Sonoma County Board of Supervisors backs cyclist harassment law

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously endorsed a proposed ordinance that would make it easier for bicyclists and pedestrians to sue those who harass or intimidate them.

The move has been hotly debated in online forums where it has drawn fire from some motorists who say they are being unfairly targeted. Cycling enthusiasts have defended the measure, saying incidents of roadside abuse are widespread.

The issue has surfaced amid the county's ongoing struggle to maintain and modernize a vast and crumbling road system, one that some critics say is ill-equipped to handle the growing ranks of recreational and commuting bike riders.

Opponents of the measure, however, were a no-show at the board meeting Tuesday. Several cyclists attended to support the board's action.

Advocates have advanced the ordinance as way to offer a clearer path to civil court remedies for bicyclists and pedestrians and limit hostility toward those road users.

They said the board endorsement sent a clear message.

"This brands Sonoma County as a place where harassment isn't tolerated," said Gary Helfrich, executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition, the main group behind the proposal.

Sonoma County is set to become the first county in the country to adopt such an ordinance, following in the wake of several cities, including Sebastopol, which adopted its "vulnerable user" ordinance in December. The county's formal approval is scheduled for the Board of Supervisors meeting next week.

The measure had strong support from Supervisor Shirlee Zane, who has worked with advocates and law enforcement officials on bicycle and pedestrian safety. She hailed Sonoma County as a "international destination" for bike riders, noting the growing local presence of the sport, seen in both professional and amateur events.

"This is about our quality of life here in the county," Zane said. "This is about safety and civility."

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