Sunday, October 9, 2011

Jerry Brown's Broken Logic on SB910

I want to revisit Jerry Brown's pocket veto of SB910, Lowenthal's bill which would require a 3-foot passing margin when passing cyclists while driving more than 15 mph, and would further allow drivers to legally cross the double yellow line when doing so and when line-of-sight allowed:

Here's Brown's explanation:

On streets with a speed limit of 35 or 45 mph, slowing to 15 mph to pass a cyclist could cause rear-end collisions. On the other hand, a cyclist riding near 15 mph could cause a long line of vehicles behind the cyclist.

This conclusion is exactly correct if the bill required a 3-foot passing distance and that the driver go no more than 15 mph. For example, it was proposed cyclists on the Golden Gate Bridge be restricted to riding no more than 5 mph when passing pedestrians. It would then become illegal to pass a pedestrian going at or in excess of 5 mph.

But that's obviously not what the bill requires. In fact, nobody giving the bill more than the briefest reading, nobody who'd read the emails I sent on the matter, nobody who read any of the descriptions of this bill, nobody who'd seen any of the advocacy for this bill could be under such a mistaken conclusion. Here's the text:

(b) A driver of a motor vehicle shall not overtake or pass a bicycle proceeding in the same direction on a highway at a distance of less than three feet between any part of the motor vehicle and any part of the bicycle or its operator, except that the driver may pass the overtaken bicycle with due care at a distance of less than three feet at a speed not greater than 15 miles per hour,

Sorry, there's no way you get into Yale Law School, now or at any time in the distant pass, with such woefully poor reading comprehension. So I conclude if Brown misunderstood the bill he didn't read it. Nor did he speak with Senator Lowenthal. Nor did he speak with any representatives of the California Bicycle Coaltion. Nor did he speak with any educated advocate for the bill.

Perhaps he received all of his information of the bill from representatives of the CHP, an organization for which I have only contempt. The CHP represents the interest of local police on the matter and I have seen over and over and over again how police crack-downs of cyclists have misrepresented the law (I have had consecutive three tickets thrown out by the court), and how they almost always focus on the least reckless of offenders since they are easiest to catch (people slowly riding across T-intersections with stop signs, for example, or riding on short sections of sidewalk). The police willfully distort, misrepresent, and misapply the law every day. They can't be trusted to interpret either present law or proposed legislation. And we don't trust them: at least under the Constitutions of both the state and the nation there's all sorts of checks against police abuse of power.

Initially I concluded Brown must have meant something else. For example, that drivers who failed to have at least three feet of clearance would slow down to 15 mph in order to not require that three feet of clearance. But existing law already says:

21750. The driver of a vehicle overtaking another vehicle or a bicycle proceeding in the same direction shall pass to the left at a safe distance without interfering with the safe operation of the overtaken vehicle or bicycle, subject to the limitations and exceptions hereinafter stated.

Meanwhile the driver's handbook (big PDF) says:

When passing a bicyclist in the travel lane ensure enough width for the bicyclist, typically 3 feet.

This is pretty weak language in a lot of ways, but it at least establishes a precedent within state government that 3 feet is a threshold for a safe passing distance.

So consider a driver going 45 mph coming up on a cyclist. There's no room to pass with a 3-foot margin: either it's a one-lane road (rare) or it's a 2-lane road with narrow lanes and either oncoming traffic or poor line of sight which doesn't allow the driver to cross the center line. So he now has the following options:

  1. If the cyclist is going faster than 15 mph, slow and wait for an opportunity to pass with a three-foot margin.
  2. If the cyclist is going less than 15 mph, slow to 15 mph and pass the cyclist.
  3. Don't slow, instead passing the cyclist with less than a 3-foot margin

For Brown's argument to hold water, the final of these options must already be legal and acceptable. Yet recall the old definition of a yard, which is three feet: the length of the King's arm. Three feet means the cyclist could reach out and almost or barely touch the passing car. That's already close. Passing with less than this, as implied by the driver's handbook, can hardly be considered safe by a reasonable person.

So the scenario of a car being rear-ended, if true, already exists under the law as written and interpreted by reasonable people. There's no additional hazard presented by Lowenthal's bill. Indeed, since it allows drivers to cross a double yellow when passing cyclists (something essentially all drivers already practice) it makes it easier, not harder for drivers to pass. What if there were an obstruction in the road? What if there were a pedestrian in the street? What if there's a slow-moving farm vehicle? On any road so narrow there isn't a 3-foot margin to pass a cyclist, with insufficient line of sight to avoid a rear-end collision with a slowing vehicle, it should be a violation of the fundamental speed law to be driving at 45 mph. That's simply an unsafe speed.

The governor's "long line of vehicles" argument is flawed in another way: it is already required by CVC 21656 that a slow moving traffic if there are five or more vehicles waiting to pass. So there is already a mechanism in the law to prevent this from occurring.

So either Brown didn't understand the bill, or he doesn't understand existing law (and he was attorney general from 2007 through 2011), or he's lying about his reasons for opposing this bill. None of these options do anything but destroy my previously high regard for his competence to govern. So what next? Since it appears he hasn't read the bill, no reason to change any language. Repass it, send it back to his desk, and demand he either sign it or veto it. Don't let this passive-agressive pocket veto stand.


Bill said...

Thank you Dan for this comprehensive review of the Governor's broken thinking.  I agree with your analysis 100%, and as someone who worked upclose on this bill I thought we had made all the compromises and amendments to apease those who cared or where opposed. We tried to cover as many senerios brought up , including your early blogs.  We included concerns the CHP brought up; we included their wording, they were very specific about how to cross the double solid lines.  We talked to AAA and the Teamsters. We offered compromises with them, but they had no new wording to offer.  The wording in the bill to the Governor woulld have slowly changed the California driving culture, to be safer or more mellow while promoting new riders to slowly get over fear of using the roads.

Anyway there will not be any change this year.

 So what do we do? We can't send the Governor the same bill, if you are scientific you know we will get the same result.  Maybe if we just get rid of all the 15mph words the average California driver and politician will understand the new law.

 I'm ready to change my ways, thinking of buying a car, to get around safer. Also thinking of leaving Cali, to find safer cycling places to live. Portugal?Switzerland?

I hope to meet you someday.

djconnel said...

Thanks, Bill! I don't agree Governor Brown is a controlled scientific experiment :). It's possible he simply didn't understand the bill, ignoring all of the huge volume of communication on the matter, instead buying the self-serving lies of the CHP representatives. Really CHP is the villain here, next to AAA and its members (sorry folks, but if you are a member of AAA out of personal convenience, you're part of the problem here. Time to put your money where your mouth is. Try Better World or something.)

Anyway, I want a yes or no out of Brown. This was just a delay. So first I'd want to have someone face-to-face with him, no email, no letters, no working through intermediaries. Explain to him clearly the bill. Then if he wants to stamp it with his veto, so be it.

If the CHP have virtual veto power over legislation passed by the people's representatives then we truly live in a police state.