What happened to three feet?

The path from bright idea to law is not often short or direct – it’s more likely to be long, circuitous, and not exactly pretty, much like a business route that takes you around the city rather than going to the heart of the matter.

The Three Feet Safe Passing bill sponsored by Georgia Representative Wendell Willard (R-HD 49) and helped along by the Georgia Bikes Alliance (recently-formed lobbying sister to Georgia Bikes!), is no different.

A little background

Georgia law requires that drivers leave a “safe” distance when passing other vehicles. Since bicycles are vehicles under Georgia law, the “safe” distance applies to us as well, but many states around the U.S. have adopted more specific legislation regulating motor vehicles passing bicyclists. At most recent count, sixteen states had laws defining a safe passing distance as three feet (or more), and another seven including Georgia had bills introduced during the last legislative session.

House Bill 988 was drafted at the initiative of Bike Roswell members, and helped along by grassroots support and a lobbyist hired by the Alliance. The bill initially received strong support, leaving subcommittee nearly unscathed, but as the session stretched on and other transportation issues including funding reform came to the fore, lawmakers began raising questions. “What if there are two cyclists riding side by side?” was the stickiest of these. The answer, that most cyclists will drop to single file to allow cars to pass, led to a Sophie’s Choice: give up the right to ride two abreast, or give up on three feet.

The board of the Alliance deliberated long and hard, and while there were a range of opinions, we ultimately decided that a) we have too few protections as cyclists in Georgia to be giving any away and b) the ability to ride two abreast does confer a safety benefit (especially on roads with more than one lane in each direction) as it tends to force drivers to change lanes to pass, thus accomplishing the same goal as the three feet bill.

Now at this point, some of you are wondering why the Georgia Bikes Alliance decided to pursue the definition of three feet as the safe passing distance in the first place. In seeking consensus around a legislative agenda, defining three feet as the safe passing distance kept popping up on every list. It may not have been everyone’s top priority, but it made everyone’s cut – it aimed to improve safety, raise awareness, and ultimately was intended to encourage more people to ride bicycles in Georgia.

We did have other items on our agenda, including what became our “Better Biking” bill – a cleanup bill that would define bike facilities, make it illegal to park in a bike lane, explicitly legalize bicycling on paved shoulders, allow variants on hand signals, and legalize recumbents, among other things. That bill did not make it out of committee before crossover day, but we have high hopes for next year.

Speaking of high hopes, we need your help. If you visit the Georgia General Assembly’s website and click on Representatives by Name, you may notice a big blue F next to their names. That’s not a grade, it’s a way for us to forge new connections with our elected officials!

I believe social networking is key to advancing our cause, and I invite you to join Facebook and “friend” your representatives and senators. Once you’ve made friends, invite them to speak (briefly) at the start of your next ride! By giving them a chance to air their views and get friendly face time, we create opportunities to hear and be heard when the next session rolls around. Unfortunately our Georgia Senators aren’t as networked yet, but you can still reach out to them the old-fashioned way, and some of you may even prefer that!

Whatever works for you is great, just as long as you reach out.

It might sound intimidating at first, but I can tell you from our experience in Atlanta that at the end of the day, it’s all about relationships, and they might as well be good ones!

If you’d like to learn more about the Georgia Bikes Alliance or view the bills introduced in 2010, please visit our website at gban.org, or join the conversation on the web through the google message board.

We welcome your input on goals and strategies as we prepare for the next session at the Gold Dome, where Georgia’s bicycle advocates will continue to work to protect the rights of bicyclists in our state!

Stay tuned for information about the Georgia Bike Summit this fall - we're planning this summit as a way for bicycle users across the state to share their ideas for improving conditions for cycling, as well as to network and learn about the many possibilities and challenges. Hope you'll join us!

As seen in ABC's "Traffic" Column in the Southern Bicycle League's FreeWheelin'.

Comments

Bike Safety & Law Changes

The following items should be added to the new law or new laws created for non-motorized vehicles. (1) Non-motorized vehicles should be required to be licensed by the State DMV - much like motorcyclists. Cyclist will have identification for traffic law violations.(2) Non-motorized vehicles ridden on public roadways, should be required to have small tags (i.e., motorcycle tags)to identify the non-motorized vehicles and its ownership/registration. (3) Fines set for disobeying traffic laws (i.e., traffic lights, road signs, impeding the flow of traffic, not following in line with traffic, blending and co-existing with motorized vehicles, where necessary, not passing other vehicles on blind sides, (4) Fees gained from license fees, tag fees and fines will go towards better pathways designated for bicyclists. (5) Insurance should be required on adult cyclist and their cycle for property damage, collision - same as motorized vehicles.(6) recreational cyclists to be required to stay within lined, designated streets and to acquiese to motorized vehicles, especially during high traffic hours of the day (10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.)and (7) non-motorized vehicles should always ride single file.

I don't trust "Big

I don't trust "Big Government" that much and don't see what would be gained by giving up my freedom to ride my bike safely and in accordance with existing traffic laws.

disagree

I disagree with these suggestions but thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Bicycling for transportation has a number of positive externalities (clean air, lower carbon emissions, less childhood asthma, less obesity, less heart disease, more interactions with neighbors and communities, less roadway space needed than cars, less wear and tear on streets than cars) and should be encouraged for these reduced costs to society. Your suggestions would have a chilling effect on cycling rates - I hope that was not your intention?

Here's my take:

(1) "Non-motorized vehicle licensing. Cyclist will have identification for traffic law violations."

--> We already carry identification - whether drivers license or state id. Additional ids are not needed.

(3) Fines set for disobeying traffic laws (i.e., traffic lights, road signs, impeding the flow of traffic, not following in line with traffic, blending and co-existing with motorized vehicles, where necessary, not passing other vehicles on blind sides,

These fines are already in place. Bicycles are vehicles under Georgia law and traffic law treats them as such. I do agree more enforcement of traffic laws on ALL roadway users is strongly needed.

But consider this: drivers operating heavy vehicles fly through red lights every day (I usually see at least two do this daily on my commute). They are endangering not only themselves, but people on foot and bike to a much greater extent than a cyclist who runs a red light. We do not condone red light running by ANYONE, but we recognize who poses the greater risk to others.

It does drive me a little crazy when cyclists "filter" through traffic. It's pretty dangerous (for the cyclist!) and creates a lot of anxiety on the part of the drivers.

(4) Fees gained from license fees, tag fees and fines will go towards better pathways designated for bicyclists.

We're already overpaying for local roads, which are funded primarily with property taxes, and which we cause less damage to than cars. Yet these roads were mostly not designed with bicycle riders in mind. Why should we have to pay even more?

(5) Insurance should be required on adult cyclist and their cycle for property damage, collision - same as motorized vehicles.

When a bicycle hits a car, it's Rare that much damage is caused, but either way, car insurance or homeowner insurance covers bicycle crashes.

(6) recreational cyclists to be required to stay within lined, designated streets and to acquiese [sic] to motorized vehicles, especially during high traffic hours of the day (10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.)

How can you tell recreational cyclists from transportation ones? And for that matter, how can you distinguish recreational drivers from those who are driving because they "have" to get somewhere? What are lined streets? Do you mean those with bike lanes? We have very few of those in Georgia. What does it mean to "acquiesce" to motor vehicles?

Just because a car can go faster than a bike does not make its occupants or their errands any more important. I bike to work, to the store, to pick up my child, and to visit family and friends. If it takes a driver 15-30 seconds to pass me, well, maybe they can use the experience to practice a little patience, which seems to be in short supply in our world today.

(7) non-motorized vehicles should always ride single file.

In my experience, riding single file right next to the curb most often results in cars passing within an inch of my elbow, startling me and potentially causing me to crash. However, when there is one travel lane in my direction I always, as do the vast majority of cyclists, ride single file. It's common courtesy.