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Sonoma County Board of Supervisors look at stronger cyclist protection

By BRETT WILKISON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously endorsed studying a proposed ordinance that would make it easier for bicyclists and pedestrians to sue drivers who intentionally threaten and harass them.

The board backed a recommendation to spend up to $5,000 to study the proposal, with the intent to possibly bring it back later for a vote.

The ordinance would define various forms of harassment against cyclists and pedestrians and would triple monetary penalties, making such cases more attractive to attorneys.

A cyclist keeps an eye on traffic in Sebastopol as he heads south on Main Street. (Jeff Kan Lee / PD file photo)

Supporters say it could help rein in hostility toward cyclists and pedestrians and afford those road users the ability to recoup damages not currently available in civil court.

“It increases access to justice,” said Sandra Lupien, outreach director for the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition, the advocacy group promoting the ordinance.

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

Several supervisors said they could see the concept working in Sonoma County, pending the outcome of the study. The item was on the board’s morning consent calendar and prompted little deliberation from supervisors. Only one speaker, Lupien, added her comment before the vote.

Critics of so-called “vulnerable user” ordinances say they are unnecessary and duplicative, citing laws already in place to punish those convicted of serious car-vs.-bike crimes. A new law targeting minor incidents risks meddling in cases best governed by current civil code, critics say.

But bicycle advocates say those cases are infrequently filed, despite harassment and intimidation that they say is widespread.

Their prime example is an Aug. 16 alleged road-rage incident in which police said an Oakmont man tried to run down a cyclist by chasing him onto a golf course with his car.

The cyclist, Santa Rosa restaurant owner Toraj Soltani, 48, suffered a broken wrist and other injuries when he was struck by the car, authorities said.

The driver, Harry Smith, 82, faces charges including attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon and hit and run driving.

Lupien told supervisors that cyclists have reported to her group being the target of thrown soda cans and beer bottles, slaps on the back and threatening gunfire. Serious crashes can result from such hazards, she said.

“Harassment is a real problem,” Lupien said. “This is an important public safety issue.”

County law enforcement, transportation and administrative staff are set to study the proposal and make a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors.

The matter could come back to the board within 60 days.

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





17 Responses to “Sonoma County Board of Supervisors look at stronger cyclist protection”

  1. David Wells says:

    Simple physics don’t support bicycles and autos sharing roadways. Howmany people have to get hurt before that simple fact is recognized. And to throw Marajuana in this…?

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  2. Que Sera says:

    When are the supervisors going to study just who it was that gave public officials immunity from suit when it was never authorized by the people. And believe me govt was about twice and more times more moral than they are today!

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  3. Big Jim says:

    @John Pendergast

    Here is an excerpt from the CA Drivers Handbook as posted on the DMV website:

    “Bicyclists may occupy the center of the lane when conditions such as a narrow lane or road hazard make it unsafe to ride in a position that may provide room for a vehicle to pass. With any slow-moving vehicle or bicycle, drivers should follow at a safe distance. When it is safe the bicyclists should move to a position that allows vehicles to pass. Remember, bicyclists are entitled to share the road with other drivers.

    Bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as vehicle and motorcycle drivers.”

    Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

  4. Snarky says:

    Dan Drummond:

    As to your first comment, a civil lawsuit is entirely a separate matter than a criminal charge.

    So, the elderly man who drove onto the golf course to chase a bike rider apparently has both issues now.

    But just by reading the freakish, psycho comments posted here.. we can all see… there are seriously dangerous and demented folks around us who despise bike riders and cannot be trusted. Just look at their “thumbs down” to any suggestion that we jail them for their mental issues that result in harm of someone out on a bike. They see it as their “right” to not only verbally snivel about bike riders.. but they also seek to block any changes in law that might land them in jail.

    Thumb up 7 Thumb down 11

  5. R. B. Fish says:

    I have no problem with cyclists on the road provided they abide by the same laws car drivers have do and it’s not over crowded. One of the big problems I see more and more are the kids riding around local streets that have no regard for following the rules. This applies expecially to younger kids 10-15. I’ve had two close calls this year.

    The rabid cyclist lobby that we need to share the road has many serious flaws. The roads, paid for by taxpayers are designed to accomodate motorized vehicles. Space tolerances are allowed between the center lines and shoulder lines. The driver is allowed to chage lanes under certain conditions usually at a higher speed. Incorporating a bicyle into that enivironment increases the risk of accidents possibly death to either party. By the government passing laws to allow bicyles into this matrix of moving vehicles and bicycles(namely to be Bike Friendly)is inviting a unrestricted exposure to liability.At the very least byclists should be registered with their own liability and comprehensive insurance.

    Thumb up 10 Thumb down 7

  6. BigDogatPlay says:

    So we’re going to pass more laws to make running into a bicyclist with a car more illegal than it already is.

    Mmmmmm-kay.

    Laws do not protect people pre-emptively. Bicyclists are responsible for their own safety and obeying the rules of the road when they are on public streets. I ride recreationally quite often and I very scrupulously obey the rules of the road. Like a motorcyclist should, I ride defensively. If a car is going to tag me, the driver will have had to work at it enough that his/her negligence will be apparent and the criminal charge that results will be justified.

    Passing more laws so that it looks like the politicians in question are ‘concerned’. Brilliant strategy that works every time on the empty headed dolts who vote these statist boneheads into office here in SoCo, election after election.

    Thumb up 16 Thumb down 4

  7. Frank says:

    tye die run amuck, the perfect storm is brewing
    drivers texting
    bicyclist riding side by side
    Mary-J is legal

    for the Lance Armstrong wannabe select roads wide enough
    to avoid lawsuits the city, county should limit what roads cyclist can pedal there off or at the very least have them take a safety test at DMV and as was suggested place a plate on the bike

    Thumb up 16 Thumb down 9

  8. Rudy says:

    Require license plates on bicycles.

    Thumb up 21 Thumb down 7

  9. Anne V. says:

    There does need to be increased litigation regarding the cycling/automobile confrontations on our inadequate roads. That increased litigation needs to involve the county…. who have deliberately caused the tension and increased propensity of serious accidents. Sonoma County has refused to alter, repair, and create new roads, despite the very obvious necessity to improve our roads over many decades. The county encouraged massive population growth… and has neglected the obvious need to simultaneously address transportation issues. This is a county of small communities that interconnect with small country roads, that were never designed for large volumes of cars. The roads are not even adequate for transportation purposes….let alone for the combination of transportation combined with recreational use for sports-bikers. (In Europe and other places where there are massive numbers of bikes… there are separate roads built for the use of the bikes. That is the only safe way to provide “safe” roads for lots of bicycles…there is no safe way to combine a road for bicycles along a freeway or along the few roads available for vehicles to use. Those county supervisors and other officials need stop abdicating their responsibilities before many people get killed!

    Thumb up 22 Thumb down 1

  10. James Bennett says:

    BIKES GOOD…

    CARS BAAAD.

    Polarizing cyclists and motorists through civil engineering, social engineering and propaganda.

    All part of the Plan.

    Thumb up 25 Thumb down 6

  11. m whitt says:

    Want to be green and safer? Then wear a bright green CalTrans type vest. And give the driver a better chance of seeing you.

    Thumb up 15 Thumb down 3

  12. hannnon sutro jr says:

    I would support this, if the bicyclist had a big license plate on their rear, so that we could file complaints when they did stupid things which a lot of them do. Once that was done then the drivers could file complaints against them, we would then tie up the courts and the attorneys would make more money, our insurance rates would go up, we could put a few bicyclist in jail….everyone benefits…..

    Thumb up 22 Thumb down 4

  13. Snarky says:

    Question for “Over Easy” :

    Do cops “police their own ranks” ?

    If you say, yes, then why do we see them routinely rolling through the stop signs in their private vehicles when off duty?

    i.e. Ventura Ave & Paulin, Santa Rosa, CA

    NONE of those off duty cops are ever pulled over and cited by their co-workers.

    NONE of the California Highway Patrol vehicles speeding along in the freeway fast lane ever receive citations by their co-workers despite violating State traffic laws by speeding without being dispatched and without lights and siren.

    By the way, “Over Easy,” did you see the latest news? A 17 year career police officer was just arrested for MURDER in southern California. Yep. LA County Sheriff’s Deputy.

    I guess it takes a MURDER for cops to “police” their own ??

    I posted this response once before but the Press Democrat deleted it. The usual response by a paper too closely linked to local government.

    Thumb up 7 Thumb down 9

  14. Critic at Large says:

    Like all good progressives, the supervisors believe in passing laws and increasing fines to solve minimal issues.

    But what is the protection for the driver who is harassed by the bicyclists with unwelcome verbal or physical contact? What will be the penalty for the bicyclist who creates an unpleasant or hostile situation?

    A cyclist harassment ordinance is a can of worms.

    Thumb up 21 Thumb down 7

  15. John Pendergast says:

    Attention cyclists, you are not a car. You have no business in the middle of a lane or on a busy country road with ditches on either side (Bennett Valley). Although you are faster than the average Subaru driver.

    Thumb up 22 Thumb down 9

  16. Over easy says:

    The cycling community need to police their own ranks. It is 5% of there ranks that act like jack asses and cause 100% of the problems.

    Thumb up 29 Thumb down 8

  17. Dan Drummond says:

    I’m not necessarily opposed to such an ordinance, but a couple questions come to mind I hope the study will address. First, are the existing laws really inadequate? The Oakmont idiot has been charged with attempted murder, ADW and hit and run. I read in another article that Soltani has also filed a lawsuit against him. What more would the proposed ordinance provide? Second, and if it is determined the existing laws are inadequate, doesn’t it make more sense to address this at the state level so we have uniformity and consistency throughout the state rather than a hodge podge of different laws that change at the county line?

    Thumb up 32 Thumb down 2

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