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Gear Prudence: I’m not really a bicyclist, but I’ve ridden before in D.C., so I’m not totally clueless either. The other day I was in an Uber with my friend, who is a pretty hardcore biker, and driving through downtown, which was a total traffic disaster as usual. Once traffic began to move, we passed a guy on a Bikeshare. My friend started flipping out at the driver, yelling at him for getting too close to the cyclist and telling him how dangerous it was! But it seemed totally fine and completely safe to me. How close is too close for a driver to pass a bicyclist? — Troubled Over Overreacting Chum Lambasting Our Sharing Entrepreneur
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Dear TOOCLOSE: GP is sorry that your friend had such an intense reaction. After all, any time a “hardcore biker” has to ride in a car, it’s pretty traumatic for everyone concerned.
Without being there, it’s really hard to know whether the pass was too close or just fine. You don’t by any chance wear a helmet cam every time you ride in an Uber, do you? (You probably don’t even wear a helmet at all, but that’s a personal choice.) Local laws require drivers to stay three feet away when passing bicyclists, so if your driver was any closer than that, the maneuver was both illegal and unsafe. Meanwhile, it’s customary for drivers to give more space when possible, which is not only safer for the cyclist but also more courteous in general. After all, there’s no law stopping you from standing three inches away from someone while talking to them, but our culture is one in which people feel more comfortable interacting at greater distances. It’s the same with cars. Most drivers want to do their best to avoid running people over, and all cyclists want that too, so a good rule of thumb is to pass with as much room as you can muster and to avoid passing if can’t you do it with more than three feet. Being slowed down for two seconds is considerably better than living forever with the guilt of having crashed your car into someone.
GP wonders why you doubt your friend’s judgment and reaction and suggests you reconsider your skepticism. Assuming he or she is not normally prone to flipping out, your friend probably knows the difference between fair and foul. Yelling at a driver isn’t exactly cool—a polite but stern, “Hey, could you be safer around bicyclists, please?” would more productive—but perhaps his or her response was indicative of the driver’s egregiousness.—GP
Gear Prudence is Brian McEntee, who tweets @sharrowsDC. Got a question about cycling? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.