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Healdsburg to consider ordinance to help bicyclists, pedestrians


The Healdsburg City Council on Tuesday agreed to consider an ordinance that would make it easier for bicyclists and pedestrians to sue motorists who threaten or harass them.

The council, following a brief presentation by the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition, agreed to consider the issue at its March 4 meeting.

CyclistAlthough council members were open to the possibility of passing a “Vulnerable User Protection” ordinance, they also said they needed more information.

“It will be interesting to have the discussion and make the point that Healdsburg is a bike and pedestrian friendly community,” said Councilman Tom Chambers, an avid cyclist. But he said it is premature to say if he will support it.

Healdsburg could become the second city in Sonoma County after Sebastopol to adopt such a law, which cycling advocates say provides additional protections for people riding bikes and walking.

The bicycle coalition pointed out that Healdsburg is a key hub for cycling in Sonoma County, for both local riders and tourists, and that many people enjoy downtown Healdsburg by foot.

But Healdsburg Mayor Susan Jones said, “I want to do a little more research,” particularly whether it will require more law enforcement resources to investigate complaints.

She said she was once slapped on the back while riding her bicycle and knocked off the road.

“It does happen. I’m a cyclist, so anything we can do to make it safer for us . . .” she said.

But on the other hand, she said she also hears complaints about cyclists running signal lights or riding three abreast and not moving over for traffic.

Cycling advocates say the law is mainly intended as a deterrent, although it will make it easier for a cyclist or pedestrian to bring a civil lawsuit if they are harassed or assaulted.

“It’s going to stop teenage yahoos and people in pickups who think it’s funny to throw something at someone when they drive by, or take a swerve at someone,” said Gary Helfrich, executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycling Coalition.

Councilman Shaun McCaffery said it is interesting that there have been no reported lawsuits under the ordinance in the few cities that so far have adopted the ordinance since 2011.

The coalition and other local bicycle advocates began promoting the ordinance last year after a series of fatal or serious-injury incidents involving vehicles and bicycles or pedestrians.

It’s patterned after similar ordinances that have been adopted in Los Angeles, Berkeley, Sunnyvale and Washington, D.C.

Supporters say the proposed ordinance is intended to fill gaps in criminal prosecution, which has a higher standard of proof, such as requiring positive identification of the driver

‘In a civil case, you just need a preponderance of evidence. It can be highly circumstantial,” Helfrich said.

The proposed ordinance defines what harassment is and sets up a procedure for an injured party, whether it is a cyclist, pedestrian, jogger or skateboard rider, to bring a lawsuit against an aggressor, which could be a motorist or even a cyclist.

Harassment is defined as attempted physical assault or physical assault; verbal threats of assault; intentional injury or attempts to injure; distracting or attempting to distract a bicyclist, pedestrian or others; forcing someone off the street; passing at an unsafe distance of less than 3 feet; and failing to yield to a pedestrian walking or running along a road.

Anyone who violates the ordinance is liable for triple damages; paying attorneys fees and the cost of litigation; and subject to punitive damages.

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com

10 Responses to “Healdsburg to consider ordinance to help bicyclists, pedestrians”

  1. Snarky says:

    I just witnessed a man attempt to spit at a bike rider who had stopped at a stop sign.

    The man was in his car moving the opposite direction through a residential stop signed intersection.

    The bike rider was looking at traffic and didn’t notice what had happened.

    The man was driving a pick up truck with some type of company lettering on the door.

    I am in favor of allowing bike riders to litigate against such criminals. After all, if its good enough for the police to be able to charge a person with a criminal offense for spitting, the bike riders should also be able to sue.

    I recommend that all bike riders use a helmet cam or other video device to record such attacks. That will also get the license number as well as a photo of the criminal driver.

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  2. Phil Maher says:

    While in town yesterday, in less than five minutes spent downtown, I witnessed two cyclists flagrantly blow red lights and another completely fail to yield right-of-way to pedestrians in a crosswalk. Funny, what I didn’t see was any motorists doing anything illegal, or even remotely as callous and disrespectful. So please tell us again Mr Helfrich and esteemed members of the Council, where is it that we should be focusing our attention in the name of the law, safety, and common courtesy? While cyclists should rightfully fear two tons of steel, there are those of us that fear what 30lbs of aluminum being operated irresponsibly is capable of causing for us as drivers and as pedestrians. The “poor me” approach sits badly and loses all meaning when it’s largely the result of your own totally avoidable bad behaviors

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  3. James Bennett says:

    What kind of ‘Social Justice’ is that?

    It seems only socially ‘equitable’ that the motorists have a special provision to report cyclists.

    That would only be Democratic considering there are more motorists.

    Any West County driver can tell you what a nuisance/unsafe condition it presents to have cyclists blocking the small rural two lane road and forcing drivers to cross the center devide.

    If you go slow behind them is that cycle harrassment?

    In fact this seems ‘off-center’, not ‘equitable’.

    Seriously, we already have laws in place. Bikes are to adhere to the same traffic laws as cars, right?

    You’d never know it in Sonoma County, where registration and traffic laws don’t seem to apply to bikes.

    Any motorist that doesn’t treat cyclist safety seriously with their 3,000+ lb. car should be dealt a firm hand. But this is more anti-auto social engineering/propaganda crap.

    This Agenda is a full court press. With the press as a starting forward.

    The crowd should be yelling foul.

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  4. Sonoma County Native says:

    Healdsburg has definitely changed over the years, and has done an excellent job of bringing properity to town with the tourist trade. That being said, however, attempting to drive through town or around the plaza on a weekend is nothing other than an exercise in frustration. Bicyclists and pedestrians ignore traffic signals, traffic, and crosswalks as they blithely walk or ride through intersections or across streets. On more occasions than I care to remember I’ve looked ahead and seen up to a dozen or more pedestrians or bicyclists in front of me in the roadway, angling or crossing with total disregard to the vehicles. Dangerous for them, frustrating for the motorists, and I certainly don’t see any being cited, or even stopped and warned. Under this ordinance will motorists be liable for honking at these folks? A very scary thought!

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  5. j galt says:

    Positive identification is so yesterday! Just like the U.S. constitution! God Bless the bicycle coalition!

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  6. Steveguy says:

    In Germany it is illegal to ‘flip someone off’ while driving. Punishable by your ability to pay. True.

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  7. Steveguy says:

    Healdsburg has a small city limits. Those that speak of Westside Road are ill-informed. Healdsburg has ZERO influence there. Notta, None.

    This is a useless point by useless politicians. Same as most every weird nanny feel-good whatever that they love and pat themselves on the back.

    I saw that at least one here ate up their drivel word for word, and rides on Westside !

    By the way, I lived on Pozzan Road in the Dry Creek Valley for some years. Rode a bike too !

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  8. The Hammer says:

    I don’t see the logic in mixing vehicles with bikes. When someone gets hurt I’ll bet most of the time it’s the person on the bike.

    The real money is citing bikers for violations. The police can find violations all day. Bikers just don’t obey the vehicle code, period.

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  9. GAJ says:

    It should be a two way ordinance and require cyclists to have a license plate so they can be reported by auto drivers.

    What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

    The kind of yahoos that engage in stupid behavior on the back roads won’t be deterred by an unnecessary ordinance of course.

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  10. Phil Maher says:

    Healdsburg is not Sebastopol. Thank God! From their comments, the Healdsburg City Council is not the Sebastopol City Council. Thank God!

    I travel Westside Rd daily. All in all, I see motorists and cyclists doing a pretty good job of working things out for themselves. However, while I fully support the idea that we can all “share the road”, I do honestly see more infractions of the vehicle code by cyclists than by the motorists they feel that they need enhanced protection from. As it stands, it really isn’t a broken system with an overwhelming preponderance of incidents that are anything but isolated in nature. Why take an action that isn’t really necessary? Echoing to some degree what Susan Jones says: There are plenty of incidents where the cyclists are the ones causing the problems. If the bike coalition is seeking attention, I would strongly urge the HPD to give it to them, for nothing other than the sake of responsible cyclists, pedestrians and drivers alike. A classic case of being careful what you wish for, because you may just get it.

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