Bike Box outside Nano Brew in Ohio City.
Ohio hopes to join the 37 states and the District of Columbia that have a mandatory minimum of three feet of separation between motor vehicles and bicycles when passing.
On May 26, the Ohio House passed Bill 154 (78-15), brought by the Ohio Bicycle Federation (OBF) with a provision mandating a minimum of three feet of distance, a distance endorsed by the American Automobile Association and the League of American Bicyclists, between bicyclists and passing motor vehicles. The bill will now go on to the Ohio Senate for a final vote before the end of the year.
Of the 37 states with a minimum of three feet for passing, South Dakota currently has the most specific parameters regarding passing laws, requiring “a three foot separation…if the posted limit is 35 miles per hour or less and a minimum of six feet separation if the posted limit is greater than 35 miles per hour.” Pennsylvania has set the highest standard, requiring four feet at minimum to pass.
Seven states—Washington, Oregon, Montana, Missouri, South Carolina, New York, and Vermont—do not have an explicitly stated minimum. Rather, they require a “safe distance” which varies state to state. Currently, Ohio is one of 13 states (15 including Guam and Puerto Rico) to not have a law on the books at the state level mandating a minimum distance to pass.
The bill, comprised of three provisions, was originally brought before a court in 2013. One provision allows cyclists to go through a red light if the signal detector failed to detect them. (A similar law allowing a “soft stop” was recently passed in San Francisco.) Another provision, which has since been passed separately as part of an omnibus transportation bill in 2013, changed the definition of a “bicycle” to incorporate pedal driven, human powered vehicles with more than two or three wheels.
If passed by the state Senate, the impact of the current law has larger than standard implications in Cleveland.
The City Planning Commission recently reignited criticism from planners and bicycle advocates when they painted a buffer, which is traditionally placed between the designated bike lane and motor vehicle traffic to create a protected bike lane, between the bike lane and the curb on Prospect Ave.
Similar designs have drawn criticism in the past. This unorthodox template does not follow any design from the Chicago Bike Lane Design guide, a primer created by Chicago Department of Transportation, which Cleveland uses as a touchstone.
Steve Magas, affectionately known as “The Bike Lawyer,” a lawyer based in Cincinnati and member of the Ohio Bicycle Federation, worked closely to craft the bill and move it through the court. Magas has been closely involved in litigation and committed to advocacy for bicyclists for 30 years.
“Ten and 20 years ago you couldn’t get politicians to spell ‘bike,’” he said.
Though initially hesitant because of enforceability concerns, Magas now sees a law mandating a minimum of three feet as a victory in a long fought battle for safety.
In Ohio, “there are about 1,500 bicycle-motorist accidents annually, a low number compared to other states but one that could improve,” said Magas.
Though high profile cases such as the death of two bicyclists in Brecksville late last year, the death of five in Kalamazoo, and the death of Sylvia Bingham in
Cleveland in 2009, may deter bicycling, Magas evokes a saying about shipwrecks and plane crashes:
“Shipwrecks or plane crashes make the news, but 99.95 percent of cast offs and take offs go off without a hitch.”
He hopes to see Bill 154 through the Ohio Senate and on the Governor’s desk before the end of the year. If the bill does not find its way to the Governor’s desk before December 31, Magas and the OFB will have to start all over.