Re: “Steinorth bill clarifies hit-and-run laws on Class 1 bikeways,” July 27.
Last week the Highland Community News reported Assemblyman Marc Steinorth wrote, and Gov. Jerry Brown signed bill AB 1755.
The new law charges any cyclist who hits a pedestrian while in a bike path without stopping to render assistance as a vehicular hit and run. The law was written in reaction to a cyclist who callously slammed into a jogger just outside the state capital without rendering support or assistance drawing the ire of capital politicians and journalists alike. This sounds like a reasonable law, what could possibly be wrong with it? In this case, plenty.
To be sure, what that cyclist did was horrible and he should be incarcerated. I dearly hope the victim was able to make a full recovery. I am empathetic to hit and runs. I was the victim of one earlier this year when a driver plowed through me in an intersection as I was riding my bike home from work. Yes, I was wearing bright clothing and a helmet, and even stopped at the sign before proceeding into the intersection.
After tumbling over the car, landing on the ground and seeing the car speed off, I found myself amazed at what one person can do to another. I am very lucky I wasn’t hurt as badly as the Sacramento jogger.
Despite this, there are many reasons this is a bad law. Laws already exist for people who assault other people. This new law won’t stop it from happening, and it won’t help catch the assailant; if the cyclist was not immediately caught, he still won’t be caught despite the law. This is a prime example of over-legislation, and more importantly, it focuses on the wrong problem.
Many work hard to correlate cars and bikes in similar contexts, hence this law, but there is at least one very important distinction: The ability to kill and maim. If a cyclist kills a pedestrian, that is tragic. Occasionally cyclists have killed people, but it happens about as rarely as people are killed by falling coconuts. I wish people considered it just as tragic when people were killed by drivers.
Alas, the statistics on drivers killing people on the other hand is enough to make the eyes of most people glaze over. Drivers kill more than 100 Americans every day, a Vietnam War worth of dead Americans every 17 months, and so many more people injured or disfigured. My neighbor was hit and killed just outside my house while walking her dog.
Last week Highland Community News reported on the pregnant mother who was run down, and within the last month there was a cyclist victim of a road rage incident between two drivers. More expensive traffic lights are being installed, but until they are at every single intersection, they are not fixing the carnage. It is why, despite the benefits kids get by walking to school, parents will not let them. As I type this I can hear a motorcyclist flying at warp speed on Greenspot because the road design encourages it.
At a minimum Steinorth’s bill over-legislates for one incident. This state rewards politicians who write laws even when unnecessary, but legislating against every bad thing is a slippery slope. On the other hand, legislating against something that causes 3,000 deaths per year in California is long overdue.
At worst, laws like this that seek to equalize laws for biking and driving also falsely attempt to equalize the dangers as well. Many hold the idea that cyclists are entitled elitists with a wanton view of laws; however, nearly all road users, drivers, cyclists and pedestrians, break the law at about the same rate.
Secondly, when the roads seem too dangerous for the average person to walk and bike, only risky people will walk and bike. When incidents like this are used to make laws, it can make people feel helpless to solve the issues that driving everywhere creates (e.g. traffic, health, pollution, oil dependency, etc.) because there is no other reasonable option.
Shouldn’t we instead focus on encouraging things that actually work at saving lives? Separated bike/walk facilities that don’t take most of a decade to build and kids can use? Traffic-calming infrastructure like the medians used on Aplin Street south of Water Street? Signal priority for buses? Realistic options for travel by anything other than a car? Maybe finally complete the Santa Ana River Trail after sitting on the money for five years (are you reading this James Ramos?)
For their credit, Highland city planners are taking good steps to fix our infrastructure. A grant application they are in the process of submitting, if successful, will improve pedestrian and bike facilities on Palm Avenue, Pacific Street and Del Rosa Drive for students attending each of the roughly eight schools along those streets. Two other overdue projects are in design. Most San Bernardino County cities and lawmakers are doing nothing but continuing the status quo, and it is killing us.