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When a 3-Foot Clearance for Passing a Cyclist Is Not Enough

Sharrows and 3-foot passing laws are meant to make biking safer in streets in the absence of bike lanes. Bike activists in Iowa want to take safety a step further by requiring motorists to move to another lane, just as they would if passing a car.
February 28, 2016, 5am PST | Irvin Dawid
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The bill, known as "Change Lanes to Pass Bicyclists" or Senate File (SF) 2224 "would require motor vehicles to use the opposite side of the road or an adjacent travel lane to pass people on bicycles," states the legislative page of the Iowa Bicycle Coalition "It also recognizes that paved shoulders and bike lanes are adjacent travel lanes, and prohibits motorists from steering unreasonable close to people riding bicycles in those lanes."

Current Iowa law "prohibits motorists from driving 'unreasonably close' to cyclists," writes Molly Montag of the Globe Gazette. Last year 26 states plus the District of Columbia passed laws requiring motorists to pass no less than three feet from a cyclist, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. 

state map of passing statutes

Credit: NCSL, Safely Passing Bicyclists Chart, 12/17/2015

"Approximately half of Iowa cyclists killed in the past 10 years have been hit during passing incidents, said Iowa Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Mark Wyatt," writes Montag.

“We want the law very crystal clear that you pass a bicycle like you would pass any other vehicle on the roadway,” Wyatt said.

SF 2224 passed the Transportation Committee, 12-0 and the Senate, 38-12, and now advances to the House, according to Iowa Bicycle Coalition webpage. The Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club is supporting the bill [PDF].

Another safety strategy is to add sharrows to the asphalt along with roadway signs indicating to both cyclists and motorists that the both are to share the lane. While better than no such signs, many question their effectiveness to improve safety and increase cycling.

Credit: Bike Arlington


Readers can listen to a 49-minute talk with Mark Wyatt on bike culture in the Hawkeye State on Iowa Public Radio. The "Talk of Iowa" show was aired last September followed the tragic death of a cyclist by a drunk driver.

Hat tip to AASHTO Daily Transportation Update.

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Published on Tuesday, February 23, 2016 in Globe Gazette
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