When three feet is not available to safely pass a cyclist

Dear Street Smarts, Q: My quandary is when bicyclists are on Old San Jose Road, where there are no official bike lanes and varying widths of shallows, and the road has a double yellow line for vehicles. It seems like passing the bicyclists will be illegal, as a three foot distance is impossible to accomplish and stay in the traffic lane. So, if there are several vehicles following behind a or several bicyclists, who are not traveling at the speed limit, will the bicyclists be expected to pull over to allow the vehicles to pass as slow traveling trucks do? I'm not sure if these truck drivers are observing common courtesy or if there is a law requiring them to pull over. A second question: when bicyclists have full use of a lane, does that mean that single file riding is no longer required and is it legal for them to ride several abreast across the lane? I've seen signs on roads, especially when under construction, indicating full use of a lane. Looking forward to your reply. Your informational column is appreciated! Sincerely, Martee Shannon via email A: Street Smarts called on the advice of the California Bicycle Coalition, which lobbied hard for the Give Me 3 law. Beginning in September, motorists must give cyclists a three foot bubble when passing to ensure the cyclist is not it by any part of the vehicle, such as the side mirrors, and to lessen the blow from flying debris in the passing vehicle's wake. But the law allows for wriggle room if those three feet are not available. "If a 3 foot distance is impossible to accomplish safely then motorists should follow 'at a safe distance,' which to me means as much space as possible especially in canyons where what is coming around the corner is fairly unpredictable," said Ryan Price, the coalition's administrative director. "Although it's most likely inapplicable in a canyon, crossing a double yellow when it's safe for both parties without a reasonable doubt could be the safest and most respectful thing to do for both themselves and the bicyclist." When safe, and if comfortable doing so, cyclists should move to a position in the road that allows drivers "to pass with a three foot buffer," said Price. In citing current California law, "if they have at least five vehicles behind them, they should find a turnout and let them pass safely -- same as with other vehicles moving slower than the pace of traffic." In regard to taking the full travel lane, "people riding bikes always have a legal right to a full use of the lane, with or without signage -- unless a bike lane is present, where bicyclists traveling slower than traffic must use the bike lane except when making a left turn, passing, avoiding hazardous conditions, or approaching a place where a right turn is authorized," he said. "The DMV only suggests that people riding bikes 'Should ride single file on busy or narrow streets.' Riding two abreast is both completely legal and one of the most pleasant experiences of riding a bike with a friend." All road users should familiarize themselves with traffic laws by reading the driver handbook at www.dmv.ca.gov. You can also use the website to research specific sections of the California Vehicle Code.
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