Cycling protection

Biking advocates talk safety during National Bike Month

A bicyclist rides with auto traffic along Vallombrosa Avenue near Lower Bidwell Park.

A bicyclist rides with auto traffic along Vallombrosa Avenue near Lower Bidwell Park.

PHOTO by brittany Waterstradt

May is all about bicycling, both in Chico and around the country. First, it marks National Bike Month and this Friday (May 15) is Bike to Work Day, when everyone is encouraged to ditch their cars in favor of commuting on two wheels.

The Butte Bicycle Coalition, and more specifically its signature campaign, Bike Chico, is behind the local effort to encourage residents to embrace their bicycles and join the National Bike Month challenge (sign up for free at

One of the goals of the Butte Bicycle Coalition is to advocate for drivers and cyclists to “share the road.” Karen Goodwin, organization treasurer and co-founder, teaches traffic safety courses and says she’s very much in favor of the recent Three Feet for Safety Act, which went into effect last September after getting vetoed twice in previous years.

With its adoption, California became the 23rd state to enact such a law.

“We were not the first but at least we got it,” said Janine Rood, executive director of Chico Velo Cycling Club. “The real intent of these laws is not for enforcement purposes; it’s more about awareness and changing people’s idea about what is acceptable behavior on the road.”

The law applies to any place along the road where a vehicle passes a bicyclist, regardless of whether there’s a bike lane. A violation must be witnessed by a law-enforcement officer in order for a fine to be issued. Eyewitness accounts or video recordings will not trigger a ticket.

Officer-witnessed violations result in a $35 fine if the vehicle passes too close and $220 if a collision and injury occurs. Court fees also can be added to the fine.

There is an exception to the law that says: “The driver shall slow to a speed that is reasonable and prudent, and may pass only when doing so would not endanger the safety of the operator of the bicycle, taking into account the size and speed of the motor vehicle and bicycle, traffic conditions, weather, visibility, and surface and width of the highway.”

Rood said the new law helps establish in drivers’ minds that cyclists have a right to use the road.

“The ‘Share the Road’ signs you see make people think, ‘Oh that’s pretty good,’ but when it comes down to it the question is: ‘What share is my share and what share is your share?’ It’s very ambiguous. To really drive it home—pardon the pun—the new law says to motorists that bicycles have as much right to be on the road as they do.”

Another proposed state law, the mandatory helmet law for adults—there is already one in place for those under 18—was introduced in February by state Sen. Carol Liu (D-La Cañada Flintridge). Liu’s nephew was killed by a drunken driver while riding his bike in Sonoma County. He was wearing a helmet at the time.

The introduction triggered a flood of opposition, both statewide and locally. Rood and Goodwin agreed that it would discourage bicycling, leading to fewer bikes on the road and the possibility of more accidents.

Rood pointed to a mandatory helmet law put in place in Australia a few years ago, which she said “turned out to be a disaster.”

“It made people stop bike riding,” she said. “You can look at any statistic from any cycling community anywhere in the world and see that the more people ride, the [fewer] accidents there are per rider. That’s because the drivers have more awareness of bikers’ presence and as such are more likely to share the road.”

The California legislation has since been amended, and currently calls for a study to be conducted on statewide helmet usage and bicycle-related injuries and fatalities. A report on the study’s findings will be submitted to the Senate Committee on Transportation and Housing and the Assembly Committee on Transportation by Jan. 1, 2017.