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Boise Council Puts Teeth in Bike Passing Law

Boise Weekly: Boise Council Puts Teeth in Bike Passing Law

Three feet to pass, reckless biking and cyclist harassment laws get unanimous nod

by Nathaniel Hoffman

The Boise City Council Tuesday night passed three cycling-related ordinances including the state’s first 3-feet-to-pass law, which requires automobiles to yield adequate space to cyclists on the road.

If there’s not 3 feet, don’t pass, the final version of the bill implies. The version of the ordinance that the city’s legal team drafted allows for cars and trucks to pass at a closer distance on roads where yielding 3 feet is impractical, but the council voted unanimously to strike the "whenever possible" clause.

"I believe that the words ’whenever possible’ completely emasculate the legislation," Council Member Alan Shealy said, adding that the safety of the bicyclist is more important than the convenience of the person in the automobile.

The first of the three ordinances redefines bicycles in Boise City code, improving upon the definition in state code, struck out below:

"BICYCLE: The word "Bicycle" shall mean Every vehicle having wheels which are not less than twelve (12) inches in diameter propelled exclusively by human power upon which any person may ride, having two (2) tandem wheels, including tricycles and other multicycles, excluding except scooters and similar devices."

The second ordinance, which also passed unanimously, defines where and how cyclists should ride within city limits. It clarifies that in the absence of a bike lane, cyclists can use any available lane, including bus lanes, as long as they ride with the flow of traffic. Incidentally, on one way streets, cyclists have always had the right to travel in any of the lanes, which explains the left hand bike lane on 15th Street that I’ve always found awkward.

It also allows bikers to use right-turn-only lanes to proceed straight:

"In right-turn-only lanes, where traffic signs or signals indicate a bus, trolley or street car is permitted to go straight rather than turn right, a bicycle operator shall be permitted to go straight rather than turn right. "

The Council toughened up sidewalk rules, stating that bikes can only ride on sidewalks when safe, that bikers must give an audible warning when overtaking pedestrians and that bikers should not "suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and move into the path of a vehicle that is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard."

"A bicycle may be operated upon a sidewalk and upon and with a crosswalk, except where
prohibited by official traffic control devices, except when the number of pedestrians using the sidewalk renders bicycle riding on the sidewalk unsafe because of the risk of colliding with one of the pedestrians, in which case the bicycle rider must dismount and walk the bicycle to an area where safe riding may resume."

All of the changes above will be infractions, subject to $100 fines, but the ordinance goes on to define reckless biking as riding: "carelessly and heedlessly, or without due caution and circumspection, or at such speed or in any other manner as to endanger or be likely to endanger any person or property shall be guilty of reckless bicycling." The penalty: up to six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.

The city also recommends, but does not require, bicycle registration through the Boise Police, including fees (not yet set) that will support the program and additional cycling education outreach.

The final piece of the biking package [pdf] defines the new 3-feet-to-pass law and sets up a cyclist harassment penalty.

It requires drivers to yield to cyclists when turning, a direct response to at least one of Boise’s fatal bike crashes from last summer:

"C. The driver of a vehicle within an intersection intending to turn to the left shall yield the
right-of-way to a bicycle approaching from the opposite direction which is within the intersection or so close thereto as to constitute an immediate hazard.
D. When a motor vehicle and a bicycle are traveling in the same direction on any highway, street, or road, the operator of the motor vehicle overtaking such bicycle traveling on the right side of the roadway shall not turn to the right in front of the bicycle at an intersection, alley, or driveway until such vehicle has overtaken the bicycle and has sufficient clearance to safely turn without requiring the bicyclist to brake or take evasive action to avoid a collision with the vehicle."
And despite recommendations from city attorneys that 3 feet be required to pass bikes only "whenever possible," the City Council modified the language to require 3 feet at all times; if there is not enough space on the roadway, vehicles must wait to pass.

A parallel effort to amend state law and allow cars to cross a double yellow line to safely pass bikes is expected to go before the Legislature in the next few months.

Finally, the city has instituted a cyclist harassment law, a misdemeanor:

"It shall be a misdemeanor for any person, maliciously and with the specific intent to intimidate or harass or cause another person to crash, stumble, or fall because that other person is walking along the roadway or operating a bicycle along the roadway, to:
A. threaten, by word or act, to cause physical injury to the pedestrian or bicyclist, or
B. throw or otherwise expel any object at or in the direction of the pedestrian or bicyclist."

All three passed the Council unanimously, though there was some debate on the "whenever possible" clause.