New distance rule for motorists passing cyclists now in effect in Edmonton

Drivers on Edmonton roads are now required to leave at least one metre of space between their vehicle and cyclists. That increases to 1.5 metres on roads with speeds higher than 60 km/h.

'They have a safe bubble to be within,' cycling advocate says

Drivers will now have to make sure there is at least a metre of space to pass cyclists on city streets. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

Motorists in Edmonton are now required to give a little more breathing room when passing cyclists. 

The city's new passing bylaw went into effect on Thursday. Vehicles now have to leave at least one metre of space while passing a cyclist on roads with speed limits lower than than 60 km/h, or 1.5 metres on roads with higher speeds.

Paths for People was one of the organizations that pushed for the change. The group is focused on making Edmonton safer for active transportation users like cyclists and pedestrians.

Chair Stephen Raitz said he thinks this will help cyclists of all levels feel more comfortable riding on city streets.

Stephen Raitz, chair of Paths for People, hopes this will help cyclists of all ages and abilities feel safe on city streets. (CBC News via Google Meet)

"There's just a greater level of safety that people will feel because they know that when they're a bike on a road a driver won't get too close to them with their vehicle," Raitz said. "They have a safe bubble to be within."

Jessica Lamarre, director of safe mobility with the City of Edmonton, said the new bylaw helps drivers have a clear understanding of the amount of space needed. Before the bylaw, drivers were simply directed to "safely pass" a cyclist as outlined in the Traffic Safety Act.

"This bylaw helps to recognize that people who are driving vehicles have a responsibility to think about the impact that that vehicle might have on the people outside of them," Lamarre said. 

Jessica Lamarre, the director of safe mobility with the City of Edmonton says the new bylaw will help clear up the expectations for drivers while helping to keep cyclists safe. (CBC News via Google Meet)

The city regularly does a traffic safety culture study; the most recent data available is from 2018. That study showed eight in 10 cyclists will try to avoid certain streets or intersections because they feel they are too dangerous.

"It helps avoid the potential tragedy that could come from getting just a bit too close to someone," Lamarre said.

The city is planning social media campaigns to inform drivers about the change but there will be a stronger messaging push in the spring when more cyclists will be on the city's streets.

Lamarre said drivers can cross a solid yellow line to safely manoeuvre around a cyclist, as long as there is no oncoming traffic.

Those who violate the bylaw could face a fine of up to $250 but Lamarre said the focus is more on changing behaviour than punitive measures.

"It's really more around trying to help people understand those expectations and define what it means to safely pass. This really gives us more of an opportunity to talk more about that with people," she said.

The City of Calgary has a similar passing bylaw. Lamarre said both cities have written to the province urging them to clarify the language in the Traffic Safety Act as well.