Recently, I shared that Council had passed some bylaw changes regarding transportation in our city back in March. It was shared this week because on September 1, a new safe passing bylaw for passing cyclists will go into effect. These social media posts spurred some questions so I thought I would try and provide a few clarifications.
What was passed?
You can find the presentation and debate held at the Transportation and Transit Committee here. If it doesn’t automatically skip ahead to the discussion, it started at about the 14 minute mark of the video.
The report that went to committee and Council can be found here.
Changes to the bylaws included:
- Allowing cyclists to signal a right turn by pointing right (rather than the traditional left-arm L signal, though they can still do this)
- Enabled the Traffic Engineer to create new signage for cyclists, if needed and where provincial rules do not necessarily mandate a sign
- Safe passing bylaw requiring a minimum 1m distance when passing a cyclist at less than 60 km/h and 1.5m when passing at 60km/h or more
- Allowing parking adjacent to painted lines (i.e. painted cycle lanes) as provincial law only allows on-street parking next to a physical curb
- Allowing back-in angle parking where signage indicates it
- Allowing non-motorized skateboards/scooters and inline skates in the Central Traffic Zone and the cycle track network to help promote active mobility choices
- Permit cyclists to yield when entering a roadway from a pathway or designated multi-use sidewalk from the curb-cut
- Addressing a gap in the Street Bylaw regarding bicycle parking on city bike racks
- Treating e-assist bicycles the same as standard bicycles on public transit (allowed on C-trains during non-peak hours, allowed on bus bike racks)
- Empowering the Director of Calgary Transit to permit bicycles and other active modes of transportation to be ridden on pedestrian bridges connecting to LRT stations (this is discretionary)
- Amended the definition of a sidewalk in the Traffic Bylaw to be consistent with the Parks and Pathway Bylaw
- Defined skateboards and scooters to allow non-motorized versions to operate in dedicated bicycle lanes and matched up the definition of a bicycle in the Traffic Bylaw with the Parks and Pathway Bylaw
Most of these changes were purely administrative in nature and don’t really need to be given much for further detail. But I would like to address some of the questions that have been posed.
Why was the change to hand signals for cyclists required?
Only using your right hand to make turn or stopping signals is based on the requirement for cars, which essentially dates back to the very first vehicles produced which didn’t have turn signals. The only option to indicated a turn was with your left hand. This is merely an update and many responses Administration received during the engagement period indicated that people were happy if cyclists signaled, regardless of how they did it.
Right hand signaling is already permitted in the USA and in Ontario, Quebec, and BC, while also being allowed in several countries including Denmark, Japan, Russia, Brazil, the Philippines and part of Australia.
What’s the point of the Safe Passing Bylaw? Is it even enforceable?
For more information, check out the presentation given by Administration to Committee in February. The part on safe passing runs from 18:24 to 21:04 in the video found here.
Alberta already has a safe passing law as part of the Traffic Safety Act. Under the Act, vehicles overtaking another vehicle “shall, at a safe distance, pass to the left of the other vehicle”. This bylaw merely puts a quantifiable number next to an existing subjective law. By making it quantifiable, this makes the law easier to understand and enforce.
The distances, 1 meter when passing at less than 60 km/h and 1.5 meters at 60 km/h and over, and the fine of $203, were based on a private members bill that had been introduced provincially at the time. The distances are also consistent with safe passing laws that exist in five provinces across the country. In addition, 37 US states have safe passing laws requiring a minimum of 3 feet when passing a cyclist, with two states requiring 4 feet and 3 states requiring an entire lane change. So this is not something unique to Calgary and is in fact something we were lagging behind on.
Some have wondered if this is possible. One meter is not that far. The vast majority of cyclists are on roads where the speed limit is 50 km/h or less. On occasions where there is not sufficient room to pass a cyclist while maintaining your lane (particularly if there is only one lane going each direction), you are permitted to cross the yellow line if it is safe to do so to get past the cyclist. If it’s not safe to do so, you may need to slow down to the 20 km/h or so that the cyclist is doing briefly, until it is safe to pass. These instances however, are likely minimal.
It’s important to note that cyclists have a responsibility in this as well. Under the Traffic Safety Act and its regulations, cyclists must ride as close as practicable to the right curb (or left curb on a 1-way street). Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean they must be in the shoulder (where they exist) at all times, but in general they should be. As close as practicable means they can avoid obstacles such as debris and potholes, which may bring them into a traffic lane for a period of time.
The point of this bylaw is safety. Realistically, we all already do this when passing a person on a bike. This helps put a quantifiable number on the question of “how much room should we give?” Passing at close distances actually creates an aerodynamic pull on the cyclist that can destabilize them and motorists overtaking bikes is the most common cause of death for people on bikes.
I know many people like to point out the scofflaw cyclist. While these people certainly exist, they are the minority – the same goes for motorists. Regardless of transportation mode, these are the people that stick out like a sore thumb in everyone’s mind. As I mentioned, everyone has a responsibility to keeping cyclists, or any road user for that matter, safe. But we also need to remember that the majority follow the rules, and everyone is a person – they are your neighbours, your friends, and your family.
So is this enforceable? The answer is yes. If any officers notice a motorist overtaking a cyclist too closely, they can ticket you based on an observation. Equipment can also be used to accurately measure the distance. With that being said, enforceability is absolutely something I brought up with Administration and they recognize that there are challenges to enforcing this bylaw, as there are with many bylaws and laws. As I had said above, the main point is to put a quantifiable number on an otherwise subjective law. This is a useful educational tool for all road users and will help everyone understand what a safe distance should be.
Why back-in angle parking?
Because Administration listened to Councillor Carra (this is absolutely a joke). This change does not mean that back-in angle parking is now allowed anywhere in the city. Designated signs will be up indicating that that zone requires back-in angle parking. While it is a slightly more difficult maneuver than standard angle parking, it makes exiting safer as the driver can see oncoming traffic and the advent of back-up cameras has made the maneuver easier for drivers. It will also allow for more parking compared to parallel parking. Obviously, locations will have to be evaluated to ensure they are a good candidate for this type of parking and it’s not all of a sudden going to become the new norm in the city.
Why are only non-motorized scooters and skateboards allowed downtown and in cycle infrastructure? What’s the difference between a Lime or Bird scooter and my personal electric scooter/hoverboard/Segway?
First of all, skateboards, non-motorized scooters, and inline skates had long been prohibited from being used in the commercial core. However, many people choose these methods to commute to work and technically speaking, they would have to start walking as soon as they left the Bow River pathway, for example, and entered a downtown sidewalk. This is not really consistent with the City’s goals of a healthy city and encouraging active transportation. We were also already seeing these modes of transportation being used where they technically shouldn’t have been, without incident. I often see people in business wear riding to their offices on longboards.
The bylaw was changed to help encourage active transportation, allowing behavior that was already happening, for the most part safely, while also maintaining that pedestrians have the right of way on the sidewalk.
The trouble with motorized versions – e-scooters, hoverboards/onewheels, is they fall under provincial jurisdiction within the Traffic Safety Act (see the FAQs at the bottom of the hyperlinked page). We as a city can’t allow them on a road’s right-of-way, which includes sidewalks and bike lanes, without a change from the province. Companies participating in the scooter pilot, so Bird and Lime, were granted an exemption from the province. The City has jurisdiction over our pathways under the Parks and Pathway Bylaw and permits the use of e-scooters, Segways, and skateboard-type vehicles such as the hoverboards and onewheels.
Was this really a priority?
The City has numerous priorities and it can’t be budget talk all day, every day. Citizens have told us they want more active transportation options, while safety of road users is of paramount importance to everyone. This is also work that largely happens behind the scenes and was not a contentious issue for Council, judging by its unanimous approval. Everything approved either had no real budget implications under the existing budget and any costs could be incorporated into existing budgets. There are also future cost savings by not being required to place a concrete curb next to cycling infrastructure. In general, these were no to low cost, common sense changes which I like to see.
As always, I welcome any other questions and constructive feedback which can be sent to me here.