CHP is increasing watch over motorist, cyclist infractions
RANCHO SANTA FE — Not until this September does the newly signed into law Three Feet For Safety Act, which is aimed at helping motorists and bicyclists to better coexist on the roadways, take effect.
But even then, around the narrow roads of Rancho Santa Fe, a motorist trying to pass a cyclist, entering into the opposite lane to do so might not be a reasonable option, said CHP Officer Jim Bettencourt.
On any given weekend, cyclists that are drawn to the diverse terrain, line the shaded and winding road ways that dissect Rancho Santa Fe.
Oftentimes, Rancho Santa Fe plays just a portion of a cyclist’s ride that can extend some 100 miles before heading out to the coastal communities of Del Mar, Solana Beach and Encinitas or further inland towards Del Dios and Escondido.
But Matt Wellhouser, chief of the Rancho Santa Fe Patrol, has said that cycling in the area has become a growing concern over the last few years for residents.
“The complaints we have received are regarding large groups of bicycle riders riding more than single file, two, three, four abreast or more. And then not stopping for stop signs,” Wellhouser said.
“One of the problems,” he said, “is the road width out here changes depending on the street. Streets like Paseo Delicias have a wider roadway and also a bike lane, whereas streets like Las Colinas or Lago Lindo have narrower lane width and no bike lane.”
The bike lanes here are deteriorated, said “Cowboy” Steve Morris, a cyclist and Encinitas-based real estate agent. “They go from six-inches to a foot, down to nothing — down to the width of the paint, with potholes and cracks and seams,” he said. “They’re not in good shape. You take some risks to be here.”
On a recent Sunday, he and a group of three other cyclists took a break from their ride, stopping for coffee and conversation at Café Positano in the heart of Rancho Santa Fe along Paseo Delicias.
Just that morning, Morris said he and his group got buzzed by motorists and honked at during their ride, even though they were in the bike lane and riding single file.
“For whatever reason, this has become a little bit of an issue lately,” Bettencourt said. “It’s becoming more prevalent in a lot of these areas. Let’s face it the weather is nice all year round…people love riding bikes in a lot of the area, especially Rancho Santa Fe.
“We just don’t have the wide shoulders for bicyclists to ride on, so a lot of times they’re in the lanes, but they’re allowed to ride in the lanes of traffic when it’s reasonable, in a lot of those areas.”
Bettencourt said that even with enforcement, the problem isn’t going away.
“At some point everybody just needs to watch out for everyone else,” he said.
Under contract with the Rancho Santa Fe Association, Bettencourt said the Association, which generally sets the guidelines for a lot of the things they want the officers to focus on, asked CHP late last fall to start enforcing the bicycle laws a little more.
He said that the CHP does have officers that are specifically out there looking for any violations involving bicyclists or motorists so it can be safer for everyone involved, though he explained that they’re not out there trying to push bicyclists out of Rancho Santa Fe.
“What we’re actually there trying to do is to make sure everybody is following the rules of the road and everybody is helping each other out,” he added.
Mike Lucas, who regularly cycles through the area, said he hasn’t noticed an increase in the amount of officers enforcing the area, but added that it was pretty easy to stay off the beaten path by taking side roads.
Bettencourt couldn’t say if they’ve necessarily increased the amount of officers in the area, but added that they’re definitely focusing on infractions regarding bicyclists and motorists that are driving unsafe around bicyclists.
“We’re definitely looking out for that in that area. They (Rancho Santa Fe residents) want us to be out there to do specifically that,” Bettencourt said.
While numbers of citations issued last year to motorists and bicyclists weren’t available by press time, Bettencourt said that he’s aware only of large bicycle groups being stopped and counseled by CHP officers, but not cited.
In some of the larger riding groups, there can be as many as 75 riders. And to cite that many for an infraction would be time-consuming.
“On average, (writing) a citation is going to take anywhere from five to 10 minutes as far as getting all of the information…you can imagine how long it would take to do that,” he said.
Morris said that riding in clubs provides almost a safety in numbers mentality.
“If they move in a unit,” Morris said, “for their own safety, that’s the safest way to go, and to actually take up the lane momentarily.”
Morris said that because of the skinny sizes of the roads, cyclists understand that there’s stress involved for cars passing one rider let alone a group.
“The car is a frighteningly strong, dangerous vehicle when it’s passing us very fast,” Lucas said.
People will continue to ride bicycles; people will continue to drive cars out there. It’s just a matter of trying to keep people safe, Bettencourt explained.