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Santa Clara County considers new rules on large bike rides

Update: Richard Masoner of Cyclelicio.us reports that county supervisors decided at Tuesday's meeting to table this motion until August.

The proposed ordinance would require permits and/or advance notification for all organized rides of 50 cyclists or more in unincorporated areas of the county. This, obviously, could seriously affect our ability to conduct training rides. The ordinance is scheduled to be voted upon Tuesday morning.

Here is a copy of a letter that I sent today to Board of Supervisors President Ken Yeager:

I am writing in opposition to Ordinance No. NS-502.8, scheduled to be voted upon next week, relating to the issuance of permits for special events on county roads in the unincorporated territory of Santa Clara County. I am a resident of Mountain View and an avid bicyclist who has logged more than 35,000 safe, accident-free miles in the past six years.

The provisions of this ordinance relating to bicycle events are poorly worded and do not effectively address the concerns of county officials, residents in certain unincorporated parts of the county, or bicyclists. While I think everyone can agree that some percentage of bicyclists show little regard for the law, the most effective solution is to enforce the existing provisions of the California Vehicle Code.

For the past four years, I have been a volunteer training ride leader for AIDS/LifeCycle, the annual fundraising ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles. From October to May of each year, we conduct dozens of training rides throughout the Bay Area, including in Santa Clara County, that range in distance from 20 to 125 miles. While training rides in San Francisco regularly draw more than 100 riders, the rides in Santa Clara County usually are smaller -- but sometimes exceed the 50-rider threshold that plays a key role in the proposed ordinance. (As far as I know, none of our rides have ever passed through the San Antonio Valley, nor do we intend to do so.)

These training rides are not "processions" or "parades" in the sense that the ordinance seems to address. Rather, riders are free to proceed at their own pace, and they always quickly become spread out over that day's route, usually either solo or in groups of no more than two or three riders. In fact, depending on the length of the ride, the spread from first to last rider at the end of the day can range from 30 minutes to as much as two hours or more. Riders can pass by a given point at the rate of a few per minute to as low as one every few minutes. These rides do not impose any unusual burden on the county's highway network, and they are virtually indistinguishable from any other type of recreational or commute cycling that takes place -- types of cycling that do not require a permit or advance notification.

It is unreasonable to expect that we would attempt to secure a permit for each of these events, particularly when the number of riders is not known until riders arrive at the starting point and the ride actually begins. Also, it is unreasonable to use the exemption and notification provision in Section B3-148 of the proposed ordinance to dismiss such concerns; rides of this nature place no special burden on the highway network and, therefore, are not appropriate targets for special regulation or notification.

Moreover, our training rides stress safety and require full compliance with the California Vehicle Code. All of our riders are required to come to a complete stop at all stop signs and red signals. In fact, our rules are even more stringent than the CVC in some areas, specifically in prohibiting two-abreast riding in marked bicycle lanes and on wide shoulders, even though such riding is legal. Riders who repeatedly violate our rules can be ejected from our events and prohibited from taking part in future events.

That said, however, I am quite aware that some cyclists do not obey the law, causing safety and navigational hazards for all other highway users, be they bicyclists, motorists, equestrians, pedestrians or others. This, however, has little correlation with whether a rider is part of an organized group of more than 50 riders. In fact, solo and small-group riders appear to be just as likely to violate the CVC as those in large groups. Also, non-recreational cyclists violate the CVC; the sight of a helmetless mountain-bike rider traveling the wrong way in a marked bike lane is a sight that both saddens and annoys me, and it's one that I see all too often.

In southern San Mateo County, problem cyclists are being addressed by enhanced enforcement in Portola Valley and Woodside; I wholeheartedly support such uniform, fair enforcement in parts of Santa Clara County where unsafe bicycling is causing particular difficulties. Also, certain large events where road closures or other law-enforcement activities are required -- such as the Tour of California -- certainly call for permits and appropriate regulation. Alternate ordinance language can and should be drafted to address these needs.

In summary, the proposed ordinance uses an unreasonably large hammer to solve problems that largely can be dealt with by enforcement of existing laws, and without placing onerous reporting, notification, or application requirements on legitimate cycling groups that share the county's goals of safe use of the highways by all users. I urge you to vote no on Ordinance No. NS-502.8.

Thank you for your time.