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Yesterday (July 24th, 2013) was a historic day for Portuguese road users. For many years, an archaic Road Code (RC) prevailed in our country; it neither protected nor dignified pedestrians and bicycle users. These are precisely the modes with the largest benefits to public health, environmental and urban sustainability, and to the national economy—particularly in a context of over-reliance on fossil fuels still found in Portugal.
Following a remarkable mobilization of citizens and associations for the defence and promotion of active modes of travel, the new RC was approved yesterday by the National Parliament by all major parties. Regarding the use of the bicycle, the new RC introduces important changes that bring Portuguese national law closer to other European countries, which have better road safety records.
Importantly this new RC now:
ends the discriminating “give way” rule that existed only for cyclists: those arriving at an intersection from the right now have the priority, whether they are a motor vehicle or a bicycle;
forces the driver to ensure a minimum distance of 1.5 m from the cyclist and reduce speed when overtaking;
emphasizes that it is the duty of the driver of each vehicle to ensure that their behaviour does not endanger the safety of pedestrians and cyclists, as well as other vulnerable road users;
eliminates the obligation of cyclists to use bicycle paths, allowing them to choose to cycle along with other traffic when they consider this alternative advantageous in terms of safety, comfort or efficiency of the journey;
allows of two cyclists to ride side by side;
allows the movement of bicycles in bus lanes, if so authorized by municipal authorities;
equates bicycle crossings to pedestrian crossings, and now the drivers of other vehicles have to give way to bicycle riders while crossing a road on a bike path;
defines and allows the transport of passengers in trailers;
defines areas of coexistence, where vulnerable users can use the entire width of the road and play games (homezones / Woonerf shared-space concept);
allows for, but does not require, the circulation on the sidewalk for bicycle riders up to 10 years of age.
Although there are still some gaps to correct in the future, MUBi considers this new version of the RC a fundamental tool that can help to change the mobility paradigm in Portugal, a step forward in reducing an overwhelming car dependency and consequent impacts on cities´ quality of life.
By itself, the adoption of the new RC will not reduce the danger for pedestrians and bicycle users in Portugal — unparalleled in other Western European countries. It is essential that this important step is followed by:
an effective dissemination of the new rules, particularly to the motor vehicle users;
an effective effort by law enforcement authorities to ensure that the RC is followed by combating traffic violations offenses especially those that compromise the safety of other users of public space.
MUBi would like to thank and share this joy with all of you that together fought and contributed to bring about this moment—a special reference to the European Cyclists’ Federation and our VOCA partners for all the encouragement and help throughout the years.
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