Brown signs bill requiring 3 feet of road space for bicyclists

Katherine Chen/Staff

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Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill Monday requiring motorists to give at least three feet of road space to passing bicyclists.

Assembly Bill 1371, authored by Assemblymember Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, will enact the Three Feet for Safety Act on Sept. 16, 2014, updating the law that requires drivers to keep a safe distance from bicyclists but does not specify that distance.

“It’s pretty important to have legislation that has a clear requirement so you aren’t just relying on people’s good will,” said Danita McGinnis of the Missing Link Bicycle Cooperative, a cooperatively owned bicycle shop and repair service in Berkeley.

Bradford introduced the bill in February. Brown has vetoed similar legislation twice, including last year’s SB 1464, which would have allowed drivers to cross a double yellow line to pass bicyclists. According to Bradford, Brown was concerned  these provisions would increase the risk of accidents and create lawsuits for the state.

“I believe Governor Brown felt the amendments to AB 1371 created a safe environment for bicyclists, while ensuring that the bill did not create further safety concerns and legal dilemmas for the state,” Bradford said in a statement.

The bill makes violations of the new provision punishable by a $35 fine and imposes a $220 fine on drivers if they injure a bicyclist in a collision and are found to have violated the rule.

Berkeley City Councilmember Jesse Arreguin said he expects that violations of the law will be enforced like any other traffic law violations.

“I do think there will be challenges with enforcing a law like this, in the same way that cellphone and texting laws seem to be thinly enforced,” said Joe DiStefano, a board member of Livable Berkeley, a coalition of Berkeley citizens and activists.

DiStefano, who takes his two kids to school by bicycle every day, said he appreciates having the law on the cyclist’s side.

“It’s also the cyclist’s responsibility to not put him or herself into positions where cars don’t have a choice … putting everyone in violation of that three-foot rule,” DiStefano said. “It goes both ways.”

According to Bradford, California had the second-highest number of cyclist fatalities in the country in 2009.

“I think it’s important in cities where there’s a lot of bike riders,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington. “One of the things that discourages people from riding their bikes is fear of collisions.”

Councilmember Gordon Wozniak of District 8, which includes parts of College Avenue that are only one lane each way and do not have bike lanes, said both bikes and vehicles have to share the lane.

“It may cause some slight delays — the motorists might have to wait a second,” Wozniak said. “Sometimes you have to do that for public safety.”

Tara Hurley covers city news. Contact her at [email protected].