Cyclists must have front, rear lights at night
New state law applies to bikes on sidewalks, pathways; some riders object to cost of equipment
By KERRY BENEFIELD
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Jan 1, 2008
For years, the law that required cyclists riding on the street at night to use lights didn't include those traveling on sidewalks or pathways.
But beginning today, state law requires that if you ride at night, you must be illuminated.
"We are making bike paths equivalent to streets as far as the safety illumination (laws)," said Jim Brown, spokesman for the California Bicycle Coalition, which co-sponsored a bill with the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department.
Riders using the Prince Memorial Greenway, the Joe Rodota Trail or a neighborhood sidewalk at dusk or darker must have a light visible from a distance of 300 feet and a red, rear reflector visible 500 feet away.
The law allows riders to use reflective tape around their ankles or reflective shoes instead of reflective pedals, which have moved away from large blocky steps to sleek, almost invisible platforms.
The law, introduced by Assemblywoman Lois Wolk, D-Davis, allows police to ticket riders not using lights. The fine is $25 plus any ancillary fees.
"Many of the laws are developed because of safety for both the person operating the bike in this case and other people on the roadways," CHP spokeswoman Fran Clader said. "Some of the illumination laws aren't just for people to see where they are going but for others to see them."
While shedding light on night commuters is a worthy goal, Anthony Soto of Santa Rosa said there is a contingent of riders who depend on their bikes for transportation at all hours and for whom an expensive illumination system is not an option.
"The homeless -- they can't afford to pay for batteries over and over," he said.
Soto, riding through downtown Santa Rosa on Monday, said he was pulled over and cited earlier this year while riding at night without lights in Railroad Square.
Facing financial difficulties, Soto said the $25 fine has not yet been paid.
Like bikes themselves, the cost of lights varies dramatically.
A front light can be had for about $20 but some systems that tout being able to illuminate a rugged mountain trail at night can run as much as $500, said Dan Tracy, a salesman at Cambria Bicycle Outfitters on Santa Rosa Avenue.
A red blinking taillight that sells for $15-$20 is much safer than the reflectors that are affixed to every bike sold in California, he said.
"Reflectors are mandatory for every bike we sell, but ever since I was a little kid, that has been the first thing to go," he said. "That is the first thing people ditch."
In cities throughout Sonoma County, Bike To Work Days and other cycling promotional events have been an opportunity to give away lights.
"We have probably given out a few hundred, mostly the red lights for the rear," said Tom Maunder, a Petaluma resident and former chairman of the Petaluma Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee.
While sympathetic to those facing the added expense, Maunder said the new law is a sound one.
"The fact that it costs money to get a good headlight is an impediment, but I don't think it's a good enough argument to advocate against lights and illumination," he said.
Tim Kniffin of Santa Rosa, a recreational cyclist, equates it with mandatory car maintenance.
"My first reaction is if you are driving at night, you have to have headlights," he said. "It's like getting the car smogged -- if it's a law, that's what I will do."
The law will not only help cyclists see what is in front of them, but will help others see them, said Beryl Brown, a member of Santa Rosa's Bicycle and Pedestrian Board.
A front light will help announce the approach of cyclists to pedestrians on dark trails and sidewalks, she said.
"It's essential," she said. "Unfortunately, when you are walking along on the sidewalk and they come up and don't announce themselves in any way, it's scary and a little frightening."
You can reach Staff Writer Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or firstname.lastname@example.org.