The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors is considering an amendment to the Special Events Permitting Ordinance that will regulate some group bicycle rides. Currently, cycling events are specifically exempt from permitting requirements as long as they obey the California Vehicle Code (CVC) – in other words, no roads are closed. Among other things, the amendment will require permits for bicycling events larger than 250 participants as well as events of over 100 participants that have mass starts, award a winner, or give time-based prizes.
The Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition opposes the proposed cycling-related changes to the Special Events Permitting Ordinance.
BICYCLING IS NOT AN ENCROACHMENT
The ordinance defines “Public right-of-way special events” as any activity taking place in any portion of the unincorporated areas of County of Sonoma public right-of-way that uses the right-of-way in a manner other than for its intended use; does not comply with traffic regulations or controls; or may prevent, obstruct, or delay other members of the public from using the public right-of-way in the manner for which it is intended.[emphasis mine]
Riding a bicycle is an intended use of the roadway, just as driving a car or riding a motorcycle. (In fact, the first organization to lobby for the paving of America’s roads was the League of American Wheelmen – now the League of American Bicyclists – in the 1880s, but that is a story for another day.)
Groups of cyclists have the same right to go out on the road as do groups of drivers, whether a group of friends heading out to an event, or a car or motorcycle club rally. There are plenty of other times when large groups of people in other types of vehicles impact other road users – for example, when a performance at Luther Burbank Center for the Arts or a race at Sears Point lets out – but as far as I can tell there is no permit required for those. Nor do there seem to be permits required when a car or motorcycle club takes to the road. This unfairly discriminates against cyclists.
WHAT PROBLEM IS THIS AMENDMENT TRYING TO SOLVE?
I do not believe that the true purpose of this amendment is to make large cycling events safer. After hours of meetings with PRMD staff over the past few years, I believe the REAL objective is to reduce complaints about cyclists from the non-cycling public. In fact, PRMD staff has ADMITTED as much in these meetings. When I’ve brought up the issue of permits for car and motorcycle events, I’ve been told that “people don’t complain about those” and “our enforcement is complaint-driven.” Making policy that discriminates against one class of road users based on complaints by members of the dominant class of road users is inappropriate.
My understanding is that the complaints fall into two categories:
DRIVERS WHO ARE UNHAPPY THAT THEY HAVE TO SLOW DOWN OR STOP BECAUSE THERE ARE “TOO MANY” CYCLISTS ON THE ROAD
There is no such thing as “too many” cyclists on the road; we want there to be more people cycling! Drivers slowing down is a good thing! There are people who just do not like cyclists and do not like us being on the road. This is not a legitimate problem.
COMPLAINTS THAT CYCLISTS “DON’T FOLLOW THE RULES”
Again, this is not a legitimate problem. Yes, sometimes cyclists don’t follow all of the traffic rules; neither do many drivers, and our frequent complaints about drivers’ behavior fall on deaf ears. Why should drivers’ complaints about cyclists get more attention? Additionally, many people – including some cyclists and law enforcement personnel – don’t actually know all of the rules pertaining to cyclists, and complain about behavior that is actually legal.
I would also point out that not all complaints about cyclists that are received on the day of a cycling event are actually related to that event, but refer to people cycling on other roads away from the event route.
IT WILL NOT ACTUALLY SOLVE THE “PROBLEM(S)”
I have yet to hear a convincing, logical argument as to how requiring more bike rides to get permits will make anyone – cyclists, drivers, pedestrians – “safer.” In response to this question I have heard a few anecdotes but not any actual hard data.
As many complaints refer to cyclists who are NOT part of a known organized event, requiring more permits is not going to reduce those complaints. There are many organizations from outside the County that come ride here in groups; they are not likely to be the ones affected by this change. It is our local clubs and nonprofits that will suffer. The likely outcome is to make organizing rides more onerous and expensive, therefore either decreasing the number of rides or leading to groups riding without bothering to get a permit.
IT IS CONTRARY TO OTHER COUNTY GOALS, OBJECTIVES, AND POLICIES
If decreasing the number of cyclists on the road is indeed the actual goal, this amendment seems likely to achieve that.
However, the County has passed a climate emergency resolution and set numerous goals regarding reducing greenhouse gas emissions, promoting active transportation, reducing our dependence on automobiles, and slowing traffic to make our roads safer. The County also promotes tourism centered around outdoor recreation. Any policy that discourages bicycling is contrary to all of these goals.
The Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition will oppose any policy that discourages bicycling and/or discriminates against bicyclists compared to other road users.