Sacramento is a popular city for bicyclists, as any resident can attest. As a consequence, bicycle accidents are extremely common as well. However, while most of these accidents have involved vehicles striking bicyclists, there have been a number of cases in which bicyclists have struck pedestrians. And occasionally, the consequences have been serious.
In May of 2014, Sacramento resident Hilary Abramson was struck from behind by a bicyclist, breaking her femur in three places. After a two week stay in the hospital, she emerged with a shortened left leg, and will likely spend the rest of her life using a cane. Shortly thereafter, she filed a $3.5 million lawsuit against the city, in which she asked the city to change its bike laws to protect pedestrians.
And as Craig Ashton explained, late last month, the City Council finally responded:
“Let’s talk about what the City Council did on Tuesday. In Sacramento, there is a right—or was a right—to ride your bicycles on sidewalks if you are in a residential area. So the idea was that they didn’t identify where you couldn’t ride, they said where you could. The problem is that it was difficult to determine—and it really is in Sacramento—what is ‘residential.’ So what they said now is that there are going to be signs posted that say, ‘You cannot ride your bike on the sidewalk,’ and ultimately then you have to ride in the street.”
The Sacramento City Council’s plan is, as the Sacramento Bee put it, “Vague.” And it isn’t clear yet what areas will have sidewalks that are deemed as bike-free zones, or what the criteria will be for making that determination. But the vagueness of the plan is perhaps an acknowledgment of how vague the existing law was. Thankfully, once the confusion is resolved and signs will be put in place, it will be plain to see where bicyclists may use the sidewalk, and where they must share the road instead.
This change in the law means bicyclists need to learn the rules of the road.
This led Craig to emphasize the need for frequent bicyclists to take some time to double-check their familiarity with accepted rules of the road for bicyclists. Even veteran bike riders often make the mistake of resorting to what seems like common sense, only for it to result in disaster:
“If you think about when you’re on a bicycle, the Vehicle Code looks at you basically like you’re driving a motor vehicle. So if you follow the rules that you would on your motor vehicle, go with traffic, not against. If you’re riding against traffic you’re thinking, ‘Well, it’s safer for me,’ well it’s really not, because cars are going to be pulling out of driveways looking left. You’re coming from the right. And [we see these cases] all the time in our office.”
The accepted safety code for bicyclists may go above and beyond what the legal vehicle code mandates, but doing the bare minimum to follow the law means little when you end up in a collision with a car: “You need to know the rules of the road, because there’s a Pyrrhic victory when you’ve got a broken femur, ‘Yeah, well, but I didn’t violate the Vehicle Code.’ Who cares? You’ve got a broken leg.”
A little known fact: Car insurance often covers you while riding a bike.
But Craig did also offer up a little known fact that should provide some comfort to bicyclists: “What you probably don’t know is that your auto insurance will cover you on your bicycle if you get hit by a car. So if the other party’s not insured, or you’ve got medical payment coverage on your auto policy, pay attention to that.” So if you’re a bicyclist, be sure to double check with your auto insurer to see if you are in fact covered while riding your bike on local streets.
The new law will have financial penalties, but will have exceptions in certain situations.
According to the Sacramento Bee, the law places additional restrictions on bicyclists, even in areas where they are allowed to ride on sidewalks. Now, they must yield the right of way to pedestrians by slowing down, stopping, or dismounting from their bike entirely and walking it. When passing pedestrians, they must give an audible warning when passing from behind.
Bicycles who violate the law will be fined $25 for their first offense, and up to $100 for each additional violation within one year. The fines can be waived if ticketed bicyclists agree to go to bike traffic school.
The law does grant an exception to children under 18 to ride on sidewalks, even in prohibited areas, as long as they are accompanied by an adult.
Obviously, many details still remain to be hammered out, and the city acknowledges that a lot of work must be done to make the city more bike friendly, in order to account for the increased number of bicyclists who will be mixing it up with motor vehicles on local roads. It’s been announced that a ‘bike master plan’ will go before the City Council in August, with the intent being to create more bike lanes, and to create more safe options for people to walk and drive through the city.