On Tuesday, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors took the first step in ensuring greater protection for bicyclists by holding the first hearing of the County Code to prohibit the harassment of bicyclists and pedestrians.
The county-wide effort was launched by the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition, and presented to the board by Third District Supervisor Shirlee Zane.
“Bicycling is a major part of life in Sonoma County," Zane said, via news release. She is a bicyclist herself. "Encouraging people to walk or ride their bicycles lessens traffic congestion, improves public health and improves air quality. A key deterrent to bicycling or walking is that people feel unsafe while doing so. This ordinance will increase safety across all communities."
Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, Second District Supervisor David Rabbitt stated, “Sonoma County is committed to being a safe and healthy community and we are proud to be the first county to adopt this policy to protect riders."
Rabbitt said bicycling and walking help people lead healthy lives and spur economic activity through tourism.
Bicycle safety has gained attention in the Rohnert Park and Cotati area following last year's death of cyclist and SSU Professor Steve Norwick among other incidents.
Several members of the local city governments, including Rohnert Park's Councilman Jake Mackenzie, are active cyclists.
The proposed ordinance is intended to discourage the harassment of bicyclists and pedestrians by prohibiting:
- Physically assaulting or attempting to physically assault a bicyclist or pedestrian;
- Intentionally injuring, attempting to injure, or threatening to physically injure, either by words, vehicle or other object, a bicyclist or pedestrian;
- Intentionally distracting or attempting to distract a bicyclist;
- Intentionally forcing or attempting to force a bicyclist or pedestrian off a street for purposes unrelated to public safety.
A person damaged by any violation of this ordinance would be able to institute a civil proceeding for monetary damages, and for any other or additional relief the court deems appropriate. The prevailing party would also be entitled to reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs pursuant to order of the court.
Sonoma County would become the first county in the country to adopt such an ordinance, according to the news release. Similar ordinances, primarily focused on bicyclist safety, have been adopted by cities across the country and throughout the state, including: Los Angeles, Sunnyvale, Berkeley and Washington D.C.
Locally, a version of this so-called "Protect Us All" ordinance was adopted by Sebastopol in January, and is under active consideration by the Healdsburg City Council. Other communities are also considering it.
The County’s proposed ordinance goes farther than these other municipalities in that it includes protections for pedestrians as well as bicyclists. Tuesday’s action was the first reading of the proposed ordinance. The second reading and final adoption is scheduled for March 19.
Sonoma County been a frequent stage in the annual Amgen Tour of California, an elite level professional bicycle race, six out of the past seven years. Levi Leipheimer’s Gran Fondo charity ride annually attracts over 7,000 cyclists for the one-day event.
How do you feel about a county-wide ordinance to allow cyclists to sue drivers for harrasment? Tell us in the Comments.