California politics: On the fence about 3 feet for safety?

I’ve been on the fence about California’s “3 Feet for Safety” act. Steven Bradford’s AB 1371 was brilliantly written. Subsequent amendments in committee in both chambers of the state legislator watered the bill down considerably, and many cyclist advocates in the Golden State have expressed reservations about the law as written.

Section (d) of the amended act provides a serious exception. Some have argued that we should ask Governor Jerry Brown to veto this act so we can try for a better law after he is either voted out of office in 2014 or termed out in 2018.

Serge Issakov of San Diego, argues that even a symbolic bill such as AB 1371 is worth supporting, and will provide a solid basis for educational campaigns. He writes:

It seems to take most people considerable time to work through bias, even after they’re aware of it. As far as I can tell, the CHP is yet to recognize their anti-cyclist bias. At this point the best we can probably do is nudge them, and others, in the right direction. This bill does that.

While this is arguably not a “real” 3 foot bill, because of the 20750.1(d) “unable to comply” exception, so what? Even a “real” 3-foot bill is mostly symbolic. No one is out there with a measuring stick. Few will look at the details of 21750.1. This language establishes sufficient basis to support a “give three feet to pass” campaign (for what that’s worth, if anything) as much as a “real” 3 foot bill would. A motorist side-swiping a bicyclist can claim the bicyclist swerved just as easily under existing law, this proposed law, or a “real” 3 foot law. If police want to enforce laws against unsafe passing of bicyclists, as they recently did in New Orleans (I believe it was N.O.), they can do so just easily with this law as with a “real” 3 foot law. I don’t see what difference it makes if the 3-foot law is “real” or not, in any context.

Much more importantly, what this language does do is establish in the law for the first time that relative speed difference, as well as passing distance, is an important factor in passing cyclists. If the governor passes this bill, we will be able to legally justify using the full lane, even in wide lanes, even on roads with bike lanes, until motorists behind slow down “to a speed that is reasonable and prudent”, and wait until passing “would not endanger the safety of the ” cyclist, before we temporarily move aside. And since that’s exactly how I roll, I, for one, look forward to that language being codified.

Baby steps. We’re getting there, and this law will help.

Jerry Brown vetoed the previous two attempts at a three foot law. This bill addresses the concerns Governor Brown noted, so perhaps he’ll sign this one. The bill was delivered to the Governor’s office Monday afternoon; he has 12 days to either sign or veto AB 1371. Please write to the Governor today to encourage him to sign AB 1371, the California 3 Feet for Safety Act.