How many people have to die because of a bad law?
As cyclists, we often have no choice but to share the road with drivers. It’s risky enough on streets where there’s just a small disparity in speed — where drivers pass by at 30 mph, for instance, while you ride along at your own speed, whether that’s 12 mph or 20 mph.
But that risk increases dramatically as speeds rise, and the disparity between your speed and that of the cars rushing up from behind grows. Drivers have less time to see you, and less time to react.
And you have a lot less time to get the hell out of their way if anything goes wrong.
The potential for serious injury goes up, as well, with every mile per hour in speed differential. Because the faster a vehicle is traveling, the more damage it can do if it hits anything. Or anyone.
Which brings us to California AB 766.
You see, current California law allows the police to use radar to enforce speed limits on the streets. While that might seem like a problem if you’re behind the wheel, trying to push the speed limit by 5 or 10 mph to get to your destination a few seconds faster, it’s actually a good thing — enforcing the speed limits makes the roads safer for everyone.
The problem is the Faustian bargain that cities have had to accept in order to use that radar.
One of the conditions the state requires in order to use radar guns is that cities have to conduct a study every seven years to evaluate speeds and traffic conditions.
If that study shows that most drivers go over the speed limit on a given roadway — which most drivers do — they can be forced to raise the speed limit, whether or not that’s a good idea. And regardless of what effect that might have on local neighborhoods, as previously placid surface streets are slowly turned into speedways.
Or how many lives may be shattered along the way.
Sponsored by Assistant Majority Leader Paul Krekorian, AB 766, also known as the Safe Streets Bill, would give cities more power to control their own speed limits, while still being able to enforce them.
It’s not a big change. But it’s one that could do wonders to preserve our neighborhoods, and the lives of people just like you.
Bike Safety Advocates Stephen and Enci Box, along with other members of the Bike Writers Collective — the group behind the recently passed Cyclists’ Bill of Rights — are working to help pass this important bill.
As part of that, they’re asking everyone to write letters in support of it, which they will deliver to the Assembly in person at an upcoming hearing in Sacramento. Fellow blogger Ron Kaye, former editor of the Los Angeles Daily News, has already written his — as well as providing a link to a fact sheet about the bill — and I’ll be writing one in the next few days myself.
And I hope you will, too.
You can email your letter to SafeStreets@BikeWritersCollective.com. And I’m sure Ron wouldn’t mind if you wanted to use his as an example. Or if you asked all your friends to write one, as well.
Because your safety, and mine, could depend on it.
You can read more about this bill, and the Box’s upcoming lobbying trip in support of it, at Stephen Box’s blog, as well as at the blog Brayj Against the Machine — both of which you really should be reading, if you don’t already. And learn more about the problem at City Watch.