Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition introduces anti-harassment proposal

Bicycle advocates unveiled a proposed local ordinance Friday meant to arm cyclists and pedestrians with new legal ammunition against drivers who intentionally threaten and harass them.

The proposal from the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition would make it easier for "vulnerable users" to sue drivers in civil court. It defines various forms of harassment and triples monetary penalties, making cases more attractive to attorneys.

It's intended to fill perceived gaps in criminal prosecution, which has a higher standard of proof and requires such things as as the positive identification of the driver.

The proposal was announced outside the county courthouse before hearings for two drivers charged with hitting cyclists.

"We shouldn't be afraid to be out on the public roadways," said Gary Helfrich, bicycle coalition executive director.

Helfrich said the proposal, called the Vulnerable Road User Protection Ordinance, is modeled on one adopted in Los Angeles last year.

The coalition plans to submit its proposal to the county Board of Supervisors and the city councils in the county's nine cities.

It has received early support from Supervisor Shirlee Zane, who asked that the proposal include a provision covering pedestrians.

Zane on Friday cited a spate of accidents over the past two years, including the Rohnert Park crosswalk death of 2-year-old Calli Murray, who was hit December 2010 by a driver who was texting.

She also mentioned the June 8 hit-and-run crash involving Sonoma State University professor Steve Norwick, who died of injuries he suffered while riding on Petaluma Hill Road. The suspect, Robert Cowart, was in court Friday for a mental competency hearing, where another doctor was ordered to review the case.

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