Beginning next month, California law will require that cars stay at least three feet away from cyclists when passing on the roads. If a driver can’t pass three feet to the left of a cyclist, they’ll just have to wait until they can.
Seeing how this might be a challenge for drivers, I decided to head out on my bike and test the new rule to see just what sort of learning curve drivers will face. The results were hard to believe.
I attached this driveway reflector to the basket of my bike with some zip ties. The whole thing cost maybe $3, which I’ll write off, of course. I chose this flexible plastic stick with reflector because it was 3 feet long and it should be visible, but it should also not kill me if a car decides to drive right through it.
Further safety could have been achieved by attaching it to a non-steering part of my bike, but then I wouldn’t have been able to see the thing ahead of me, and I'm sure I would have done some damage.
What I found was that a 3-foot gap feels huge when you’re steering a physical demonstration of it around with you. I had trouble navigating through tight streets. I also noticed that cars gave me a lot of room – a lot more room than I ever get when I don’t have a huge stick zip-tied to my bike. Cars would even wait behind me if they couldn’t safely pass without pegging my makeshift reflector.
Testing the new three-foot law in San Francisco. from leif haven on Vimeo.
Ultimately? I felt safer because of this extra 3-foot forced space. I was tucked right up against the line of parked cars. A strange side effect from the extra 3 feet: I found myself taking the lane more. I couldn’t slip past lines of cars stopped at lights like I usually would, so I was forced to suck it up and wait for the traffic light like the rest of the (wider) traffic.
Most traffic lanes are about 10-feet wide. If you have 3 feet of space on your left, and, ideally, at least 3 feet of space on your right in order to avoid getting doored, plus probably at least around 18 inches for you and your bike to exist, you end up with at 7.5 feet. Let's call it 8 feet. That’s about how wide the lanes are in San Francisco. If people are actually going to respect and enforce this law it’ll change the way we get around in dense urban areas. Either bikes will have to act like cars, or we’ll have to get full bike lanes everywhere.
In all honesty, I do think this law is important especially on busier, higher-speed roads where it’s significantly easier for drivers to give the necessary space, and significantly more important. Bombing down Divisidero or Dolores with my 3-foot stick dangling out into traffic, I didn’t get buzzed by a car a few inches off my handlebars like usual.
The embarrassment I felt while cruising around the city with a stick attached to my my front basket was worth it: I didn’t get clipped by a car once. Let's just hope it won't come down to cyclists having to ride around with 3-foot sticks on their bikes.