastructure for safer cycling. The streets around my neighborhood have gone from four lanes to six-eight and with higher speed limits.”
    .
    Sprawl like? Huh? An urban core is characterized by higher land use density and grid (good) road connectivity; not lane counts. Sprawl is characterized by low land use density, and dendritic (poor) road connectivity; not lane counts. Lane counts are driven by specific factors related to the capacity of a given route, and both high and low lane count roads can be found in urban cores and in sprawling areas.
    .
    In any event, for any given land use and roads of any given lane counts, acting as a driver reduces a cyclist’s individual crash risk, so none of the video we have shown is designed or intended to make any commentary on land use or capacity increases due to the addition or subtraction of travel lanes. To imagine otherwise is to take our materials out of risk reduction context.
    .
    Furthermore, I consider a smooth standard width travel lane of 12′ (or narrower) to be outstanding cycling infrastructure. University has smooth road surfaces, nice non-shareable lane widths, and exit ramps that route turning traffic away from the through lane, so through travelling cyclists don’t have to wait in right turning queues. It doesn’t get any better than this for bicycle transportation.
    .
    A bike lane on University, on the other hand would have crossing conflicts at every exit ramp, and a sidepath/sidewalk is even worse, as the ramp crossings would be even less visible to turning drivers. A road like University is an ideal cycling route, so long as cyclists bother to learn to use it as a drivers, as Keri amply demonstrates in the video clip.

  33. I ride 200 miles a week on the street of Miami and 3 weeks ago got hit by a car. Lady talking on her cell.
    Week prior to that accident, I did a Century ride and rode 10 miles to the beginning of the ride. I could tell who was a “cyclist and who was not” for every car that pass me. Cyclist, went clear almost to the next lane to leave me space. non-cyclist on the other hand were “bother” with my presence and in many cases try to “push me” off the road.
    There is a lot of work that still needs to be done to educate drivers…
    I am recovery fine thanks to God.

  34. Interesting graphic on passing offset.

    Is the source material readily available? With sufficient data in a variety of locations, it could make a very interesting and useful research study, as long as the information and conclusions are stated in a clear and objective manner.

  35. A real research study with sound methodology would probably make the DOTs run screaming for the door.

    ;-)

  36. Sorry for the way-late reply. I was on Alafaya right in front of the Waterford Lakes shopping center at 4 in the afternoon. Clear day, very little traffic. Admittedly, I was not commanding the lane (I’ve since changed my position), but that is no excuse for him to hit me. He kept going, but the car behind him stopped to make sure I was ok (they said I flipped in mid-air), then they chased him down and got the phone number off the trailer. FHP got a hold of him, and as expected, he said he didn’t even see me. I wasn’t badly damaged, and the bike was ok as well. The hospital visit was worse than the accident itself.

    Keri said:”I think this one was on Goldenrod or Forsythe. The driver tried to squeeze past and get back in the lane as an oncoming car approached. He swiped the cyclist with the trailer, stopped, got out of the truck and started yelling at the cyclist (who was laying on the ground) for being in the road.

    What was your experience, Richard?

  37. Richard, thanks for sharing that. I agree 100%! While lane control enhances our safety and comfort, there is NO excuse for a motorist to pass unsafely, no matter where the cyclist is riding. With a witness, FHP should have ticketed that driver for unsafe passing (regardless of the 3ft law). I’m glad you were not badly hurt.

    As for the hospital… ugh. I spent 6 days in the hospital once and have concluded that they don’t let you go home until they’ve extracted every last shred of your dignity.

  38. This is in response to Richard’s question on the data used in Keri’s graph above.

    In August 2006, Dan and I wanted to visually demonstrate the impact of lane position on overtaking distance for our Road 1 PowerPoint cyclist educational materials. We chose a location with minimal cross streets/driveways, where we could wait at a side street, look off to the left in the distance for a traffic light to change from red to green, and then enter the road with enough time to establish a lane position, thus ensuring similar traffic conditions for each run.

    Previously, other senior cycling instructors had suggested to us that when a travel lane is too narrow to safely share, riding in the right tire track instead of the right edge will avoid close in-lane passes. That may be true, but in our experience the right tire track position invites close overtaking from motorists who only partially cross into the other lane. Looking back at this video cemented our belief that a centered or left of center lane position is necessary to control the lane and avoid close passes.

    Not too long thereafter in 2007, Dr. Ian Walker published his study of motorists overtaking bicyclists. The results of his study didn’t agree with our experience, so around that time Dan sent an email to Dr. Walker wanting to discuss, but he received no response. The August 2006 video was a ready made set of data that Dan used to put together a response on the CyclistView website, snapshots of the video frames with the overtaking distance measurements and a writeup is here: http://www.cyclistview.com/overtaking/index.htm

    The rest of the story to date is available on Tom Vanderbilt’s blog: http://www.howwedrive.com/2009/04/03/walker-vs-gutierrez/

  39. On suburban two lane roads in Tallahassee, the drivers will honk at you if you take the lane. We have rolling hills which makes passing more difficult and I’ve experienced passing drivers who use the other lane forcing oncoming traffic to slow down. If I right a bit further to the right, say in the right wheel trough, cars generally give me plenty of room and I get much less road rage from the drivers.

  40. I ride farther right on 2-lane roads as well. This study was done on high-speed multi-lane roads. Motorists are less likely to squeeze into oncoming traffic than same-direction traffic. That’s why you don’t have to ride as far left on a 2-lane—just far enough to make it clear they can’t share the lane with you.

  41. Was that a “honk” 3:15 into the video and, if so, how does that moment differ from dozens of others in the video? To some degree, motorists honking at cyclists is like static…

  42. I ride very aggressively in the lane on two-lane roads.

    The issue is making sure the automobile operator understands that he will have to encroach onto the oncoming lane to pass. The motorist must know that he he needs to wait for a sufficient gap to execute his overtake.

    Nothing makes that as clear as riding to the left of the center of the lane.

    I believe in motorist education: I practice it every time I ride!

  43. Steve,

    Yes, that’s what I was referring to when I said:

    “Toward the end, Brian’s microphone picks up an unintelligible territorial noise, which neither of us heard while riding.”

    It is a lot like static :-)

    In my experience honking/yelling almost never has anything to do with delay, inconvenience or the potential perception of such. It’s territorialism: “you aren’t affecting me in the least, but you don’t belong on my road!”

    What’s sad is that it reinforces the negative self-image of cyclists who don’t believe they belong on the road. Instead of ignoring it or standing up to it, they skitter back to the gutter.

  44. There is visual static on our roadways as well.

    Yesterday, I forgot to activate the “rodney-cams” but observed an interaction between a bicycle operator and a motor vehicle operator. The two operators were heading southbound through an intersection with a green light. The motor vehicle operator was desiring to turn right in a dedicated right-turn-only lane. The cycle operator appeared to desire to continue southbound. Each operator slowed simultaneously, so neither progressed in a convenient manner.

    Clearly, had the bicycle operator been suitably educated, he would have been in the correct lane to continue to his destination.

    The static reference is that I no longer see meaningless markings and could not remember what striping exists at that intersection. Google Maps may be too outdated, although it shows the shoulder striping tapering to the road edge as it approaches the right turn lane. There is a possibility that there is an offset “bike lane” painted at that intersection, as the roadway has undergone renovation in recent months, but it’s been lost in the static in my alleged mind.

    No rodney-cams mean I can’t review the video for clarification.

    This particular rider is a self-reinforcing negative image type. The head mechanic of one of the local bike shops cannot believe that it is safe to operate in the center of an eleven foot lane on a four-lane roadway and declined my offer to ride with me. That’s sad.

  45. jacksonville fla., is like taking a death ride everytime i bike. i ride an avg. 200 miles a week, i have been, spit on, cursed, hit with full beer bottles thrown from cars, & hit headon a 45 mile inpact. there is NEVER enforced laws here. i have biked all over the USA, i have never seen anything like this. i ride a upper end road bike, & i am a very safe rider, & follow all the laws. fla. drivers, why all the HATE? help the bikers take some cars off the road. how? much better if we could take 15% cars off the road, & replace then with bikes?

  46. Fred, ask these guys to give you lottery tickets since you’re still alive – you must be VERY lucky!

  47. Tom in jax, about the only suggestion I might have for you is get your own set of rodney cams and attach them fore and aft on your bike. Cops won’t charge someone without viewing the alleged crime, but video evidence has been used successfully in some prosecutions.

    Steve, I only consider luck to be related to my location, not my operation. I do feel lucky to have taken the TS101 and LCI classes though.

    Another part of my “luck” is that most of my travels are on four to ten lane roadways, with six lanes being the most common size.

  48. Fred, you’re not gonna get free lottery tickets with that story. No drama.

  49. I had the opposite problem happen to me concerning passing another vehicle. In the mid to late 1980′s I was passing a car in a residental area that had been creeping along in front of me at a snails pace, as I passed said vehicle it made a sudden left turn into a driveway, (her home) at the same time I attempted to pass her car as another vehicle should be able to. THEN IT happened, as I made the honest attempt to pass the car, it made a sudden & sharp left turn, therefore striking my $600.00 Fugi bicycle, I went under the left front left fender holding on for dear life as my bicycle went under the wheel. When the whole episode ended I was under the engine holding on to the front bumper, and the car was almost full up into her home driveway. As I emerged from under the car, I noticed a very young female driver behind the steering wheel, totally unaware of the severity of her actions! I then noticed MANY areas on my body that HURT and HURT BADLY!!! I collected myself enough to walk back several blocks away, where I called FHP to the scene. Therein upon my rearrival to the scene, I saw said FHP officer in her yard talking to her family. The Florida Hiway Patrol officer was 19 years old at best, and he was (training) a ride along new officer! I was sighted with illegal passing!!! (HUH!!!) This 16 year old was sitting in the road with no turn signal on, making a turn into her home driveway! Being in my 30′s I knew I could not convence said officer trying to impress a young maiden close to his age in front of her own family, that I was making a legitimate roadway pass!!! She struck me for goodness sakes!!!!!!!!!! I called the cops & then I had no power to persue, the said greeneard cop, was flirting with the operator of the vehicle that turned in front of me!!!! I now realized that I had no chance of a decent mindset involved here as the so called “authority” was being misused & abused by some out of training adolescent!!! I have now lived with my subsequent back injury (plus my subsequent surgery) till now……..That left turn would and should KILL NASCAR…….My pain is relevant to my opinion! Biker’s do have rights!!!!!!!! God Bless All>>>>>>>>>>>>

  50. Ed Wagner just asked on FB if 3′ laws are benefitting cyclists; here’s my response to that question:

    No. Such laws further discrimination against cyclists by treating cyclists different from other drivers, and establishing an absolute minimum that criminalizes motorist making safe passes at less than three feet in slow moving urban traffic. Worse still some states also apply these laws to cyclists, thus taking away their legal right to pass at closer distances in urban traffic. Mindless minimum laws work against cyclists’ driver rights.

    The problem these misguided laws attempt to solve is police enforcement of existing passing laws, which already the passer not to interfere with the safe movement of the passee. The police usually do one of two things when a cyclist is hit by an overtaking motorist:
    1) Cite the cyclist for violating the FTR law and no citation for the motorist
    2) No citation for the motorist

    In case 1), the cyclist is blamed for being in the roadway and loses any hope of recovering civil damages and the motorist is given a pass. In case 2) the motorist is given a pass and the cyclist will have a tough time recovering any civil damages, since no fault assignment was produced.

    The correct solution is to do two things:
    1) Repeal the FTR law, so the police don’t an easy tool to use to discriminate against cyclists who are injured by overtaking motorists
    2) Educate police to recognize a cyclist’s right to use the roadway (which is easier to do if there is no law forcing cyclists to the edge) and that motorists have the same obligation to pass cyclists safely as they do for other motorists.

    Adding a 3′ law to an existing FTR law pushes cyclists to the edge and then requires motorists “give them space”, even though pushing cyclists to the edge encourages too-close in-lane passing. This is schizophrenic, and is like placing a band-aid on a severed limb. It’s better to restore the limb to proper function (repeal the FTR law).

  51. The LA County Bicycle coalition created what they believe are educational posters with a graphic that reads “Give me 3″ as in 3 feet of passing clearance, through future legislation. Of course those of us who control lanes view this differently, since we already average something like 8 feet of clearance, so maybe we need a better educational poster that reads: “Ain’t 8 Great”

  52. We have a 3-foot passing law in Arizona but ours works differently. Prior to that there was no “safe passing” law regarding bicycles. Only safe passing of vehicles and bicycles are not vehicles in Arizona. So the 3-foot law in Arizona has two criteria. The pass must be not less than 3 feet. The pass must be safe.

    Given that the pass must be safe, you would think that it gets used a lot. Not so. We can’t get law enforcement to use it. There are some known problems with the enforcement of the law.

    1. Officers that have used the statute have expressed frustration that the judges have dismissed the charges on a regular basis. There seems to be nothing the officer can say when the driver claims the rider swerve.

    2. Officers are not using the “safe pass” portion of the statute. If they did, they might win the cases more often.

    3. Officers claim they cannot judge what is 3 feet. The bicycle community has often said that we don’t care about when it is borderline, but when the rider flinches or is hit the driver slams on the brakes or swerves, or the roadway is clearly not wide enough, then that’s pretty good indication that the driver didn’t leave 3 feet.

    4. Some officers believe that motorists are complying with the law because they tested it out. They put an officer on a bike and motorists passed safely. Duh! It says POLICE on the shirt. So then the offices tried something different. Put a plain clothes officer on a bike with a camera on the frame and another in front. Film it. Well, the cars that darned near clipped the camera bike were moving left by the time they got to the front rider and nobody seems to have violated the 3-foot distance. Ok, that failed too. But law enforcement seems to be pointing at that study as some sort of proof that drivers are in compliance with the law.

    It is frustrating and there is absolutely no doubt that the 3-foot law is not being used in Arizona.

    Funny, we had a driver rear end a well known rider some years ago and the police refused to issue a 3-foot saying that they absolutely could not invoke the statute because the driver didn’t “pass” the rider. So they used the failure to control speed statute which is common for rear end crashes. Shortly after that another rider was rear ended, only in a different jurisdiction and the officers did use the 3-foot statute, went to court on it, and won. Go figure. This tells me that our enforcement and judiciary don’t know how to handle these kinds of statutory citations and need training.

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Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Why 3 Foot Bicyclist Passing Laws Are a Bad Idea – Brian DeSousa - [...] improvement in motorist passing behavior is those states that have enacted 3 foot laws.  On the Commute Orlando blog, …
  2. Why California Bicyclists Should Oppose the Proposed 3 Foot Passing Law – BikingBrian - [...] a “feel good” measure that doesn’t address these core issues, just look at the enforcement track record in other …
  3. Making Safe Cycling Laws Meaningful | Metamorphostuff - [...] (Commute Orlando has some interesting comments on the difficulty – or reluctance – of enforcing the law.) [...]