COMMUNITY SPOKES CHAMPION EDUCATION AND ENFORCEMENT OF MAINE’S 3- FOOT LAW
In 2007, Maine’s “3-Foot Law” went into effect. The law requires cars to pass bicyclists with “due care” by giving them at least three feet of clearance when passing. In 2013, The Coalition worked with state legislators to pass a bill to strengthen the 3-Foot Law. Under the new law, any crash involving a motor vehicle and a bicyclist is automatically considered evidence that the driver violated the 3-Foot Law.
This critical statute can only be effective in improving the safety of bicyclists if drivers are educated about the rules and law enforcement officers thoroughly enforce the law. Community Spokes and other local advocates have been working hard to ensure that drivers are aware and obedient of the 3-Foot Law.
Community Spoke Robert McChesney chairs the Bath Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee. Since 2012, he has been working to implement an education program for motorists around the 3-Foot Law with the help of the chief of police, Michael Field and the Sagadahoc County sheriff, Joel Merry. “It’s a very rare conjunction of the planets when a bicyclist, a police officer, and a motorist violating the 3-foot law are all together at the same time and place. So instead we focus on education,” says Robert.
In Bath, if a driver passes too close to a bicyclist, the bicyclist reports the incident to the police and provides as many details as possible, most importantly the driver’s license plate number. Both the police and sheriff’s department have a designated officer who then calls the motorist, warns them of their violation, and explains the requirement to give three feet of clearance when passing a bicyclist. If a motorist is reported to have violated the law more than once, law enforcement will issue a summons. Feedback from law enforcement so far is that most motorists respond positively to a warning phone call, give the response that they were unaware of the law, and pledge to obey the law in the future.
Too often, families, individuals, and groups of riders in the Brunswick region feel unsafe on the roads due to cars passing too close to them. As a result, The Merrymeeting Wheelers Bicycle club, based in Brunswick, has been working since 2012 to develop and implement a 3-Foot-Law education and signage program throughout the region. In order to educate drivers about the law, the “Wheelers” have been working with the local Police Departments and Public Works Departments to install “3-Feet Please: It’s the Law” signs on highly traveled bicycle routes in Brunswick and beyond.
After soliciting donations from Center Street Cycle, Midcoast Triathalon Club and Gritty McDuff’s for the program, the Wheelers successfully designed and commissioned the signs, and donated them to be installed along roads all over the region. The group has supplied nine signs to the Town of Brunswick, six to Topsham, seven to Bath, three to Harpswell and twelve to Freeport. As of Spring 2014, many have already been installed in Brunswick, Topsham, Harpswell, Bath and Freeport.
The Wheelers have also been working with Police Departments in all the towns that have received the donated signs to increase enforcement of the law. Additionally, all the municipalities will be showing the Coalition bicycle safety Public Service Announcements on local television and distributing the Coalition educational literature to drivers. Next year and beyond the Wheelers hope to incorporate Durham, Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, Richmond, Dresden, Woolwich, Phippsburg and West Bath into the program.
Community Spoke Anne-Marie Davee chairs the Freeport Active Living Task Force, a committee of residents and organizations working to make Freeport a more inviting place for biking, walking and any physical activity. There are four additional trained Community Spokes serving on the Task Force. Thanks to the generosity of the Merrymeeting Wheelers Bicycle Club from Brunswick, the Freeport group was recently able to work with the Town Engineer to install “3 Feet Please” signs at each of the roadway entrances into Freeport, in conjunction with the speed limit signs.
“These bicycle safety signs are amazing!” says Anne-Marie, “They put the emphasis on the speed limit and the importance of bicycle safety.” The installation of these signs is one of the first elements of Freeport’s recently adopted Active Living Plan to be implemented.