Planet Princeton

Safe Passing Bill to Protect Bicyclists and Pedestrians Approved by New Jersey State Assembly Committee

Assemblywoman Spencer, a cyclist, has been an advocate for safe passing legislation for several years.
Assemblywoman Spencer, a cyclist, has been an advocate for safe passing legislation for several years.

The New Jersey Assembly Transportation and Independent Authorities Committee voted today to approve a four-foot safe passing bill at a hearing in Trenton.

The new bill, which was introduced during the committee hearing, calls for a “reasonable and safe distance between the motor vehicle and the bicycle or pedestrian of not less than four feet until the motor vehicle has safely passed the bicycle or pedestrian.”

Assemblywoman Grace Spencer (D-Newark), a sponsor of the legislation, introduced the new bill.

The League of American Bicyclists recently lowered New Jersey’s ranking as a bicycle friendly state, naming the lack of a safe passing law as one of the two major shortcomings for the state. While New Jersey is a leader in the nation in passing complete streets policies, it has not been able to pass legislation that would protect bicyclists and all other vulnerable road users on the roadway. The other key legislation that is missing is a vulnerable road user law, which would inflict penalties when there is an injury or death to a non-motorized user of the road.

“The newly combined bill  represents the start – and it’s only a start – of significant improvement for cyclists and pedestrians in our state,” testified Les Leathem, the education coordinator for the New Jersey Bike and Walk Coalition, at the hearing this morning.

According to the New Jersey State Police, pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities made up 27 percent of all road fatalities in New Jersey in 2013, making the state the second worst in the nation for such fatalities.

New Jersey is the only state in the Northeast that does  not having a safe passing law for bicyclists and pedestrians. Pennsylvania, Delaware and New York each have one; Pennsylvania requires a minimum four feet, Delaware has a three-foot law, and New York has a general “safe passing distance” law.

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

  • Spokesdude

    Riding on a sidewalk is dangerous for pedestrians, especially when they are approached by a cyclist from the rear.

    It is also dangerous for cyclists because motorists exiting driveways often do not stop until they are across the sidewalk and at the street. In this case, a driver’s chances of spotting a slow moving pedestrian are much better than spotting a cyclist approaching at speeds above 10 mph. Sidewalk riding also requires the cyclist to stop at every intersection, which few do. A driver approaching from the rear and making a right turn at the intersection is likely to cut off the cyclist and possibly run the cyclist over.

    Riding on the road gives both the cyclist and the driver a better view of each other, especially if the rider has a rear view mirror.

  • SFB

    @SidewalkCycler, On-road bike lanes reduce the potential for cyclists being run over by inattentive drivers exiting driveways or making turns at side-streets. This is well-recognized by accident statistics, such as this report from Cornell University:
    http://www.bike.cornell.edu/pdfs/Sidewalk_biking_FAQ.pdf

    On the other hand, in Princeton it is lawful for cyclists to ride on the sidewalk (with a few exceptions) and there are no plans to change that.

  • SideWalkCycler

    How can on-road cycle lanes be safer? For whom?

  • SideWalkCycler

    Why not share, Cris? Don’t push us on to the road to be mown down 🙁

  • Sandra Bierman

    If the bicycle riders follow the traffic laws would be wonderful. They behave as they please, on the road. They pass red lights if no cars are coming, they turn when and where they please with a subtle move of the arm, it is stressing to drive a car next to a bicycle rider for one never knows what to expect.

  • SFB

    Princeton is trying to do that- within a larger policy of encouraging bike use, we have a sharrows program, which is intended to make it clearer that cyclists have a right to cycle in the road, and to indicate proper lane positioning.

    Cyclists choose a sidewalk instead of cycling in the road because of a [legitimate] fear of erratic and unsafe driving. We can deal with that with new legislation, such as that mentioned in the article above, which clarifies the requirement for people to operate motor vehicles in a safe way around cyclists.

    We can also press for on-road bicycle lanes, which provide a designated space for people to ride their bikes. However, there is often opposition to bike lanes, because they restrict where people can park cars on the street. Princeton tends to put bicycle facilities on shared ‘sidepaths’ instead, where cyclists must share space with pedestrians. On-road lanes are safer and more effective.

  • Cris Maloney

    This is great. Now, if we could just get the every bicyclist over 12 years old off the sidewalks.

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