Dan Walters

Dan Walters: If bicyclists want respect and safety, they should act like they deserve it

Dan Walters
Dan Walters

Hilary Abramson is one of the most talented and prolific journalists ever to practice the craft in Sacramento.

She’s also a personal friend for the past four decades, and thus it was horrifying to learn that she had been clobbered by a young bicyclist who was riding illegally on the sidewalk near her downtown apartment, causing very serious and permanent injuries.

The bicyclist paused briefly, then pedaled off without leaving his name – which, if he had been a motorist, would have been felony hit-and-run driving and earned him up to four years behind bars.

Hilary wrote about the incident in a lengthy Sacramento Bee article last month and about her mission to protect pedestrians from bicyclists who commonly use sidewalks as their personal paths.

A few days after the article appeared, I happened to be walking near the Capitol when a bicyclist cruised by on the sidewalk, ignoring a designated bike lane just a few feet away on 10th Street.

I told him – not impolitely – that what he was doing was illegal, but he then parked his bike and approached on foot with advice, loudly laced with f-bombs, to mind my own business. We agreed to disagree on that subject.

As it happens, a new state law mandating that motorists give bicycles a three-foot clearance on streets and roads takes effect today, including fines for drivers who don’t leave prescribed clearance.

Bicycle advocates are hailing the law as an overdue recognition that two-wheelers are an alternative mode of personal transportation, not merely playthings of children and spandex-clad enthusiasts.

Nor is it the only thing that state legislators did for bicyclists recently. They passed another bill, now sitting on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk, that authorizes local governments, with voter approval, to hike vehicle licenses by up to $5 a year to pay for more bicycle paths and lanes, and still another to make prosecution of hit-and-run drivers easier.

We get it that bicyclists want respect and protection as they share roads with cars. But the flip side is that bicyclists need to drop the arrogance that too many exhibit as they cut in and out of traffic, blow through red lights and stop signs, and imperil pedestrians by careening down sidewalks.

The three-foot clearance law should be matched by one that absolutely prohibits bicycles on sidewalks statewide with stiff fines for violation, and another that makes hit-and-run bicycling just as much a crime as hit-and-run driving.

Moreover, if bicyclists want to be taken seriously, they should also be paying some of the cost of marking bicycle lanes and building bike paths, rather than making motorists pick up the tab, as the pending bill would do.

Fair is fair. With privileges come responsibilities, both legal and financial. And receiving respect means acting like you deserve it.

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