Edmonton drafting one-metre rule for motorists passing cyclists

Motorists on Edmonton streets may soon be required to be at least one-metre away when passing cyclists if city council approves a new traffic safety bylaw. 

City councillors agree to create safe passing bylaw based on Calgary's model

Newfoundland and Labrador is one of seven provinces to have safe passing legislation, introduced in March 2019. (Submitted by Dawn Leja)

Motorists on Edmonton streets may soon be required to stay at least one-metre away when passing cyclists if city council approves a new traffic safety bylaw. 

Council's community and public services committee agreed Wednesday that administration should draft a safe passing bylaw. 

The city has been looking at Calgary's model, implemented in September 2019, that requires drivers going 60 km/h or slower to be a minimum of one metre away when passing a cyclist. 

On roads with a speed limit higher than 60 km/h, Calgary's bylaw requires drivers to leave 1.5 metre of space when passing a bike. 

Those found violating the bylaw in Calgary can be fined $203. The committee was told that Calgary has never issued a ticket. 

Coun. Ben Henderson suggested that the purpose of such a bylaw would be to clarify what is deemed safe rather than to give out tickets.

"It's probably more useful as an information tool, as an education tool than an enforcement tool, would that be fair to say?"

The city's traffic safety director, Jessica Lamarre, agreed that a bylaw would be an opportunity to educate people about road safety. 

"Overtaking manoeuvres — which is what cars do when they move around bicycles in particular — there's a lot of grey area there that we could really clarify," Lamarre said.

Henderson noted there's no set standard.

"Right now, we probably don't really have a tool, except to say 'be safe,' which is not terribly helpful," Henderson said. "One person's idea of what's safe is very different from another's."

Close calls

Before the committee agreed to a motion directing administration to draft a bylaw, several members of Edmonton's cycling community spoke in favour of the move.

Andrew Ritchie with the non-profit Paths for People said a bylaw would help raise awareness of road safety. 

"Most cyclists can tell you their close call story, when a vehicle passed too closely, putting the cyclist in an uncomfortable and even dangerous spot," Richie said. 

Based on the number of close calls stories, he said, more awareness is needed. 

"It's clear that when we are driving, we don't always realize how close we may get to other road users like cyclists when passing," Ritchie said. 

From 2015 to 2019, 87 per cent of crashes in which a cyclist was killed or seriously injured happened on roads without protected bike infrastructure, according to a city report prepared for the committee.

Henderson noted that Calgary was looking for partners to jointly advocate for the Alberta government to implement a province-wide standard.

In Canada, seven provinces and one territory have safe passing laws in their traffic regulations. British Columbia, Yukon, Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island require a minimum of one metre passing distance regardless of speed limit.

Quebec and Newfoundland require one metre for motorists driving less than 50 km/h, and 1.5 metres for drivers going faster than that.

Calgary and Whitehorse are the only cities with additional requirements through municipal bylaws.

Coun. Aaron Paquette welcomed the motion to draft a bylaw.

"We've been seeing a massive increase in folks on bikes sharing the road with vehicles," Paquette said. "The more clear the rules are for everyone, the more we can drive calmly and safely, cycle calmly and safely."