Legal Distance for Passing Cars in Pittsburgh

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misterhare
Participant
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On my commute into Pitt today I was standing at a red light at Ellsworth and Aiken and a guy behind me honked aggressively. I looked back and he motioned for me to move over and I motioned that I can use the entire lane (I was impressed I was able to convey this without words). He shook his head and I turned back around. Before the light turned green he yelled out the window, “I’m gunna run you over.” WTF? Farther down the road he accelerated past me, no more than twelve inches away and blew his horn. What a citizen.

My question is whether or not there is a safe passing distance law for cars passing bicycles in Pittsburgh. After reading about other cities that have a three feet policy, I’m curious about what we have. Not that I would be able to get someone arrested, but it may be nice to know if someone does clip me when attempting to run me over.

This is another good post about “claiming the lane.” Thoughts on this? Anyone disagree?


erok
Keymaster
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Jim
Participant
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If a car is not allowed to pass a bike within 3 feet, does that mean a bike can’t pass a car within 3 feet either?


erok
Keymaster
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SAVE THE SIDEVIEW MIRRORS!!!


chinston
Participant
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If a car is not allowed to pass a bike within 3 feet, does that mean a bike can’t pass a car within 3 feet either?

Jim, if you follow erok’s link you can find the text of the proposed bill. The 4-foot passing rule is written specifically to apply to motorists overtaking bikes: “The driver of a motor vehicle overtaking a pedalcycle proceeding in the same direction shall pass to the left of the pedalcycle in a lane adjacent to that of the pedalcycle if possible in accordance with section 3305 (relating to limitations on overtaking on the left) or within not less than four feet at a careful and prudent reduced speed.”

Incidentally, another thing this bill would do, besides the clarification of stop sign rules, is also clarify a cyclist’s right to take the lane. After the general rule about a slow-moving vehicle (like a bike) having to ride “as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway,” this bill would add an exception for “[p]edalcycles using any portion of the available roadway due to unsafe surface conditions.”

Now, I think that technically this is redundant, since if there’s a gutter or gravel or debris on the right-hand of the road, then it’s not practicable to ride there and you’re entitled to take the lane. But having this clarification of that right would be valuable.

Yesterday I e-mailed my rep, Dan Frankel, to urge him to co-sponsor this bill. The way I see it, this clarifies what are only common-sense rules of the road in the first place–but I think it would be great to have them on the books.


rsprake
Participant
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I sent an email to representative Joseph Preston and he responded with, “I agree and will add my name as a co-sponsor.”


erok
Keymaster
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democracy in action!


Lyle
Participant
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This came up on a different thread but I’m continuing the discussion here because it’s more on-topic.

Here’s a recent story from Tennessee which *does* have a specific 3-ft passing law. Guess what? They don’t enforce it any more than they enforce any other traffic law. And does it give the victims of an unsafe pass any recourse after the fact? Apparently not.

not one citation in 2 years:

http://www.wrcbtv.com/Global/story.asp?S=10078830

More on the accident that prompted this story:

http://www.chattanoogan.com/articles/article_146660.asp

The article states that the driver was not indicted because, according to the police, “it’s not likely that the driver *should* have seen the cyclist”.

Note that this is one of the rarer forms of car-bike collisions, precisely because it’s so hard for a driver NOT to see a cyclist directly in front of him.

Oh, here’s a good article:

http://commuteorlando.com/wordpress/2009/04/06/law-enforcement-bias-and-the-3ft-law/

New laws that aren’t going to be enforced aren’t worth spending political capital on.


Kordite
Participant
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> New laws that aren’t going to be enforced aren’t

> worth spending political capital on.

I disagree. If the laws are on the books, they are a vital tool in the activist’s arsenal in actually working to get them enforced. Civil Rights laws were on the books for quite some time before they actually were enforced in an effective manner (and even now, they are still a challenge). It took the Courts to force a reluctant Executive to enforce the law as set down by the Legislature.

Biking laws are the same. Once we have the laws on the books, we then have legal recourse. We can bring court cases when the authorities fail to enforce those laws and eventually force them to take action.

It’s not a perfect system. It might not even be the best system. But it is a system. If we just shrug our shoulders and say, “well, it won’t be enforced anyway, so why bother”, then it is guaranteed that nothing will change.

3ft passing laws aren’t the solution. They are an important step towards a never ending series of solutions.


rsprake
Participant
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I agree with Kordite. With the law on the books we can use it to educate based on something else other than what we think is safe.


sloaps
Participant
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Once we have the laws on the books, we then have legal recourse. We can bring court cases when the authorities fail to enforce those laws and eventually force them to take action.

The difficultly is proving that the 3 foot rule was actually violated. The current law in PA is broad language which basically says that when passing slower moving traffic, execute with caution. I see that as no more difficult to prove or disprove than passing with a 3 foot buffer.

Unless we’re riding around with yard sticks, I believe a law like that will always have difficultly in proving or disproving that level of precision without an explicit definition of measurement.


rsprake
Participant
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It’s difficult to prove, but when your co-worker, family member or friend who don’t bike ask you what they are supposed to do when passing a bike you say the law states you must give a cyclist at least 3 feet of room while passing.

Or the next time someone buzzes you and you see them at the next light you can politely say what the law is.

Right now a driver can pass you at whatever distance THEY feel is safe. If there is a shoulder, as in on Forbes Ave they seem to think that passing you within a foot is good enough.


brian j
Participant
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I suspect what we really need is a better codification of the pedacycle laws, which are rather vague, and often conflict with with PA safe cycling guidelines. I agree with rsprake, though–how, exactly will a three foot passing law be enforced? What’s worse, as anyone who drives knows, it is difficult to judge distance on the right side of a car. That’s just how it is. When I overtake a cyclist in my car, I tend to give them more a buffer because I know that distance is hard to judge.


rsprake
Participant
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I also think that every time we renew our drivers license we should be required to learn any new laws and re-take the written exam.


Mick
Participant
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I have a feeling that a few rides with helmet cams will change a lot of behavior. There really aren’t any legal ramifications for the classic “Threaten-and-cut-off” behavior as log as it isn’t witnessed. A video is great evidence.

Mick


Lyle
Participant
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Regarding the assertion that “if only we had more specific laws, we could pressure governments into enforcing them”, I call BS.

We’ll get our specific law, and then when we go to our representatives for something, they’ll say “hey, we gave you guys the law you wanted, so go away and stop whining at me”. Politely, of course.

I’m willing to be wrong about this, but there are plenty of good analogues elsewhere. Take crosswalk laws, for instance.

There are laws on the books requiring motorists to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. Pedestrians in Pittsburgh have been killed by violators of that law.

And nobody can get the state to enforce it. Sure, they put up flashing lights and yellow signs. But I’ll bet you a hundred bucks that, just like the 3ft passing law in TN, there have been AT MOST two motorists cited for failure to yield to peds in crosswalks, in all of Allegheny County over the last three years.

So, as I say, go on out and activist up those laws. I’ve got a second hundred for the charity of your choice (or bikepgh) if the City of Pittsburgh cites any motorist for failure to yield to a ped in a crosswalk between now and 6/12/2010. (Just motorists, not cyclists.)


erok
Keymaster
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while i agree that motorists don’t stop for peds here in crosswalks, there are other states, that have the same yield to peds law, where drivers actually do stop. so it’s a culture thing. i don’t know why the culture here as opposed to boston is different, but it is. also, i’d be careful of your bet because the city has several planned stakeouts at problem crosswalks during the summer months to specifically catch motorists not yielding to peds. they are done with the idea of getting media, so you can find articles about them on the pg and trib. also, poor steve patchan our bike ped coordinator is the decoy on this. basically, if you’re going to bet the money, make sure to exclude these high profile busts, and i’d agree with you that the police don’t enforce this law.


Lyle
Participant
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Hey, they actually did this! Well, shut my mouf. Patchan counts, I’m not weaseling out of it like that. But I’m good for it. Kordite, buddy, it’s your lucky day. PM me your address.

It’s probably Bike Pgh’s lucky day, too, if Erok is right about “planning”.


erok
Keymaster
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ha! the last stakeout they did was at that mid block crossing at the cathedral (they should just close bigelow already)

and i think the crossing at the new slip ramp onto the BOA on Fifth, which is a terrible crossing thanks PennDOT


salty
Participant
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Yeah, they definitely set up these “blitzes”, which they claim will be a regular thing:

http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/news/s_617834.html

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/09135/970345-53.stm

But, I do wonder (a) how many people have been cited for crosswalk violations outside of those times (b) if we’d ever get a similar event to enforce this passing law, and (c) if (b) would happen without someone having to die first :(


HiddenVariable
Participant
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i’ve been crossing wightman at darlington most mornings now (often several times per morning), and i have to say, even though i’m on a bike, people are stopping and letting us cross as though we were pedestrians in the crosswalk. i go through at time when there are plenty of pedestrians there, and the first or second car in either direction is almost always the one to stop.

maybe i’ve just been lucky, but most of the crosswalks i see, cars are yielding. additionally, i live in shadyside, the land of yielding to pedestrians at any part of the street (it’s either that or hit them on walnut, when they jump right in front of you from behind cars).

it’s usually cars turning at crosswalks that cause problems. and i’ve seen people pulled over, presumably to be cited or warned for failure to yield to pedestrians.


Lyle
Participant
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If you step off your bike, you *are* a pedestrian, so go ahead — do it, and use that crosswalk if it helps you.

The bit about the blitz that was unsatisfying to me was the conflicting news reports about the requirement that pedestrians must not step into a crosswalk if the motorists “do not have room to easily stop”. And it’s not the split infinitive that concerns me. It’s that a motorist’s definition of “easily stop” is “any stop I can make without slowing down”. For evidence, I give you… any fresh red light on Penn Ave between Fifth and Braddock.


rsprake
Participant
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About crosswalk culture, how many of you stop and wait for walk signals at crosswalks? I do and have to fight the urge to cross when everyone else around me is crossing. I was infected by the culture in Seattle and Vancouver where travel downtown seems to be a low stress experience. Maybe it’s the air?


fzahradnik
Participant
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I strongly agree with those who say we should have a 3 foot clearance rule, even if it isn’t enforced (at first). A schoolbus passed me today with about 5 inches to spare (not sure how close the mirror came to my head also). I got the bus number, and if PA had a 3-foot rule, I could call the bus co. management with a complaint and say “are your drivers aware that they must give cyclists three feet of clearance? Let me send you the relevant PA motor vehicle code on that. I’d really like to receive confirmation that you’re giving your drivers formal notification of this law, or I’ll be calling the State Police and school district about unsafe passing next time…” Feel the power in that! Without the law, we don’t have any such recourse….


Lyle
Participant
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You don’t need a 3-foot rule to make that call. The law requires a safe passing distance. What happened to you is not safe, and it’s already illegal (and unenforced). Go ahead, make that call now.


rsprake
Participant
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I would contact them.

School bus drivers need to be held accountable for this stuff. They all demand we stop when they put out their signs so kids can cross safely (as it should be) but tend to act like other people don’t deserve to use the roads safely as well.

I am terrified of school busses. Every time I see one while riding my bike I act as though they are out to “teach me a lesson.”


erok
Keymaster
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legal or not, these companies need to maintain safety, and they should respond to complaints of a dangerous driver

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