Cyclists weigh in on bike safety bill

March 6, 2009

By Jim Feehan

Two avid bicyclists from Newcastle have some reservations about a bill in the Legislature that would require motorists to keep at least three feet away from bicyclists and pedestrians they are passing.

Jeffrey Lorsch, who has participated in several Seattle to Portland bicycle rides and last month’s Chilly Hilly ride on Bainbridge Island, said the 3-foot recommendation is already listed in the Washington state drivers guide.“What we need are more educational programs about bicycle safety before we add any new laws,” he said.

Fellow Newcastle cyclist John Jensen said he has concerns about enforcing the law.

“Negative interactions with cars are rare, because most drivers are overly courteous. Drivers usually give you space when passing,” he said. “It might make drivers more aware when passing a bicycle, knowing there is a rule so specific.”

The current law says drivers must pass at a “safe distance.”  The new bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, said his measure quantifies what a safe distance is and that it should not be up to each driver to decide what a safe distance is.

The legislation, House Bill 1491, also would make it legal for drivers to move to the left side of the roadway when passing a cyclist. 

Newcastle has seen its share of road rage involving aggressive motorists and bicyclists.

In August 2007, an enraged motorist attempted to run two bicyclists off Newcastle Golf Club Road. 

One of the cyclists, a 33-year-old Seattle man, was pedaling along the shoulder of the road heading east when he heard a vehicle horn honking behind him. He looked in time to see a white utility truck swerve toward him and a woman bicycling with him. The side mirror of the truck struck the helmet of the male bicyclist, but he was not injured. 

The motorist cursed at the cyclists, then stopped, put the truck in reverse and came at them, yelling “I’m going to kill you,” followed by another expletive.

The bicyclists went into the ditch to try to avoid being struck. Police were unable to locate the suspect, and there have been no arrests in the incident.

Two years ago, Jensen was riding along May Valley Road when a truckload of young men yelled at him to get out of the road and honked as they came upon him. The driver slowed and drifted toward Jensen as a passenger leaned out as if to shove him.

“The reality is they were just a couple of fat guys on the way to the tavern picking on people,” Jensen said of the incident in 2007. “But, it’s a scary experience out there. You feel vulnerable.” 

Bicycle challenge is set for June 21

The Lance Armstrong Livestrong Bicycle Challenge will come through Newcastle on June 21. 

The route will take bicyclists along 116th Avenue Southeast, Southeast 89th Place, Coal Creek Parkway and Southeast May Valley Road. The event includes 10-, 40-, 70- and 100-mile rides. 

The Livestrong Challenge is a series of fundraising events across the U.S. It includes bicycle rides, as well as 5-kilometer runs and walks to allow people of all ages and physical abilities to participate and raise money for cancer survivors.

Learn more or get involved by going to

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One Response to “Cyclists weigh in on bike safety bill”

  1. Joe Mizereck on March 6th, 2009 11:37 am

    I am also an avid cyclist and understand my fellow cyclists’ concerns, but ask them to think about a 3 foot law as a tool in educating motorists about what is and is not a safe passing distance. I don’t think any of the fourteen “3 foot states” adopted the law for its enforcement value. All of them thought it would be a valuable educational tool that would provide a frame of reference for motorists to use when passing cyclists from the rear.

    Look, the question is simple: can the law help reduce the number of cyclists being injured or worse, killed? If you think the answer is yes, then you know what to do.

    I hope you make the right decision.

    Joe Mizereck

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