As an undergraduate at UCSB in the mid-’60s, I was a passionate cyclist, captain of the intercollegiate team, and a strong advocate of cycling before it was fashionable. I always enjoy an opportunity to go back and ride some of the beautiful roads there, as I did around the Amgen race in May. Much has changed, mostly for the better, but I thought I might share a couple of thoughts.
First, I rode from the Mesa through Hope Ranch, and the “share the road” sign near the beginning was nice, courteous. There is not much of a shoulder on most of that road, which is unfortunate, and I recall a number of places where the vegetation was so overgrown that a cyclist was unable to use what little shoulder there was. Widening a road to put in a shoulder can be a very difficult and costly undertaking, but trimming bushes and undergrowth along the side of a road is an easy and relatively inexpensive procedure. Often we must make do with what we have.
And, is there any way to make Alameda Padre Serra safer for bikes?
Most of all, the bike lanes along the main part of State Street are a joy. They create a clear way of saying to the public that bikes are a welcome and integral part of the transportation system. But then I hit State up by Las Positas, which was very unpleasant and a little scary. There was a bike lane there, but I was surprised and saddened to see how often it was ignored. Autos often made right turns by cutting into or across the bike lane, and cars would pull across it and stop there while waiting to get into the traffic on State Street, which was backed up. Drivers seemed to think that if there was no bike there right now, none will be coming, so it’s okay to ignore the bike lane.
I know these are difficult problems to deal with, but I feel the problem is exacerbated because the bike lane on that part of State Street seems almost like an afterthought. The painted lines seemed very dull and faded, as if they were done a long time ago and then forgotten. This sends an unconscious message to motorists, “If the City does not take bike lanes seriously, then why should I?” The lines designating bike lanes should be bright and clear. In many large cities they are painting the entire bike lane green to make it clear it is not just part of the roadway. Frequent and clearly visible “share the road” or “watch for bikes” signs would help, and they will hopefully be of different varieties so drivers will not become inured to the same sign, as Ed France mentions in your May 15 issue. It seems that the city is headed in the right direction in some important ways.
Efforts like this should always be complemented by a strong education and public awareness program. Are you doing this? This should include constant messages in the media; public service announcements by local law enforcement, chamber of commerce, and tourist agencies; nonprofit service programs; and especially education of new drivers in schools, driver training programs, and DMV licensing. Finally, enforcement is an important part of the triad. No one likes to get tickets — especially since government has made them so ridiculously expensive. But drivers need to know there are teeth to rules to protect cyclists. There is nothing like a hefty ticket given to someone or one’s family or friends for endangering cyclists to help spread the word. Sad to say, for some thoughtless people, there is no other way to get through to them.
It is hard to gauge the efficacy of these programs, I know. How do you count people who have not been killed? But cyclists notice the difference in attitudes that is prompted by such measures. I rode across France for 10 days a couple of years ago and was struck a pervasive attitude among motorists that I had a legitimate right to be there and to be watched for. I was not honked at once.
In my part of the northern Sierra foothills, I get honked at or yelled at almost every time I am out — and I am doing nothing wrong or especially dangerous. A week ago, a woman bicyclist was killed by a motorist here; a lovely woman architect, active in the community with two children just starting in college. Would that we had tried a little harder to get through to the motorist who killed her.
We can never do enough.