Passing on the left: New safe-passing law for bicyclists

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Minnesota has an incredibly large and robust bicycling community. Cyclists contribute over a billion dollars to the state economy, and roughly 5,000 jobs to citizens. Local businesses support bike commuters as well: 55,000 Minnesotans work for 41 bike-friendly companies. There are 160 small business bicycle shops in Minnesota. Over 700 jobs are provided by the top five bicycle businesses in the metro area. The value for the Twin Cities retail, wholesale, and manufacturing in the bicycle industry is $315 million annually.

And, simply, we love to bike.

On average, 4,100+ people use the 5.7 mile Midtown Greenway every day, and there has been a 78% increase in bicycling in the Twin Cities since 2007. Minnesota as a state saw a 13% increase from 2012 to 2013 alone.

But that’s not the whole story.

Safe Routes to School (SRTS) is a federal program that provides funding to all 50 states. It began in 2005 as an effort to reverse increasing rates of childhood obesity and inactivity, and the the Minnesota legislature has allocated $250,000 to this program for on-infrastructure per year in 2013. In 2014 alone, MN legislature allocated $1 million dollars to a SRTS infrastructure grant program, and $500,000 per year to on-infrastructure programs. Since 2005 The Minnesota Department of Transportation has received grant requests that total $100 million.

With over 250 cities working on creating bike master plans (and foot traffic as well), and 100 or more communities implementing SRTS projects, the number of cars and bikes traveling together on roadways is ostensibly going to increase.

Which, as any biker knows, can be dangerous.

Safety is becoming and ever increasing focal point on our roadways with the increase in bicyclists.

The law, before 5/30/17, was that a motorist could not move to the left when passing a bicyclist if it was a no-passing zone (and obviously the driver couldn’t go into the lane if it was occupied by another car). The law has now been changed to allow a motorists to go into the left lane in a no-passing zone when going around a bicyclist without fear of being ticked (again, while making sure the lane is clear of other motor traffic).

For those of you that like legal jargon, here is the law in its entirety:

 Line 62.4 of the transportation bill, House File 3.  Minnesota Statutes 2016, section 169.18, subdivision 5, is amended to read: a motor vehicle may be driven to the left side of the roadway (in a no passing zone) to safely overtake a bicycle under the following circumstances:

(1) the bicycle is proceeding in the same direction as the motor vehicle;

(2) the driver of the motor vehicle either (i) provides a safe clearance distance, in no case less than the greater of three feet or one-half the width of the motor vehicle, or (ii) completely enters the left lane of the highway;

(3) the operator of the bicycle is not (i) making a left turn, or (ii) signaling that the bicycle operator intends to make a left turn; and

(4) the driver of the motor vehicle complies with all other applicable requirements under this section.

As it stands now, next time you’re driving on a two-lane road and are a approaching a bicyclist, you can give them necessary space by moving into the left lane. If that lane is occupied, though, you still have to wait your turn.