Cyclists rally at Queens Park for three-foot passing legislation

It’s no secret that there are drivers who simply refuse to share the road, and in turn endanger the life of cyclists’ everyday.

This is why Cheri DiNovo, NDP MPP for Parkdale-High Park, and Eleanor McMahon of the Share the Road Cycling Coalition held a rally and press conference at Queens Park this morning to promote Canada’s first three-foot passing legislation. DiNovo, side-by-side with McMahon and Yvonne Bambrick of the Toronto Cyclists Union told a group of about 40 cyclists that this is a step in the right direction for cyclists in Toronto.

“You are a testament to a new world, a world with better air, a world safer for people, both health-wise and environment-wise, and a world where we share the roads, we don’t hog the roads,” DiNovo said.

The proposed bill requires that drivers respectfully share the road with cyclists and give them three feet of clearance when passing or overtaking a cyclist. “This is asking of drivers what good drivers already do, and… it’s a chance to educate bad drivers,” DiNovo said in front of the Ontario Legislature.

The Share the Road Coalition completed a survey of 1,100 Ontarians. When asked why they don’t cycle more often the response of about 60% was that they are too worried about their safety on the road.

The three-foot passing bill will enforce what good drivers already practice, said both DiNovo and McMahon, but will force bad drivers to undergo a training course in which they are taught to share the road and be respectful of all those on it. She said with the passing of this legislation, drivers would be taught in initial drivers’ education, as well as rehabilitation driving classes, their responsibility to share the road.

This comes on the heels of the deaths of three cyclists who where killed on a highway in Quebec, as well as two separate instances where a  57-year-old Quebec man, and a 17-year-old were killed by motorists. This is also a personal fight for McMahon, whose police officer husband was killed by a motorist while on his bike in 2006.

“We’ve got a level of complacency in our society now in regards to motorists and cyclists,” said McMahon. “It reminds us that as cyclists we’re vulnerable, and again just reinforces the need for this kind of legislation to enforce the importance of sharing the road,” she added.

Const. Hugh Smith of the Toronto Police Services Traffic Division gave a little clarity to the rules of the road. “With a cyclist they only occupy part of the lane… because they do occupy part of the lane they do have the right to the whole lane.”

“This is the confusion that we’re finding, that it’s not clear to other road users to treat a cycle as a slow moving vehicle.”

The bill will go before legislation today and all involved are confident that it will be passed and that the beginning stages can begin to create the law.

“We hope the government is listening to what we have to say today and moving forward in terms of creating the kinds of safer ways that are going to encourage cyclists in this province,” said McMahon.

Legislation of the same type is in place in France, Spain, Germany and 16 states in the States. A website created by a Miami cyclist Joe Wascura, 3feetplease,  sells some great t-shirts, backpacks, jerseys and bumper (or more accurately, bike frame) stickers sporting the “3 feet please” request that cyclists can don when they take to the roads.

Bambrick asks that everyone write to their MPP in support of this bill.

“We all know why we’re here. Until they hear from us across the city we’re not going to see changes.”

photo by 416cyclestyle


  1. Can we start using the term ” Citizens ” instead of cyclists, unless it is someone training for Tour de France please. It may have more of an impact. We don’t call everyone else “Motorists”

  2. I don’t want to start a flame war here, honestly, but if bikes deserve the whole lane to themselves, doesn’t this mean they shouldn’t by passing by cars who are in the same lane as them? Doesn’t this mean getting stuck in traffic with all the cars when there is no bike lane?

    One of the primary advantages of biking is whipping by cars stuck in traffic. But that means giving up on the three foot passing rule. You can’t have it both ways…

  3. I agree CYCLISTS should stay 3 feet away from cars not the other way around

  4. Tom, I’ve wondered the same thing. It seems sensible (and symmetrical) for cars to pass bicycles safely when the cars are moving faster, and for bicycles to pass cars safely when the cars are moving slower. However depending on how the 3-foot law would be written, there could be paradoxical results.

    The principle that should guide these laws is balancing the difference in threat and vulnerability between people driving cars and those driving bikes.

  5. In case it wasn’t clear: I think bikes should have it both ways. Not because “cyclists” are entitled, morally superior, uppity, or whatever stereotypical nonsense, but because cycling is good for health, economy, and environment.

  6. The issue is safety, Tom. You seem more interested in finding some clever loophole that ignores the deeper issue. A 10-ton vehicle overtaking a cyclist at 50 km/h should allow lots of space. But a cyclist traveling at 10 km/h can pass safely alongside a row of idling cars without risking a collision, assuming there is no chance of the cars changing lanes suddenly. If you are seeking an analogy where the cyclists would be required to leave lots of space, it would be when cyclists are passing some pedestrians on a shared park path. And yes, the speed/weight differentials here demand that the cyclist leave lots of space. And similarly, a pedestrian would not need to leave much space at all to walk past a guy locking up his bike on the sidewalk.

  7. I really don’t see how there is confusion, as the bill states the 3 feet rule counts for OVERTAKING a cyclist. There’s no reason why a cyclist shouldn’t be able to overtake drivers in gridlock, as long as they do it safely and don’t cut off drivers trying to turn right (I bike all the time and its astonishing how many people do this – they’re taking their lives in their hands).

    Being able to get through gridlock is one of the main reasons I bike in this city. It is absolutely the fastest way to get around the core, and yes I do obey red lights. However, there are many drivers who simply won’t give any space even if the road is completely empty. It would be nice for the police to have a clear law that allows a ticket to be given out for that.

  8. For those who insist that their gas taxes pay for the roads on which cars drive on, WRONG.

    Gas taxes only pay for provincial highways under their jurisdiction. Gas taxes pay for highway 400, 401, QEW, and other provincial owned highways.

    Gas taxes DO NOT pay for municipal roads such as the Gardiner, Don Valley, Yonge Street, Bloor Street, or the street you live on; that comes from your property taxes.

  9. I think that this 3 foot rule is a bit of a stretch but to avoid all this the city needs “protected lanes” for bikes. They were on the right track with University Ave but that fell through I hope they do it on Jarvis Street. It’s not that big a problem and it’s used around the world, we are a world class city, or want to be one let’s start acting like it and set the standards instead of following them. Get my take on this in my BLOG at …

    Daniel …. Toronto
    My full BLOG …

  10. I’m a driver, a cyclist and a pedestrian so I do see all sides of the debate and agree with the 3-foot clearance proposed. Does anyone know the specific laws about cars making right turns and cyclists whizzing up from behind and around the right side of the car? I always figure that if a car is in the intersection FIRST, waiting for a pedestrian to cross, cyclists coming up from behind must wait for the car, already in the intersection, to clear before the cyclist can continue. I’ve been caught many times by cyclists, behind me, who think they can whiz around the right side of my car when they were there after I was. Does anyone know?

  11. It’s not the drivers. It’s not the cyclists. It’s the built environment.

    Based on the width of the road or the intersection I can tell you where there will be and have been problems.

    I think the solution is for more “complete street” planning to emerge. Sidewalks for pedestrians, roads for cars and protected bike lanes (where possible) for bikes.

    Where cars and bikes need to co-exist on roads the only solution that I’ve seen work is militant cycling – taking the full lane – not being crushed into the curb by inattentive drivers. And not everyone can or should do that – my mother or my kids. So they don’t ride.

    Fix the built environment and the problems go away.

    That and a message to all that we should all expect moving anywhere in the dense city to be slow and to act appropriately. Racing past streetcars or up sidestreets doesn’t cut it. It’s the city. Get real.

  12. Scrappy & JM – this is something I also often see. When you’re on a bike and coming to an intersection and there’s a car in front of you turning right, stay behind the car or go to its left side. I’ve seen so many cyclists squeeze between the curb and a car turning right – the driver stops suddenly and the cyclist gives the driver a dirty look! 
    Same principle if you’re coming up to a intersection with a red light and there’s no car turning right – if the right lanes is for turning right and you’re going straight, stop and wait for the light on the left side of that lane.
    I wonder how the new bike boxes will work with this issue.

  13. Why “three feet”? Why not “one meter”?

    Our traffic laws are written in metric, people.

  14. Here’s what’s loopy about the cagers’ arguments. Have you ever wondered why cagers themselves never get the door prize? It’s because they instinctively award a 3 foot space when passing parked cars at speed. Get a load of this, cagers: any cyclist who routinely rides on a residential side streets with cars parked on both sides knows that an oncoming cager will cross the centre line and squeeze closer to the cyclist than to the row of parked cars in their own lane. Thanks to everyone involved in this initiative, it is long overdue and quite unbelievable to me that it is not simply common sense.

  15. Maybe cyclists, er “citizens” should start taping a pointy rake or something to the handlebars sticking out a couple feet on the left. Or maybe a really large rear-view mirror positioned similarly would do the trick. Or how about a really realistic-looking stuffed kitten dangling from a fishing pole towards the left side of the bike? Toy baby-doll? Picture of the Queen? Mother Theresa? Jesus on the cross?

    Damn, I’m just full of ideas today!

  16. JB – I have a hunch that the other reason “cagers never get the door prize” is that people are more cautious opening a car door into heavy vehicle traffic. People won’t open their cage doors until it feels safe for them. Ironically, that means I’m safest when riding where it feels dangerous for pedestrians.

    Drafting streetcars is the best – they’re big, red, noisy, and look dangerous to car doors, but predictable, smooth, and friendly for cyclists.

  17. Nah! Forget it. On second thought, all those things would be like a red flag to a bull for Toronto’s obnoxious drivers.

  18. Why can’t we eliminate all right turns on reds, as they do in Montreal? It would diffuse so much tension on our roads.

  19. Scrappy & Mark,

    Mark is correct, that’s what I always do. I’ll either wait for the car to turn – sometimes I need to wave to them to let them know I’m going to let them turn right because they’re so terrified I’m going to zoom around them that they’ll just stop dead with their signal on… Or I’ll drive around them on the left if I have enough room.

    The City of Toronto’s Official Bike Map shows diagrams on how to handle right turning cars, (stop or pass on left…not pass on the right) and they actually show that cars are legally allowed to enter the bike lane at dotted sections if they are turning right. Drivers don’t tend to know this though, and cyclists tend to freak out if this happens as well, even though it actually helps them to pass the right turner on the left.

    Cyclists do need to use turning lanes as Mark mentioned, I’ve been on my bike in a straight thru lane while another bike will pull up and wait to go straight from the right turn only lane. You need to make youself predictable to cars and they’ll (generally) work with you.

    While I don’t support Bike Licences I really wish there was a way for drivers and cyclists to get basic information on how to handle bike lanes since they’re somewhat new. 50 year olds weren’t trained on how to handle them, and many cyclists don’t know how to use them either. Right turning traffic is a very unnecessary source of road rage, and cyclists are not doing themselves any favors by blasting though a drivers blind spot to save a few seconds.

  20. Why all this fuss about a hopeless attempt to pass a private member’s bill that would be unenforceable if enacted? Let’s focus on what matters. Let’s get the city to improve the off-road trail system, and let’s at last complete the 2001 Bikeway plan!

  21. As cyclist who drives, It makes me bonkers seeing cyclists “staying right” at intersections where cars are obviously turning before they even get there. It’s one thing to be cut off by the motorist that will try to pass you five feet before the intersection, but cripes people, it’s a shared lane. There is enough room to share, but cyclists need to be skilled in traffic riding. Otherwise ride the lanes and paths. I avoid them because they give a false sense of security.

    As for three feet, when the overtaking vehicle can kill …. give some room.
    OR when overtaking vehicle is able to “blow” the other because of a combination of size and speed, three feet needs to be applied.
    I’ll often pass a car on my bike on the left without giving three feet, but that’s generally because they are driving so far over to the right of the curb lane as to make passing on the right beyond dangerous. I’m ok with passing on the left, but please don’t demand I ride in some fictitious bike gutter.

    I personally sit in the left of the curb lane at the reds so cars may turn right without worrying about “hooking”.

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