Zero tickets issued as Calgary police can't enforce city's 'one-metre' bylaw for passing cyclists

A four-month-old Calgary bylaw that requires drivers to give at least one metre of space while passing people on bicycles has not resulted in a single person ticketed — and police say they're not effectively equipped to enforce the new rule.

Officers not equipped to measure passing distance but can ticket drivers under existing provincial laws

An industrial truck passes a cyclist in this animated image taken from a video. (Kevin Schlauch)

Zero tickets have been handed out under a four-month-old Calgary bylaw that requires drivers to give at least one metre of space while passing people on bicycles — and police say they're not effectively equipped to enforce the new rule.

The bylaw took effect Sept. 1, creating a "minimum safe passing distance" of one metre when overtaking a cyclist. That increases to 1.5 metres when travelling at more than 60 km/h.

The city warns that failure to do so "may result in a $203 fine," but police say they've yet to issue a ticket under the new municipal rule, in large part because the precise distances indicated in the bylaw are hard to prove in court.

"If you're going to enforce anything that has a specific distance attached to it, you would need to be able to measure that distance somehow," said acting Sgt. Chris Agren.

City bylaw officers are not in a position to enforce the rule, either, Agren says, because they're not trained to conduct traffic stops.

Police officers in other cities ride bikes equipped with a sonar device that detects when a vehicle passes within one metre, but Agren says Calgary police don't have such devices. Still, he says, officers in Calgary can write tickets under existing provincial laws if they witness a driver pass a cyclist unsafely, because those statutes leave more room for officer discretion.

That has some Calgarians questioning why the city adopted the new bylaw in the first place.

"The bylaw or the rule is only as good as its enforcement," said June MacKinnon, who rides a bicycle almost daily in the city as her main way of getting around.

"And when there's no real ability to enforce and penalize the offenders, then they don't bother changing their behaviour."

'It really feels threatening'

Greg Glatz also cycles daily in Calgary.

He says "the vast majority" of drivers give him enough space when passing, but about 10 per cent come within a metre as they go by.

"It's the exceptions to the rule that really leave an impression," he said.

"When they close pass, it really feels threatening."

A van squeezes past a cyclist in this animated image. (Kevin Schlauch)

He wasn't surprised that no tickets have been issued under the new bylaw as he's seen no enforcement of it.

Still, he says, the bylaw seems to have a had an effect on some drivers.

"The amount of clearance seems to have increased, when people are doing clearance, which is good," he said.

"I think they know they need to provide the one-metre clearance and they can move over the yellow (centre) line."

That last aspect still seems to be a point of confusion for some drivers.

Yes, you can cross the yellow line

When the new bylaw was introduced, many Calgarians remarked on social media that there's not enough room to pass cyclists with one metre of clearance without driving over the yellow centre line of a road, which they believed — incorrectly — to be against the law.

Agren, with the Calgary Police Service's traffic section, says that's not the case.

"The main purpose of a single yellow line is to define the traffic lanes," he said.

"You actually can overtake and go over the single yellow line in order to pass a bicycle or slow-moving vehicle."

Of course, he says, you can't exceed the speed limit while passing and you must wait until it's safe to do so.

Carla Hills, who also rides almost daily in Calgary, encounters many drivers who seem unwilling to veer onto the yellow line and end up squeezing past her. She figures some of the confusion comes from incorrect driver education and inconsistent information from the province.

Hills notes that Alberta's driver's guide incorrectly asserts that "Solid yellow lines, single or double, indicate that passing is not permitted" while the provincial Traffic Safety Act regulations actually state that drivers "in an urban area" are allowed to cross a single yellow line "when overtaking and passing."

Contradictory sections of Alberta's Traffic Safety Act regulations (at top) and 'Driver's guide to operation, safety and licensing, cars and light trucks' (at bottom). (Government of Alberta)

"This is something that I've actually emailed Transport Alberta about, but I've never heard anything back," Hills said.

"So I think I might do that again."

Educational aspect of the bylaw

While the new bylaw is difficult to enforce, Agren believes it has had a positive effect, from a police perspective.

He says the public attention the bylaw has garnered has helped clarify for drivers how much distance they need to give to cyclists in order to safely pass, something that was previously more of a judgment call.

"The one thing that is good about this bylaw is that we all generally know how far a metre is," he said.

"It sort of gives people an idea of how far away, safely, they can or should be."

And that was part of the original intent, says Jacquelyn Oriold, a transportation safety education specialist with the City of Calgary.

An infographic put out by the City of Calgary as part of its transportation bylaw changes in the summer of 2019. (City of Calgary)

"Putting that one metre on the books just gives that quantifiable amount so ... it gives people an idea," she said. "So one metre is approximately the length of your door, right? So if you were to open your door, would you come in contact with somebody else on the road?"

While, as a cyclist, MacKinnon would like to see more enforcement, she does believe the bylaw has at least created more awareness among drivers about safe passing.

Still, she finds many drivers either aren't aware of the rule or can't "accurately gauge that distance" on the far side of their vehicle.

"Even if they're trying," she said, "some of them are not giving anywhere near a metre."


Robson Fletcher

Data Journalist

Robson Fletcher's work for CBC Calgary focuses on data, analysis and investigative journalism. He joined CBC in 2015 after spending the previous decade working as a reporter and editor at newspapers in Alberta, British Columbia and Manitoba.


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