Elkhart bicycle buffer ordinance gains support from panel

Proposal would require motorists to leave three-foot gap when passing cyclists.

Posted on July 24, 2014 at 9:28 p.m.

ELKHART — A proposal that would require motorists to provide a three-foot buffer while passing bicyclists received a strong initial round of support Thursday night.

City council’s public health and safety committee voted unanimously to send the proposal back to city council with a “do pass” recommendation after hearing nearly an hour of testimony.

Members of Bike Elkhart and other supporters of the proposal said they believe the proposal would not only provide a measure of safety, but also help educate the public about bike safety.

Similar policies are already in force in Indianapolis, South Bend and Fort Wayne, supporters said, and passage of it in Elkhart would send a strong signal that Elkhart is a bike friendly community, said Jim Brotherson, an avid cyclist who addressed the committee.

While the ordinance alone won’t make streets safer, “It can be used to help make our streets safer because word of this ordinance will get out that we have a city law about passing cyclists,” Brotherson said.

Brotherson said concerns voiced about how it would be enforced are understandable, but said it’s not much different than enforcement of other existing laws involving seat belts or failure to yield for emergency vehicles in which the officer makes a visual judgment call.

The proposal has the support of the administration, which was conveyed by city-right-of way engineer Leslie Biek.

“Let us bicycle with the full protection of the law,” said Danny Graber, president of Bike Elkhart, a group that advocates for the growth of bike paths and public safety involving bicycling.

The committee also received letters of support from former Elkhart police chief Thomas Cutler and Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce President Kyle Hannon.

Elkhart County’s Safe Kids Coodinator, Samantha Forester, also spoke on behalf of the proposal.

Steve Peterson, who owns Elkhart Bicycle Shop, said he believes motorists take bicyclists for granted.

Peterson said he’s begun riding his bike with a safety flag mounted horizontally on the left side of his bike that extends out three feet.

He said motorists have been unsure how to react and that he has had to wave them around.

“I’m going to leave this flag on until this ordinance is passed because I want to educate people.” Peterson said. “I believe this is what this ordinance is truly about.”

Committee members Brian Dickerson, Tonda Hines and Mary Olson voted to give the plan a positive recommendation.

Dickerson said he is skeptical about whether it can be enforced and held up if it ends up in court, but said he believe it promotes public awareness about bicycling safety.

The soonest the council could consider the plan is at its next regularly scheduled meeting on Aug. 4.

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