Edmonton drivers could be required to give cyclists more space this fall

·3 min read
A cyclist rides through downtown Edmonton. Drivers might need to give cyclists at least one metre of space to pass cyclists on city streets if a bylaw is passed. (CBC - image credit)
A cyclist rides through downtown Edmonton. Drivers might need to give cyclists at least one metre of space to pass cyclists on city streets if a bylaw is passed. (CBC - image credit)

Edmonton could take the first step towards setting a safe passing distance between cars and bicycles on city streets this coming week.

City councillors are giving a proposed bylaw a first reading on Monday which would require one metre of space on roads with speeds of less than 60 kilometres per hour.

Roads with speeds above that would require 1.5 metres of space.

Coun. Ben Henderson says this bylaw is really about bringing clarity to the rules that already exist.

"We really want to create a safe space for everybody and let the cars know as well what is the right distance for them to be safe," Henderson said.

City councillor Ben Henderson supports the bylaw which he says would clarify the rules for drivers.
City councillor Ben Henderson supports the bylaw which he says would clarify the rules for drivers.(CBC News)

A report put together by city administration said that the bylaw change would allow an opportunity for a behaviour and cultural shift.

That was echoed in consultations with Edmonton police who highlighted limitations of the policy — it would rely on "subjective visual measurement" and could only take place in real time. While enforcement may present challenges, police said that it would help with education and citizen engagement.

Between 2015 and 2019, 87 per cent of crashes where a cyclist was killed happened on a road without protected bike infrastructure, the report says.

Henderson uses his bike as transportation on a regular basis and said he's had his share of close calls.

"I don't go [down McDougall Hill] anymore. I just know it was an accident waiting to happen," he said. "What you start to do as a cyclist, if people don't give you that space, you take more room ... and that's not helping anybody either."

The distance bylaw is already in effect in Calgary where drivers can be charged $203 for failing to leave the proper distance when passing a cyclist. City administration said that adopting the same approach as the City of Calgary would help promote consistency across the province.

In addition to the bylaw change the city would also advocate to the province to establish the minimum passing distance in the Provincial Highway Act.

The idea was brought to council more than a year ago and was supported by a few organizations including Paths for People.

"It's a problem all over," the non-profit's chair Stephen Raitz said. "We see some concerns even on quiet residential streets, people just pass too closely."

The Edmonton based group's goal is to make streets safer for active transportation users like pedestrians and cyclists.

Stephen Raitz, who is the chair of Paths for People, supports the bylaw change and calls the minimum distance rules common sense.
Stephen Raitz, who is the chair of Paths for People, supports the bylaw change and calls the minimum distance rules common sense. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

Raitz said this change would be especially helpful along connector roads like the Sherwood Park Freeway where he says a major crash in 2018 brought the need for this law to the forefront.

The group has also compiled a list of missing links. That was sourced from more than 200 issues reported to them by Edmontonians. It pinpoints areas where the addition of a bike lane, lane marking or sidewalk could improve safety.

After the first reading, a public hearing will be held in late August with the bylaw potentially going into effect at the end of September.

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