Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Bicycle-Friendly Delaware Act weakens 3' Passing Law


We reviewed the updated vehicle code resulting from the passage of HB-185 (Bicycle-Friendly Delaware Act), found in DE Title 21, Chapter 41, Section 4116. Missing is any reference to safe passing distance of bicyclists unless being overtaken by a vehicle in the same lane, assuming it is wide enough to safely share. Riding within shoulders and/or bike lanes is not accounted for, which are very common and count as a lane in their own right.

A Newark commuter enforces the 3' passing law - with a shovel. 
The original vehicle code wasn't the clearest either, but it could have been construed that motorists are to move out at least 3' regardless. By not including shoulders and/or bike lanes, Bike Delaware failed to cement these as applicable; therefore, you are not covered under the safe passing law because you are in your own lane of travel. Motorists who overtake while straddling the white line -- common, often deliberate -- are permitted to do so as long as keeping to their own lane. In a 4' bike lane, for example, the bicyclist's footprint can occupy as much as 3' elbow to elbow. For a motorist with a tire on the white line, this would leave a foot or less passing clearance. This is especially terrifying in high speed conditions.

As we already discussed in previous articles, HB-185 did include some long overdue updates to the vehicle code, and we applaud the hard work that went into that. Unfortunately, what could have been a great bill ended up fair, and somewhat hurting past progress as seen here. The bill also came up short by failing to include any anti-harassment language, except a ban on frivolous honking, as we discussed in this analysis.

This is what to expect when you have a LAB sanctioned State organization whose approach to advocacy lacks pragmatism and balance. Their inner sanctum only recognizes total separation from traffic -or- total integration with cars, and nothing in-between. As a result, they do not support on-road bicycling infrastructure, but at the same time, believe it is they -- and only they -- that represent the interests of bicyclists in the State of Delaware. Because of this, they would never think to engage the wider bicycling community for input. Had they done so, we might not be faced with this predicament.

Conclusion
We'll again repeat that, as a non-profit organization, Bike Delaware must become more open and transparent. Nobody knows what they are doing until it is already in motion. It's time for them to lift the veil of secrecy, and put their projects out to comment among the broader bicycling community. Most would agree, for example, that upping the law to a 4' passing distance anywhere a bicyclist is encountered would suffice. Lane changes could still be required with narrow or multiple lane configurations, and an anti-harassment component could have been included. Let's hope that any efforts to amend the bill, or further update the vehicle code is carried out in a more open and accessible manner.

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