3′ Laws, Riding Right and Taking the Everloving Lane

Utah has a statewide three foot law.  Maybe I’m being too harsh here, but my observation is that it’s worthless…just a piece of feel good legislation with no teeth.   Most motorists routinely ignore it.  Law enforcement seldom, if ever, enforces it.  The sad truth is that I’ve been buzzed more since moving here than I was in Indiana, even though that state has no such law.

Even this sign sends the wrong message. The cyclist is about to fall of the edge.

Even this sign sends the wrong message. The cyclist is about to fall of the edge.

This guy's not in a good place. Nine out of ten motorists will wait to pass. The tenth will try to squeeze through, and that leads to disaster.

This guy’s not in a good place.  Around the bend, there’s a cliff that drops away to his right.  Nine out of ten motorists will wait to pass. The tenth will try to squeeze through and that could lead to disaster.  He could minimize this risk by moving about 3 feet to his left.

Like most states, Utah requires cyclists to ride as far to the right as possible so as not to impede other traffic.  There are exceptions.  We are allowed to move to the center when the lane is too narrow to allow safe passing or when parked cars increase the risk of dooring.

This is troublesome because such rules actually confuse motorists, many of whom think we should be on the sidewalk or the one bike path within five miles of wherever it is we’re going.   If we’re on the street at all, they expect us to be in the gutter.  Then, when we actually have to take the lane for our own safety, it’s a problem.  Yes, I know it’s all in the driver’s manual but the driver’s test in Utah is open book and nobody actually reads the thing like they probably do in your state.  No, they just think we’re being cocky or arrogant by taking the lane or, as some posters on the internet have had the temerity to say, we have a death wish.  We don’t, but that’s another story for another day.

A typical Ogden road. The wide shoulder serves as a bike lane, which is fine until you get to the parked cars up ahead. I am riding to the far left because of the parked cars up ahead. I will have to go into the traffic lane to avoid the door zone. Here the motorist does it right.

A typical Ogden road.  This is a shoulder, but the sign and width makes motorists think it’s a bike lane.  What’s a cyclist to do?   I generally ride this right where I am…far enough from the curb to avoid debris and close enough to the white line to make motorists move over when passing.  I’ll scan, signal and then take the lane to pass the parked car ahead.  This guy nails it.  He even slowed down.  Perfection!

What I want to share with you today is this really fabulous cycling guide from the nice people at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.   This caught my eye because they folks spell it out in language that leaves little room for interpretation.   Theres nothing about 3′ laws or keeping right.   in fact, here’s what the SFMTA guide says about taking the lane:

Screen shot - SFMTA Bike Guide

Screen shot – SFMTA Bike Guide

See, this doesn’t have to be difficult.  We don’t need silly laws nobody understands.  We don’t need to prioritize cars over other modes of transit.  We just need a little common sense.  Everybody has the same right to use the road.  Nobody has the right to run anyone else off the road just because they’re moving at a slower speed.

But why stop there?   A growing body of research suggests that the way to fix traffic problems and gridlock once and for all is to stop building high speed arterials and highways and to lower the speed limits on ALL streets where there are cyclists, pedestrians or other vulnerable road users.  Yes, I know that doesn’t make sense, but it’s true.  Here’s an academic study that backs me up.  The rationale is pretty basic.  When cars are not prioritized, more people leave them parked and choose other modes of transit like bicycles or their own two feet.  Less cars means less traffic.  Less traffic means less gridlock.

Slower speed limits and shared streets benefit society in myriad ways.  San Francisco is correct. Our cities and towns are better places when bicyclists have the right to ride in the center of the traffic lane.  This is what we should all be working toward, whether we cycle or not.



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