Passing Bicycles

By Cindy M. Huss posted 06-18-2018 08:18


I’ve done my share of riding bicycles and my share of what could be characterized as complaining about bicycles. I still remember the impact of losing a traffic lane to a bike lane on my route out of town. So the headline about a new proposed state law that would take effect in August 2019 and require automobiles to leave a specified gap when passing a bicycle caught my eye.

The Michigan House of Representatives has passed House Bill 4265, which would require automobiles to maintain a 3-foot distance when passing a bicycle traveling in the same direction. The automobile can cross the center line even in a no-passing zone if it is safe to do so. If it is impractical to pass with three feet of clearance, the automobile may pass the bicycle “at a safe distance to the left … at a safe speed.”

As I was reading the article and then the bill, I started thinking of driving along Whitmore Lake Road—a winding, hilly, two-lane country road that goes north from Ann Arbor. The lanes on Whitmore Lake Road are closer to 9 feet than the more standard 10 to 12 feet. It has little to no shoulder in places, so when there is a bicycle, which can happen in the warmer months, the bicycle is in the driving lane. The maximum width of an automobile on a Michigan road is 96 inches (or 8 feet). MCL 257.717. My car is 90 inches. That means many vehicles will have only an extra 12 to 18 inches in their lane. To pass a bicycle, therefore, assuming the cyclist is riding right on the edge of the road, the drivers will have to pull at least 2 feet into the other lane. And on Whitmore Lake Road, which has miles and miles of no-passing zones, it’s essentially a choice between giving the cyclist clearance or heading into oncoming traffic.

I know safety is paramount, but maybe sometimes cars and bikes really should not be sharing the same lane. I hope lawmakers don’t see this 3-foot rule as solving bicycle safety concerns. Bike lanes have really grown on me. Maybe that is a better solution that the legislature still needs to pursue.