New law would require Saskatoon drivers to keep a 1-metre distance when passing bikes

It's one of several new tweaks proposed to the city's bike bylaw. Allowing kids 14 and under to ride on side sidewalks is another.

Allowing kids 14 and under to ride on sidewalks is among other proposals recommended by city

The City of Calgary's new safe passing bylaw requires that motorists leave one metre of space when passing a cyclist. Saskatoon is recommending a similar law. (City of Calgary)

The City of Saskatoon is recommending that cars be legally required to provide a one-metre buffer when passing cyclists on some streets, provided there's enough room to do so. 

Drivers who otherwise get too close could face a fine of $50. 

The proposed separation distance is one of several changes planned for the city's new bike bylaw, which has been under development for more than a year. Any changes would require the approval of city councillors. 

"Every person in charge of a motor vehicle who is overtaking a person travelling on a bicycle on a street with one traffic lane shall, as nearly as may be practicable, leave a distance of not less than one meter between the bicycle and the motor vehicle," reads the draft rule.

The one-metre buffer would include "all projections and attachments" on bikes and cars.

CBC News obtained a copy of a report outlining all the desired new bike rules — two days after a police bike patrol officer was allegedly struck by a passing motorist in downtown Saskatoon. 

On Friday during morning rush hour, the bike cop was riding east on the 100 block of 22nd Street E — in the right-side curb lane — when a passing pickup truck's passenger side mirror hit her on the head, according to the Saskatoon Police Service. 

"It hit her helmet, thankfully," said Staff Sgt. Darren Pringle.

The driver of the pickup truck had been driving in the right-side lane too, attempted to change to the left lane, saw there was a car already in the left lane, and then shifted back to the right lane when they struck the officer, Pringle said. 

"It doesn't sound like there was much attention paid to the cyclist," Pringle said. 

The officer suffered minor injuries and was taken to hospital but is not off work, he added. The driver who struck her was charged under section 213 of the Traffic Safety Act — driving without "due care required."

The incident didn't surprise Zack MacGregor, a Saskatoon cyclist who commutes to work by bike and rides about 2,000 kilometres a year.

"I've actually had a similar thing happen to me. Remember the old painted bike lanes on 4th Avenue? I got clipped by a truck when I was riding [in those lanes]," said MacGregor. 

The proposed new buffer would not have helped the bike cop, as that new rule is intended for single-lane roads only. (The section of 22nd Street where the officer was struck has two driving lanes on each side of the road.)  

But the buffer is one of several bike bylaw changes meant to "provide an effective enforcement tool to complement" the city's existing traffic bylaw and the provincial Traffic Safety Act, according to the city report.

The Traffic Safety Act does not prescribe a one-metre-or-less buffer, just that drivers pass other vehicles when it is safe to do so. 

"The passing rule in the revised bylaw applies to when the traffic lane is reasonably and practicably wide enough for the motor vehicle to pass within the lane providing one-metre of clearance," according to the city report. 

A Saskatoon bike cop was struck by a passing truck's side mirror on this stretch of 22nd Street E Friday. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

"Calgary just instituted one a little while ago and it's a great idea if we can get some driver education," MacGregor said of the proposed buffer. 

"The close passes I don't think are very often malicious," MacGregor added. "Just people don't realize how close you are and they don't realize how jarring it can be to have a five thousand pound vehicle pass you at twice your speed inches off of your shoulder."

It's not known exactly what position the bike cop took up in the right lane, whether hugging the curb or riding closer to the middle of the lane.

But under another proposed change, cyclists would no longer have to stay as close to the curb as possible. 

"Best practice is for cyclists is to ride in the middle of the right-hand lane to emphasise their presence in the road to drivers behind," the city report stated. "It is not safe to ride too close to the curb because of the presence of the gutter as well as the 'door zone' close to parked cars."

Kids 14 and under could ride on sidewalks 

Some of the proposed new cycling rules are meant to ensure cyclists keep up their end of the safe commuting bargain.

Unlike the old bike bylaw, the new law would specifically require cyclists to use hand signals to communicate their intention to turn or shift lanes. 

The City of Saskatoon wants to make it mandatory for cyclists to use hand signals. (City of Saskatoon )

Another change is meant to address a concern previously flagged by bike advocacy group Saskatoon Cycles.

The group had wanted the city to relax its rule barring anyone from riding on a sidewalk (except for those marked as shared pathways). Saskatoon Cycles argued that some riders, particularly children, might prefer the sidewalk to riding on busy roads.

The city is now suggesting that riders 14 and under be explicitly allowed to ride on sidewalks, even though no one under 12 could be charged with an offence anyway (under the  Summary Offences Procedure Act). 

"At this age [14], young adults should be confident and capable to ride on the street," the city reported stated.

Riders are currently barred from riding on Saskatoon sidewalks regardless of age. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

No bike helmet required

The city is not seeking a mandatory bike helmet law, despite a call for one from the Saskatchewan Prevention Institute. 

Saskatchewan is not among the provinces with mandatory bike helmet laws, but some individual communities like Yorkton have proceeded with one anyway.

The City of Saskatoon says "opponents to helmet regulation cite that the expense of helmets is a barrier to increasing cycling mode share and that motorists take greater risks when approaching cyclists wearing helmets."

An average of 24 cyclists per year were hospitalized between 2004 and 2014, according to the former Saskatoon Health Region. 

Read the city's full report on new bike rules below. On mobile? Click here

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About the Author

Guy Quenneville

Reporter at CBC Saskatoon

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