Late last month I wrote about AB 60, a bill by California Assembly Member Pedro Nava to require a 3-foot minimum passing distance by cars overtaking bicyclists. My opinion is that this bill will offer negligible improvement for bicyclists, and is a distraction from more pressing priorities. AB 60 is a trifling piece of legislation for California's bicycling community, which has many legislative needs and, sadly, minimal political clout.
AB 60 will have its first committee hearing on January 4. Most of California's bicyclists are blissfully unaware of AB 60, reflecting the general indifference to politics afflicting most of the state's residents. Bike legislation rarely makes headlines, especially when lacking a strong advocacy push. Media coverage for AB 60, apart from a news article and an editorial from the Sacramento Bee, has been scarce.
However, among many politicized bicyclists in San Francisco and elsewhere, the bill has initiated considerable discussion. Support seems to be mixed, and largely informed by the level of political development of the respective bicycling localities.
Jim Baross of San Diego posted to listserves for the California Bicycle Coalition and CABO:
A 3-foot space is an arbitrarily derived distance. It's not enough in some cases and unnecessarily wide in others. A pre-determined minimum passing distance does VERY LITTLE to address hit-from-behind collisions; the kind of crash that apparently set off this legislative effort... overtaking collisions are the most feared but also the least frequent of collisions bicyclists get involved in.An important point about the likely political course of AB 60 came from Jym Dyer of San Francisco, who reminded bicyclists of AB 60's predecessor bill in a post to several listserves:
Passing a new law about a 3-foot minimum passing distance MIGHT get the attention of some motorists, and might discourage their likelihood of attempting to pass us too closely but the driver who hits a bicyclist from behind isn't going to be deterred or even effected by a this law -- that the driver didn't see the bicyclist AT ALL! Besides, it's going to take a significant legislative effort to pass this legislation. I don't think it's worth it.
One troubling aspect of the wrangling over AB 1941 (similar bill to AB 60 that failed in committee during 2006) is that some politicos pulled the "if you get something, you have to give something up" game. One version of the bill had rules enforcing single-file riding and language to make bicyclists at fault for such things as not being in a bike lane. That sort of thing is unconscionable when a bill is about saving lives. Thankfully, we didn't stand for it then, and we must not stand for it now.A handful of bicyclists indicated minimal support for AB 60, on the grounds that it is "better than nothing" or "a good start." I replied to one such comment on the SFBIKE listserve:
Sadly, the idea that "ANY bill is better than NO bill" is a recipe for failure. My objection isn't so much about this specific 3-foot minimum passing legislation, which offers, at best, negligible improvement for bicyclists. Motorists shape their driving behavior according to their "needs" and prevailing conditions, not minutia in the vehicle code.In the dubious event that AB 60 becomes law, I and many bicyclists, and most motorists, will simply shrug our shoulders and sigh, "whatever." We can do better than AB 60.
My objection is more about why this bill at all? Why wasn't this well-meaning legislator guided by advocates to a more meaningful reform (say increasing funding for the BTA)? Why does California's sizeable bicycling community have so little political muscle in the state capital, despite notable success at the local level in many communities? Having close experience with the situation, my opinion is it's about the difference between STRATEGIC and OPPORTUNISTIC.
A STRATEGIC advocacy organization solicits member involvement and feedback, discusses options with allied organizations, analyzes the political landscape, establishes clear priorities, identifies and pursues resources needed to achieve priorities--and offers a proactive legislative and activist agenda for advancing bicycling. A strategic bicycle advocacy organization focuses on building the political strength of its constituency, not on diversions.
Lacking any strategic sense of what its priorities should be, an organization becomes vulnerable to OPPORTUNISM--leaping on whatever project might assist the group in the short term. Frankly, CBC's involvement with AB 60 smacks of opportunism. It's always easier to join policymakers's efforts for greater state repression than to lead or push them in an expansive direction. Where does this bill fit into an overall strategic vision for bicycling in California? Or is it simply this year's "feel good" measure?
Image: Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center
See: Assemblymember Pedro Nava
See: California Bicycle Coalition
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site