Sebastopol first to consider law giving bicyclists, pedestrians greater legal power

A push to make it easier in Sonoma County for bicyclists and pedestrians to sue drivers who threaten or harass them will get its first test Tuesday when a proposed ordinance goes before the Sebastopol City Council.

The council will hold a public hearing starting at 7 p.m. on the "vulnerable road users" ordinance, which is being promoted countywide by the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition.

"The reason we need it is, from a bicycling perspective, it is usually a blissful experience to ride in Sonoma County, but sometimes people are harassed, and it happens enough and it is dangerous enough that we feel it is important to take action," said Sandra Lupien, the coalition's director of outreach.

The coalition and other local bicycle advocates took up the cause this summer after a series of fatal and serious car crashes in the county involving cyclists and pedestrians.

Mayor Michael Kyes said the ordinance is a good fit for Sebastopol.

"I think we are sort of receptive of protecting bicycles and pedestrians," he said. "That is one of our goals -- to make the city more friendly for walking and riding a bicycle -- and this is a step in that direction."

The proposed ordinance defines what harassment is and sets up a procedure for the injured party, whether it is a cyclist, pedestrian, jogger or skateboard rider, to bring a lawsuit against the aggressor, which could be a motorist or even a cyclist.

"People riding bicycles, walking and those with disabilities have a right to use our public roadways, trails and sidewalks in peace," said a report by Sebastopol's city staff. "However, these vulnerable users are frequently the target of dangerous harassment."

The report says drivers purposefully swerve at bicycle riders and pedestrians, threaten them, throw soda cans at them and sometimes even shoot at them.

The Sebastopol proposal is meant to provide a legal recourse for pedestrians, cyclists, roller skaters, skateboarders and the impaired, according to the staff report.

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