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Montgomery passes 3-foot rule for bicyclist's safety

The Montgomery Advertiser: Montgomery City Council passes 3-foot rule for bicyclist's safety

Feb. 9, 2012 

Written by
Jill Nolin

Next time you drive by someone who is on a bicycle, the city wants there to be a good three feet of space between your vehicle and your road mate.

The Montgomery City Council unanimously passed an ordinance this week that requires motorists to leave a three-foot buffer when passing bicyclists on any Montgomery road.

District 1 Councilman Richard Bollinger, who sponsored the ordinance, said he it was necessary for the council to act since the Alabama Legislature has not.

"I am not looking to punish violators. I would like this to make a statement that Montgomery respects bicycles as a mode of transportation," Bollinger wrote in a memo to the mayor and council.

Although there is no penalty for violating the ordinance, Bollinger noted that a police officer has the discretion to fine someone for being particularly reckless. A police officer would have to witness the incident.

The ordinance is specifically written to address motor vehicles passing bicycles, but that doesn't mean bicyclists are exempt from following the same law.

"You can't have your cake and eat it, too. If we are going to enforce the rules of the road, that means the rules of the road apply to everyone -- the vehicle traffic and the bike traffic," Mayor Todd Strange said.

"The awareness campaign cuts both ways," Strange added.

Bollinger said he believed the three-foot buffer is even more important now that the city has started adding bicycle lanes on some streets. For example, Park Crossing off Taylor Road will have bike lanes when it is finished.

State law already requires that motorists allow for a "safe distance" when passing bicyclists, but the local ordinance defines what that distance should actually be. Statewide legislation also has been filed that would achieve the same thing, but similar legislation has failed in the past.

Ben Brooks, a Republican senator who represents Mobile, is the sponsor of a legislative bill requiring that motorists and bicyclists maintain a three-foot buffer between them when on the road. The bill awaits committee action.

Because the legislation has struggled in the past, Bollinger wanted the council to address it now to raise awareness of what it really means to bicyclist safely. Other cities, such as Tuscaloosa, Mobile and Auburn, have done the same.

The Montgomery Bicycle Club pushed the council to consider the ordinance because it would make city streets safer for both motorists and cyclists, according club president Roger Burnett.

"The three-foot rule is education, because it helps to alert the motorist as well as the cyclist what the rules are and what you should do," Burnett said.

"Sometimes people come by and they may be a foot away. It's kind of scary, because if they hit you, you're dead basically," Burnett added.

When the ordinance was approved at Tuesday's council meeting, the vote was greeted with applause.