Bicyclists and Highway One – an editorial

Today, a new law goes into effect that mandates a minimum distance of 3 feet between a vehicle and a bicycle when passing. How that will play out on Highway One will be a nightmare. Law makers have once again passed a law with no foresight, creating the usual unintended consequences of their failure to think things through. There must be an exception built into this law for narrow, winding mountain roads, like Highway One, which cannot support a highway wide enough to “share.”

This law states:

(a) This section shall be known and may be cited as the Three Feet for Safety Act.

(b) The driver of a motor vehicle overtaking and passing a bicycle that is proceeding in the same direction on a highway shall pass in compliance with the requirements of this article applicable to overtaking and passing a vehicle, and shall do so at a safe distance that does not interfere with the safe operation of the overtaken bicycle, having due regard for the size and speed of the motor vehicle and the bicycle, traffic conditions, weather, visibility, and the surface and width of the highway.

(c) 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.

(d) If the driver of a motor vehicle is unable to comply with subdivision (c), due to traffic or roadway conditions, 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.

(e) (1) A violation of subdivision (b), (c), or (d) is an infraction punishable by a fine of thirty-five dollars ($35). (Note: the Herald reports that the fine is $220, but that is only the fine if the motorist causes an accident.)

As the road is currently configured, there are only a dozen or so legal passing lanes that will allow for that law to be obeyed along the entire 90 mile stretch of Highway One. Thus, motorists will be placed firmly on the horns of a dilemma, facing three possible choices, all of which are illegal. First, one can pass leaving less than three feet distance, now illegal. Two, one can go over or onto the double yellow line to create the mandated three foot distance, also illegal. Three, one can plod along behind the bicyclist at 5-30 mph, depending on the grade, building up a long line of cars behind, also illegal. This is a prescription for road rage and accidents.

The ball is now firmly in Cal Trans yard for it to figure out how we can “share this road” that is not nearly wide enough to do so. It can add 3′ out over the ocean and blast into the mountains to create another 3′ on the inland side. While this is clearly an expensive proposition, I suggest we all write to our State Senators and Assemblypersons (contact info to right under links) to demand financing so that Cal Trans can create a road sufficiently wide enough to be shared, particularly now that it is giving permits for more and more bicycling events. Or, the less expensive alternative is to provide an exception for roads like Highway One. While the “width of the roadway” is one of the considerations to be made when judging passing a vehicle, it is written with the muddy clarity legislators are famous for. Either solution will require action on our part. Write, email, call. Make their incompetence known and your objection heard.