So now we all know.
We're referring to the dispute involving a Flagstaff bicyclist and a Mountain Line bus driver. The former contends the latter did not give him the minimum 3 feet of space that he says the law requires. The fact that he was in a bike lane did not cancel the 3-foot rule, he said. He wanted the driver ticketed, so he called police.
As Larry Hendricks reported Thursday, the matter was referred to the Flagstaff city attorney's office. It determined that the 3-foot rule does apply in a bike lane to drivers who are overtaking a cyclist. And after reviewing a videotape of the incident recorded from a bus camera, the city attorney has recommended that the driver be cited for the 3-foot violation as well as for speeding.
This might sound like splitting hairs, but if city police were unclear about the 3-foot law, it's a good bet most Flagstaff drivers were, too. Keeping your vehicle on one side of the white line marking the bicycle lane while the cyclist is on the other is not good enough. There now must be 3 feet of space, which means most drivers will need to hug the center line when overtaking a cyclist just in case the latter veers toward bike lane line.
What complicates the matter is that more bicyclists are taking to the streets even in the winter, when snowplows have not cleared bike lanes completely. This was the case with the Dec. 19 incident -- snow in the bike lane forced the cyclist toward the inside of the bike lane, but not entirely out of it. Legally, the cyclist could have been anywhere in the roadway and still entitled to the 3-foot protection zone. But if he had been hit outside a "passable" bike lane, then the driver would not be liable for any injuries to the cyclist.
Of course, that depends on what constitutes a "passable" bike lane. When snow covers 3 or 4 feet of a 5-foot-wide lane, it's no wonder a cyclist is forced close to the white line. We wonder, too, whether a city's failure to maintain a passable bike lane because of snow might make it liable were a cyclist to be injured in the driving lanes.
Our larger point is that the city of the Flagstaff should do all it can to clear bike lanes on major arteries like Butler Avenue as soon as possible after a snowstorm. Cyclists are out in all types of conditions and they clearly have rights to safe passage, whether outside or inside a bike lane. If drivers no longer can venture within 3 feet of a bike lane when overtaking a cyclist without risking a ticket, then the city should do all it can to keep bike lanes clear so that cyclists can stay as far to the outside as possible.
As for where to put all that snow formerly piled into the bike lanes, that's a tougher question than even the city attorney might be able to handle. We'll leave it to Public Works to come up with an answer before next winter.
THE 3-FOOT LAW
A.R.S. 28-735. Overtaking bicycles; civil penalties
A. When overtaking and passing a bicycle proceeding in the same direction, a person driving a motor vehicle shall exercise due care by leaving a safe distance between the motor vehicle and the bicycle of not less than 3 feet until the motor vehicle is safely past the overtaken bicycle.
B. If a person violates this section and the violation results in a collision causing:
1. Serious physical injury as defined in section 13-105 to another person, the violator is subject to a civil penalty of up to $500.
2. Death to another person, the violator is subject to a civil penalty of up to $1,000.
C. Subsection B of this section does not apply to a bicyclist who is injured in a vehicular traffic lane when a designated bicycle lane or path is present and passable.