California Bicycle Advocates Debate Statewide Legislative Agenda

market & octavia_1.jpgThe SFBC will try again to protect bicyclists and pedestrians at Market & Octavia by permitting camera enforcement against illegal right turns.

With a deadline for filing bills in the Legislature for 2010 fast approaching, the California Bicycle Coalition and local advocates are debating what this year’s statewide agenda should be. The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition is promoting three ideas they’d like to see become law, according to Program Director Andy Thornley.

The SFBC’s first priority is a local one: another attempt to allow the city to use cameras to enforce against illegal right turns at the Central Freeway and Market Street. In 2008, Assembly Bill 23 would have accomplished this but it was scuttled when State Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), who sat on the Transportation Committee, objected due to privacy concerns. Yee’s off the committee now, so the SFBC thinks it has a better chance.

Another SFBC priority comes from the San Francisco Bicycle Plan, which recommends a change in state law to permit passing on the right. It’s common sense and commonplace for bicycles to pass cars on the right, and tickets are rarely issued, but in the event of a crash, lawyers and cops will sometimes assign blame to cyclists.

Mike Smith of San Francisco knows too well the implications of this legal status. He suffered a "severe back injury" when a passenger jumped out of the right side door of a taxi cab into his path and pushed him into the stone wall of a subway entrance. Even though there were bicyclists in front and behind traveling the exact same path, the jury assigned 25 percent of the fault to Smith for passing on the right. The police officer told him he should have passed on the left.

"Not passing on the right really does contradict what bicyclists are supposed to do," Smith said, echoing the feelings of most San Francisco bicyclists.

The big idea coming out of the legislative agenda discussion is the adoption in California of a "vulnerable road users" protection bill. This would enhance the penalties when a motorist violates a traffic law and contributes to the injury of a vulnerable road user. Currently, there are no extra penalties for injuring a pedestrian, and prosecutors tend to consider manslaughter or attempted manslaughter charges too severe for "an accident," so they simply issue a traffic ticket and let the civil courts deal with justice for the vulnerable victims of traffic crashes. A vulnerable road users law would give authorities some middle ground between a ticket and manslaughter.

All the organizations contacted for this article – the SFBC, the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition and the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition — have lobbied the CBC to push for this bill at the state level, and the CBC will discuss the topic at their board meeting next week.

The bill could be modeled after a 2007 Oregon statute that strengthened the penalties for injuring or killing a vulnerable road user — defined as a pedestrian, a highway worker, a person riding an animal, the operator or user of a farm tractor, a skateboard, roller skates, a scooter, or a bicycle — without making it a crime that requires a jury trial. Motorcyclists were at times included in the definition of vulnerable road users, but that was removed before the final version.

Instead of simply pleading guilty to a traffic violation and mailing in the fine, a person convicted of this offense must appear in court and be sentenced to a traffic safety course, 100 to 200 hours of community service, a fine of up to $12,500, and one year of suspended driving privileges. Payment of the fine and suspension of driving privileges may be waived by the court upon completion of the traffic safety course and community service.

According to Doug Parrow, the chair of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance’s legislative committee, the results have been disappointing. "To my knowledge there has not been a motorist charged under the vulnerable road users statute," he said. The law requires police officers on the scene to indicate on the traffic ticket that a vulnerable road user was injured in the course of the violation, and it turns out that officers do not make that indication.

"We were operating under the assumption that the police would take this seriously and operate in good faith but … that’s not necessarily the case," he said. It may be simply a matter of education. He recognizes that there is no way police officers could know every law on the books and speculates that most are unaware of the law. "We might just need to do a little bit of education," he said.

The California Bicycle Coalition will have to make a decision by next week on its legislative agenda for the year. While they maintain a lobbyist on retainer in Sacramento, their membership is small compared to the top advocacy organizations in the state.

"The CBC needs to provide leadership in coordinating the asks but the muscle behind that needs to come from local organizations," said Corinne Winter, executive director of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition.

  • smushmoth

    What is the SFBC’s aim here? Is it bicycle safety of sticking to car drivers? Every evening when I ride home eastwardly through the Panhandle there are a large number of bikes (some nights upwards of 40%) that are nearly invisible because they don’t have any sort of lights and it’s not rare for me to experience near misses because they simply aren’t seen until they are very close. Why isn’t the SFBC doing anything about this? It seems that this effect a large number of cyclists and is a huge safety issue.

  • Jym Dyer

    =v= Actually, your anonymousness, the SFBC has given away and continues to give away free lighting.

  • smushmoth

    Why aren’t they out actively doing it? Since Daylight Savings Time has ended. I have ridden to work and from work nearly every day and not once seen anyone giving out free lighting.

  • janel

    Thanks for the info Dave, I was not aware of the law prohibiting passing cars on the left, which I do often especially when they are obviously turning right! While it may seem like it is nit-picky to change these laws, it makes a difference in court and can make a huge difference with some education. Good reporting on the vulnerable users law, I always thought that was a victory but interesting how little teeth it has.

  • janel, I get the impression we are suppose to pass on the LEFT. The biker in the article was passing a cab on the RIGHT and was doored.

  • Jym Dyer

    @smushmouth – I don’t know why “they” aren’t actively out doing whatever. There is no monolithic “they,” just a bunch of individual human beings each behaving individually. Unless you have any actual insight on this, perhaps you could spare us the tiresome endless blather about how the SFBC is somehow at fault because of what individuals do? Thanks in advance.

  • @smushmouth: why don’t you volunteer to do it?

  • CBrinkman

    I would love to a see a vulnerable road users law. And perhaps we can learn from Oregon and make enforcement happen – yes I know, the eternal cry: more enforcement. If we enforced all existing road laws we’d have almost no problems.

    OK, joining the California Bike Coalition today. Sounds like we need to be part of every voice asking for this law.

  • smushmoth

    “They” are the same people who it is claimed that their primary goal is to put a camera at Octavia and Market to GET the evil car drivers.

    Again what is “their” (the SFBC) aim?

    I was under the impression it is to help ensure the safety of cyclists, if so couldn’t asking us cyclists to do things ourselves to ensure our safety and the safety of other cyclists, pedestrians, and (gasp) motorists possibly do more in furthering that basic aim, than lobbying for a red light camera? Personally I’d rather there be a right turn lane there, it gets a potentially lost motorist off market ASAP instead of them circling the neighborhood distractedly looking for an on ramp.

    I have volunteered to repair bicycles, I have given countless sets of lights to friends who were riding at night without them, I have called the city to report potholes in bicycle lanes. I run down cars at Masonic and Fell to remind them to wait for the light to change (the city/caltrans should put in better signage or have the bicycle/pedestrian light focused so that the cars on Fell can’t see it). But I won’t have a thing to do with the SFBC, for the 12 years that I have lived and commuted (by bicycle) in this city, I fully believe their efforts actually succeed in reducing my safety and that of most other cyclists, pedestrians, and (gasp) motorists.

    I guess it’s sexier to Stick it to the Man, than it is to look at our own behavior.

  • One potential law that hasn’t been discussed has been to require visible proof of insurance for cars. Drivers who don’t have insurance cause a disproportionate number of crashes, don’t have the financial capability to make restitution, and often “hit-and-run” because the don’t want to get in trouble for not having insurance. Other countries do it. Why can’t California do it?

    As far as smushmoth goes, Yikes! I think you have created your whole own separate reality.

  • @smushmoth, do a search on SFBC’s website. You’ll find that they regularly remind bicyclists to be visible and even giving away free blinkys. Over the years I’ve received so many reflective stickers from them that I have sticked them all over the bike and helmet. They are certainly doing something about this.

    Other than that, SFBC is just a advocacy group. They have no power over the thousands of riders on the road, most of them are not even members. It is like accusing AAA for failing to stop cars from speeding.

    It sounds like you have copntributed many good work on your part. Perhaps you should learn more about the work of SFBC too.

  • janel

    You are right mikesonn, guess it makes such little sense that cyclists are not by law allowed to pass on the right it didn’t register. Isn’t that how we normally travel? Or are they talking about just parked cars? Cyclists should be allowed to travel around either way based on their own assessment of the situation. Anyhow isn’t dooring always the motorists fault?

  • @Smushmoth: The SF Bicycle Coalition gives out lights twice a year in partnership with the Municipal Transportation Authority. In the past, it has proven a very successful event with thousands of pairs of lights given away. Unfortunately, the MTA de-funded the program for this previous DST change. We (11 SFBC paid staff) have received commitment that it will be funded this time, and we (including our amazing volunteers) will be giving them out throughout the city again.

    As for Market/Octavia intersection, the right turn prohibition is unrelated to the bike lane. Traffic Engineers (many of whom are NOT bicyclists) understand that Market Street inbound should not be a feeder street for the highway due to traffic congestion. That’s why the right turn is prohibited.

    We (the 3 policy staff of SFBC) want a red light camera at this intersection because it is an illegal and dangerous movement and want the city to be able to ticket folks who flagrantly violate the law and endanger cyclists, like this: or like Maragaret Timbrell, who was nearly killed by a driver who was caught on the highway at Cesar Chavez and cited simply for an illegal right turn while Ms. Timbrell was lying in the hospital. It’s not about ‘sticking it to drivers’– it’s about ensuring safety on the street through orderly and polite behavior.

  • Correction: “We (the 3 policy staff of SFBC) want a red light camera…” should have read a ‘Right Turn Camera…’

  • smushmoth

    What alternate reality do you think I live in? we are outnumbered on the roadway by more than 30 to 1 (2.7% of SF residents commute by bike). I think things would happen faster and better if advocacy stressed unity with the other 97% of the road than the difference.

    Sadly dooring isn’t always a motorists fault. A cyclist fails to top for a stop sign or red light and is doored immediately after the intersection, it’s at least partially the cyclists fault. A cyclist is riding on the public roadway without lights 30 minutes before sundown to 30 minutes after sunrise, it is likely at least partially the cyclists fault. A cyclist is riding the wrong way down a public roadway, it is likely partially the cyclists fault. There are lots of ways that a cyclist can be at fault for being doored. Sadly the behavior that puts the cyclist at fault is on display each and every day and because of that people who do not demonstrate this behavior are seen through the same lens as those who do demonstrate this behavior (this goes both ways, hence there is the “death machines” stencil in the Panhandle”)

  • the greasybear

    I think you’re in a contrarian alternate universe.

    And a factually-false one, too: the law clearly states the motorist is always at fault for dooring a cyclist. Always. Look it up.

  • AK


    Are you serious? No such law exists and that’s why I suspect you told others to look it up rather than provide the statutory citation to it yourself. Every freakin day in this City there are cyclists who ride as if they own the road and that nothing can or will ever be their fault no matter what they do or how they ride. They blow through stop signs when traffic to the right and left is ready to proceed through the intersection (and do the same at red traffic signals), cut in and out of traffic without regard to whether a motorist is already making a lane change, and the list goes on. Cyclists are required to follow the Vehicle Code just as motorists are. Your “vulnerability” does not provide you with a blank check to violate the law as you see fit. Obey the laws, ride responsibly, and treat motorists with the same respect you demand of them and you will see accidents become virtually nonexistent.

  • Thomas George-Williams

    This law proposal is nonsence. Passing on the right is ilegal and should be more enforced. It’s also the law that passengers of a taxicab have to exit on the curb side. The bicyle coallition needs to educate it’s members not to pass on the right of a stopping cab.

  • I am a daily rider and SFBC member. I also once accidentally doored a bicyclist on Market St. as I was getting out of a cab (as @Thomas George-Williams notes is required). As the passenger of the vehicle, sitting in the back, I didn’t have the advantage of a rear-view mirror to see the cyclist coming. Certainly, since then, I’ve learned to look out the rear window first and open the door slowly, but taxi riders can hardly be expected to automatically consider bicyclists passing on the right as they exit the cab.

    On the other hand, taxi drivers (who I consider among the most ill-mannered and scofflaw-ish of all motor vehicle operators) CAN be required to only unlock the door for their passengers once the way is clear of bikes, and to also remind their fares to use caution when exiting…instead of blathering away on their cellphones as they usually do.

  • Before we get too far from this post let me toss up some clarifying detail on the “bikes okay to pass on right” proposal:

    The central principle governing one road user overtaking another (including and especially bicycle riders) is to always pass on the left, when safe and as permitted; this is what we teach and preach at the SFBC. Some exceptions to this are made under CVC 21754 to a “driver of a motor vehicle” and emphasized in CVC 21755, but these sections can be (indeed, they are) argued to mean that bicycle traffic does not enjoy exceptions to the general prohibition of passing on the right, even for safe, reasonable and otherwise legal movements.

    The 2009 San Francisco Bicycle Plan declares Action 5.5: “Support efforts to change California Vehicle Code Section 21754 (Passing on the right) so that it applies to bicycles.” The 1997 SF Bicycle Plan likewise recommended such an amendment to the California Vehicle Code.

    Given CVC 21200 (general equivalence of rights & responsibilities of “driver of a vehicle” and “person riding a bicycle”), minor modifications to CVC sections 21754 & 21755 (strike “motor” from “motor vehicle” in two places, plus reiteration that none of this prohibits the use of a bicycle in a bicycle lane or on a shoulder) could effect an appropriate amendment to the code. Our proposal would simply permit bicycle traffic to enjoy the same exceptions to left-side passing that motor traffic already enjoys.

    CVC 21754 – Passing on the Right

    CVC 21755 – Passing on Right Safely

  • And on the topic of dooring and passing on the right, here’s the dope:

    CVC 22517: “No person shall open the door of a vehicle on the side available to moving traffic unless it is reasonably safe to do so and can be done without interfering with the movement of such traffic, nor shall any person leave a door open upon the side of a vehicle available to moving traffic for a period of time longer than necessary to load or unload passengers.”

    Where a car is stopped adjacent to a travel lane or bike lane it should be plainly evident that opening any of that car’s doors into the travel/bike lane would violate CVC 22517 unless doing so was reasonably safe and wouldn’t interfere with the movement of traffic — dooring is always the motorist’s fault in this case.

    Where a car is stopped in the rightmost lane and a cyclist passes to the right (as is common on Market Street) and a passenger-side door opens, the fault for dooring is less clear — until we amend CVC 21754, it can be (and has been) argued that the roadway between the stopped car and the curb is not “available to moving traffic” for the sake of the passing cyclist, and so CVC 22517 doesn’t apply. As Mike Smith’s story illustrates, doored & injured cyclists can have a hard time winning their case if they’ve been doored while “filtering” on the right.

    Whether or not we succeed in amending CVC 21754, be extra careful passing cars on the right (be careful passing cars on any side, frankly) . . .

  • Rick Knapp

    I’d like to see a Vulnerable Users Act, but Oregon’s “middle of the road” approach isn’t good enough. When cyclists are run down by motorists who are negligent, the penalty shouldn’t necessarily be traffic school and community service and a fine. The law should make it clear that a felony could be pursued if justified. Too often cyclists are run down in bike lanes on shoulders of the highway and law enforcement and prosecutors are treating it as you say–“as an accident.” Motorists shouldn’t be allowed to “shoot the gap” when passing isn’t safe, and causing fatal and injury collisions and get only a slap on the wrist. The penalties in the Oregon law are really slaps on the wrist if a cyclist is seriously injured or killed. While it is better than nothing, we don’t want cyclist’s deaths to be trivialized in legislation supported by the CBC.

  • I’m sure any other taxi cab driver in Marin county will agree that our biggest concern with bicyclists isn’t turning into them, but when they come into your blind spot and cause damage. As “vulnerable road users” they should behave as such. This ordinance doesn’t punish those who should have been paying the most attention.

  • Andrew Boone

    Anybody got Dave Snyder’s phone or email? I’m trying to contact him. Wanna discuss with him his pioneering work in re-founding the SFBC in 1991.


Camera Enforcement for Illegal Turns at Market/Octavia Gets Green Light

Dangerous, illegal right turns from Market Street onto the freeway at the intersection with Octavia Boulevard — the location with the most pedestrian and bicycle crashes in the city — may become less frequent after a long-awaited state decision that allows the city to use camera enforcement. The decision was announced by California Attorney General Kamala Harris last […]

This Week: Focus on the Future, SFBC Hoodies, Housing Bills

Here are this week’s highlights from the Streetsblog calendar: Monday/Today! The Focus on the Future conference provides a forum for Self-Help Counties and other transportation agencies, elected officials, and the private sector to share experiences, highlight upcoming projects, and interact in a relaxed environment. The conference continues to be the premier transportation conference in California with over […]