Three Foot Rule

Question

Mary asked: Bicycle safety. One of the most crucial, but often overlooked factors in bicycle safety is the Florida rule that bicyclists should ride within 3 feet of the right curb. (That is why the marked bicycle lanes are 3 ft wide} The media have failed to publicize this rule, but many lives could be saved if it was well known. Can you tell me if this is true?

Answer

The only mention of three feet in the traffic statutes of which I am aware is the requirement that drivers must remain at least three feet from a bicycle when passing.

s. 316.083Overtaking and Passing a Vehicle

The following rules shall govern the overtaking and passing of vehicles proceeding in the same direction, subject to those limitations, exceptions, and special rules hereinafter stated:

(1)…. The driver of a vehicle overtaking a bicycle or other nonmotorized vehicle must pass the bicycle or other nonmotorized vehicle at a safe distance of not less than 3 feet between the vehicle and the bicycle or other nonmotorized vehicle.

When no bike lane is present and under some circumstances, bicyclist must remain not three feet, but “as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway”.  That “practicable” distance may vary due to the circumstances.

The minimum width for a bike lane is four feet, which does not include the gutter pan. Also, a bike lane must be marked as such to be a bike lane. There may also be bike lane signs, but that is optional.

The media also fails to adequately cover the fact that there are many circumstances in which the statutes permit a bicyclist to leave the right side of the roadway or bike lane.

s. 316.2065 – Bicycle Regulations

(5)(a) Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall ride in the lane marked for bicycle use or, if no lane is marked for bicycle use, as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway except under any of the following situations:

1. When overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction.

2. When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.

3. When reasonably necessary to avoid any condition or potential conflict, including, but not limited to, a fixed or moving object, parked or moving vehicle, bicycle, pedestrian, animal, surface hazard, turn lane, or substandard-width lane, which makes it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge or within a bicycle lane. For the purposes of this subsection, a “substandard-width lane” is a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and another vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane.

Note: FDOT considers a lane that is less than 14 feet wide to be too narrow for most motor vehicles to safely pass a bicycle within the lane.

(b) Any person operating a bicycle upon a one-way highway with two or more marked traffic lanes may ride as near the left-hand curb or edge of such roadway as practicable.

Posted in Ask Geo, Lane Width & Sharing, Overtaking & Passing
2 comments on “Three Foot Rule
  1. Specialx says:

    Comment deleted.
    Please refrain from negative comments.

    • Bruce Epperson says:

      Interesting mash-up of two laws. Any idea what her source was?

      Although it has not been tested in court, the plain language of subsection 5(a), which has been recently revised, appears to treat “bike lane” and “right hand curb or edge of roadway” as alternative scenarios. That is, if a bike lane is present, the limits on the exceptions [you can only move out IF] don’t apply until one is riding outside (to the left) of the lane, because one is functionally “keeping right” if one is anywhere in the bike lane.

      There was some uncertainly as to whether one could move left from the bike lane into the traffic lane if there was both a bike lane AND there was a traffic lane less than 14 feet wide. I wrote a memo for one city that said technically, the legal answer was probably “no,” because the 14-foot rule was an administrative rule in the Greenbook that dealt with situations where there was no bike lane, so it probably couldn’t have any meaning given the hypothetical.

      However, as a practical matter, because people were concerned about it, the best way to treat it may be to revert to equivalence with the “curb/edge” alternative: if the travel lane plus the bike lane was less than 14 feet, it should be treated as “too” narrow. I don’t think anything came of it. I’ve looked for a right lane/bike combination that measured 14 and never found one. Have found 15.

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