Well, it hasn’t been an easy cycling spring here on Cape Ann. Two months ago, when I wrote my last post, I was hopeful that the rains of March and April would pass, the potholes would be filled up, and we’d all be happily riding by now. Unfortunately that hasn’t been the case. I’m celebrating today by counting three consecutive days of sunshine — not much to work with! And I’m pretty sure the potholes of March are still there, and maybe worse.
In my last post I also touched on what’s known as the Three-Foot Rule (TFR), which is that a motorist needs to give a cyclist at least three feet of space while passing. If they can’t pass safely, they have to slow down and pass only when it is safe. As I mentioned then, 32 states have made this a law, with penalties if a motorist doesn’t maintain a safe distance. Massachusetts doesn’t have the law but states that cyclists must be passed at a “safe distance.”
What’s it like to be passed by a car within that three-foot zone? The best example I can give is standing in the safety zone at your local Gloucester MBTA while the train arrives. That yellow strip is there for a reason. If there’s a wide shoulder on the road it certainly helps, but that’s not always available.
What’s especially tricky for cyclists is when we ride in downtown areas, where the streets can be narrow and there’s parallel parking. Yes, the TFR still applies, but now there’s another hazard: “dooring,” when a parked motorist opens their door into a cyclist’s path. It’s dangerous and even deadly. When I’m riding near parked cars I always give at least four feet of clearance from the vehicle on my right. Add the three-foot rule zone on your left and you’re now using up seven or eight feet of the travel lane, and possibly slowing up traffic.
Don’t worry — it’s up to the drivers to pass safely. Do not move closer to the parked cars! In Massachusetts, the cyclist has the right to “take the lane” when needed. Its about your safety as a cyclist.
Remember, my posts aren’t about why cyclists are good and motorists are bad. We all share the road and we all need to be safe. Next time I’ll be addressing the question I get the most: “Why don’t cyclists obey the traffic laws?”
Please feel free to comment or email me with questions. And don’t forget, Big Mike can help you with brake adjustments, proper tire pressure, and new tires if you need them — another way to help you get out and ride safe!