Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Three-foot rule to go before County Committee

Posted by on May 19th, 2006 at 10:05 am

[Photo: Ed Abrahamson]

The three-foot rule that recently passed as a city ordinance in Grants Pass has generated some good discussion. A few minutes ago I got an email from Ed Abrahamson. Ed is the Principal Planner for the Multnomah County Land Use and Transportation Program.

He shared this photo he took last summer while on vacation in France. Turns out Ed has been a long-time proponent of a safe passing law and wants to capitalize on the recent momentum.

According to his email:

“I was hoping to get this adopted here and seeing the Grants Pass legislation gives me hope.”

Ed will take this photo and comments from this site to the June 14th meeting of the Multnomah County Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee.

This committee advises the Board of County Commissioners and Transportation Division on matters involving bicycle and pedestrian transportation within the County’s road jurisdiction.

Please weigh in on your feelings about this issue and I’ll keep you posted on any developments.

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  • James May 19, 2006 at 10:13 am

    I think that would be fantastic as it is far too common even when riding in a designated bike lane that a car or truck passes much closer then three feet. I’d totally support an ordinance mandating a three foot passing rule.

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  • Meghan May 19, 2006 at 10:14 am

    I would support a 3-foot buffer, but like some others, would prefer it to be passed statewide. I think cyclists are at risk when we start to expect a 3-foot berth from cars and some drivers don’t know they’re supposed to give that leeway in a specific county.

    I like the basic idea, however, of asking drivers to consider bicyclists worthy of almost a full lane, if we need to take it. I’m just not convinced this is a need we can meet through legislation — it would require major social education to have the desired results.

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  • Ethan May 19, 2006 at 10:36 am

    It is a great idea. Having it statewide would certainly be the best option.

    That moment when a car passes a bike is a tricky one. When I ride I tend to take the middle of the lane in an attempt to make it less mentally appealing for cars (and trucks and even the occasional bus) to try and “squeeze” past. When there is plenty of room for both of us I move back by the curb. Once “out of the way” it never ceases to amaze me . . . when you move over to let cars pass they will often not allow you back into the lane when you run out of shoulder . . . they seemingly don’t care if you run into a parked car . . . As if they MUST get by before you slow them down.

    Safety-wise, here is an example . . . take a bike riding down Alberta. The bike is being ridden a couple of feet from parked cars (don’t want to get doored!) out in the traffic lane. If a motorist passes the bike and goes over the center line in order to give the bike 3 feet of clearance, you can still have a situation where a car pulls out from an opposite side street, and forces the passing car to swerve back into the lane with the bike . . . which could lead to a collision. In these kind of passing scenarios i wonder if the rule would really lessen the chance for an accident.

    Even if it’s real-world safety benefits are not significant, a law like this would help (perhaps) with those motorists who are intentionally not giving bikes a wide berth (thankfully not the majority) and it certainly would give bikes improved legal standing when collisions occur.

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  • Nate May 19, 2006 at 10:40 am

    As it has been mentioned in the Grants Pass post, it seems like this law might serve better on certain types of roads. Roads where there is a big difference in speed between bikes & cars. For example, in dense areas such as downtown this rule would be a hassle and impediment. A rule like this would be ridiculous in a city like Amsterdam where cars and bikes comfortably travel together in close proximity.

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  • MILIAN May 19, 2006 at 11:50 am

    This is a good idea, but I have to admit the only streets that I personally have problems on are the narrow, 2 lane (one direction each lane) streets, especially when these streets are busy and the car passing from behind me has to narrowly try to maneuver between me and the car approaching him head-on to his left. These are the streets I would most like to see a buffer zone created, but how can I expect a 3 feet buffer if that would push the car coming up behind me too far into the left lane and create a certain head on crash with a car coming from the opposing direction. Many of these Portland streets are too narrow to create even a modest 3 foot buffer zone. It seems the streets that could allow for such a buffer are the ones that least need it.

    I cannot even begin to tell you how many times I’ve been hit or rubbed up against on the stretch of SE Milwaukie Ave between Powell and Bybee…. yikes! (I know I should take the Springwater corridor, but sometimes I’m not near an entrance)

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  • brian May 19, 2006 at 12:16 pm

    Funny, my first impression from the sign was that cyclists were required to stay 3′ away from parked cars. Not a bad idea, but a law??

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  • Patrick May 19, 2006 at 12:16 pm

    I think this should not just apply to cars vs. bikes. I’ve been buzzed while walking and as previously mentioned while riding the scooter cars will often pass with less than a 3 foot buffer.

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  • JCW May 19, 2006 at 5:15 pm

    Fantastic idea. In addition to the law, I’d like to see the signs and/or “sharrows” on some of the great riding areas and trouble spots. Places like Skyline & Dosch would be great candidates in Portland.

    I’d also like to see the law in Washington, Yamhill and Clackamas county while we’re at it given so many great rides travel from Portland out to the more rural areas of the greater Portland area.

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  • Aaron May 19, 2006 at 10:17 pm

    Given the two laws discussed; 3ft passing distance and rolling stop signs. I would put my weight behind the 3ft law. Stop signs are an inconvenience whereas being buzzed by a car or truck is a hazard.

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  • ringer May 20, 2006 at 1:26 am


    The law for car vs. ped is 6 ft in a normal crosswalk.

    I thought once it would be a good idea to make my own buffer, with a key on the end of a stick, and if you didn’t give me my 3 ft, you got keyed. Seemed like a bad idea, what, do you want to start a fight? Are you going to yell at these people when they “buzz” you? Don’t people that care, know what a safe passing distance is? I like the sharrow idea, but I’m not sure the 3 ft. law would change much…

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