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Bicyclist Bubble

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Image Courtesy Chattanooga Police DepartmentMaybe your state is one of the more than two dozen around the U.S. with what is known as a three-foot passing law—a provision that requires drivers to give people on bikes at least that much clearance when passing them on the road. (Pennsylvania calls for a more generous four feet.) But are these laws enforceable? Or are they just an empty promise of safety?One police officer in Chattanooga, Tennessee, wanted to find a way to give the law in his jurisdiction some meaning. Officer Robert Simmons, who has been with the city’s department for 12 years and on full-time bike patrol for seven, came up with an idea for a device that can measure and record the distance between a bike and a car.
“I thought, I wish there was a data-driven way, like a radar gun,” says Simmons. “This is what I want to build; this is what we need to prove it in court.”Simmons had been thinking a lot about how to prevent deaths like that of David Meek, a leader in Chattanooga’s biking community who was killed in 2009 when a truck driver drove close enough to hook Meek’s saddlebag, dragging him under the wheels. “That resonated in my head,” says Simmons. “I didn’t act on it—was just a thought in my head that we have to do something about this.”Then Chattanooga got a new mayor, Andy Berke, and a new police chief, both of whom were receptive to suggestions about improving safety for people on bikes. In discussions with the chief, Simmons got the go-ahead to see if he could come up with a way to enforce Tennessee’s three-foot law.

Chattanooga calls the result BSMART (its technical name is the C3FT Device). Developed by Codaxus, an engineering firm in Austin, Texas, the handlebar-mounted device measures the distance of passing vehicles with ultrasonic waves. The bike-car gap is then shown on a large digital display, and when a car comes closer than 36 inches, BSMART beeps—alerting an officer to a violation. Paired with a GoPro camera, the device both detects and records a car’s proximity to a bike.

“It’s easy to use,” says Simmons. “It doesn’t distract me. I just ride along until it starts beeping.”

(Courtesy Chattanooga Police Department)Simmons got the device, which was actually paid for by a local bike advocacy group called Friends of Outdoor Chattanooga, on May 17. He has only used it consistently for a couple of weeks so far, sometimes while in full uniform and sometimes in plainclothes, working with other officers in marked cars to conduct the pursuit. He has already pulled over about 25 drivers. (No surprise to learn that drivers give him a wider berth when he’s in uniform.)

He hasn’t written any citations yet, preferring to give warnings to those drivers who get too close. A lot of them, says Simmons, don’t know about the law. “The device has allowed me to interact with those who commit the violation and do some education,” he says. “A lot of people don’t know and have trouble judging three feet themselves.”

Simmons says if he gets attitude from a driver, or if the person behind the wheel doesn’t seem receptive to the information, he’ll write a ticket. He’s already worked out an arrangement with a judge who says he’ll try to sentence offenders to a Bicycling 101 course. The class imparts the rules of the road that apply to bicycles and includes a group bike ride to show participants how it feels to travel the streets of Chattanooga on two wheels.

“Everybody deserves to be safe on the streets, whether they’re traveling by car, by foot, or by bicycle.”For Mayor Berke, improving conditions for people on bikes is part of a larger effort to diversify transportation options in his city and improve quality of life for everyone. “Everybody deserves to be safe on the streets, whether they’re traveling by car, by foot, or by bicycle,” says Berke. “We’re using innovative technology to build stronger neighborhoods. If you think about what makes a neighborhood great, it’s seeing that multimodal transportation occurring. People getting out of cars, talking to each other.”

Simmons says the city has already received inquiries from at least 10 other police departments about getting their own devices, as well as some bike advocacy groups. “It’s a device that’s really needed,” says Simmons. “Hopefully it’ll keep going and we’ll save some lives.”


  1. So much to say but I will attempt brevity. First there is the tragedy of the commons, as has been mentioned, the roads were not built just for cars. Until the roads are privatized it is what it is. Second bigger and faster may be physics but it isn’t sound judgment on the operators part. If you are driving so fast you can’t react to an obstacle in time it shouldn’t make much of a difference in your vehicle operation whether it is a bicycle or a cinder block, no matter how windy or fast the road. Third, the “always take the lane” or three abreast roadie douchewads, nobody likes those guys frequently they don’t like those guys either. Right of the right tire track doesn’t leave enough space for your vehicle to pass without the cyclist having to leave the road? The overly self entitled (motored and unmotored) are painfully tiresome. I have had the pleasure of a motorist climbing near onto my back tire honking and screaming I need to “get off the road,” all the while there is a whole other empty lane to his left and it is even going in the same direction. Finally I am a libertarian, a bicycle is about as much high speed freedom from “the man” as you are going to get. I only paid taxes on it once, it isn’t registered and they can’t control or track it.

    • The man is going to end bicycle freedom. The seeds are being planted. As driving is eliminated for the common man they will add insurance and licenses and other requirements. Because they did it with motor vehicles. Then slowly the screws will be turned until biking isn’t allowed or affordable either.

      • I agree, Brent. I see this as already happening.

        For instance, mandatory bicycle helmet laws. That would keep me from riding. (I despise helmet laws for motorcycles, too – but I put up with it probably because I’m so habituated to it… whereas I will never accept being forced to wear a got-damned helmet while riding my bicycle.)

  2. As BrentP just said, but then failed to take all the way to its logical conclusion:

    “The human belief in magical devices and animals. Thousands of years go by and nothing really changes.”

    1. There is no just ticket. It’s all B.S.
    Just because massa puts installed his magic speed voodoo device in your car, doesn’t mean ‘miles per hour’ is actually meaningful.

    2. Just because the tribal talisman clock on your wall divides and counts the daily periods of sun and shadow doesn’t make time a real phenomenon. It’s a base superstition, not made more real due to elaborate rituals of supposed “precision.” You’re not late for anything Kunta. The calendars and your meek cowering before the massa’s inculcated Time Slavery is laughable.

    3. In some ways, your advanced white man’s Bix Nood is more tragic than the ghetto dweller’s version. The majority of the “learned” things written in alpha numeric codes and kept in books you revere is absolute B.S. and far worse than innate ignorance.

    4. At least golden crunk teeth shine brightly, and are worn in a spirit of joyfulness. What kind of pathetic wigger wastes his finite life memorizing and systematizing vast tomes of “statutes” about traffic law. The tl;dr version of these “laws” is this: “Massa Says So.” And not a got-dam thing more.

    5 Only the most despicable and deluded slaves would think they are superior to other simpler slaves due to their advanced capacity to accept inconsistent and meaningless drivel they call “knowledge.” Pop all your fantasy bubbles and stop adopting new ones. The problem isn’t massa. It’s your gullibility and misplaced deference to nonsense.

  3. He’s using an ultrasonic analog prox to measure distance. These are some of the most finicky sensors available, varying nonlinearly with range, varying with humidity, target material, etc ad nauseum. This smells like another red light nazi cam scam to me.

  4. I get tired of getting passed on the right by bicycles while sitting at a red light. Especially if I just had to wait to get a chance to pass them with 3 feet plus of room. The attitude seems to be that the bicycle gets all the benefits of car traffic rules and also the pedestrian rules. We also get a lot of bicycles on narrow county roads around here.

    • Hi Matt,

      I have no issue with cyclists, provided they’re not obstructive. I think that’s what most people (reasonably) resent.

      It does not bother me at all when cyclists pass on the right at lights (just as lane-splitting by motorcycles does not bother me). Both bicycles and motorcycles can do things cars can’t. Good for them. I certainly do not want to succumb to Cloverism and demand they obey “the law” (just for the sake of controlling them; for the sake of punishing them).

      But it does bother me when a cyclist operating at a speed obviously well below that of other vehicular traffic doesn’t pull off onto the shoulder (or grass) to let the faster-moving traffic get by. And instead, obnoxiously leg-pumps along (often, swaying left-right as he does) making it either difficult or unsafe to pass and thereby impeding the flow of traffic.

      If people in general (whether in a car or on a bike or tractor) would simply yield to faster moving traffic and thereby show some common courtesy, I suspect 99 percent of these problems would go away.

      • Riding off into the gravel or grass on a bicycle is dangerous. I don’t know if the wider tires of motorcycles make a difference or not but on narrow bicycle tires the split mu is a bad thing and gravel is just plain bad all around to hit at speed. To pull over like that requires first coming to a stop, dismounting and then pulling off the road. At the very least slowing to a crawl to make the transition. I make transitions like that very carefully and with good reason. I think the huffy I had in 3rd grade did that stuff pretty well but not any adult road bicycle I’ve had since 5th grade has.

        However there is no reason why people shouldn’t be able to pass. I’ve never been stuck behind a bicyclist ever. I’ve been stuck behind incompetent drivers who didn’t know how to pass a bicyclist.

        Anyway this morning I encountered two stop sign running bicyclists. Both stop signs I stop at when bicycling. First one is approaching a stop sign and slowing. I have to make a right turn. So I don’t want to right hook him. So I slow to let him reach the stop sign first. He accelerates, no signal, takes a right. WTF? I’ve been stopping at that stop sign for a dozen years and he can’t. So I accelerate using the V8 to get to 25mph fast and pass him.

    • I loathe gutter passing. I don’t do it myself. There’s no good reason to do it on a bicycle unless to make a right on red or to leave the roadway. Somewhere I have a video where if I were a clover I would have killed a gutter passer. Light turned green and I started to make a signaled right turn and the gutter passer is moving swiftly by on the right. Good thing I pay attention to things, a clover forgets about what is behind his A-pillars.

      Illinois recently changed the law making gutter passing legal. I disagree with it. There are limited instances where technically repealing the 8ft of unobstructed pavement rule makes sense, but gutter passing is still just idiotic.

      • If a car is turning right, and has their blinker on, and is in the far right lane…why would that driver be a clover if they don’t expect a bicyclist to try and pass them on the right splitting a lane? It’s almost like trying to turn from a middle lane at that point. I drive in an area where there are bicyclists that actually do that, and it’s freaking annoying to be pulling up to a right turn, have my blinker on, and have an idiot on a bicycle attempt to pass me on the right forcing me to stop in the middle of the road and yield to them.

        This is only my 2nd pet peeve with the things non-thinking bicyclists do…the first is riding on a sidewalk, on the oncoming traffic side of the road…attempting to make a left turn across traffic with one of these idiots suddenly appearing into your path from behind you is startling…it’s even worse when they’re pigs and end up giving you a ticket for failing to yield because of them.

        • Because as I stated clovers don’t care about anything behind their A pillars. It’s not about expecting, it’s about being aware.

          Wrong way sidewalk riding is about as dangerous as it gets. To ride out into the roadway the bicycle rider must yield as a driver does going from a driveway to the roadway. To be considered a pedestrian the bicycle rider must dismount and walk across the street. I am not sure what you are saying was ticketed.

          • I was ticketed when two pigs, riding their bicycles in LA, on the wrong side of the road, started crossing the road right as I was turning left coming up from behind me. I stopped to keep from plowing them over (my mistake, I know) and instead, had to stop in the middle of the road (stopping now approaching traffic), while I waited for the pigs to get back on their bikes after almost falling off due to my sudden approach. They ticketed me for failing to yield.

            As for some moron on a bicycle passing a car, on the right, when that car has their blinker on to turn right, and is in the right lane…that idiot deserves to be run down…there’s absolutely zero reason for a car driver to be checking for fast approaching traffic on their right, while in the right lane and turning right. That doesn’t make the car driver a clover, that makes the bicyclist an moron with a death wish.

            • No grounds for that ticket. Total BS. A bicycle rider in crosswalk has no standing as a pedestrian or vehicle operator. No right of way what so ever. The law says to yield to pedestrians in a cross walk. A bicycle rider is not a pedestrian. The reason sidewalk riding is dangerous and wrong way sidewalk riding more so is because drivers are not looking for anything moving that fast over there. It’s also why one is supposed to dismount at a crosswalk.

              One day I had biked through a forest preserve and got to a heavily traveled two lane road that went through the forest preserve. I got sick of waiting so I dismounted and walked across in the marked crosswalk. This meant that traffic had to yield. If I had stayed on the bicycle I would not have had right of way. Which is why I was waiting for the heat death of the universe for a gap in traffic.

              The guy who was gutter passing deserved to get hit, but the legal and insurance hassles aren’t worth the effort.

  5. For few ask where the authoritah to do these things derives (and ruined paper doesn’t even cut cake.) Oh, guns..

    I have no problem if a bicyclist wants to ride where pedestrians travel. I have no problem if a bicyclist wants to occupy the lane just as a vehicle would. I never see those that ride where pedestrians travel enter the road until it is clear. I see assholes in spandex with sopping butt-sponges going from one to the other at their whim and then getting angry. If you are going to pretend to be a car then stay where a car should be.

    • I agree. You need to choose whether or not you are a pedestrian or a driver.

      If you are a driver, you occupy the entire lane, and are required ( in most states ) to pull over to let a conga-line of cars behind you pass, or eat a whopping fine.

      Ic you are a pedestrian, you stay off the road and on the sidewalk, and walk your bike across the street.

  6. I see routinely observe pleasure bikers on public roads that are unable able to handle two cars passing. Others are wobbling and poking along winding and hilly roads without shoulders where vehicles legally travel at 55 mph. These bikers assume they are both instantly visible to drivers and invincible to challenges of right-of-way. Just because they’re able to ride bicycles practically anywhere doesn’t mean they should. Getting killed while being in the right still makes you dead.

    • C C, yep, you’re right. I’ve nearly run over cyclists on roads with 45mph speed limits in very hilly, curvy country. Meeting another pickup and topping a sharp rise going downhill gives you little time or distance to avoid these people.

      They evidently think since it’s not a major road it doesn’t have plenty of traffic traveling at the PSL or higher. They’re wrong, and in that area, commonly, dead wrong.

      I recently saw a sport pickup stop and two people get out with their requisite shiny green and various other colored clothing to get their bikes in the back.

      Well, this might be a good idea, a small road way the hell away from town, the rare pickup toddling along or god forbid, granny in her Town Car. But this is in the middle of the oil field. What is it they don’t get? I was rolling down one and a tanker comes over the hill so we both get our outside duals off the road cause there’s so little room. Then i top another little hill and I’d already seen another truck with light bars on top, almost a sure sign he’s hauling something big and heavy and wider than the truck and sure enough, he was hauling a dozer. When I could see over the rise I was rolling down there were 4 cyclists just toodling along in my lane having just avoided that truck with the dozer. Of course I just stopped on a dime going downhill with a bit more than 40 tons. I had cleared the other truck in time to dive as best you can dive to the other side of the road, brakes on full and trying to pull the horn. It was so close. I’d bet their hearts didn’t beat nearly as fast as mine. Hell, I got the best of the deal I guess. I didn’t have to bike to get that fast heartrate and break out in a heavy sweat. Had they been 50 yards closer to me, still not visible, when I met that other truck, probably none of us would be alive. It might have been my last swerve and theirs too.

      I don’t know what to tell cyclists. I sold my Jenet in 1980, a very nice bike, because the only place to ride it was on roads that were solid vehicles because of THAT oil boom. Find some place to ride that won’t get you killed. I don’t know where that would be in Texas except off-road bikes in a pasture and that’s plenty fun in itself, just don’t do it on lease roads.

  7. Total bullspit. These nanny-staters have nothing better to do than quibble over how close a car gets to a bicycle ON A ROAD BUILT FOR CARS? There are no robberies, rapes, murders, assaults, or donuts shop openings for these piggies to attend to?

    • Should we go back to the old fashioned way of U-locks doing custom bodywork?
      That’s what people far more militant that I would do. I would just slap or knock on the vehicle with my hand. It seemed to get the message across. Haven’t had to do that since the 3 foot law sunk in.

      Before the three foot law I was struck in the left shoulder by the mirror of a Ford Bronco. Some time later it started hurting on and off. Anyway the mirror collapsed against the truck body when it struck me, had it been a fixed mirror I would likely be dead or hurt bad. Many drivers think that a couple inches is just fine because they are clovers and clovers need laws to tell them how to do things. Clovers don’t understand that the mirrors stick out from their vehicles.

      Clovers don’t understand aerodynamics either. A trucker once passed me with less than six inches. I was nearly sucked under. He saw me, blowing the airhorn and all. He insisted what he did was perfectly acceptable. I’ve got more stories and scars because of brush passing. Magically the 3ft law has made things better, well because people can’t seem to do things the right way without laws and punishments. The dependent childlike idiots that this country produces, clovers for short, need laws and enforcement. The alternative is the old way.

      Anyway with cops busy with real crime, if you like your vehicle I suggest following the three foot rule. I’ve followed a six foot minimum rule when driving and it’s not been a problem for me. I usually allow a full lane width including the space the bicyclist is occupying. If the bicyclist has gutter passed me well then the rule is void.

      • People driving cars on roads built for cars should not have to swerve around idiot cyclist. Cyclists are the clovers. You’re trying to hammer a square peg into a round whole, and you’re using the law to paint over the logical fallacy.

        • Texas Chris, I must agree with you. I used to outrun the 40mph traffic in rush hour and had no problem mostly. There were several of us who could maintain that speed and even higher and car traffic seemed to not only give us a bye but sometimes interacted with us and would say “Hold on” and take you for a free ride and that was nice. Not much to hold onto on vehicles these days though and probably some badged thug would ream both of you if he saw it happening.

          But out in what people think are low speed roads that are infrequently traveled on the edge of cities is lunacy. The roads are worn out regularly and the speeds are often higher than a cyclist is able to achieve.

          I like the cyclists who use flags on tall masts so I’m not surprised. Even better would be a bright LED strobe on that mast. Hell, we even use them on our big rigs now and it makes a big difference at times.

          BTW, I wouldn’t even consider getting within 3 feet of a cyclist if conditions permitted. I’ll slow down as much as I can and do the opposite side of the road. You never know when a cyclist might decide to whip over to the other side just for entertainment and not realize someone was coming behind them.

          Why don’t cyclists used rear view mirrors? Are the sunglasses with mirrors not in vogue enough? Even if they save your life?

        • Roads aren’t built for cars as a rule, they are built for a multitude of conveyances. The first smooth paved roads in fact were built in that manner for bicyclists. The interstates forbid bicycling but are designed around the capabilities and size of trucks. There aren’t many roads out there built for cars.

      • BrentP, that reminds of a friend who went snow skiing, his first time. To say the least, he got beat up and hurt pretty good on his way down. He finally walked to a road and was injured anyway but this vehicle, he never knew what it was, but something with big mirrors, evidently intended to kill him or the a-hole driving was incompetent or blind. He got hit so hard in the back by a mirror it knocked him out, face down in the snow where his friends later found him. They hauled him to the cabin and did what they could for him. It wasn’t a minor injury. For a long while he simply wondered what had happened and why he was so fucked up.

      • Here in the PRK (People’s Republic of Kalifornia), the militant clover pedal pushers have perfected the art of “in your face, we control the road and can do whatever the f we want” riding. It started to get bad here 15 years ago, and today, on roads designed for automobile/truck traffic, you might be able to get where you are going. Between the endless packs of riders, 2, 3, 4 abreast who refuse to let traffic by, to the staged events where entire roads are being closed for races, rallies, and other sorts for nonsense, you might not be able to get to your destination at all. It has happened to me. Also, should you come to a place in the road to safely pass one of these mobs, they often will deliberately block your ability to pass. These militants, driving their Subarus (which is ok btw since it is not a GMC or Ford), to their favorite country roads, do not care about anything or anyone except their own perceived “right” to use the roads as they please. Their attitude is that (other) cars are polluters and their drivers obviously need to be educated to the “correct” form of transportation. They have also found a friendly ear here in local and state govt. (big surprise there), where in some places it is now even illegal to honk at one of these clovers to alert them to a potential danger or hazard. But hey, some of my best friends are out there on the weekends, so there you go.

        • Hi wind,

          My take on this (and you guys tell me whether I’m on or off base):

          Regardless of the vehicle – be it a car or a bicycle – the rule is, yield to faster moving traffic.

          So, cyclists – as such – do not bother me any more than a slow-moving car… provided the driver/cyclist pulls off/over when he is holding up other traffic.

          I think the problem many people have with cyclists is the same problem people have with Clovers in cars. It’s not their speed as such. It’s their obnoxious obliviousness (or worse, deliberate blocking tactics).

          I sometimes ride a bicycle (without spandex or a helmet) and I always defer to the cars coming up behind me when I cannot maintain “road speed” – which on a cycle is pretty much all the time.

          I cannot grok why anyone would not do this.

          Unless they’re a Clover, of course!

        • I don’t participate in organized rides. Why? Because I did once and what happened is there are these people who are plodding along slowly side by side at 8mph. They are on the 25mile loop by and large there’s no completing the 100mi route in allotted time at that speed. So I have to slow to their pace, wait for a gap in on-coming traffic, then accelerate hard to pass them. This really depletes my energy. I could have done a 100 miles that day but by the time I got to the 75mile/100mile fork I didn’t have enough left to complete 100miles so 75 it was. Dealing with them and the wind and the rain earlier in the day was just too much.

          I take the lane when I need to. When it is unsafe to share a single lane or illegal to pass. (approach to a stop sign on a two lane road, law is a 100ft but I take the lane at about 50ft)

  8. The concern I have is if they try to “enforce” it because some one either was 2 inches too “close” or if the bike rider moves toward the car to “create” a violation” as it passes.

    This could become abusive if in the wrong hands and not used for safety but ticket churning.


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