Bicyclists get added buffer from vehicles on streets 

click to enlarge A cyclist maneuvers his way through downtown Los Angeles traffic on Sept. 16, 2014. - RICHARD VOGEL/AP
  • Richard Vogel/AP
  • A cyclist maneuvers his way through downtown Los Angeles traffic on Sept. 16, 2014.

This week's question comes from Tara J. from the Mission, who asks:

Q: "I am a cyclist. I heard that a new three-foot safety law was passed and signed by the governor recently. Can you please tell people what that means so they give us bicyclists a break and follow the new law?"

A: Tara, you are indeed right. The California Bike Coalition has flexed its political muscle again and on Sept. 23, Assembly Bill 1371, authored by Assemblyman Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown and Section 21760 has now been added to the California Vehicle Code. Called the Three Feet for Safety Act, Section 27160 states that "a driver of a motor vehicle shall not overtake or pass a bicycle proceeding in the same direction on a highway at a distance of less than three feet between any part of the motor vehicle and any part of the bicycle or its operator."

This is about the width of a car door. The law provides for exceptions to the rule if the driver of a motor vehicle is unable to comply with the three foot rule due to traffic or roadway conditions. Under those circumstances, the driver shall slow to a speed that is reasonable and prudent and may pass only when doing so would not endanger the safety of the operator of the bicycle, taking into account the size and speed of the motor vehicle and bicycle, traffic conditions, weather, visibility, and surface and width of the highway. People (including Muni drivers) who violate the law are subject to a $35 fine. If a bicyclist is injured as a result of the violation of the statute, they can be subject to a $220 fine.

So, when coming up behind bicyclists, give them the space that they deserve.

In addition to the Three Feet for Safety Act, the California Bike Coalition, in conjunction with Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, drafted and passed AB 1193, which expands the ability of cities and counties to create new transportation facilities for bicyclists. Prior law limited the designs that could be incorporated into roadways to those which had been reviewed and approved by Caltrans. Caltrans was notoriously slow to adopt new designs despite the surge in the use of bicycles throughout the state.

Pursuant to AB 1193, signed by the governor Sept. 20, a new class of bicycle facility was created called a cycle track, which is a road-grade lane separated by a physical barrier for exclusive use by bicyclists. (See Polk Street between Market and Hayes streets for an example.) On Polk Street, where it is one way in that section, it permits bikes to travel in two directions safely. AB 1193 also now provides cities greater flexibility in adopting designs for bicycle routes and paths by allowing cities to use guidelines established by a national association of public-transportation officials so long as the alternative criteria have been reviewed and approved by a qualified engineer with consideration for the unique characteristics and features of the proposed bikeway and surrounding environs.

The law requires that the alternative criteria, or the description of the project with reference to the alternative criteria, must be approved by resolution after consideration by members of the public at a proper noticed meeting with the opportunity for public comment. I am pleased to say that I personally worked with the California Bicycle Coalition, Ting and the Consumer Attorneys of California to assure passage of the law so that while non-Caltrans designs could be utilized, it could be only be after an engineer's review and public hearing.

Finally, the Bike Coalition was successful in improving bicyclists' rights to access public transportation with the passage of AB 2707, signed by the governor on Sept. 9. AB 2707, now codified within Vehicle Code Section 35400 (b)(9), provides for additional space on the front of buses for larger bike racks to accommodate more bicycles. The law provides that a bike rack, including any bicycles transported thereon, shall be mounted in a manner that does not materially affect efficiency or visibility of vehicle-safety equipment, and shall not extend more than 40 inches from the front body of the bus when fully deployed. The handlebars of a bicycle that is transported on a device described in this paragraph shall not extend more than 46 inches from the front of the bus. This extended the available space by four inches.

All in all bicyclists are changing our state and our cities for the better. I encourage you to join your local bicycle coalition. We here at the Dolan Law Firm have developed strategic partnerships with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, the Marin Bicycle Coalition and the East Bay Bike Coalition so as to encourage safe cycling for everyone.

Christopher B. Dolan is owner of the Dolan Law Firm. Email questions to help@dolanlawfirm.com.

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