A safe-passing ordinance went into effect in Ann Arbor on Saturday requiring drivers to maintain at least a five-foot distance when passing a pedestrian, bicyclist or wheelchair-user on the road. The ordinance serves as a reminder to drivers that bikers are allowed on the road, and that they should proceed with caution when driving near them.
Originally passed by City Council in December, the ordinance supports the Ann Arbor “Walk.Bike.Drive.” campaign advocating for safe roads for all types of transport in the city.
If drivers fail to follow the new rule, they could be ticketed and fined $100, though whether the situation warrants a ticket will be up to police officers. Violations will be treated as civil infractions and will not go on drivers’ records.
City Councilmember Kirk Westphal (D–Ward 2), an occasional bike commuter, called the ordinance a positive step forward for the city.
“I’ve heard of several occasions where novice cyclers have gotten spooked by close-passing vehicles and I think that’s a real shame,” Westphal said. “I believe that this can begin signaling to drivers that we all have a right to the road.”
Residents, however, did not meet the ordinance with unanimous support. Ann Arbor resident Kathy Griswold feels the new rule is good in theory, but unnecessary for the city to formally state.
“I believe it is basically common sense,” Griswold said. “And I don’t think the city has the resources to educate the public. I definitely support the five-foot rule … (but) Ann Arbor sometimes passes these feel-good legislations that they then have no way to enforce.”
Griswold said real change will be accomplished when a unified state law is passed.
“I would like to see a state law passed that will deal with the consistency across the state,” Griswold said. “Without that, I think this can be kind of confusing.”
Ann Arbor has long been known as a city that accommodates all types of transportation. According to the city’s website, Ann Arbor received a silver-level bicycle-friendly city award from the League of American Bicyclists in 2013. There are 71.8 miles of bike lanes throughout the city, and since 2015, bicycle parking has been required to be included in all new building developments.
Business sophomore Mohammad Shaikh is an avid biker. In the warmer weather, he usually rides his bike around campus every day, and as an Ann Arbor native, he has experience biking throughout the rest of the city as well. Shaikh said he supports the ordinance, and thinks it will make Ann Arbor a safer place for bikers and pedestrians.
“Because Ann Arbor is a city where parking is limited and a lot of people park on the side of the road, that kind of takes away space," Shaikh said. "And when you add bikers into the equation, it’s hard to accommodate everyone… I haven’t had too much of a problem with people driving too close to me, but I think that we can definitely be safer.”