The roads in Rohnert Park, Cotati and throughout California may become a little safer for bicyclists thanks to a signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown Monday.
Motorists trying to pass bikes will have to stay at least three feet away starting next September, a move that Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition lauded as much needed, if not long overdue. Brown signed the bill after two straight years of vetoing because it allowed drivers to cross a double-yellow line to make room for a cyclist or required them to slow to 15 mph when passing within 3 feet.
Gary Helfrich, executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition, said the new law, which won’t go into effect until Sept. 16, 2014, simply clarifies existing vehicle code language and adds objectivity to enforcement.
The California Vehicle Code has always stated that cars "shall pass to the left at a safe distance without interfering with the safe operation of the overtaken vehicle or bicycle." The new law puts a number on that safe distance determination, adding objectivity when enforcing the law.
A violation of the new 3-foot requirement would be punishable by fines starting at $35. If unsafe passing results in a crash that injures the cyclist, the driver could face a $220 fine.
The law applies when bicyclists are riding in a regular roadway; not when a bicyclist is in a bike lane. (For more FAQs about the new three-foot law, click here.)
AB 1371 does not allow motorists to cross a double yellow line; if there is not enough room to provide a three-foot buffer zone, motorists must slow to a safe and reasonable speed.
Helfrich said the new law complements ordinances passed by the Sonoma County Supervisors and the city councils in Sebastopol and Santa Rosa that make it easier for bicyclists and pedestrians to sue those who harass or intimidate them.
“Now if you intentionally pass someone within three feet for the purpose of intimidating them –it’s clear cut,” Helfrich said.
Sonoma County had one of the wilder incidents of such harassment in August 2012, when a then-81-year-old Santa Rosa man was accused of a hit-and-run road rage assault when he rammed a cyclist with his car after chasing him onto a Sonoma Valley golf course. The driver was convicted and sentenced to spend the next five years in a secure facility specializing in dementia treatment.
The Regional Bicycle Plan for the San Francisco Bay Area, put together by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, is looking at "reversing decades of automobile‐oriented development."
The MTC's Regional Transportation Plan through 2035 boosts bicycle spending over prior Regional Bicycle Plan expenditures (from $20 million to $1billion), increases funding for compact transit‐oriented development and launches a new Climate Action Program that will include new programs for bicycle facilities.