WatchSonoma Watch

County set to study cyclist protections



The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors today is expected to endorse studying a proposed ordinance that would make it easier for bicyclists and pedestrians to sue

Shirlee Zane. (Crista Jeremiason / Press Democrat)

drivers who intentionally threaten and harass them.

The proposal being pushed by the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition would define various forms of harassment against “vulnerable users” and would triple monetary penalties, making such cases more attractive to attorneys.

Supporters hope the ordinance would rein in hostility toward cyclists and pedestrians and would reduce the number of injuries and incidents.

“This is about sending a message that we take care of our bicyclists and pedestrians and protect them,” said Supervisor Shirlee Zane, a cyclist who supports the idea of a safety ordinance and brought the matter before the board.

Supervisors today are only set to decide whether the concept merits further study and any discussion probably will be limited. A vote on an ordinance would come later, possibly within 60 days.

Critics have said a new county law is unnecessary and duplicative. They say laws already are in place to punish those convicted of serious car-vs.-bike crimes and any ordinance targeting minor incidents risks meddling in a murky area of law.

But bicycle advocates say harassment and intimidation can lead to harm, including crashes for cyclists and medical bills — expenses they say are difficult to recoup under the current civil code.

“Let’s say somebody does something — runs you off the road. Your bicycle is badly damaged,” said Gary Helfrich, executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition, an advocacy group.

If the motorist makes no contact with the rider and drives on, the incident is unlikely to be looked at by police as a hit and run, Helfrich said.

“Right now, that is a problem,” he said. “This (ordinance) would let you recover your loss and get triple damages.”

Similar laws have been adopted in Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Berkeley and Sunnyvale.

Local bicycle advocates picked up the proposal this summer after a spate of fatal and serious car crashes in the county involving cyclists and pedestrians.

One of the more high-profile incidents resulted in an attempted murder charge against Harry Smith, 82, of Oakmont, who is accused of trying to run down a cyclist by chasing him on to a golf course with his car.

“That was so out of the box,” Helfrich said of the alleged Aug. 15 road-rage incident.

The cyclist, Santa Rosa restaurant owner Toraj Soltani, 48, suffered a broken wrist and other injuries. He is suing Smith for damages, including $140,000 in unpaid medical bills.

Some local police officials have expressed support for a rule change that improves road safety and reduces the perception of impunity for hostile drivers.

The Sebastopol City Council is to take up the proposal Nov. 20, and it is under review by city officials in Rohnert Park, Santa Rosa and Cloverdale, the bicycle coalition said.

The group’s leaders hope support from the Board of Supervisors will lead to the proposal’s adoption in all of the county’s nine cities.

You can reach Staff Writer Brett Wilkison at 521-5295 or brett.wilkison@pressdemocrat.com.

29 Responses to “County set to study cyclist protections”

  1. Phil Maher says:

    @Anthony Angry-

    Technically speaking, from the standpoint of cyclists being considered vehicles, and also obligated to follow the same basic rules as motorists, flipping someone off is covered under the laws pertaining to road rage. It’s not only a sizable fine, it’s a 52 week anger management class.

    Traveling country roads that cyclists of all stripes use regularly on a daily basis, I can definitely speak to a few that are imprudently arrogant, ignorant, or at least somewhat hostile, but when we’re all conscious and courteous toward one another, I have yet to find that we all can’t share and enjoy the road successfully and safely.

    However, I do think that the nature of this newly proposed law is both unnecessary and rife with unforeseen problems. The efforts should be put toward joint education of both groups and a heightened regard and awareness for the rights, privileges and obligations we have in common, regardless of one’s chosen form of transportation.

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  2. Big Jim says:

    @ David

    When cyclists occupy the road on a narrow lane, they are actually following the law, copied below from the California Vehicle Code:
    Cyclists are not required to ride single file or at the right hand side if the road is too narrow to pass safely. You must wait for a section of road where it is safe to pass.

    Vehicle Code Section 21202. (a) Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at a speed
    less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction
    at that time shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand
    curb or edge of the roadway except under any of the following
    (1) When overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle
    proceeding in the same direction.
    ….(deleted section)
    (3) When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions (including, but
    not limited to, fixed or moving objects, vehicles, bicycles,
    pedestrians, animals, surface hazards, or substandard width lanes)
    that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge,
    subject to the provisions of Section 21656. For purposes of this
    section, a “substandard width lane” is a lane that is too narrow for
    a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the
    ….(deleted section)

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  3. Kevin says:

    What you claim about cyclists is not the truth. I don’t know why you misrepresent the truth. You claim that male groups of cyclists “without fail…are aggressive, unpredictable, and rude”. Your statement is false.

    I’ve ridden is groups of cyclists of every kind for many years, including skilled racing veterans, as well as the overweight and elder, also skilled, for tens of thousands of miles. I have never witnessed, from within a cycling group, the behavior you claim that you see “without fail”. Frankly, such behavior would not be tolerated among the riders I know.

    I’ve never seen a group of cyclists even respond in anger to vehicles, except on one occasion when a driver endangered several of us with an illegal turn. We yelled at him and then learned he was Australian, had misread a road sign, and was horrified to think he might have injured someone. It ended in no great harm and mumbled apologies all round.

    You don’t seem to realize that, when you spread these false tales, you encourage others to behave aggressively toward people who are largely defenseless against attack. You endanger the lives of many bike riders. We’ve all seen the results of such attacks in recent months. You apparently wish to see more.

    Why? What happened to tolerance? What became of respect for the freedom of others?
    I can say this much; if you really are receiving aggressive treatment from cyclists, you must be doing something really annoying.

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  4. David says:

    When riders are 2 and 3 abreast on narrow County roads, and make no effort to move to single file, I assume they don’t know that I am behind them. How should I let them know that I am there or should I just drive along for ever waiting for a safe place to pass? I am not hostile to bike riders and I believe they should follow the rules of the road. Why do they ride 2 and 3 abreast on narrow roads?

    If the PD did not post your response I have to assume that it is you that has hostility issues as they haven’t censored my posts.

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  5. Anthony Angry says:


    My response to you has yet to be posted and I’m assuming that the mods have rejected it because I was honest in my response free speech is not honored here. I can be emailed at Gad.Seditious@gmail.com and welcome your email. Using your horn is never friendly and that is why a rider would give you the bird. Because you are using a noise that is easily interpreted as hostile. Why can’t you go around cyclists without blaring a very disturbing noise? I think it’s because you mean for it to be hostile and then you complain about the response.

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  6. David says:


    Do you EVER drive the back roads on weekends? The road to Olema has riders 2 and 3 abreast everywhere. Try a friendly tap on the horn to let them know you are behind them and see what happens. You either don’t drive the roads or you are blind. I have bike riders in my family so I go out of my way to respect riders, all I ask is the same respect for my rights as an auto driver.

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  7. Anthony Angry says:

    I don’t even believe these people that are claiming all this harassment from cyclists. I drive and ride Sonoma county roads and I’ve never been flipped off or yelled at by cyclists. Never had them block the road by riding in the lane, even when their are several. Either these people are just lying or they are provoking the rides and then complaining about the response. There are tons of videos of drivers harassing and deliberately hitting cyclists, but where are the videos of what these people are claiming? You’d think there would tns of them the way some of the people here are going on about it, as if every cyclists is a rabid punk zig zagging down the road giving everyone the bird and screaming like lunatic. It’s bull, these people need to talk to a therapist about their emotional problems.

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  8. Bipedial says:

    In reading these posts is seems the Bicycling group is trying to portray the Car group as a fringe of angry lunatics and people haters of some sort.

    I don’t know who is right but I do know that without fail when I approach a male group of back road cyclists they are aggressive, unpredictable, and rude.

    Guys I think you are the cause of your own problems.

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  9. Jim says:

    Why should cyclists get special rights over non-cyclists?

    How is the crazy Oakmonter a good example of cyclists needing special rights not covered by law? Attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon and hit and run hardly sounds like he is getting away with anything.

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  10. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    I agree with you Snarky. Reminds me of that old Disney cartoon where family man Pluto turns into the devil incarnate when he gets behind the wheel of his car.

    People can do a lot when driving by being patient, driving defensively (remember those lessons?), keeping to the speed limit, AND NOT DRIVING DISTRACTED.

    I walk all the time and I can tell you everytime I approach a crosswalk, especially at night, I am so very careful. I don’t assume the driver sees me or even cares.

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  11. Kevin says:

    Every time the word ‘bicycle’ is mentioned in the PD a predictable little mob of whining, finger-pointing bike-hating trolls crawl our from under your rocks and start howling and moaning about the horrors of bicycling and how those who ride them are a despicable bunch of miscreants. It’s exactly the cultivation of this bigoted hatred that leads to danger and death for so many bike riders in Sonoma County. You are the people the County Supervisors are referring to when they make new law to protect people on bicycles.

    And yet the fact is, I also drive on these streets and roads and I NEVER see anything of this terrible cycling menace that you all are so worked up about. I mean NEVER, and even if such things did occur on occasion, so what? Plenty of intelligent folks fail to conform to the ridiculous demands of awful people like you barking, bike-hating trolls.

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  12. Reality Check says:

    Big Jim,

    Sorry for the bad experience. I wonder though if many drivers aren’t unsure of their rights to drive in a bike lane, causing some confusion here. I don’t know the rules myself and simply do what seems safe. But then, I read of the whopping fine for slipping over early to make a right turn and wonder what we’ve unleashed.

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  13. Skippy says:

    When push finally comes to shove in the contest for pavement, lycra is a poor match for steel.
    Arrogance is stupidity spoke loud.
    Heinlein knew stupidity to be the only capital offense.
    Any fool who thinks they can win an argument with a car is a Darwin Award candidate.
    Having your family sue for and be awarded damages is a pyrrhic victory.
    Grow up; slow up; quit acting like spoiled entitled children.
    That truck trumps your law everytime.

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  14. homegirl says:

    I see it as time to crack down on cyclists not drivers. Every day I see a cyclist breaking the laws of the road. Test them, issue licenses and tags for the bikes. Above all-equal enforcement of the law.

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  15. Big Jim says:

    Two weeks ago in Cotati I was riding my bike when a motorist overtook and then signaled to turn right. Instead of taking the bike lane and completing his turn, he stopped in the road, apparently waiting for me to overtake him on the inside. Since this is both dangerous and illegal, I just stopped to wait for him to turn. He got very irate by this, as he must have been waiting for me to pass, and started shouting at me. I then passed on the outside and continued on, but instead of turning, he followed me with a squeal of tires and raced up along side me and proceeded to shout obscenities at me. I had to pull off the road as I was afraid of being hit.
    When was the last time you were frightened for your safety from a cyclist? Motorists create a greater danger and have a higher responsibility.

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  16. Zane Needs to Go says:

    Classic Zane – Reactionary and narcissistic. Everything revolves around her. Tune in to a meeting of the Board of Supervisors and count how many times she diverts the conversation to talk about herself. When did public service become self service? What public good that is not already in law will be served?

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  17. Anthony Angry says:

    Reading the comments on this, it seems clear that a minority of haters are angry about the possibility that they will be prosecuted for their dangerous and childish actions behind the wheel. If you’re not harassing cyclists, you’ve got nothing to worry about. As for cyclists terrorizing you with incomplete stops at stop sign, get a therapist, you’re emotionally unstable.

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  18. Betty R says:

    As few weeks ago I stepped outside of the office I work at and walked a few feet and almost got hit by someone riding his bike on the sidewalk…..thank god I jumped out of his way. Then just the other day I saw some guy riding on the side walk……by the way the street has bike lanes on both sides…….why don’t they get a fine for doing that? Is it going to take a bike rider running someone over or what? I see lots of bike riders who do not go by the laws, they run red lights then they get pissed off at you when you almost hit them.

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  19. Critic at Large says:

    County PC bored of stupervisors react again to a none problem. If most of the bikers obeyed the traffic laws and didn’t act stupid too many times. The problem incidents would be minimal.

    Too many in the spandex crowd, crowd the narrow roads and don’t follow the rules of the road.

    Fairness and good sense need to used when adopting the rules the BOS believe need to be in place to protect the abused bikers. This is a waste of legislative time.

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  20. Elizabeth says:

    Is it harrassment when cyclists flip you off when you drive into the oncoming to get around them?

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  21. Billy C says:

    I was at a cycling event in Marin last month. I brought my bike there in order
    to join in on a ride. With in a short amount of time I discovered that I was not expected to stop at stop signs or fallow other rules that I would normal fallow.
    I was torn between pissing of other riders
    or pissing off drivers and endangering myself. Well guess what????? The drivers down there don’t expect bikes to fallow any rules of the road at all! The don’t seem to get upset they just treat them as it the where completely free to do what ever they like.
    Perhaps that is what the Sonoma County riders would like to have here.

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  22. Locke says:

    oh fiddle-dee-foo. i hate bicyclists… i hate Supervisor Zane… i hate government… i hate everything… i’m so glad the PD has an outlet so people like me can be heard. hello… does anybody hear me? hello… i’m so lonely.

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  23. The Hammer says:

    Don’t even need to read this article. Cyclists just don’t obey the laws. They should be fined when they brake the laws. Then and only then will they begin to follow the rules of the road and gain the respect of others. They are a hazard to all who drive on the roads. Mixing vehicles and little cycles is just pain STUPID. Oh, and fix the damn roads!!!!!!!

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  24. Snarky says:

    There is an interesting video online at YouTube that shows an incident took place just about two or three months back.

    Some bike riders are riding with helmet cameras. Too bad for the thug in his pick up truck who followed them for several miles while tailgaiting them and honking his horn nonstop.

    You see, their helmet cameras not only caught that pick up truck driver thug in the act… but recorded his license number as well.

    Yes. He was tracked down and arrested.

    Same as the psycho in Sonoma County who drove his car right onto a golf course to attack a bike rider. Tracked down and arrested.

    I might point out that both drivers and most every other such thug driver.. acts the tough guy only so long as he can flee the scene in his car after his criminal behavior. We rarely see such a criminal exit the vehicle and attempt to engage in a fist fight.

    Call them weak little people if you like. Because thats what they are.

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  25. Sonoma Gone Crazy says:

    We all understand that Supe Zane is a big cyclist. Rah Rah and all that!!!

    But I just have one question for you all…When was the last time any of you have seen a cyclist getting a ticket for breaking the same laws that they are required by law to follow as the rest of the “little people” driving cars?

    Survey says…

    Here’s a thought Supe Zane focus on making everyone follow the rules of the road (both drivers and cyclist). Just saying!

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  26. Over easy says:

    The cycling community needs to POLICE their own to stop the intentional irritations their fringe creates.

    Let’s face it, 99% of the problems are created by 5% of riders. The wanna be tour de France hero’s who have $4,000 bikes and act like they own the road. They are the road hogs, the yellers, and the water bottle throwers. They are the the same ones who drive their cars like jack asses. They deserve, what they get and ruin it for all the others.

    POLICE YOUR OWN before you ask the rest of us to change the world.

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  27. David says:

    So what happens if 2 or more riders decide to file a false charge against an auto driver? Does the “infraction” have to be witnessed by a LEO or will auto drivers have to defend themselves against false allegations? Would 2 bike riders be believed before 1 auto driver? How would I ever locate witnesses for me if a false allegation is filed after the fact? I was in Calistoga Sunday and witnessed 4 bike riders, 2 in the bike lane and 2 in the street blocking auto traffic. I guess they wanted to talk to each other more than they wanted to follow the law. Can I file a lawsuit against them?

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  28. Grapevines says:

    The question I want to put forth is when do we also hold the bicyclist accountable for their stupidity? And how do we identify them?

    The other day I was in my car (BAD), driving down the street that the taxes collected from my gas purchases are supposed to maintain (wink-wink) I had stopped at a 4-way stop intersection and was about to proceed in that nobody else was at any of the other corners. When I started outwards I heard a lot of screaming from my left and stopped again to look that way.

    Some jerk on a bicycle was approaching the intersection and was about 1 car’s length away from entering it. From his speed it was apparent that he was not going to stop as a normal vehicle (car, again bad-bad) would have to, but instead just plow through it which my continued driving would have interrupted.

    As he cruised through I was rewarded with continued yelling on his part and a unique one fingered salute aimed in my direction. So how would I have reported this if I was able to?

    “Well officer, he was a large male, about 30 or so, dressed in jeans and a plaid shirt riding a blue colored bike.” That really nails it down. While in retrospect, had I continued on my way he possible would have ran into me or vice versa as he tried to avoid me.

    And if that would have occurred, who would have won that contest as far as public opinion is concerned. As far as who would win physically, that is a given, “he who has the most hub caps wins.” Everyone would be blaming me because I “picked on, or took advantage of” the bicyclist.

    As far as I’m concerned, you want to do a study, do one that convinces the jerks riding that when it comes to them against cars, cars win, every time.

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  29. Kirstin says:

    “Critics have said a new county law is unnecessary and duplicative. They say laws already are in place to punish those convicted of serious car-vs.-bike crimes and any ordinance targeting minor incidents risks meddling in a murky area of law.”


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