legislative thoughts

BikinginLA has a new tack: Building on his recent writings on responsibility and registration, he writes that he is “going to take a look at some ways the existing laws regarding can, and should, be changed. Changes that could help us all get home safely, and make every ride a little more enjoyable.”

It’s an ambitious project, and he starts from the premise that most of the laws that govern our behavior on the road have been written with cars in mind. In other words, the vast majority of legal writings that exist pertain to interactions between two automobiles. Bicycles, as something uncomfortably in between a car and a baby carriage, don’t fit into the legal frame.

With that in mind, BikinginLA’s first suggested legislation is a law requiring cars to grant bicycles a wide berth when passing. It’s a fine idea, but my reservations go back to something I wrote a little while back about the material facts of this city. There, I was trying to work through a way of thinking about the relationship between architectural and engineering decisions and the use of particular places. Thinking about this proposed amendment, my first reaction is that there simply isn’t room. I would love it if cars were legally obligated to give me space when passing, but I’m also pessimistic about the number of drivers who’d be deterred by the threat of a ticket. Heck, California has a new law against driving while holding a cell phone, and I see that happen more times than I can count.

Rather than legislate that extra passing room, I might suggest that we legislate biking infrastructure into the people who actually build the roads that we drive. One of Los Angeles’ many peculiarities is its insistence on providing parking at all times and in all places (except, it seems, my neighborhood whenever I’m trying to park): Roads are often remodeled with parking in mind. What if those roads were remade with bikes in mind? What if we lost a little parking but gained three feet of functional space? Leave aggressive drivers their space; let cyclists cultivate theirs.

It’s all a bit half-formed, but I’m looking forward to what comes next.

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One response to “legislative thoughts

  1. I have to disagree with your disagreement. Mandating three feet of clearance only codifies what drivers should already be doing. My rule of thumb has always been anything less than an arm’s length is too close; problem is, arm lengths vary — since mine is significantly longer than my wife’s, does that mean they can come that much closer in passing? (As if I could ever get her on a bike…) Mandating three feet just establishes a clear passing distance, and takes the guess work and disagreement out of the equation. You’re right that not everyone would observe it, but we have to start somewhere. But I am right there with you about legislating decent infrastructure.

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