New state law makes our roads safer for bike riders |

New state law makes our roads safer for bike riders

Two bicyclists head down Broad Street Thursday in Nevada City.
Christopher Rosacker/ |

Nevada County cyclists can look forward to some safer riding conditions after Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation this week requiring motorists to allow three feet when passing bikes.

“It is a tremendous boost for the safety of cyclists everywhere, particularly Nevada County being a cycling-oriented county,” said Duane Strawser, a Nevada City councilman, avid cyclist and cycling event coordinator who has facilitated the Nevada City Classic for years and helped bring the Amgen Tour through his town.

Brown’s signing of the bill came after two previous vetoes of similar legislation, citing faults with the particulars of those bills, according to the The Monterey County Herald.

“It was a big shock last year that Brown vetoed it,” Strawser said.

The bill, Assembly Bill 1371, has the official name of the Three Feet for Safety Act, but its author, Assemblyman Steven Bradford (D—Gardena), and its proponents at the California Bicycling Coalition have taken to calling it the “Give Me 3.”

Violations of the new law are punishable by a $35 base fine before the addition of fees that the California Bicycle Coalition estimates would jump the total cost to more than $150. Drivers who collide with cyclists and cause bodily harm would be charged a heftier $220 fine.

However, if traffic or roadway conditions prohibit the three-foot passing distance, a driver must “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,” according to the bill’s adopted language.

Previously, California law required motorists to pass at a subjective “safe” distance.

“I always feel nervous and would be especially cautious riding Newtown Road or any roads around here because they are narrow, and our drivers aren’t very well trained,” said Ellen Lapham, a director of Bicyclists of Nevada County.

“I have never had a close brush, but close friends of mine have,” Lapham also said. “I hear a lot of anecdotal stories.”

Twenty-two other states have at least three-foot protections for bike riders on roads, according to the Herald. Brown’s signature on Monday adds California to that list.

“We are way behind a lot of states on this,” Lapham said of the new law. “Other states have gone way ahead of us.”

The new bill’s provisions will not take effect until September 2014.

“It can do nothing but help us to promote cycling and cycling safety to both locals and out-of-town visitors,” Strawser said. “We are a cycling community, and ecotourism is part of our economy.”

Nevada County agencies are working toward implementing bike upgrades stemming from a bicycle master plan.

The 2013 Nevada County Bicycle Master Plan is an update of a 2007 plan, representing the culmination of the planning effort funded by the Nevada County Transportation Commission and conducted by the consultant firm Fehr and Peers.

Both Grass Valley and Nevada City have both adopted the plan, enabling each agency to apply for federal funding to add bike lanes and other bike features to their dozens of combined streets.

“I want to make sure the media and the police really monitor and enforce it,” Lapham said of the law. “No one is going to follow the law if it they aren’t aware of it.”

To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email or call 530-477-4236.

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