WatchSonoma Watch

Santa Rosa considers cyclist protections



The Santa Rosa City Council is scheduled Tuesday to take up an ordinance that would make it easier for bicyclists and pedestrians to sue people who harass or assault them.

Proposed by the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition, the “Vulnerable User Protection” ordinance is recommended for approval by the Santa Rosa Police Department. The measure reflects the department’s mission statement, officials said, to make the city a safe place “to live, work and play.”

In a study session in April, City Council members indicated their general support for the ordinance, although they had questions about some of the details. In particular they scrutinized a provision allowing cyclists and pedestrians who prevail in court to recover triple damages from violators.

But Mayor Scott Bartley indicated Monday that the ordinance has good prospects for approval.

“I didn’t get any strong reaction from anyone on the council at the study session that anyone had profound significant issues” with the ordinance, he said.

The County of Sonoma and Sebastopol both approved similar versions of a Vulnerable User ordinance, although Healdsburg and Windsor rejected it.

The Sebastopol version had the triple damages provision; the county’s did not.

Council members in Healdsburg said there have been no reported instances or complaints of cyclists targeted inside their city. And like their counterparts in Windsor, they worried it could lead to frivolous lawsuits.

Critics in those towns said the ordinance goes too far in favor of cyclists and is not needed because there are existing laws to prosecute drivers who turn cars into lethal weapons.

Gary Helfrich, executive director of the Bicycle Coalition, said the law is intended to address as well as deter dangerous behavior.

“It’s not someone being rude to someone else, or giving a one-finger salute, or even honking a horn,” he said. “It’s where someone is intending to hurt or intimidate another person.”

The Bicycle Coalition recorded more than 160 reports of bicycle rider harassment between 2006 and 2012 and said about half were believed to be actual harassment.

Helfrich said it’s important for Santa Rosa, the biggest city in the county, to have an ordinance, because more people bike to work, there’s more traffic and potential for tempers to flare.

Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Berkeley, and Sunnyvale have passed similar ordinances, but so far there have been no reported lawsuits against motorists as a result.

Mayor Bartley acknowledged the ordinance may have mostly symbolic value, but it sends a message.

“We want everyone to be polite to each other, basically,” he said.”

The council is set to address the issue after 4 p.m.

6 Responses to “Santa Rosa considers cyclist protections”

  1. Follower says:

    You are absolutely right! If people would obey the existing laws (distracted driving is against the law) there would be a lot less bike –vs- car incidents.

    But since they don’t obey the laws… we’ll just enact some NEW laws they won’t obey. GENIUS!

    Just like our “broken immigration”.
    The only thing “broken” about our immigration system is nobody is enforcing the existing laws so we’re going to enact some NEW laws that nobody will enforce.
    Oh yeah… and grant amnesty to all the law breakers.

    Truly “Alice in Wonderland”!

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  2. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    My daughter was stopped at a red light waiting for the green when a SUV came up alongside her and knocked her and her bike onto the sidewalk. Fortunately she wasn’t badly hurt, just a skinned elbow and knee. She was in clear sight. People need to PAY ATTENTION when they are driving. I took defensive driving in highschool. THE WORD DEFENSIVE says it all. You need to look for possible problems not talk on your phone, play with your stereo, IPOD, computer, GPS or look in the back seat while you are driving.

    I walk all the time or ride the bus. I can’t believe at the STUPIDITY of drivers today. I’ll stand at a crosswalk and watch 6 cars run the red light before I can cross. Obey, the law, pay attention, look for possible problems and DRIVE SAFELY.

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  3. James Bennett says:

    Bikes good…
    cars baaad.

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  4. jeff says:

    “We want everyone to be polite to each other, basically,” (Mayor Bartley) said.”

    An etiquette ordinance, Mayor Bartley? Really?

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  5. Tom says:

    Its a crock. The Bicycle coalition has an activist in charge. He doesnt care about what is safe for cyclists just ” The Fight”. This law puts more cyclists in danger, further divides the community, creates an opportunity of abuse and dampens the opinion of cyclists in the community. Sad.

    Of course , he doesn’t want a happy or safe community of people because then he wouldn’t have his ” fight”.

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  6. Grapevines says:

    And will this make the cyclist obey the laws of the road? Or will it just add to the Nanny-State that California Democrats seem to want to march us all into?

    I have nothing against cyclists who obey the laws of the road and will go out of my way to accommodate them. But I have been blown off and one fingered saluted by those who think they don’t have to stop at stop signs, keep to the right, or just pop out in front of you and expect you to defer to them.

    We have existing regulations on the books dealing with pedestrians and bicyclists, lets not add to them.

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