State law protects cyclists, could prove confusing

  • (From front) Gordon Stewart, Martha Barton, and Bill Harrison, members of the Santa Rosa Cycling Club, ride together along Occidental Rd in Sebastopol, California on Tuesday, September 24, 2013. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

A new state law requiring motorists to give three feet of clearance when passing a bicyclist was welcomed by cyclists Tuesday, although there are some misgivings about how it will play out on the North Coast's narrow backroads.

The law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown is intended to better protect cyclists from aggressive drivers and was approved after he rejected previous bills to create a three-foot buffer zone.

"This is extremely welcome news. This has been two years coming," said Aileen Carroll, Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition outreach director.

"It encourages people to use common sense," she said, adding that the law basically says "if there's not room to pass someone riding a bike, then don't squeeze past them. It encourages people to slow down and think about what they're doing."

The law doesn't go into effect until mid-September, 2014, but cyclists said it could help bring awareness to the issue sooner.

"It increases public knowledge," said Bill Harrison, 77, Windsor, who's been an avid bicyclist for 40 years. "It will help make people a little more aware of the fact that we need a little leeway."

"I have mixed feelings, but I think it's probably OK," said Ray Capone, a retired Sebastopol civil engineer who questions whether cyclists should even be allowed on some narrow county roads.

"I would like to say 'three feet — what do you do? Go out and measure it?' " he said. "Some of these roads I don't think you can give three feet."

The sharing of the road by bicycles and motor vehicles has been an increasingly hot topic in the Bay Area and Sonoma County, coinciding with a rise in the number of cyclists.

Bicycles have proliferated, whether they are used by everyday commuters or recreational riders out for the scenery, challenging distances or climbs.

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