The provincial Traffic Safety Act makes it illegal for one vehicle to pass another vehicle unless the passing can be done safely.
Which, if you are a person riding a bicycle or a person driving an automobile in Edmonton, raises the obvious question: what does it mean to safely pass a bicycle?
The City has now provided the two-part answer:
1 metre: the distance drivers must leave while passing a bicycle rider where the posted speed limit is 60 km/h or less.
1.5 metres: the passing distance where the limit is more than 60 km/h.
The safe passing distances are law as of Sept. 30, 2021. That’s when the City of Edmonton’s Charter Bylaw 19642 – Safe Passing Distance came into effect.
“These passing distances make our life together on the road clearer and safer, whether you drive a car or ride a bike,” said Jessica Lamarre, the Director of Safe Mobility at the City of Edmonton.
“This bylaw outlines one important action people driving can take to make Edmonton’s roads safer for all as we work towards Edmonton’s goal of Vision Zero, which is zero traffic-related fatalities and injuries by 2032.”
Crash data supports the new passing distances bylaw. In Edmonton, 87 percent of serious bicycle crashes happen where there is no protected infrastructure.
“Where protected lanes aren’t available, safe passing distances can help,” said Lamarre.
Edmonton can learn from other North American jurisdictions about the benefits of safe passing distances. A 2018 study by Western Michigan University shows that drivers give more distance when passing cyclists in locations where a 1.5-metre passing distance law exists than in locations where there is a 1-metre safe passing distance law, or no law at all.
Calgary has a safe passing bylaw. Based on public surveys, cyclists there report they feel safer, and that drivers have given them more space, since the bylaw came into effect on Sept. 1, 2019.
“Specifying the distances required for a driver to safely pass a cyclist helps create clear expectations for all road users,” said Lamarre.
What about cyclists?
Edmonton drivers may wonder what their responsibility under the new bylaw is when passing a bicycle rider not as close to the curb as drivers might expect.
It’s helpful to remember that a bicycle rider might be in that position to avoid debris, car doors, or other unexpected objects on the roadway or sidewalk. It’s useful to know that drivers may legally cross a solid yellow line on their left to safely pass a bicycle or a slower-moving vehicle.
The success of the bylaw will hinge, in part, on educating drivers about the new safe passing distances. To help, the City will work with community partners on an education campaign for next spring.
“Edmonton can become a place where biking is practical and inviting for people of all ages and abilities, and where people can choose to bike for any reason and in any season,” said Lamarre.
Find more information about Edmonton’s new safe passing distances bylaw.