ELKHART — Joe Torzewski isn’t waiting for the new 3-foot bike rule to take effect later this month.
The service manager at Elkhart Bicycle Shop on Jackson Boulevard said he and others at the shop have always offered bicycling safety tips to customers, and he’s now spreading the word about the new policy approved by Elkhart City Council on Monday, Aug. 4.
“We want people to be safe — that’s the biggest key — safety,” Torzewski said.
Bike enthusiasts applauded passage of the new policy, which requires motorists to provide a 3-foot buffer when passing bicyclists on city streets, but they also say word needs to be effectively spread about the new policy.
Members of Bike Elkhart tentatively plan to distribute fliers explaining the rule at upcoming festivals, including Bloom & Zoom, an Aug. 16 cycling event.
But Bike Elkhart President Danny Graber said more will be needed to convey the message.
“It would be clearly unfair if the city were to begin to enforce this rule and citizens are not aware of it,” Graber said.
The policy will become effective in a week or so, after it is signed into law and a legal ad is published.
Like any new law, Mayor Dick Moore said police will likely issue warnings after it is implemented but will use discretion based on the seriousness of the incident.
Numerous people have cast the ordinance as a “first step” and even a “small step,” but many say it provides a much needed opportunity to educate the public — both motorists and bicyclists – about bicycle safety.
“It’s just a matter of promoting it out there,” Torzewski said.
Elkhart City Council President Ron Troyer told members of Bike Elkhart and others in the crowd at Monday’s council meeting that they will need to serve as ambassadors to help spread the message.
The ordinance did not include any funding to promote the cause, meaning other sources will be needed to establish signs or market the topic.
Graber said Bike Elkhart might have some money.
Moore left open the door that city money could possibly be used. In the short term, though, the city will work to inform the public through its website and Facebook page.
Moore said a representative from the city met with bike advocates earlier this week about the need for signs.
Graber and Moore both said they’d like to see permanent signs highlighting the rule at city entrances.
Troyer and Graber both suggested some money might be available through the Michiana Area Council of Governments.
The council approved the proposal unanimously Monday, and Graber said he appreciated the open minds and cooperation in considering the ordinance.
The advocates’ lobbying effort seemed well-organized and came amid some concerns about whether the rule can be enforced. But those were overshadowed by the chance to promote public safety, officials said.
Supporters talked with city police and a city engineer before the proposal was filed with the city council. They lined up support of the administration, a former police chief and biking advocate Kyle Hannon, who is president of the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce.
Supporters showed up at two meetings wearing shirts touting the 3-foot passing concept.
“I’m not sure it was an easy sell, but it was a thoughtful process,” Graber said. “It was a collaborative effort and showed the good will of people in Elkhart, which just makes me feel very proud.”