Local cyclists back law for more space from cars
May 16, 2010
WATERLOO REGION — When Roger Baer rides his bicycle he watches the traffic coming up behind him as much as he watches the road ahead.
The veteran Waterloo cyclist believes the vehicles behind him are more of a threat as drivers steer around his moving bicycle.
That’s why Baer supports a proposed law to keep vehicles away from cyclists.
“I think in the future we are going to see more and more bikes,” Baer, who rides all year long, said. “I would be in favour of anything that would increase the distance between cyclists and cars.”
Baer was reacting to proposed legislation that New Democratic MPP Cheri DiNovo plans to introduce at Queen’s Park on Tuesday.
The legislation would amend the Highway Traffic Act and require vehicles to keep at least three feet away when overtaking cyclists at speeds of less than 50 kilometres-and-hour. The minimum distance increases to four feet when the vehicle is travelling at 50 to 80 kilometres-an-hour. It increases to five feet when vehicles are going faster than 80 kilometres-an-hour.
The proposed legislation was made more timely after a pickup truck plowed into a group of cyclists in Quebec, on Friday killing three riders. But the amendments to the Highway Traffic Act have been months in the making and are not a reaction to the Quebec accident.
Tim Kenyon, who chairs Kitchener’s cycling advisory committee, called the legislation an excellent proposal.
“Not least because it puts the issue of bicycle safety on the province’s radar and on every driver’s radar,” Kenyon said.
“I think it is a great first step, but it shouldn’t be the last step,” Kenyon said.
Don Pavey of Cambridge, who chairs that city’s cycling advisory committee, is happy to hear about the proposed law.
“I think from my experience it is probably a great idea,” Pavey said.
About 15 States and several American cities require drivers to keep at least three feet away from cyclists. France, Spain and Germany also have similar laws in place.
In Ontario, the Highway Traffic Act currently says drivers should “turn out to the left so far as may be necessary to avoid a collision” when passing a cyclist.
Pavey said drivers do not appreciate the winds created by their vehicles and how dangerous side mirrors, particularly on trucks, can be for cyclists.
“I think this law would tell motorists: ‘If you can’t drift out to the centre of the road to safely get past a cyclist, then you will have to slow down until it’s safe to do so,’” Pavey said.
Bob McMullen, a veteran cyclist and trail advocate, wonders how practical such a law would be. On two lane streets with lots of traffic a cyclist could hold up a long line of cars, McMullen said.
“I like the intent of it. Do I think the NDP have a hope in hell of getting it through? No,” McMullen said.
Under current laws bicycles have as much right to the road as a vehicle. Along some streets, such as King Street through downtown Kitchener, cyclists are encouraged by the city to take the whole lane. Drivers do not always appreciate that.
“It says a lot when you have to legislate common sense,” McMullen said. “I guess I like the intent. I would like the safety but there are implications.”
Nirala Sonder rides her bicycle a lot in Kitchener and would like to see more cycling paths built away from roads. But until that happens the proposed law is a good idea, she said.
“I think it is a step in the right direction,” Sonder said.
Dennis Hilker, a member of Kitchener’s cycling advisory committee, said he gets shocked by vehicles speeding just a few centimetres away from her elbows.
“I think, basically, it is just fantastic,” Hilker said of the proposed legislation. “I think it’s great.”
Nikola Mehes, another member of Kitchener’s cycling advisory committee, said the proposed law is a good idea but only if it is enforced.
“I don’t know what it will do until people are out there getting tickets,” Mehes said. “It would be great if it was part of the drivers’ exams.”