Push for 3 Foot Passing Law Finds a New Booster

Screen_shot_2010_08_24_at_1.28.24_PM.pngIt’s a sign of how far cycling has come in City Hall in a short time.  Could you have pictured a Mayoral press conference where LADOT General Manager Rita Robinson and LAPD Leadership are literally standing in Roadblock’s shadow just a couple of months ago?  Photo: LADOT Bike Blog

At least eleven states have laws requiring drivers to leave three feet between their vehicle and cyclists while passing. If the Mayor of Los Angeles has anything to say about it, California will join those states before the year ends.

At a Tuesday press conference, Villaraigosa, flanked by leaders of the LADOT, LAPD, Los Angeles Councy Bicycle Coalition, and Midnight Ridazz, stated his support and promised his advocacy for a state law requiring drivers to give those three feet. The purpose of the press conference was to announce the winner of a slogan contest for posters designed by Geoff McFetridge that will be going up on bus shelters throughout the city. The "Give me 3" slogan was created by Danny Gamboa and beat out over 200 other entries.  You can see the fruits of McFetridge and Gamboa’s efforts above.

Momentum for a "3 Feet Passing Law" for California has been growing in Los Angeles since the start of the year. Council Member Bill Rosendahl floated the idea that the City could create its own passing law while he pushed for an "anti-harassment ordinance" for cyclists. While the City Attorney has opined that the city can’t pass such a law on its own, Rosendahl renewed his call for a "3 Feet Passing Law" at last week’s Bike Summit.  For Villaraigosa’s part, he has vowed to push forward with this proposed legislation no matter what.  “We’ll keep at it until it becomes part of the California Vehicle Code,” he promised at the press conference.

Screen_shot_2010_08_24_at_10.49.41_PM.pngThe other "3 Feet" slogan.

The website 3 Feet Please has been monitoring the national movement to bring this law to every state. It helpfully provides a policy paper from the Bicycle Alliance of Washington (the state), which covers the local issues and provides guidance for activists with similar goals in other states. For example, they show that a "3 Feet Passing Law" is more effective as an educational tool than an enforcement one.

We have spoken to state patrol officials in several of the 11 states that have passed the three-feet law. Those officials emphasize that the law is used more as an education tool to provide safe practices than as an enforcement tool to punish law breakers. It gives officers, government officials, and civic groups the opportunity to inform drivers what a safe minimum distance is by use of a common measure (3 feet or one yard) that can be easily remembered.

Of course, even if the police aren’t measuring the passing distance between cars and bikes when no collision occurs, the law could give cyclists a new legal leg to stand on when forced off their bikes by passing cars even when there’s no actual collision.

While cyclists are waiting for a legislator to emerge to champion a "3 Feet Passing Law" in Sacramento; Los Angeles is moving forward with a public information campaign to educate drivers in how to safely share the road with cyclists.  Posters are going up soon and the Mayor is also recording Public Service Announcements, in English and Spanish, for radio, Internet and television.  While the posters are guaranteed placement due to an agreement with the company who owns the shelters, other placements are unpredictable.  Oftentimes, the first time I see an LADOT P.S.A. is when it’s announced that they have won another Emmy.

However, activists have high hopes for the campaign and for the future of cycling advocacy under the city’s newly minted bike-activist Mayor.  Jennifer Klausner,
Executive Director of the LACBC said, "This Bike
Awareness and Safety poster symbolizes the start of a commitment to
creating safer streets for cyclists. It is just the first of many more
initiatives we hope to see come to fruition to ensure that cyclists are
safe and feel welcome on our city streets." 

  • bevarUS

    Re: photo caption. No, but that’s not Chief Beck.

  • Thanks for the catch. Must have been the shadow.

  • I think there are actually 16 or 17 states now that have the 3 foot passing law.

  • Roadblock

    The rock is cracking…. Keep chipping away. “Supplemental campaign” coming soon…

  • Love the photo caption. Love the campaign. Now let’s get a legislator. Enough of this waiting crap.

  • I’m dubious about the effects of a passing law (i.e. enforcing this would seem all but impossible), but I’m hopeful that it signifies a shift in thinking a the highest levels of government in L.A.

  • Joseph E

    @ubrayj02: I was under the impression that this law would be more of a tool for finding motorists at fault in accidents. For example, a driver that passes too closely and causes a bike rider to swerve and crash could be held liable for the injury and damages. Right now you might have to use a vague “reckless driving” law for that sort of situation. And right now if you complain about someone who honks and buzzes by mere inches from your handlebars, the police won’t have much to do with it. With this law, complaints about that might be taken more seriously.

  • Great caption. I love that roadblock is at least a head taller than everyone in this photo – we can’t lose with that kind of height on our side!

  • Al G

    This will be great if it is accompanied by regulations for cyclists to keep to the side of the road, and not swerve in and out of lanes, on and off the side walk, or ride 2 abreast at 10 mph in a 35 zone.

    I’m more than willing to to give cyclists their space if they reciprocate and not impede the normal flow of vehicle traffic.

  • Al G,

    This would be great if it came with an automatic 5-year driver’s license suspension to keep Al G off the road when he hits a pedestrian or cyclist.

    That way, the party responsible for damaging another human being’s body would finally face some real consequences.

  • michel chavaniac

    I began bike riding in Italy when I was 10 years old. The traffic would pass within 12″ of our
    pace line. No one seemed to notice and I assumed it was ok because that’s how it worked.
    Later when 15 years old and riding in Pasadena with friends I watched as the other riders would freak out whenever any car came within three feet. The drivers here are terribly ignorant about the traffic laws. This 3 foot rule is a very good idea.

  • Razor

    As long as cyclists are required to stay WITHIN bike lanes and follow all traffic stops just as a car would be required, then this may be tolerable.

  • mdiddy

    I’ve been noting on Midnight Ridazz, that there are some serious questions about this potential law. Whether rooted in philosophical problems, or just plain idealism, it is hard to back a law with both an arbitrary criteria (3 feet) along with the lack of good verification if the law has been broken or not.

    Scenario 1: You’re a cyclist and a driver passes by you.
    1) If the driver passes from behind, how do you determine the amount of space? Of course we are ABLE to know guidelines, like “that was really close, kind of close, thanks for all the room, and that car hit me”.

    How do you verify 3 feet or less?

    Scenario 2: You’re a driver about to pass a cyclist.
    1) How within the confines of the various vehicles in L.A., does a driver determine that the outer most of their vehicle is 3 feet away or more (or less)?

    Additionally troubling

    Keeping a straight line. What if as a motorist passes, a cyclist moves 6 inches to the left, thus creating 2.5 feet of space?

    we’re allowing a kind of policy that we would reject as cyclist. Something that affected cyclists that is arbitrary without a good tool for verification, would be fought.

    Does a proposed law with these easily recognized problems, deserve to gain the status of LAW? If my amateurism can see these flaws, then we’re on the wrong track.

    Why are we promoting this as a law, then?

    Some off the cuff legal problems:

    1) How to enforce
    2) How to prove
    3) Does this promote an additional tool for profiling?
    4) Who has the final say?
    5) Overall what kind of power does this give police?

  • Razor, we’ll pass a law requiring bikes to stay in the bike lane as soon as we pass a law requiring cars to stay on the interstate.

  • I’m real big on passing laws, like the 9.75% sales tax, or the income tax paid at the state and federal level that we all have to pay, and which pays for the roadway network and public transportation system we all use.

    The vehicle license fees, gas tax, and excise taxes don’t even cover 50% of the costs of the car-only road network you use on a daily basis.

    I’m all for passing a gas tax high enough to cover the costs this network incurs. It’s about time that car drivers paid their fair share.

    As regards a cyclist causing an accident – what sort of costs should they be liable for? The paint on the exterior of a car? Most of the time, the cops arrive, find a broken human being and an annoyed driver claiming “They came out of nowhere”. The driver goes home, the cyclist or pedestrian is found at fault by the cops (regardless of whether or not it was their fault) and has to deal with the medical and psychological cost of their injuries. Wait until it happens to someone you know, we’ll see how big you are on licensing requirements for cyclists then.

    Al G, I’m guessing you’ve never read nor cared about cycling until you dumped your comment on this thread above. There is a lot more to this movement than dealing with the kvetching of yet another car driver blind to the impact their mode of travel has on society, though we can deal with your comments easily enough.

    Before you stamp out another cookie-cutter “I hate bikes” comment, take the one that you own (rusting on your porch or in your garage, no doubt) and ride it around the block. Join some people on a nighttime ride like Midnight Ridazz or Critical Mass. Get to understand why we’re fighting so hard for a more bike friendly L.A. and you’ll find that there are good answers to all of your accusations and questions.


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