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5-foot passing law in urban area?

Hi, folks.  I actually live in Michigan, so I hope it's OK that I joined this forum. My city (Ann Arbor) is considering adopting a 5-foot passing ordinance next week. I understand PA has a 4-foot passing law.  I'm wondering how that's played out in Pittsburgh and if you all would see a 5-foot law as beneficial? I'm a year-round bicycle commuter on narrow city streets where cars honoring a 5-foot passing ordinance definitely will have to wait substantial periods of time before they can pass me.  I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around how the new ordinance (if passed) would work in practice.  In Pittsburgh, do cars really give you 4 feet?  Has the law made you safer?  Is it enforced?  Any insight would be much appreciated! Many thanks for your time. Victoria    
2016-12-03 14:49:01
I lived and biked in A2 from 1992 to 1996. Yes. We have the 4 foot law. Enforcement?  Not so much. possibly never enforced. Some people make wide passes. Others barely miss hitting me. That being said, these laws should be passed. It is more helpful to get them passed by the state because then they end up on drivers license tests.
2016-12-03 15:34:10
Has anybody ever seen the 4 foot law on a PA driver's license test? The following blog post from January 2015 said "over one year after the safe passing law was enacted, police in the City of Pittsburgh had yet to issue even a single citation! In the first 13 months after the law was passed, there were only 15 citations in the entire state of Pennsylvania - with none being issued in Pittsburgh or Philadelphia".
2016-12-03 16:13:38
Sorry, I meant in that vehicle driving handbook someone found. The one with the mistake.
2016-12-03 17:25:32
The corresponding piece needs to be what is encoded in PA law as Title 75, Sec. 3301a6, which allows motorists to cross the yellow center line to pass a bike if it is visibly safe to do so. Compare with 3301a2, which allows you to drive around a downed tree if it is visibly safe to do so. The sticking point is educating motorists to this or any rule change, whether newly licensed or not. I am not aware of a widely distributed program in the country which attempts to keep licensed drivers up to date with important rule changes. As to the law at all, the minimum distance required is really irrelevant. Just change lanes fully to pass, just like you would pass any other vehicle. Buick, backhoe or bicycle, no difference.
2016-12-03 17:47:52
"In Pittsburgh, do cars really give you 4 feet? Has the law made you safer? Is it enforced?" My experience is (1) for the most part, yes; (2) my subjective impression is yes; and (3) no. The law is also valuable when a cyclist is hit by a car from the rear. In a civil suit against the driver, it would put a cyclist on much stronger footing to be able to point to a vehicle code violation to establish who was at fault. In the criminal context, and under PA law, I would assume that a "homicide by vehicle" charge, or the charge of "recklessly endangering another person," would be stronger if the government could point to a violation of the "safe passing distance" statute.
2016-12-04 15:17:32
Title 75, Sec. 3301a6, which allows motorists to cross the yellow center line to pass a bike if it is visibly safe to do so. Compare with 3301a2, which allows you to drive around a downed tree if it is visibly safe to do so.
I'd been wondering about whether vehicles are expected/allowed to cross double centerlines to comply with the 4-foot rule when roads are narrow enough that it's necessary (e.g. Ellsworth Ave). It's nice to know that's legal.
2016-12-04 21:55:52
I think that Jacob's response above is just right. It's a good thing. Drivers have changed behavior. Of  course, there's multiple dynamic variables, so I don't think we can say: all the improvements are due to the 4-foot law. But it's been an important part, I think, in an overall improvement. We're still getting cyclists killed. But "Most" drivers, I think, are more courteous. Good luck to Ann Arbor!
2016-12-04 22:12:03
"In Pittsburgh, do cars really give you 4 feet?  Has the law made you safer?  Is it enforced?  Any insight would be much appreciated!" I'm going to say:
  1.  Yes.
  2. I feel like generally speaking, yes.
  3. Have never seen it enforced or even heard anecdotes about it being enforced.
That said, I feel like there was a good push in local media to spread the word that there is a 4ft passing law.  If Ann Arbor passes this, I would suggest making sure there is a corresponding media push to ensure that people find out about it.  I also think that at least here, I've seen more cyclists lately, probably due to investments in infrastructure and bike share, so I'm assuming just seeing more of us out there has raised awareness, at least in Downtown and the East End here, where I do most of my riding.
2016-12-05 09:53:47
I haven't heard of Pittsburgh -- or any other PA jurisdiction -- enforcing the four-foot law.  However, I have heard of other cities in other states enforcing their analogous ordinances and statutes.  Houston and Austin, Texas, and somewhere (Chattanooga?) in Tennessee come to mind offhand as places which have gotten press as police departments that have taken particular initiative towards enforcement; the Tennessee city's police department went so far as to develop technology which is now used by officers in passing-distance enforcement patrols.... Note also that both Houston and Austin have different passing requirements for cars (3', I believe) and for buses and heavy trucks (6', IIRC), owing to the much greater and stronger effects of a larger vehicle passing you. ---- I grew up in Ann Arbor, and my parents still live there; for several years now, they've lived in the SW of the city, near the stadium.  One thing that sticks in my mind: Getting off the freeway at Ann Arbor-Saline road just before Christmas a couple years ago, coming to the first traffic light, and seeing, side by side, "speed limit 45 mph" and "share the road" signs: Setting aside the absurdity of an unbuffered bike lane on a 45mph road, I would suggest two things:
  • Make sure that the ordinance states, as explicitly as practical, and that police and other staff are trained to understand, that the passing distance requirement still applies across any painted barrier such as a bike lane line.  Get the AATA and other bus operators to understand this as well.  Having a magic white line on the pavement doesn't make it any less dangerous to have a 19-ton vehicle roaring past 20 inches from your shoulder.
  • Have the city make signs notifying drivers of the passing requirement, and have them posted prominently, especially at major freeway interchanges and other entrances to the city. (Offhand, i'd suggest at Jackson, Plymouth, Washtenaw, Packard, State, and AA-Saline, for a start.)  See if you can get the universities (all of them! Even EMU and Concordia...) to include it in their new-student and welcome-back materials, too.
2016-12-07 19:17:37
Pittsburgh City Paper reported in 2014 that there had been 12 citations under the 4 foot law in Allegheny County (where Pittsburgh is, for any readers from elsewhere), and 42 statewide. So it's seeing at least a little enforcement. But I think the major positive impact has not been due to enforcement, or drivers who suddenly don't want to risk that $25 fine, but the publicity surrounding the law, all the TV reports and the billboards explaining it. These helped educate drivers how to behave around cyclists.
2016-12-08 00:10:34