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Bicycle Zealots Run Over Common Sense with New Laws

CALWATCHDOG - If bicycling extremists had their way, California would fall out of love with the auto. Bicycle zealots have been aggressively pushing the state to reduce dependence on cars and greatly enhance the use of bikes and public transportation — and Legislators are listening.

The California Legislature just passed three bills allowing the state’s bicycling extremists the upper hand on streets designed for autos.

AB 819, by Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, would allow cities to begin designing unique bicycling lanes and customized signage. This is because, as one analysis put it, “some jurisdictions may wish to distinguish their communities by installing non-standard bike signs, markers and traffic control devices to demonstrate their heightened interest’s in bicyclist activities, or just to establish and set apart their communities individualities.”

We need a law for this?

AB 819 isn’t just any law; it requires Caltrans to establish the procedures for the cities to create and install their unique bicycling signage by June 30, 2013, and report progress to the Legislature by Nov. 1, 2014.

If I hadn’t seen the bill and heard the debate, I wouldn’t have believed this. The waste of time on this frivolous bill is government at its worst.

But the residents of Davis, Calif. must be giddy with excitement. And this appears to be an opportunity for Caltrans to expand its signage department.

The other bicycling bill, SB 1464 by Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, would require drivers on a two-lane road to veer at least three feet around a cyclist to pass. The “Three Feet For Safety Act” also requires a driver to slow to a “reasonable and prudent speed” when passing a bicyclist if the driver is unable to provide the three-foot passing space in heavier traffic.

An almost identical bill was vetoed by the  Gov. Jerry Brown last year. In his veto message, the governor expressed concern that the slow passing speed could increase rear-end collisions and create backups.

The bicycling lobby has become almost as pushy as the environmental lobby. They resent that streets were designed for cars, and are getting even.

In 2008, the Legislature passed the California Complete Streets Act, which required roadways to be designed to accommodate all users: bicyclists, pedestrians, transit riders, disabled people, children, older people and motorists.

Obviously, no one talked with a physics professor before writing this legislation.

The co-sponsor of SB 1464, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, noted that because of the bill, bicyclists can feel safer in Los Angeles.

In 2011, Villaraigosa promised his city that 1,680 miles of bike lanes would be made available. After Villaraigosa crashed his bike into a taxi cab in Los Angeles, he became the bicycling community’s biggest advocate.

He pushed his City Council to pass the new bicycle plan, and it passed unanimously.

Los Angeles is suffering under staggering debt, the bus system is cutting routes and raising fares, and many wonder how the city will find the money to put in all of the new bicycle lanes.
If you think LA gridlock is bad now, just wait.

The California Bicycle Coalition, the other co-sponsor of the legislation, has been running a campaign for the three-foot passing distance law.

“Existing law requires drivers to pass other vehicles and bicycles at a ‘safe distance’ but doesn’t specify what that distance is,” the California Bicycle Coalition states. “If drivers don’t know what constitutes a safe passing distance, how can people who ride bikes or want to ride feel confident that drivers know how to share the road safely?”

The coalition apparently is the only source of information the committee analysts used. “According to the California Bicycle Coalition provided, approximately 20 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws specifying a minimum passing distance of at least three feet for drivers overtaking cyclists,” bill analysis states.

“This is a stupid bill,” said Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, during debate in the Assembly.

“It’s about auto drivers respecting bicyclists,” Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro, D-Humbolt, retorted.

Adding to the mounting insanity, another bill, AB 2245 by Assemblyman Cameron Smyth, R-Santa Clarita, would allow all new bicycle lane construction to take place without going through a standard environmental review as mandated by the California Environmental Quality Act.

“Assemblyman Smyth argues that bike lanes are as environmentally friendly as an infrastructure project can get — so why would they ever need a so-called ‘environmental’ review?” LA Weekly reported.

“But the bill is ultra-convenient for the L.A. Department of Transportation, currently faced with installing a daunting 1,680 miles worth of bike lane, as promised to the cycling zealots by LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in 2011. At LADOT’s current bike-lane construction rate of 40 miles per year, however, the mayor will be 93 years old before his promise comes true.”

But this bicycle-friendly bill has put cycling zealots at odds with environmental zealots.

The Los Angeles Department of Transportation is relieved. “Currently, CEQA requires cities and counties to file an Environmental Impact Report if the construction and operation of proposed projects are deemed to significantly affect the surrounding environment, both natural and human-made,” LADOT states on its website. “The bill in consideration would permit local agencies to forgo such rigorous review for Class II bikeway (bike lane) projects.”

The tail is wagging the dog in California. As the LA transportation department gleefully states, “This exemption would allow decision makers to still consider the traffic impacts of bike lanes, but without wasting the time and resources that an EIR process requires, allowing more effort to be placed on planning and public outreach.”

I am hoping that legislators introduces a bill mandating bicyclists to follow traffic laws. If California is really going to become bicycle-friendly, it’s time for cyclists to follow all traffic laws; because when bike-auto collisions occur, often the bicyclist is part of the problem, and not always the victim.

(Katy Grimes writes for CalWatchdog.com where this article first appeared.) –cw

Vol 10 Issue 74
Pub: Sept 14, 2012