Three feet is a big victory

Shannon Tracey Headshot

This morning, something changed for thousands of Californians who commute like I do – on a bicycle. Although we pedaled the same bikes along the same streets, heading from the same homes to the same jobs, our trips were different from yesterday.  

We are safer.

That’s because today, AB 1371, California’s “Three Feet for Safety Act,” went into effect, requiring drivers to allow a minimum of three feet of space when passing people on bicycles.

I’ve got a pretty easy commute. Most of my trip to TransForm’s downtown Oakland office is contained in comfortable bike lanes, on a secondary street without too much traffic. But as I approach downtown, I must travel the final ten blocks or so on a big four-lane avenue where the bike lanes disappear – and people in cars zip past me trying to get to the freeway onramp toward San Francisco.

It’s just a half mile, but there are days when I arrive at the office with white knuckles and my heart pounding in my chest after someone comes a little too close, a little too fast. I know it’s not that people are intentionally trying to hurt me. No one wants to crash, but from behind the windshield, it can be difficult to tell what’s too close for safety.

Now, thanks to the Three Feet for Safety Act, we have a law to make it crystal clear. AB 1371 will make California’s streets safer for all users.  Studies by the Congress for New Urbanism and the City of New York City have shown that when we make roads safer for people on bikes, we reduce crashes for everyone, including drivers.  By defining what we mean by “a safe distance” for passing, requiring drivers to slow down on narrow roads, and fining people who drive too close, California is carving out protected space for people on bikes that will help prevent car-bike collisions and contribute to overall road safety - no matter how you get around.

And we’re not alone. The Golden State joins 23 other states and the District of Columbia in specifying a minimum passing distance to protect people on bicycles.

Governor Brown signed AB 1371 in 2013, after he twice vetoed previous versions of the bill that had been approved by the Legislature. This time, the California Bicycle Coalition and TransForm partnered to mobilize thousands of activists who called, emailed, and visited our leaders in Sacramento to urge them to support this important law – and with the support of nearly 5,000 of our fellow Californians, we won!  

I’m pleased as punch that we were able to win this important victory for safer streets, and incredibly grateful to everyone who responded to our call to action. We couldn’t have won without you.

But we still have a long way to go to ensure that every Californian can get around safely, no matter where you’re going, or how you get there.  Right now, another game-changing bill, SB 1151, awaits the Governor’s signature – and we need your help to make sure he signs it!

Email the Governor now to urge him to make school zones safer for kids walking and biking to class.

Together, we can keep winning the changes that will make our streets safe for everyone. Three feet may not be a big distance, but on the road it can be the difference between a safe bike ride to work and a white-knuckled close call – or worse.  And when you look at it that way, three feet is a big victory.

You can help publicize the Three Feet for Safety Act with a reflective sticker on your bike, or a bumper sticker or window cling on your car.  Visit calbike.org to order stickers.

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About This Blog

TransForum is the blog of TransForm, California's leading transportation advocate. For more about our work, including ways you can take action and contribute, visit TransFormCA.org.