Yesterday I was flicking through issue 17 of Bicycle Times when a small news item captured my attention: ‘Nebraska latest to get a three-foot passing law’. Nebraska with its 9.25 people per Km2 and its 200,520 km2 land mass* (hang on to those details, they’ll become relevant later) has deemed it necessary to give cyclists a little extra room and have enshrined it in law. According to State Senator Tom Hansen “After several incidents in my district, we had to do something to raise the level of awareness for motorists and bicyclists about both their rights and responsibilities”. Bloody hell. A politician taking action. How unusual is that?**
Then I read the item immediately below it: “Pennsylvania adds extra foot to safe passing bill”. Not content with three feet, Pennylvannian’s can enjoy an extra foot. On the state. Cheers! (clank of beer bottles in toast).
But perhaps even more startling to my clearly blinkered mind (America is the place where the car is king, right?), Pennyslvannia was the 22nd state to introduce a safe-passing bill.
In the UK, despite a whopping 255.6 people per Km2 (in a total area 243,610 km2, only a little bigger than Nebraska and I’m not even bothering to tot up the extra Km2 of the other states that enjoy similar laws) the best our government can produce for this crowded isle, is a statement that asks people to be nice (please); “Go on old bean, give that chap some room”. The image on the Direct Gov site is comical. If you see any car effecting that kind of manoeuvre, the driver is most likely either (a) Drunk, (b) Very drunk, (c) Swerving to avoid a squirrel or (d) A fellow cyclist behind the wheel of a car.
I have a vague recollection of an e-petition to implement a safe passing distance being submitted to government a few years ago. But unless there’s something that I’m not aware of – please, please, please tell me that I’m wrong and I’ll rejig the article accordingly – little (or nothing) has come of that. So until my home town (Cardiff) is abundantly displaying safe passing signs for spatially challenged motorists, I’ll have to leave my Ben Hur chariot wheels on the commuter.
The gauntlet is down UK government. The Americans are merrily leading the way in a country bigger, less densely populated and much more car reliant than the UK ever need be. Our nearest continental neighbours (the French) go even further, insisting on 1.5 metres (making that dash under the channel on Eurostar all the more enticing for your cycling holiday). Let’s see some laws, followed by some nice signs and accompanied by lots of good education. When playgrounds, public spaces and even seating positions (I’m throwing caution to the wind and not sitting in an ergonomic chair) are risk assessed to death, when would you like to start protecting people on the most sustainable form of transport available? Over to you.
*Please note that I’ve gone all euro and used km above. A safe passing area of 1 metre is roughly equivalent to 3 feet AND it keeps those damn bureaucrats in Brussels happy (Joke. We love ’em really ).