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Putting a bite in the 3-foot bike law

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When Maryland’s new 3-foot bike law went into effect three years ago, most cyclists in the Old Line state greeted it as a nice idea but thought it would be impossible to enforce.

How could police be expected to judge whether a driver was closer than three feet to a bicyclist? Sure, when a vehicle hits a cyclist there is no question the three-foot requirement had been violated, but otherwise it would be a tough one to prove in court.

Now comes a report from Texas, where the Austin American-Statesman describes how that city put teeth in the very same 3-foot law.

The newspaper says the city police department has been sending two-person teams in plainclothes out on bicycles. They ride single file up and down roads that don’t have dedicated bike lanes but intersect with popular bike routes. When a driver comes too close, they radio to a waiting patrol car, who chases the driver down to issue a warning or ticket.

One of the undercover bicycling officers, Rheannon Cunningham, told the American-Statesman that they practice judging the three-foot distance before they set out.

“If I were riding along and could reach out and touch the mirror, those get a citation,” she told Statesman reporter Pam LeBlanc. “If it’s one we feel is right on the cusp, we give a warning.”

Handlebar mounted GoPro video cameras record each incident. Austin police say they have written 104 citations and warnings so far, and a ticket costs $167.