Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Safe Passing Done Right! (Almost!)


So the city council of Dallas is set to pass an ordinance for the safe passing of bicycles by car drivers. The language reads as follows:

The proposed ordinance would require the operator of a motor vehicle to: (1) vacate the lane occupied by a vulnerable road user when passing, and reenter the lane occupied by the vulnerable road user only after passing at a safe distance; (2) not turn right in front of a vulnerable road user unless safely clear of the vulnerable road user; and (3) not throw items at a vulnerable road user. A vulnerable road user includes operators of bicycles, hand cycles, unicycles, and other human-powered wheeled vehicles on a street or highway. A motor vehicle operator violating the ordinance may be subject to a fine not to exceed $500. The motor vehicle operator is provided a defense if the vulnerable road user was not complying with laws governing the operation of bicycles on streets and highways. A defense is also provided if the motor vehicle operator cannot change lanes because of a physical barrier or obstruction or because the change of lanes would be unlawful, and then passes the vulnerable road user at a safe speed and distance.

This gets a few things right, and a few things could be better, but this is some of the best stuff I've seen yet though I could do without the vulnerable road user designation. I should start by saying that this ordinance only makes clear what is already required by our state transportation code, namely that a vehicle may not pass another within the same lane if it is unsafe to do so, and instead must fully change lanes to execute a pass. This is a matter of temptation for car drivers because cyclists have a narrow profile, and often it seems like you could squeeze by without changing lanes, but in reality you can only do so by creating a risk to the cyclist. This just spells it out plain and simple: pass a bicycle just as you would any other vehicle, like a car or motorcycle.

My biggest tweak to this would be to state clearly that when traveling on a road with multiple lanes in the same direction of travel, cars in adjacent lanes shall not be considered obstructions, and that a car is expected to slow, yield the right of way to cars in that lane, then occupy the next full lane and execute the pass at a safe distance. Of course, there will be some argument over what a 'safe distance' means. What seems safe in a car may not seem all that safe on a bicycle.

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