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Our View: 3-foot rule for drivers is a good safety measure

Our View: 3-foot rule for drivers is a good safety measure
- Idaho Statesman

Published: 11/04/09

Drivers and cyclists must do a better job of sharing Boise’s streets. And city code should reflect this needed balance.

While controversial, the language of a possible "3-feet-to-pass" ordinance is sound.

The proposed wording would require passing drivers to give cyclists a 3-foot buffer "whenever possible." This qualifier is the source of the controversy. City Council member Alan Shealy says the wording waters down the ordinance by giving drivers an excuse to ignore the law.

The wording does introduce one more gray area into road rules that are already widely misunderstood - by motorists and cyclists alike. But laws should be written in a way that they are workable, and this qualified ordinance might be the best the city can do.

The Boise Police Department makes a reasonable point. On narrow streets, a 3-foot-to-pass ordinance might force a passing motorist to cross a center line - which is also a violation. Said Deputy Chief Jim Kerns: "It’s tough for us to create a law that violates the law."

On this issue, the police department’s hands are tied. It would be up to the Legislature to change state law and allow motorists to cross a center line while passing a cyclist. That makes some sense - and would be a step toward a statewide 3-foot-to-pass law supported by cycling enthusiasts. But the Legislature doesn’t exactly have a sterling track record of fostering alternative transportation; given that, City Hall is wise to come up with a local ordinance that fits within the status quo of Idaho code.

Even if the Legislature addresses the 3-foot-to-pass issue at the state level, it still makes sense to write flexibility into state and local laws. A host of variables affect any road situation: the width of a street, the presence of a bike lane, road debris, the snap decisions made by cyclists and motorists. An ordinance should give law enforcement the ability to look at individual situations.

A 3-foot-to-pass law should target the drivers who are clueless about safety and courtesy, and endanger or hassle cyclists by buzzing them. The proposed ordinance would not provide these bad drivers with a free pass, and it should make streets safer for cyclists.

Regardless of how a 3-foot-to-pass ordinance is written, it would not make a city street a single inch wider. Cyclists still have to have the good sense to ride as far to the right as possible - and approaching motorists must be safety-conscious and pass only when they have clearance. The most important law is the law of common sense.

"Our View" is the editorial position of the Idaho Statesman. It is an unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman’s editorial board. To comment on an editorial or suggest a topic, e-mail editorial@idahostatesman.com.