Buffer zone for cyclists mulled

by Bruce Owen
Winnipeg Free Press
Published April 25, 2013

Province may require motorists to move over

The province is looking at amending its traffic laws to specify how much space motorists must give cyclists when passing them on the street.

Bike Winnipeg says the Highway Traffic Act is too vague and drivers should give cyclists at least one metre or pass them using the next lane over.

It’s a move Nova Scotia, Quebec and almost two dozen U.S. states have adopted to make urban cycling safer and so drivers know how much room to give a cyclist. Ontario and B.C. are also being lobbied to amend their highway traffic laws in this regard.

The changes are coming as the cycling lobby becomes more organized and more people take up cycling to get to work and for exercise.

Local Government Minister Ron Lemieux, who’s responsible for the active-transportation file, said the province is studying a safe-cycling amendment to the Highway Traffic Act.

“When you have a buffer (space), aside from the respect issue, it’s so common-sense,” Lemieux said. “When you have a buffer, or a protective barrier between traffic and cyclists, that tells people it’s the law to respect each other, and here’s the boundary. I think for most Manitobans, they would say this makes a lot of sense.”

Lemieux said the change is just one of several ideas being considered to improve cycling safety and infrastructure in the city and province. The government also plans to conduct a media campaign in June on cycling safety.

The buffer idea was raised by advocacy group Bike Winnipeg, formerly Bike to the Future.

Dave Elmore, Bike Winnipeg’s director of safety and education, said the Highway Traffic Act now leaves it up to each driver to decide what’s a safe distance to pass a cyclist.

“The lack of any true definition makes this not only unenforceable, but also leaves it up to the judgment of drivers,” Elmore said. “Unfortunately, some drivers interpret this as meaning that as long as they can squeeze by without hitting the cyclists, that it is safe.”

Bike Winnipeg points to Quebec’s traffic laws, which say no driver may pass a bicycle within the same traffic lane unless there is sufficient space to do it safely.

“As cyclists, we would like to see this practice using the adjacent lane encouraged for all passing situations,” Elmore said.

Cyclists are lobbying Manitoba Public Insurance to teach new drivers to give cyclists more room when passing.

Co-chairman Tom McMahon said the group has appeared before the Public Utilities Board to ask it to get MPI to revise its driver’s handbook.

McMahon said a diagram in the handbook (on page 74) essentially says it’s OK to pass cyclists in the same lane.

“That little diagram is physically impossible, but it’s in the driver’s handbook,” McMahon said. “If they were to draw it to scale, this can’t happen. The car would be running over you if you’re the cyclist. It pretends to show that it’s possible to squeeze by a cyclist in an ordinary lane.”

Elmore said the Highway Traffic Act says cyclists must ride “as close as practicable” to the edge of the road, not an easy task at the best of times, given road and traffic conditions.

“Once again, there is no specific distance, and so it is up to the cyclists as to how far they ride from the edge. The Winnipeg Police Service has long contended that they make the decision as to what is ‘practicable’ even though it is the cyclists balancing on two wheels that has to avoid hazards, potholes and debris on the edge of the road.”

Elmore said he teaches cyclists to ride a minimum of one metre from the edge to avoid hazards along the curb or edge while adding to their visibility to motorists.

“It also provides them with a metre safety buffer to their right should they have to manoeuvre around obstacles or avoid a motorist that passes them too closely,” he said.

“By riding a metre from the curb, motorists most often will provide the cyclist with a reasonable passing distance, since travel lanes in our city are rarely wide enough to safely accommodate both a cyclist and a passing motor vehicle.”

Bike Winnipeg is currently working on a bus advertising campaign it hopes will tell drivers the importance of both passing space and a cyclist’s position on the road.


The current law

Manitoba’s Highway Traffic Act says:

114(1) a driver overtaking another vehicle or bicycle proceeding in the same direction

(a) shall pass to the left thereof at a safe distance; and

(b) shall not return to the right side of the highway until safely clear of the overtaken vehicle or bicycle.

Bike safety quiz: http://www.proprofs.com/quiz-school/story.php?title=bike-helmet-safety-quiz

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 25, 2013 A3