George C. Palaidis
Big safety changes for bicyclists and pedestrians proposed in the Florida Legislature
Two bills have been introduced in the Florida Legislature that are one of the most progressive for bicyclist and pedestrian safety for the state in recent memory.
House Bill 605, succinctly titled Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety, was introduced by Rep. Christine Hunschofsky and Rep. Anna Eskamani with an identical Senate Bill 950 filed by Senator Lauren Book. Both bills have been referred to committees in the House and Senate but would need to make it out of the committees for a possible full vote and passage into law.
So what makes these bills so progressive for bicyclist and pedestrian safety? And for brevity, when I say bicyclists the bill also includes those riding other nonmotorized vehicles and electric bicycles.
For the first time there would be a definition of bicycle lane and separated bicycle lane in the statutes. At present there is no real definition, and though this definition does not give any specifics as far as size, it does clearly state that a bicycle lane would be one “which is designated by pavement markings and signs for preferential or exclusive use by bicycles.” No more can police and others tell bicyclists to ride in the narrow shoulder and claim it is a bicycle lane.
The proposed law would also revamp the statute regarding when and how drivers can pass bicyclists. At present, section 316.803 of the Florida Statutes provides that when a driver passes a bicyclist, they must pass at no less than 3 feet. The statute otherwise makes no other provisions on passing cyclists or pedestrians.
The proposed law would require drivers to change lanes when approaching a bicyclist or pedestrian in the travel lane and, if they cannot safely change lanes, remain at a safe distance behind the bicyclist or pedestrian and wait until they can change lanes and pass the bicyclist. This is an important, and needed change, because as the law is written a driver can attempt to pass a bicyclist and remain in the same lane provided they give 3 feet. Realistically, though, there are few roads wide enough in the state that this could be accomplished. But drivers do not know that and there is nothing requiring that they change lanes, so they just proceed forward sharing the lane and ignoring the 3 feet requirement. But the bill does maintain the 3 feet distance for when a drive is passing a bicyclist who is in the bike lane next to the lane the driver is in. This provision would allow for an even greater buffer for those bicyclists in the bike lane.
The bill also addresses situations when big group rides come to a stop sign. Drivers would be required to allow groups of 10 or less could proceed at once after fully stopping before proceeding themselves. The way the law is currently, only one bicyclist at a time can go through after stopping, allowing for all other vehicles to go one at a time. Realistically this does not happen, and the group rides will proceed through all at once, but this would give them the legal support in doing so, up to ten at a time.
One of the key provisions of the bill is the education aspect. The bill requires the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to provide an awareness campaign and disseminate educational materials regarding the new safety precautions when overtaking bicyclists and pedestrians. But the bill would also require 20% of the driver’s license exam address bicycle and pedestrian safety.
These identical bills may not have everything we want, but they have a great deal of what we need. I suggest you take a few minutes and read them over and reach out to the legislators who sponsored them and reach out to others to co-sponsor the bills. Without support, they may go nowhere.