Planning in Progress
by Kristen E. Humphrey, MLA, Local Training and Assistance Planner
It is only fitting that safety for bicyclists should also be at the forefront in a month where Maryland celebrated getting out and moving around. In addition to walking, biking can be either contemplative and leisurely, active and vigorous, just a means of getting around, or all three in a single venture out of doors.
Depending where you ride, however, it is almost inevitable that you may have to share the road with motorists. As anyone who has ridden on a windy, shoulder-less country road, or busy city street replete with potholes, sewer grates, parked cars and even overly-enthusiastic (or aggressive) dogs can tell you, close encounters with automobiles can occur when least expected.
The issue of how motorist should share the road with cyclists has been around for some time. For the past several years, efforts to legislate on how best to give cyclists room – Maryland law requires motorists to provide a safety buffer of at least three feet when passing – without breaking other traffic laws or putting other motorists or the cyclist in jeopardy, have come before the Maryland General Assembly.
In particular, how does a motorist achieve a distance of three feet on a narrow roadway where the traffic is divided by a yellow double center line?
This year, new legislation was introduced as House Bill 320 and passed into law on May 8, 2020. It is enrolled as Chapter 114: Amending Section 21 – 305 of the Transportation Article of Maryland code. The new rule clarifies that aside from specific locations (for example where there’d be limited site distance), it is acceptable for a motorist to use the left side of the roadway to maintain the three-foot buffer required to safely pass a cyclist. The new statute is significant in that it also removes ambiguity by sending a clear message that, if a driver cannot safely provide the three-foot buffer, they must wait to pass.
The change in the law follows recommendations from the 2017 Bicycle Safety Task Force report, which brought together cyclists, engineers, law enforcement, and other stakeholders to improve bicycling conditions in Maryland. This change is viewed as a huge win among bicycling advocates. The law, viewed here, went into effect October 1, 2020.
To learn more about how to employ this new rule on the road, please view this excellent new PSA created by the Frederick County Sherriff’s Department:
For more information on this and/or other bicycling or pedestrian issues, please contact Nate Evans, Active Transportation Planner, Maryland Department of Transportation, at 410-404-1826 (mobile) or firstname.lastname@example.org.