Yes, we won.
But just what did we win?
So we should be happy, right?
For the first time, California drivers will have a clearly defined passing distance, rather than the current requirement that they pass at a safe distance without interfering with the safe operation of the bicycle being overtaken. Which in the real world, too often passes for anything that doesn’t actually result in contact with the rider.
More than once I’ve caught up with a driver who buzzed me at a dangerously close distance. And the response has been a sarcastic “Well, I didn’t hit you, did I?”
Just scared the crap out of me, taking all my self-control not to overreact and swerve into the passing car or some other object. Not to mention risking getting sucked into the side of a larger vehicle by its slipstream.
Sort of like the school bus that passed me at speed at less than an arm’s length distance on San Vicente Monday afternoon. Or maybe this pass by a Big Blue Bus that barely did.
Pass, that is.
And I’m still waiting for someone, anyone, at the Santa Monica bus company to give enough of a damn to call me back.
Now drivers will know anything less than three feet is too damn close.
Though some would question that.
Some lawmakers who opposed the bill, such as Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, said it would be difficult to estimate a 3-foot distance while driving, especially when cyclists also might be swerving to avoid road hazards.
That’s kind of the point, though. We need that three feet of space so we can swerve to avoid road hazards without plowing into the vehicle next to us.
Anyone convicted of violating the law will face a $35 base fine, plus fees that will take it up to $233, or a $220 base fine if a collision resulting in injuries to the rider occurs.
The problem is, unless a driver actually does make contact with a cyclist, the law is virtually unenforceable.
The bill includes a provision allowing drivers to pass at less than three-feet if they slow down and pass only when it won’t endanger a cyclist’s safety.
In other words, the same sort of vague, virtually unenforceable standard we have now.
Still, it’s worth celebrating simply because we’ve joined the other 22 states and the District of Columbia with a clearly defined standard. And unlike last year’s bill, this one applies whether you’re in the same lane as the vehicle passing you or in a separate bike lane or parking lane.
Which should help stop those drivers who buzz you with two wheels on, or in, the bike lane while you’re riding in it.
Key word being should.
So let’s give credit to former LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa for pushing for a third attempt to pass this bill. And Gardena Assemblymember Steven Bradford for shepherding this law through the legislature, even if it was severely watered down from the brilliantly written bill he originally proposed.
Including removal of the much-needed provision allowing drivers to briefly cross the center line in order to safely pass cyclists with a minimum three-foot distance. In other words, legalizing exactly what many drivers already do, despite the fears our governor expressed in vetoing last year’s bill.
Like Glendale’s Mike Gatto, who took on the successful fight to extend the statute of limitations in hit-and-run cases, Bradford has shown himself as a skilled legislator willing to go to the mat for bicyclists. Both deserve our support, and will be worth watching — and working with — as we go forward.
And we owe a begrudging round of thanks to Jerry Brown for not going down in history as the only governor to strike out when it comes to bike safety legislation; it’s enough that he’ll be remembered by bike riders for being the only governor, besides Rick Perry of Texas, to veto a three-foot passing law once, let alone twice.
As the bill’s author put it,
“I sincerely thank the Governor for signing this commonsense measure to protect cyclists on our roads,” Bradford said. “When cars and bikes collide, it often turns to tragedy. This bill is a great reminder that we all have to work together to keep our roads safe for all users.”
Which begs the question, do we now stop referring to dangerously close passes as being Jerry Browned? Or is a single signature not enough to overcome the harm he’s already done?
The law takes effect a year from now, on September 16, 2014.
Which means things should start to get a little better then. If we can all survive that long.
And once Brown leaves office, we can work on strengthening the law and giving it some real teeth.