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Bill gives bicyclists more room on road

If passed, Ohio would become 22nd state with a “three-foot rule” for bicyclists.

A proposed new law would require Ohio’s drivers to be a little more generous when sharing the road with bicycles.

House Bill 145, introduced by Ohio Rep. Mike Henne, R-Clayton, would make drivers keep a distance of at least three feet when passing bicycles. Current law requires only that drivers provide a “safe distance” with no definition of “safe.”

A similar bill was introduced in the Ohio Senate in 2009 but didn’t go anywhere. Since then, three major Ohio cities — Cleveland, Cincinnati and Toledo — have passed their own three-foot rules, and Columbus and Dayton are considering doing so, Henne said.

“Society is just more and more accepting of bicycling, and it’s becoming more and more prevalent,” Henne said. “I think we’re a little more aware of the issue these days as more people bike.”

Under Henne’s bill, failure to observe a three-foot distance would be a minor misdemeanor with a maximum $150 fine, although it could be elevated to a third-degree misdemeanor if the driver has been convicted of certain other driving infractions within the previous year.

The bill also would allow cyclists waiting at red lights to pass through with caution while yielding the right of way if the weight-based sensor that triggers many red-light cycles doesn’t detect them.

If passed, Ohio would be the 22nd state with a so-called “three-foot” rule, said Chuck Smith, chair of the Ohio Bicycle Federation, a cycling advocacy group that is pushing the bill.

Smith, of Vandalia, biked daily to and from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, where he worked as a civilian employee for 22 years, until he retired last year.

“There were several instances where motorists came a little too close to me as I was riding along, and we’re hoping to put an end to that with this bill,” he said.

City commissioner Nan Whaley, a mayoral candidate and advocate for making the city more bike-friendly, said discussions about making a three-foot rule in Dayton are still ongoing but said a state law would be better.

“Any time we put some rules in place that protect bicyclists and walkers, that’s really important if we’re going to be serious about multi-use transportation in our communities,” Whaley said.

A.J. Wagner, a former judge who is running against Whaley for mayor, also thinks Henne’s bill is a good idea but said police officers would have a difficult time enforcing it.

“I say it’s more educational than anything, and that’s not unimportant,” Wagner said.

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