3 feet please
The Lower Hudson Valley attracts scores of bicyclists who pedal along hilly roadways that hug the Hudson, along Seven Lakes Drive in Harriman State Park and across Route 22 north of Bedford. These riders are in line for a measure of protection, following final legislative action Tuesday requiring drivers to give them a wide berth when passing.
The Assembly passed legislation Tuesday that requires motorists pass bicyclists “at a safe distance from the left”; those who don’t risk being cited for a traffic infraction. The Senate passed its version of the bill on Friday. It now goes to Gov. David Paterson; he should sign the life-saving measure into law.
Although cycling advocates wanted a 3-foot buffer and a misdemeanor charge, the pending legislation should not disappoint. It makes clear that drivers must use caution when sharing the road with bicyclists. “A minimum of three feet is considered a safe distance in most circumstances,” Senate Bill 7897 reads. It notes further: “There are, however, occasions when a distance greater than three feet is necessary in order to pass at a safe distance.” The main sponsors were Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, and Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, D-Scarsdale, who recounted her own bike-riding crash with a car when she was a teen. Some 42 cyclists were killed on New York roads in 2008.
The common-sense legislation was spurred by tragedy. Avid bicycling enthusiast Merrill Cassell died last fall after being sideswiped by a Bee-Line bus as he rode on Route 119 in Greenburgh. Cassell, a member of the Westchester Putnam Bike Walk Alliance, had advocated for ways to make bicycling a viable transportation option in the suburbs, including putting bike racks on Westchester County buses. His funeral procession was flanked by bike riders, some wearing bright yellow-and-black jerseys resembling a roadway caution sign, emblazoned with the slogan, “3 Feet Please.” The legislative push to mandate safe passing of bike riders became known as “Merrill’s Law.”
Bicyclists who ride on the right side of the road should have every expectation that faster-moving motor vehicles will pass them on the left, leaving enough room so the biker can maneuver around cracks, potholes or other roadway worries. The measure would take effect Nov. 1. As “Merrill’s Law” acknowledges, there should still be plenty of room for riders of all kinds to share the road.
A Journal News editorial