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Calgary cyclists welcome proposed safe passing law

Calgary cyclists will likely soon have a bylaw-mandated safe distance between them and cars, and advocates say it will be good for both bikers and drivers.

Later this month, Calgary’s Transportation and Transit committee will receive a public feedback report on proposed changes to a handful of bylaws and in it is a recommendation to create a safe passing law.

The law would allow for at least a metre of space between cyclists and passing cars on city roadways. The bylaw change is similar to that of a provincial private member’s bill put forth in late 2018 by Sherwood Park MLA Annie McKitrick to amend the province’s Traffic Safety Act allowing for a safe passing bylaw.  

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McKitrick’s bill, which saw first reading on the last day of the legislative session, proposed a one metre space if a vehicle was travelling at a speed of 60 kilometres an hour or less, and 1.5 metres if a vehicle is travelling more than that speed limit.

The legislative change was initially proposed in response to a crash outside Sherwood Park in August 2018 in which a truck plowed into a group of cyclists and sent five to hospital, but McKitrick said as cycling’s popularity grows, it’s something that needs to be addressed.

“I realized that we hadn’t looked at cycling safety in quite a while. And with increased number of cyclists on the road it was really important to explore legislation that would make cycling safer,” McKitrick told LiveWire.

She said the current legislation doesn’t provide any direction on how vehicles should be passing cyclists, so some may ride too close.

That’s one of the biggest questions local cyclist Kevin Schlauch gets from his auto-driving friends and co-workers – how should I pass a cyclist?

Schlauch said he’s in favour of the rule for a number of reasons.

“It would be tremendously positive for cycling – and to be honest, for cars, too.”

“One of the things that stops people from biking to work, especially if they’re not on the cycle track, is challenges with cars. One of the biggest ones is cars passing too close.”

He said riding when drivers make razor thin passes makes cyclists feel quite vulnerable on the road.

“It’s a terrible feeling, even as someone who bikes every day that, wow, my life matters this little to this person. I’m not worth three seconds to wait to pass, or I’m not worth that extra half metre of space – that’s how little I matter to this person,” he said.

For the most part Schlauch said Calgary drivers are good – they provide cyclists with the right space.

“There’s a small percentage of Calgarians, like the same number that are flat-earthers, that will punish pass you. Like – get off my road, here’s two inches of space,” he said.

That’s why he thinks in order for this to work well and provide safety for cyclists, it needs to be enforced. He said that since a close pass would be easy to see, enforcement shouldn’t be a problem for local bylaw or police to stop drivers and hand out tickets.

There’s no indication at this point what the penalty would be for breaking the safe passing law.

McKitrick also pointed out that an increasing number of cyclists are equipped with cameras on their commute for such instances.

“There’s opportunities to get license plates and inform RCMP or bylaw officers that somebody has come to close to them,” she said.

Not everyone will be in favour of the proposed change. In the city’s What We Heard stakeholder report from mid-January, several responses questioned the validity of it.

“The safe passing law is one of the worst ideas I’ve heard in a long time. Right now you can drive two lanes on parts of 17th with parked cars to your right. This law would essentially make 17th a 1-lane roadway for its entirety,” one response read.

Others were concerned with lineups created for vehicles not being able to pass on some roadways.

The first two columns on the left (red) indicate positive impact from respondents. CITY OF CALGARY WHAT WE HEARD REPORT

Overall, according to the city’s report, a majority of respondents said it would have a positive impact.

Schlauch said more than anything it provides clarity consistency for both cyclists and drivers.

“Having an actual rule there, I think (drivers will) be in favour of it,”  

“Almost all drivers, don’t want to hit bikes. They don’t want to scare people. Now they know what to do, there isn’t going to be any indecision.”

McKitrick, who met with City of Calgary officials just over a week ago on this topic, said work is still ongoing for a province-wide law around safe passing, especially because a number of Alberta municipalities are already looking at implementing them.

She also said that the Alberta Cycling Coalition put together a report that was delivered to the transportation minister outlining regulation changes that could be made for cycling safety, rather than changes to the Traffic Safety Act.