Transportation

Should rule-breaking cyclists be sent to bike traffic school?

Cyclist versus pedestrian turf wars

Sacramento city officials try to clarify when bicyclists are allowed on sidewalks
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Sacramento city officials try to clarify when bicyclists are allowed on sidewalks

Bicyclists ticketed for unsafe riding should be allowed to attend bike traffic school instead of being hit with a big fine, a Sacramento city councilman says.

Steve Hansen said he plans to propose the idea in two weeks when the council takes up a controversial ordinance about sidewalk bicycling.

Under the current proposal, the city would put up “no biking” signs on blocks where officials do not want bikes mixing with pedestrians, and where the street is deemed safe enough for cycling. The proposal does not say what criteria the city would use.

On blocks where sidewalk cycling is allowed, the proposed ordinance says bikers must yield right-of-way to pedestrians and give pedestrians an audible warning when coming up from behind. Citations would be $25 for first offense, $100 for second offense within one year, and $250 for the third offense in a year.

Hansen said the proposed fines, topping out at $250, may be too stiff. Instead, he said, he will propose that cyclists caught breaking city or state vehicle code rules should take a class on the law and on safe biking.

“A (sidewalk) sign is an inefficient tool to change behavior,” Hansen said. “By creating this class, I believe we will have better riders out there. We will teach people how to be smarter.”

Councilman Jay Schenirer, who led the council committee that helped formulate the proposed ordinance, said he might be open to the traffic-school idea, but would want to hear about the logistics and costs before supporting it.

The council is expected to vote on the proposed sidewalk-cycling ordinance July 26. It remains a topic of hot debate. Under existing city law, cyclists are allowed to ride on sidewalks in residential areas. Otherwise, they must ride in the street. The fine for a violation is $5.

Hilary Abramson, a midtown resident who was run down and injured two years ago by a cyclist on the sidewalk, said the proposed new ordinance is “timid” because it tries to please too many groups and ends up failing to protect pedestrians.

“Common sense still dictates that bikes do not belong on sidewalks,” she said. “The city shouldn’t allow it. Don’t ride your bike if you are afraid (of street riding) in the urban core.”

City officials counter that they hope to make street riding safer for more cyclists over time, but they do not want to discourage bicycling in the meantime by banning cyclists from all sidewalks.

Several critics point out that the ordinance wording allows the city’s staff too much latitude in determining which sidewalks will be considered no-go zones for cyclists. As written, the ordinance merely says “the city manager shall establish a process for designating sidewalks where such signs are posted.”

Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates Director Jim Brown argues that more detailed criteria should be listed on paper, based on community input. He said he supports the bike classes as a good option for people in less-affluent neighborhoods who need bikes to get around, but take to the sidewalks to avoid high-speed commute streets outside the urban core.

“These are people who can least afford” to pay a fine, he said.

Bicycle diversion classes are not new in California. Several universities, including UC Davis, have bike traffic schools on campus. The Davis campus program allows some cyclists to avoid a $200 ticket in that city by taking a $70 online course. The ticket is set aside if the person passes a quiz at the end of the course. Davis instituted the course in 2011 to educate campus cyclists and because campus police were reluctant to issue $200 citations to students.

State law, however, did not allow cities to employ the concept until this year when Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, authored a bill giving cities the green light.

Bicycle traffic school, Bloom said, “would turn a purely monetary penalty into a valuable educational opportunity, especially for people who would be unlikely to attend a bicycle-safety class on their own volition.

“These programs would also enable bicycling advocates and educators to work directly with local police departments to help clear up common misconceptions about bicycle law and provide guidance on what types of violations should be targeted to have the biggest positive impact on safety,” he said.

Robert Prinz of the advocacy group Bike East Bay, who helped create the new state law, said the program could take the form of a two-hour class where certified instructors review the law with cyclists, and also teach safe biking techniques and strategies for urban areas.

“Most people out there do know what they are supposed to do and not do, but they still make decisions that break the law because they fear for their safety,” Prinz said.

Sacramento council member Hansen said he expects to propose the diversion class concept as a friendly amendment to the ordinance. He said the class potentially could be open to all interested cyclists, not just those who get ticketed.

“It doesn’t just have to be a diversion class. People may want to take it proactively,” he said.

Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak

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