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Advocates urge caution, etiquette after bicycle fatalities

COAST CITIES — Many residents and law enforcement officials are increasingly concerned following five bicycle-related fatalities this month in San Diego County. 

Most recently, a Temecula teacher died at an Escondido hospital after a bicycle accident.

Andy Hanshaw, executive director of the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition, said the recent spike in bicycle fatalities is “troubling.”

“In most cases, learning bicycle and motor safety goes a long way and can prevent accidents and fatalities,” Hanshaw said.

To follow the rules of the road, Hanshaw encouraged bicyclists to think of themselves as motorists. That means bicyclists should come to a halt at stop signs, indicate their intentions with arm signals, go with the flow of traffic at all times and obey traffic signals.

One of the most common bicycling accidents occurs when drivers make a right hand turn in front of a bicyclist, called a “right hook.” To avoid, bicyclists at an intersection should keep traffic behind them by keeping farther to left of the right-hand turn lane, instead of hugging the very right.

As for motorists, Hanshaw urged drivers to use their blinkers and refrain from using their cell phones and “anything that’s distracting.”

“Also, remember that bicyclists have a right to the road,” Hanshaw said.

San Diego, the eighth largest city in the U.S., ranks 22nd in bicycle and pedestrian fatalities, according to a report earlier in the year from the Alliance for Biking & Walking. The same report said San Diego ranks 20th in cycling to work.

Citing bike-friendly cities like Amsterdam, Portland and London, Hanshaw believes cities must invest in bicycle infrastructure “for the safety of motorists and bicyclists.”

At the county level, Hanshaw said he’s encouraged by the San Diego Association of Governments’ 2050 Regional Transportation Plan, which will set aside nearly $3.8 billion for bicycle projects, according to SANDAG’s website. As another positive in his book, Hanshaw pointed to the trend of bicycle committees playing a greater role in local communities.

Howard LaGrange, a co-founder of the Oceanside Bicycle Committee, said his group has worked with the Oceanside City Council to install street signs and create shared lane markers, known as “sharrows,” on Pacific Street in Oceanside.

LaGrange said the street signs and sharrow markings have saved some bicyclists from getting “doored,” when parked drivers open their car doors without checking for approaching bicyclists.

“The street is a lot safer now,” LaGrange said. “Sharrows communicate to bicyclists that they can move to the center of the roadway, and they let drivers know bicyclists have a right to be there.”

Oceanside was one of the first areas in the county to adopt sharrow markings, according to LaGrange. The idea is spreading. Last week, the Encinitas City Council agreed to install sharrow markings and street signs along a stretch of Coast Highway 101. And Solana Beach is poised to add a sharrow lane next year as part of a Highway 101 revitalization project.

While important, LaGrange said sharrow markings and signage can only go so far. Ultimately, bicyclists must take the opportunity to learn proper bike etiquette. LaGrange recommends new riders enroll in one of the monthly bicycle-focused traffic school classes that are offered throughout the county.

For those who don’t follow the rules, LaGrange said enforcement plays a role.

“We’ve worked with the Oceanside Police Department to issue warnings and even up to tickets to those breaking the law,” LaGrange said.

“Some people know you’re not supposed to ride through stop signs, but they do it anyway,” LaGrange added. “They reflect badly on those who abide by the rules.”

Whether a motorist or cyclist, Dee Folse, captain of the Shoebacca bicycle riding team, said “a bad apple can make it worse for everyone.”

“There can be a lot of negativity out there on the road,” Folse said. “It’s important to have a good time and smile at others. That attitude is contagious.”

According to Folse, bicyclists should ride single file on busy roads, more than two people wide can be dangerous in many circumstances.

Folse said he favors state legislation like the proposed three-feet passing rule, which would require drivers give bicyclists three feet when passing. But he said, above all, cyclists and motorists should possess a positive attitude and a strong understanding of the rules of the road.

“Drivers, bike riders — I’ve seen bad behavior on both sides,” Folse said. “It’s important to coexist and recognize each other’s right to the road.”



Paul July 26, 2012 at 10:26 am

I find it curious and cynical that the SDCBC finally showed up to a bike memorial event and tried to hijack the demand for safer streets with their tired message of placing the full responsibility for safety on rider education. The dinosaurs’ days are numbered.

Marty Benson July 30, 2012 at 1:14 pm

I can’t remember the last time that I even saw a Police Car use its blinker. Yet every time there’s coverage of our iniquitous system killing the people who are taking up the least of our land and fuel resources for transportation, there’s a whole referendum on cyclists rolling through stop signs. I’m pretty sure that there is a similar percentage of cyclists who are jerks and rule-breakers to those in cars, but we seem to need to focus on the misdeeds of the most vulnerable among us. Can’t cyclists even get a fair shake in an article that’s about cyclists killed by hurtling 2000-pound metal boxes?

Where do the duty to prevent harm & the presumption of fault arise?? … Certainly not upon the party who wields the most destructive capacity!

It is tremendously unfair to put the responsibility for mitigating the dire public safety threat posed by automobiles on those who are unduly threatened. We need traffic calming measures, and strict liability for dangerous road users:

EYNU July 30, 2012 at 7:41 pm

That was exactly my response upon reading this article. The thousands of pounds of a powerful metal force versus a bike and the focus of responsibility is on the bike rider. Logic fail

Todd Oulanger July 31, 2012 at 5:28 pm

Hi Jared,

Thank you for covering this important topic. Please consider avoiding the use of the work “accident” when reporting on traffic incidents. A more appropriate term now in use in the field of traffic safety would be “crash” or “collision” depending on how many vehicles are involved. The term “accident” is outdated and tends to imply that the initiator of the action could not avoid it.

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