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I don't get the opposition to passing on the double yellow. If we stipulate that passing with three feet clearance is safe when the lane is wide enough, why isn't it safe when the lane isn't wide enough but the other lane can be used? Is there a circumstance when passing with three feet would be unsafe but passing with six would be fine?

HB 1397 doesn't speak for or against different treatment in single-direction no passing zones and double-direction ones, i.e., a single solid yellow with a dash to its left or double solid yellows.

Where a single no passing (except bicycles) zone is in effect, oncoming traffic where passing is allowed would be expected to see and adjust to the vehicle passing in the no passing (except bicycles) zone. Risk is increased, but it's probably within parameters that can still preserve safety.

Where the marking is a double yellow, NEITHER vehicle can adequately see to determine if it's safe to violate the commonly understood meaning of no passing - but the law will permit them to do so because, you know, bicycles.

In both cases, allowing a motor vehicle to move into a blind lane simply to pass a bicycle will lead to a higher risk of oncoming collisions, perhaps even with oncoming bicycles operating in a safe and legal manner at no inconvenience to anyone - but perhaps even leading to to simultaneous oncoming collisions with two bicycles! It may also lead to situations where the motor vehicle that is passing blind in a no passing (except bicycles) zone suddenly learns there's not enough clearance to do so and moves back to the right-hand lane without completely passing the bicycle, sweeping it off the road by contact or intimidation.

The difference in time between covering a mile at 45 mph and at 20 mph is 100 seconds. If a motor vehicle is stuck behind a moving bicycle for a whole mile, the time lost is about the same as stopping at two stoplights, and aside from narrow winding roads where passing would never be safe anyway it's hard to imagine being blocked by a bicycle for a full mile.

And I don't think passing at six or more feet in a no passing (except bicycles) zone would be any less risky than passing at three feet - but if the passing driver is required to allow six or more feet and can't be certain that clearance is actually available then the pass would considered too close by statute and not legal. Not sure that would be an actual deterrent, but it would at least be an option for enforcement.

My overall uneasiness about this bill is that I think these issues need to be vetted until we have an approach that addresses all the situations. Proponents were considering one specific situation--a cyclist riding well to the right in a narrow lane when the driver decides to pass the cyclist too closely rather than cross the yellow line(s).

To DaveS's last comment, I think that a driver is less likely to pass in marginal situations when the driver risks a head-on collision, than in marginal situations when the only risk is that she will have to side-swipe the bike.

@contrarian: If we stipulate that passing with three feet clearance is safe when the lane is wide enough, why isn't it safe when the lane isn't wide enough but the other lane can be used? Is there a circumstance when passing with three feet would be unsafe but passing with six would be fine?

I would not stipulate that 3 feet is inherently safe, nor does the statute. It says “at least three feet” in circumstances where, before 2010, drivers had been allowed to pass with almost no clearance. In a case where drivers have not been allowed to pass bikes at all, the standard should logically be safer, since any standard is giving drivers more flexibility. Here are those circumstances you wanted.

1. At higher speeds, the safe passing distance is greater. Some states require bike lanes to be 3 feet wider for speed limits >45 mph. A Washington State bill would make the minimum safe passing distance 3 feet for <35 mph and 5 feet for 35mph. Faster speeds inherently reduce the driver’s reaction time if the cyclist swerves, and increase the magnitude for a rightward shift by the car, especially along turns.

2. Even if we assume that 3 feet is the definition of safety, some drivers are unable to estimate the distance as they pass on the right. Even with Jersey barriers which are straight and do not move, we see that some drivers are in the center of the lane and about 1-2 feet away from that barrier, while others are 4-5 feet away from the Jersey barrier and cheat left into the next lane. The statutory language “at least three feet” allows such drivers to create an additional safety margin based on their own self-assessment. But this bill requires them to keep that buffer to a minimum.

3. No-passing zones inherently have a greater potential for surprises, which drivers realize intuitively if not consciously. If the driver is willing to completely change lanes, she is confident that no one is going to pull into her lane; but if she is simply moving over three feet into the oncoming lane to pass me with a 3-foot clearance, then she is taking the chance that maybe she’ll have to scoot back into the lane where I am.

4. Today, most drivers pass me with a 10-foot clearance and that really makes me feel safe. I do not think that cyclists should be promoting the idea that these drivers should reduce that passing clearance to 3 feet—especially in return for giving drivers an additional privilege.

FWIW, I never dealt with BGE when I was working in Baltimore County, but my understanding from Nate Evans, the bike planner for Baltimore County, is that they are more open to it than they had been.

I didn't have a chance to contact them wrt potential trails in the county because my boss and I disagreed with one particular routing. It had some topographical issues, but on the other hand, there weren't really any other good alternatives, so the transmission line route was really the only choice in a big chunk of the potential for getting between Lutherville and the Robert E. Lee Park, and being able to link the NCR and Jones Falls Trails.

So there was that, the old Ma & Pa alignment along Cromwell Valley Road, and a transmission line corridor in Patapsco Valley State Park.

BG&E also cohabits with the WB&A Trail, but onkly because the railroad sold them an easement, not because BG&E welcommed a trail. Any idea which of these three trails (if any) are on land owned by BG&E?

Evidently, PEPCO is the most resistant, but perhaps PEPCO also tends to own more of its rights of way in fee simple. Allegeny Power and Light, by contrast, generally has easements so they would have relatively little say if the landowners chose to allow a trail.

If it is safe to pass, change the solid line to a dotted line. This bill is dangerous, as it promotes the idea that the solid line is only there because they had extra paint one day, not because a road engineer determined that (due to inadequate sight lines, etc) it is not safe to pass.

@Mike, safe to pass a car and safe to pass a bike are two very different things. Drivers pass bikes all the time on Beach Drive in Kensington with part of their car across the double yellow line without much ado. But you would never want cars passing other cars that way on Beach Drive, and a dashed line would legalize that. There might be even better examples.

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