Is 3 feet for cyclists too much to ask? Readers weigh in

A bicycle rider makes his way along a completed portion of the green bike lane on Ocean Park Boulevard in Santa Monica.
A bicycle rider makes his way along a completed portion of the green bike lane on Ocean Park Boulevard in Santa Monica.
(Los Angeles Times)
<em>This post has been updated, as noted below.</em>

Rejoice, cyclists! Thanks to Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature, those ton-plus cars whizzing by you soon must do so at a distance of at least three feet -- or not much more than the length of one arm.

One arm?

Yes, it may not be much, but after five attempts to establish such a modest safety barrier for cyclists, California’s new three-foot rule -- to take effect next year -- is a policy victory for those of us who share the road with cars, especially in Los Angeles.

But for some readers, it’s the cyclists who need to be more cautious. Here’s what they have to say.


Whittier resident Marty Wilson says cyclists should take responsibility for their own safety:

“It seems the new bike laws might have it backward. Wouldn’t it make more sense for bikers using the roads to make sure they maintain a safe distance from the traffic lanes?

“Even with a bike lane, bikers seem to hug the side closest to the traffic instead of in the middle or toward the curb side.

“Too often it seems they feel it’s up to me to provide for their safety. Why don’t they assume responsibility for it?”


I don’t often comment on specific reader letters, but here I must make a few clarifications.

First, “traffic lanes” are for cyclists too.

Second, Wilson is indeed correct that cyclists must take responsibility for their safety, which is precisely why many hug the left stripe of a bike lane. Road hazards -- bumpy and poorly maintained pavement, trashcans out for pickup and motorists who don’t think twice before pulling out of a driveway onto the first few feet of road space -- tend to congregate on the right. And let’s not forget the ever-present possibility of getting “doored.”

Finally, drivers do bear plenty of responsibility for cyclist safety. Why? It’s simple physics: Cars are faster and exponentially heavier than cyclists, and yet it takes far less human energy to make trucks go 50 miles per hour than it does for a bike rider to peddle along at 20. The danger a reckless cyclist poses is almost entirely to himself; the same can’t be said for motorists.

I digress. Back to our readers.

Phil Wilt of Van Nuys speaks up for pedestrians:

“Gov. Brown’s signing of a bill that gives cyclists the protection of a three-foot buffer zone between them and a passing motorist is all well and good. I only wish pedestrians had the same protection from bikers who use the sidewalk.

“Nearly every day I am almost clobbered bybikers who brush by me as I walk. In times past bikers used to show some courtesy by calling out “on you right” or “on your left” as they passed from behind. That time has passed.”

Echo Park Pam Roullier resident says the new law places too low a value on a cyclist’s life:

“So motorists will now be fined for driving too close to cyclists or for hitting them with their car. The amount of $220 for the latter offense shows how little respect we have for people’s lives. It is an insult to all who ride bikes.

“Illegally parking in a handicapped zone results in a larger penalty. I am outraged.”

[Updated 3:15 p.m. Sept. 25: A previous version of this post incorrectly said that California’s three-foot rule will take effect in October.]


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