Three Feet for Safety Act Goes into Effect Today!

Give Me Three posterAt long last, those who ride a bicycle in California enjoy some protection as vulnerable road users under the state’s vehicular code. The new law, Three Feet for Safety Act (section 21760), for the first time specifies what ‘safe passing’ means to riders and drivers. When passing riders in the same direction, drivers must allow a three-foot margin. And if there’s not three feet available, the driver must slow and pass when there is sufficient room to present no danger to the rider.

Recall that state laws allow bicycle riding on virtually every public roadway, and even allows the rider to use the full width of the right lane if it’s not wide enough to share. (For a refresher on the law, visit our section on the vehicle code and local ordinances.) Until today, however, riders enjoyed no specific protection from careless drivers or roadway predators who simply didn’t regard the safety of two-wheeled travelers.

With a great assist from the California Bicycle Coalition, Sacramento finally passed a law that – while not perfect – is a stake in the ground to protect vulnerable road users that advocates can build upon. After rejecting two prior version, the third time was a charm for the Governor, who seemed swayed by (in our opinion) spurious arguments from CHP and the usual pro-motor concerns of the drivers’ lobbying group, the Auto Club.

What Does Three Feet For Safety Act Say?

Let’s look at the key provisions excerpted from the full text of the law:

(b) The driver of a motor vehicle overtaking and passing a bicycle that is proceeding in the same direction on a highway shall pass… at a safe distance that does not interfere with the safe operation of the overtaken bicycle, having due regard for the size and speed of the motor vehicle and the bicycle….

(c) A driver of a motor vehicle shall not overtake or pass a bicycle… at a distance of less than three feet between any part of the motor vehicle and any part of the bicycle or its operator.

(d) If the driver of a motor vehicle is unable to comply with subdivision (c), due to traffic or roadway conditions, the driver shall slow to a speed that is reasonable and prudent, and may pass only when doing so would not endanger the safety of the operator of the bicycle….

 

For the first time, state law makes ‘safe passing’ an enforceable standard  – a distance of three feet at a minimum – rather than leave it to a more fuzzy ‘reasonable test,’ which puts  interpretation on the driver. Instead the law gives riders and responding officers a reference.

We boldface not only that key provision in subsection C but also two key terms from the two other subsections because they reiterate what should already be universally acknowledged: every road user has a duty to regard the safety of other users according to their mode of transport, taking into account the vulnerability of pedestrians and riders; and a duty to behave prudently when behind the wheel or in the saddle. Ask any rider and they will tell you those softer standards are wholly missing on our roads today.

What Is the Penalty?

The law identifies two sanctions for drivers violating the Three Feet for Safety Act:

(e) (1) A violation of subdivision (b), (c), or (d) is an infraction punishable by a fine of thirty–five dollars ($35). (2) If a collision occurs between a motor vehicle and a bicycle causing bodily injury to the operator of the bicycle, and the driver of the motor vehicle is found to be in violation of subdivision (b), (c), or (d), a two–hundred–twenty–dollar ($220) fine shall be imposed on that driver.

So violators face a $35 fine. At first blush that seems not very much. (Running a stop sign sets you back $350 plus court costs in CA.) Should the rider be injured, however, the driver would be looking at only a $220 fine. Now that may not sound like much if you’ve been rear ended and sent to the hospital by a drunken or careless driver. And we’re sure it’s not going to pay your medical bills if the driver weasels out of culpability.

But the law is significant because it’s a stake in the ground: these new infractions give the rider a toehold in the courts where too often the most vulnerable road users get short shrift in a motor-minded society where, as Ted Rogers of Biking In LA notes, death by motor vehicle is often an excusable offense.

We would be nowhere without the tireless support and political arm-twisting of the California Bicycle Coalition and it’s lobbyists. (Unfortunately, that’s how the sausage is often made in Sacramento. Not for nothing was it vetoed twice.) Consider pledging your support to Calbike for their great work.

And the hard work doesn’t end with passage of this law. We have to educate all road users about the vulnerability of non-motor travelers. Excerpted from the Calbike page:

From day one of the long campaign for the Three Feet for Safety Act we realized that the key benefit of the bill was education. CalBike’s Three Feet for Safety Outreach Plan has three components and we need your help. The California Bicycle Coalition will provide media packets to our affiliates so that they can take advantage of media interest in the issue and educate motorists in their communities….Do you have a car? Get a bumper sticker or a window cling…. [And] CalBike is working with the California Traffic Control Devices Committee to get a sign approved as soon as the law goes into effect so that local agencies can install them wherever they’re needed.

So the next time you’re on the road, remember your  rights to safe travel under the state’s new safe-passing standard and carry with you an imaginary yardstick to hold drivers to their responsibility to take due care.Give-me-three Logo

Beverly Hills Chamber Addresses SM Blvd Bike Lanes

BH Chamber GAC logoThe Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce’s Government Affairs Committee is inviting for a discussion debate representatives from the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, the pro-bike community, and northside neighbors opposed to lanes for tomorrow’s Santa Monica Boulevard. Scheduled for August 21st at 8am, the GAC meeting will also fold in a discussion of this fall’s ballot propositions. But the sparks will likely come from the pro and con views on the bicycle lanes. We hope you can make it! Scroll for details.

Because proposed lanes would negatively affect no businesses, and because park ‘preservation’ is not generally on the Chamber’s agenda, we’re wondering why the Chamber would make this issue part of its government affairs meeting. After all, the Chamber is not taking sides on the issue, according to Andy Sywak, Director of Economic Development and Government Affairs for the Chamber.

We’re presuming that lane opponents in City Hall called on the Chamber to help marshal influential business opposition to lanes before Council hears the issue again in September (update: likely 9/23). We recall that a similar preemptive statement was included in the Beverly Hills Municipal Club’s newsletter just prior to this issue going back to Council in July (where nothing substantive was decided). That same newsletter promoted the Muni League’s membership meeting, which seemed to give the City Hall imprimatur to the League’s anti-bike lane viewpoint (at least we thought it did).

Bike Lane Issue Background

Recall that this past winter, the Santa Monica Boulevard Blue Ribbon Committee, which was appointed by City Council to advise on boulevard design options, gave the thumbs-up to incremental boulevard expansion.  The committee (to which the Mayor appointed yours truly to represent the pro-bike interests) also OK’d a striped bicycle lane as part of the corridor’s reconstruction. And that really rubbed neighborhood NIMBYs the wrong way. And they gave Council an earful in March.

Since then there hasn’t been much action on Santa Monica Boulevard reconstruction. As of that last March meeting, there has been no Council decision on final boulevard width or the question of bicycle lanes. The project has fallen way behind schedule as faulty cost estimates from staff, and intimations of less-than-good faith from Council, bedeviled its progress. In fact, reconstruction hasn’t even gotten off the design table yet. (Read more about the process on our own project page because the city’s project page hasn’t been updated since March!)

But that doesn’t mean that we can’t yet be surprised. Council in September  could very well provide direction to our consultants to plan a boulevard too narrow in width to include bicycle lanes. So instead of joining existing lanes in West Hollywood and Century City, we’d be the ‘biking black hole’ of the Westside. The upcoming Council meeting in mid-September may well decide the issue. (Read more about the project itself in the city’s presentation.)

Squeezing out lanes appears to be the opponents’ strategy. And they already count as a success the defeat of Metro tunneling for the Westside extension a generation ago. They also helped to put the kibosh on once-proposed Beverly Hills freeway. Now they are gunning for multimodal mobility even though our own city’s Sustainable City Plan (2009) calls on us to bike more. Moreover, our own Bicycle Master Plan (1977!) envisions Santa Monica Boulevard as a key bike corridor.

But you’ll hear nothing in support of bicycle lanes from our transportation division officials. They’ve come out against striping bike lanes for tomorrow’s SM Blvd. And our advisory Traffic and Parking Commission seems too busy with tour buses and parking permits to actually discuss the safety implications of a major regional connector without lanes. Indeed when a Council majority essentially waved away the comments of more than 200 lane proponents and leaned against giving bike lanes the nod in March, there was no voice internal to City Hall that could remind councilmembers that our neighboring cities do support multimodal mobility.

See You on August 21st

Meeting details: Chamber at 9400 S. Santa Monica Blvd. 2nd Floor. Note that the Chamber requests registration (which appears to be no-cost once you proceed through the process). And two hours of free parking is provided, but you’ll wisely ride in and avoid that hassle. For further information contact Andy Sywak, Director of Economic Development and Government Affairs for the Chamber. The Chamber’s GAC meeting won’t be definitive by any means, but we’ll at least have a chance to make our case and sense the wind currents before the next Council meeting.Chamber GAC meeting notice

Give Me Three for Safety

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We’re looking ahead to mid-September when California’s Three Feet for Safety Act takes effect. You won’t need the details of AB 1371 to know that under the law, safe passing means giving riders three feet of room on the road. California Bicycle Coalition took the lead on the issue; have a look at their FAQ to know how you can hold drivers accountable.

Cities are Lowering Speed Limits!

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City of Beverly Hills may be inclined to speed traffic through our city, but others are reducing speed limits to safeguard walkers and riders. Two years ago, City of Portland reduced the limit to 20mph on streets adjacent to greenways. City of New York’s Mayor De Blasio signed a new law to reduce the default limit to 25mph. Santa Monica too is looking to lower limits. When it comes to street safety, we’ll be alone in cheering-on speeders.

Who’s Paying to Play with Gil Cedillo?

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The challenge of making North Figueroa safe for road users became more formidable when Councilman Gil Cedillo tanked bike lanes there as already planned (and funded). Why? For backstory we looked at election contributions in 2013 to see who pays-to-play with Cedillo. The answer? Real estate firms and unions. What about North Fig locals and transportation advocates? More contributions came from Beverly Hills than all three of Cedillo district’s Northeast Los Angeles zip codes.

Proof that Law Enforcement Needs Pro-Bike Training

Laura Weintraub video headshotHave you been involved in an injury collision only to find that the responding officer didn’t take your story seriously? Or that the report understated your account and you don’t recognize the basic facts of the crash? Or perhaps the officer let the offending motorist off without a citation because, well, you assume the risk of injury when you ride? Ventura County police reservist Laura Weintraub embodies the misconceptions that often make it difficult for us to get a fair shake from public safety.

Laura Weintraub selfieLaura Weintraub is not only a lifestyle blogger and body stylist (left) she’s also evidently an avowed foe of those who choose to bike. In her video ‘cup holder commentary bicyclist edition,’ she tours the suburban streets of Santa Paula in an SUV looking for riders to skewer. What’s her beef? The fashion infraction that is spandex, for one thing. Riders who deign to turn without signaling (as if drivers always signal). Or that riders move too slow for her taste.

But it hardly matters; just don’t get in her way. “Get in your friggin’ lane!” she cries about a rider on a typically wide suburban street where the bike lane unceremoniously comes to an end. At that point it’s a shared lane anyway, right? But why quibble over the fine points of traffic law or road safety.

We wouldn’t quibble because this kind of ignorance is dime-a-dozen. But this Ventura County-based fitness trainer is also an officer reservist with the City of Santa Paula. As a graduate of the Ventura County Police and Sheriff’s Reserve Officer Academy, she’s surpassed her “most physical and mental challenge to date,” she says. Some will quibble: a post to a forum on officer.com describes that training this way: “You run around, do some obstacle courses, do some pushups, stuff like that. It’s on the lower end of the difficulty spectrum.”

But the physical test is not the real challenge anyway. Rather it’s the law enforcement training on offer in this 21-week program. “The reserve academy will help you develop a law enforcement aptitude and furnish considerable police training,” the academy says. “Successful completion of the academy proves to potential law enforcement employers that you have the aptitude for police work and can endure a para-military style academy environment.”

But not all of public safety’s finest have gotten the memo. She seems under-informed about the vehicular code, for example. Here’s a reminder: it’s not only legal to ride our roads (in whatever outfit at whatever speed) on a bicycle, it’s also state policy to actually encourage it. We guess that academy graduates learn about firearms and chemical agents but perhaps don’t learn too much about the most likely kind of encounter with the public: affecting a proper and constructive attitude as a public safety official.

What a Public Safety Attitude Is Not

“I came out today hoping to film for you,” she tells her viewers, “and there’s like no bicyclists around, but I’m hoping that we’ll run over, er, run into some so that I can actually make this video for ya.” She asks her pal in the driver’s seat, “How much would I have to pay you to run one of these over?” Just give me a dollar, he replies.”I’ve got a few” she says.

Funny right? No, not so funny. “As much as I like the sun, I’m definitely moving somewhere where it snows all the time so that I don’t have to put up with these A-holes.” (Well that feeling is mutual.) And then Laura Weintraub closes her ‘cupholder commentary’ with this video still frame:

Laura Weintraub video crashAfter her commentary made the rounds, the police department’s chief disavowed her comments and put her on administrative leave. [UPDATE: The chief announced she's resigned from the reservist position. As @Rakdaddy said, "Too bad she wasn't fired."]

Time to Focus on the Fitness Business Exclusively

We support the chief’s action to put her on leave and have urged both the Police Chief and the Santa Paula Mayor and City Manager to dismiss Ms. Weintraub from reserve duty. The offense? Her less-than-constructive attitude concerning public safety and her disregard for the legitimacy of two-wheeled road users. There is no small number of cyclists who tour the Ojai Valley area, and each of them deserves the presumption of legitimacy. Not to be referred to as “A-holes.”

What’s next for this fitness trainer and public safety officer? Hopefully some quiet time to consider how her perspective makes getting a fair shake difficult for those who share the road with SUVs in suburban towns like hers. And maybe to reconsider how she presents herself.

I must say that there are 2 things I promised to never write about. Religion and politics. I will also abstain from sharing my thoughts about gun control.

Add to that too-small list the making light of running down people who choose to ride a bike for transportation, sport or pleasure. She’s taken down the original video but as news outlets picked up the story, Laura Weintraub’s hate lives on.

Santa Monica Boulevard Update

Santa-Monica-Boulevard-hazard-8If you have been eagerly awaiting a City Council decision on Santa Monica Boulevard bicycle lanes, you may be disappointed (or perhaps heartened) to know that no decision is forthcoming soon. The item originally scheduled for last Tuesday is now rescheduled for this coming Tuesday’s study session and only provides information to Council about an upcoming traffic mitigation study. The next decision will wait until September.

So, is this extended delay good news or bad news? Time will tell. But there is no question that the timeline has indeed slipped. Council was to already have decided a conceptual design by now, with consultants working away on the engineering. (Read more about the project here.) In fact, we concluded the public input process back in January through the Santa Monica Boulevard Blue Ribbon Committee (a body created by Council) and we had expected by March to know whether bicycle lanes, say, were on offer for tomorrow’s corridor.

Bike Backbone map missing Beverly Hills piece(In the perfect world, of course, bicycle lanes would complete the regional backbone network in which Beverly Hills is a missing link, at right.)

Oh, best laid plans! As it happened, the Santa Monica Boulevard Blue Ribbon Committee did meet over four sessions concluding in January and heard from many riders that we need those bicycle lanes. In fact, the Blue Ribbon voted to both incrementally expand the corridor and to stripe class II bicycle lanes. Unfortunately the Council didn’t seem to agree, and, as problematic, the scope of the project seems to have narrowed with concerns rising about the cost. A better corridor may be out of our grasp…for decades.

So How Did We Get to This Impasse?

The Council’s discussion about the design of the boulevard was tripped up by alarming cost estimates and renewed concerns about staff management of the project. And that provided an opportunity for a small but vocal segment of the community (almost entirely located within the handful of blocks north of the corridor) to speak out against bicycle lanes at the March meeting.

Aggrieved by the Blue Ribbon outcome and enraged by the cost blowup, folks like those who are aligned with the loosely-organized Beverly Hills North Residents Association set out to mischaracterize the Blue Ribbon process and assert without evidence that state-approved class II bicycle lanes are dangerous. Yes, all the old canards came out: lanes are a hazard to riders; they create blind spots for drivers; and among the silliest of arguments, that bicycle lanes inhibit emergency vehicle access. It was all part of a cynical smokescreen and we transportation advocates called them out for it. Then just recently, a so-called Municipal League official fired his own broadside in an association newsletter.

Santa Monica Boulevard gardens trim line

Wouldn’t you trade a few feet of ragged grass for boulevard bicycle lanes?

But these folks are accustomed to having their way whatever the merit of their claims. They work not by the light of reason but by threats and efforts to intimidate that are lobbed from the shadows.

Here’s a suggestion of how detached from reality are the opponents claims: even though our consultants have steadfastly recommended against striping lanes, NIMBYS continue to call the consultants a stalking horse for the pro-bike community.

The crux of their argument: An incrementally-wider boulevard would sacrifice the historic park. Just how much wider would we need it in order to enhance multimodal mobility, precisely as our city’s plans commend us to do? Just a couple of feet on average. Today the city’s 1.8 mile segment varies between 60-63 feet and our consultants say regularizing it at 64 feet would accommodate lanes.

More, it’s difficult to take seriously the pro-preservation hyperbole. For decades the north curb face has been a mess of broken asphalt, dead grass and utility detritus. Our city has lived with irregular, blocked sidewalks and unsightly bus stops. Not to be snarky, but if we could live with those conditions for a generation, certainly we can live with a new bicycle lane too.

Besides, ‘preservation!’ is a cri de coeur that should fall flat in a city which has not cared much for it to date. Indeed when Council recently considered landmark status for the park, councilmember Krasne’s only question was, “Will this keep us from widening the boulevard?”

Next Step: Liaison Committee

Coming to Council on July 1st in study session is a simple information item: staff will, with agreement from Council, proceed to evaluate traffic mitigation options before considering design alternatives later. Here’s the meat of the staff report:

Staff report excerpt: next stepsCity Council sometimes creates liaison committees in order to work with commissions on difficult questions in a more manageable setting. For this project, Council created a Santa Monica Boulevard liaison committee that will seat Mayor Bosse and councilman Willie Brien (to date the most vocal opponent of boulevard expansion on the Council). We’ll be attending in late August or early September to keep you apprized. It’s a public meeting, so only two elected members of the Council can sit on it under the state’s Brown Act, but anyone can attend.

Whether or not the current pause in the discussion is good news depends on your perspective. Did bicycle lanes have a better chance of getting the Council’s nod early, before costs blew up and northside folks reached for the torches? Will the Loma Vista tragedies prompt a broader discussion about street safety in Beverly Hills? Would a couple more months to lower the temperature allow cooler heads to prevail? We’ll know more when we get to the liaison meeting.

In the meantime, consider the next six weeks or so your summer vacation. It’s been perfect weather for a ride on a cool breeze. But then it’s back to school, folks; not the classroom kind but the organizing kind. We’ll have to work again to enlighten our elected representatives about the real, not distorted, merits of state-approved bicycle lanes.

Misalignment of City Employee & Resident Interests

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The LA Times reported that only 5% of Beverly Hills employees actually live in the city. Seems reasonable: the interests of City Hall staffers are not necessarily aligned with those of residents. And because fewer than 2% – two percent! – of recent new hires live here, that gap will widen. We agree with Mayor Mirisch: let’s ‘hire local.’

The New DUI

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Forget driving while distracted! The FDA informs us that sleep aid users who fill some 55 million prescriptions annually may be taking double the needed dose, calling out Lunestra prescribing practices in particular as being 2x or more than needed. The hazard: next-day “impairment to driving skills, memory, and coordination.” Talk about a wake-up call!