By Peter H. Milliken
A local bicycling club wants to make motorists aware of a new Ohio law, taking effect Sunday that will require motorists to leave at least 3 feet of clearance when passing bicyclists.
The OutSpokin’ Wheelmen have printed bulletin board notices concerning the law for posting in police stations and at park and bike trail facilities and bicycle shops.
The club also has produced yard signs bearing an image of a car and a bicyclist and an arrow between them, with the words: “3 feet. It’s the law.”
In addition to enacting the 3-foot rule, the law will also permit vehicles, including bicycles, to go through an intersection after they stop and yield the right of way, when the device meant to change the traffic light from red to green doesn’t detect their presence.
Gov. John Kasich signed the new law, known as Ohio House Bill 154, on Dec. 19, with an effective date 90 days thereafter.
The Ohio Bicycle Federation has advocated for the 3-foot passing clearance law since 2009; and Ohio became the 28th state to enact this requirement.
“One of the things that dissuades people from riding bikes on the road is the fear that is generated by people passing them too closely in cars,” said Frank Krygowski of Poland, the local club’s safety chairman and a federation board member.
Some motorists fail to realize that bicyclists need some room to maneuver around potholes and other road hazards, he added.
The new law is likely to help bicyclists feel safer as they ride on roads, he said.
“The main thing I’m hoping for, though, is education of motorists,” to treat cyclists with caution, he added.
As for the traffic light portion of the law, Krygowski observed that some technologies designed to trigger a light to change from red to green when a vehicle approaches an intersection are unreliable at detecting the presence of bicyclists.
“That’s gradually improving,” he observed.
“Most bicyclists want to obey the law, but they’ve been in situations where the light has never turned green for them,” he added.
“This [new law] makes it clear that, if the light does not change for bicyclists, then they can proceed when it’s safe,” he explained.
“They can’t run the light. They have to stop, wait for the light and determine that it’s not going to change for them. Then, they’re allowed to treat it as a defective light,” under the new law, he said.
“We do want to emphasize that they [the motorists] have to stay at least three feet away from us now,” said Dave Hughes of Salem, a former OutSpokin’ Wheelmen president.
“It’s going to be an added safety factor for us,” he said of the 3-foot passing distance rule in new law.
“The public will be more aware that we are out there,” he said of bicyclists on roads.
“We have to stop, but, if we look left and right, and there’s nothing coming, then we can proceed like it’s just a regular stop sign,” he said of the provision of the new law concerning a traffic light that fails to change for cyclists.
“I don’t expect it to really impact my riding that much,” John Thomas of Howland, an OutSpokin’ Wheelmen club member, who rode 4,700 miles on his bicycle last year, said of the new law.
“I think it’s more education, where people are starting to find out that bicycles are legal vehicles in all 50 states and have a right to be on the road,” Thomas said of the significance of the new law.
Thomas said, however, the new law won’t make him feel safer when he cycles on roads.
“There are too many people on cellphones [while driving]. You can’t let your guard down. You have to watch,” he observed.
“Use a [rearview] mirror. Keep an eye on things coming. If they don’t look like they’re seeing you, be ready to move out of the way and get off the road,” he advised his fellow cyclists.