ENCINITAS — “Bicycles are traffic – we’re part of the traffic,” said Brent Garrigus, an avid cyclist and owner of Ride Cyclery, a bike sales and service shop that borders the South Coast Highway 101 in Encinitas.
He rides his bike along the highway on a regular basis.
“It’s still very dangerous,” he said.
Garrigus said he gets yelled at, even buzzed by motorists while riding the highway. Those have seemingly become commonplace experiences for other cyclists, too.
The Coast Highway is a bustling thoroughfare of two narrow lanes each heading north and south. Vehicles are consistently pulling in or out of parking spots on the right sides of the lanes making driving conditions tight.
That tightness is felt all the more with the addition of bicyclists to the roadways — recreational riders, tourists and those that use bikes as their main mode of transportation — and much of that is causing a lot of “noise” between cyclists and motorists.
All, which is leading to what cyclist groups, law enforcement and city officials, say is a much needed education campaign to make sure motorists know what the sharrows mean and how bicyclists are able to use them.
Sheriff’s Department Capt. Robert Haley said the sharrows (a symbol of a bike underneath two arrows painted onto roadways) were very forward thinking on the city’s part. “The lanes are too narrow to have dedicated bike lanes, so they created the sharrow lanes and a lot of drivers are very unfamiliar with the whole sharrows concept,” he said.
“The sharrows were created to allow bicyclists to avoid hazards on the right side (of the lane),” Haley said. “Sometimes there could be trucks parked over there, and if they (bicyclists) need to ride in the middle of the lane, or even a little to the left of the sharrow to avoid getting hit by a car pulling out, or somebody opening a door…then they can ride over.”
Bicyclists are entitled to the entire lane on a sharrow, Haley explained. “They can ride in the middle or wherever they feel it’s safe,” he said.
In late November, Garrigus met with Encinitas City Manager Gus Vina and law enforcement to talk about ways to help educate riders, drivers and the public about bike safety.
Vina became involved, he said, because there was enough “noise” out there in terms of bicycle safety involving cars, bikes and buses that he began to check in with cycling coalitions.
Vina said the bicycling community is happy with the sharrows. But for more education, he’s challenged bike groups to come up with a campaign to devise on their own just what needs to be communicated on.
Vina said increased enforcement hasn’t been discussed by the bike groups, but that he’s aware of what he calls an “interpretation issue,” between law enforcement and bike groups. The issue revolves around what’s actually allowed by law on a sharrow, he explained.
“And that’s something that still needs a little work and clarity,” Vina said.
Where there is disagreement between law enforcement and cyclists is the issue of riding side-by-side. Haley said riding side-by-side in the sharrows is not technically permitted.
If the cyclists want to ride side-by-side, it would take amending the law. And that’s what the sheriff’s department has suggested to the bicycle coalitions, if they wanted to make that happen.
Haley said that traffic-related issues are the number one complaint he receives — speeding, running stop signs — that’s 10-to-1 over any other complaints the department receives.
“On occasion we get complaints from bicyclists who are being hassled by motorists that don’t understand the sharrows.”
Conversely, the department also receives complaints from citizens regarding cyclists failing to stop at stop signs or red lights.
From June through Nov. 30 of last year a total of 15 bicycle citations were given out. Out of those 15, 11 were issued on Nov. 2, the day of the annual Bike the Coast, Taste the Coast event.
“Whenever there’s an event, any type of specialized event, whether it’s a running event or a triathlon or a specific bicycling event, typically we provide more people,” Haley said. “If they’re out there, they’re going to be in the area where these people may or may not be violating the law. And if they violate the law, then they’re going to get a citation.”
Haley said it was motorists that receive “significantly more” traffic citations over bicyclists.
“We rarely cite bicyclists,” he said. “We’re not specifically targeting them, but if there’s a certain area where we receive complaints, or if they’re (Sheriff’s deputies) doing their routine patrol and a bicyclist does something right in front of them, then we have to act.”
Haley said the officers aren’t specifically instructed to enforce any infractions. “They’re traffic units, and that’s their job. They’re very well-versed on traffic laws. It’s a specialized position; they get picked for that job, just like a detective or anything else, and they’re expected to be proactive in what they’re doing.
“We don’t say, ‘pick on cyclists,’ we just give them (traffic units) the information on complaints, we give them the information on where there are collisions occurring, and they’re expected to provide enforcement in those areas,” Haley said.
The most commonly cited cyclist infractions include riding outside the bike lanes, hindering traffic, riding two to three abreast, and running stop signs and stop lights, Haley said.
In September, another roadway safety measure will go into effect. The Three Feet for Safety Act will require that motorists overtaking bicyclists or other motorists must do so with a three-foot buffer.
With the sharrows in place, Vina said that it’s an approach that helps include more modes of transportation. “And to me, the key is to make sure that when we do those things we are very thoughtful about the public safety, whether you’re in a car or on a bike or on the sidewalk. Public safety has to be the guiding light here.”