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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.

Although 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.

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