California’s cycling community is a boisterous and active group. But it took a blow last week when Governor Brown vetoed SB 910, a bicycle safety bill that would have required passing motorists to give cyclists three feet of space.

As we noted in an earlier post on SB 910’s progress, 19 other states, beginning with Wisconsin in 1973, have already adopted similar laws. What seems like a common sense step that could prevent accidents between cars and vulnerable street cyclists was complicated by a section of the bill requiring drivers to also slow to 15 miles per hour while passing.

In his veto message, Brown noted that “On streets with speed limits of 35 or 40mph, slowing to 15mph to pass a bicycle could cause rear end collisions. On other roads, a bicycle may travel at or new 15 mph creating a long line of cars behind the cyclist.”

Bike advocacy organizations and blogs were upset with the logic, but it encapsulates a general fear within the government and amongst people who do not spend much time on bikes: that protecting cyclists may cause greater harm than good. In the absence of widely acknowledged statistical information, change may appear to be the less appealing option.

Meanwhile, in a parallel story, Sonoma cyclists will have more space than ever on Fifth Street West, where the city is putting in bike lanes in an effort to ease road congestion and encourage a more environmentally friendly mode of transportation.

But what appears to be win for cyclist safety apparently comes at a public relations cost. Although the project started gaining momentum way back in 2007, today it faces the same fate as a West Spain Street project that was killed when area residents protested. Although Sonoma city council approved the plans 4-1, its residents are also asking the council to reconsider the plans.

That’s because the new bike lanes will trim 35 parking spaces from the street and cut the four-lane thoroughfare down to a two-lane street.

The Press Democrat quoted Karen Hall, who signed a petition against the construction as saying, ““I like bike lanes, but I don’t see this as the best use of our time or money.”

It’s a legitimate concern; the project is budgeted for about $170,000. If local citizens feel that money could be put to better use, they have every right to voice their displeasure. But is the outcry justified?

In both the SB 910 and Sonoma city examples, government intervention is either being proposed–or actually used in the case of Sonoma’s project–in order to make a community or the state itself more bike-friendly. In doing so, public bodies have the opportunity to make cyclists safer, and to encourage more people to bike. With more people cycling safely, the greater community benefits from the exercise and lack of carbon emissions.

That is, the legislation seems self-evident after the fact because it encourages the behavior it is designed to protect. It’s getting there that’s the hard part.

Photo credit: Richard Masoner