Local legislators push for 'three-foot' bike safety law 

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Two Monroe County legislators are pushing for a local law that would require motorists to give bicyclists a berth of three feet when passing them on county roadways.

So-called “three-foot laws” have been implemented in 33 states, but not in New York, despite repeated attempts by some state lawmakers in Albany.

New York currently requires motorists to maintain “a safe distance” when passing bicyclists. Suffolk County, on Long Island, recently adopted a local version of the law.

“This law would provide much-needed clarity about what is a safe minimum distance to pass bicycles,” said Legislator Rachel Barnhart, a Democrat from Rochester who is a co-sponsor of the legislation. “We all have to share the road, and this law would raise awareness about how to do so safely.”

The bipartisan legislation is named for Carrie Ray, a 46-year-old teacher and avid cyclist from Clarkson, who was struck and killed by a passing truck while she was riding her bicycle on Sweden Walker Road in 2019.

“She was the person who was always looking out for everyone else around her,” her husband, Michael Ray, said in a statement. “This is another way for her legacy to continue helping others and make our community safer.”

Ray added that it was also up to motorists to take responsibility for fending off distractions and recognize that they are sharing the road with cyclists.
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Barnhart and her co-sponsor, Legislator Jackie Smith, a Republican who represents Clarkson and other towns on the west side of the county, cited state data that suggested 321 bicyclists were injured by motor vehicles in Monroe County in 2018 and 2019. There have also been several fatalities in recent years.

The legislators were scheduled to hold a news conference about their bill Friday afternoon at the Hungerford Building on East Main Street.

Jesse Peers, cycling coordinator for Reconnect Rochester, a nonprofit sustainable transportation advocacy group, said the legislation would “provide clarity to an ambiguous law.”

“We know we have much more work to do to make it safer and more convenient to bike in our community,” Peers said in a statement.

Three-foot laws have been heralded by cycling advocacy groups nationwide as critical to raising awareness about bicycling safety among motorists, although there is evidence that enforcement of the laws is sporadic.

David Andreatta is CITY's editor. He can be reached at [email protected].
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