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Bicyclists, motorists, pedestrians must share the road...

The San Jose Mercury News: Bicyclists, motorists, pedestrians must share the road--and be 'nice' about it

By Judy peterson
Posted: 08/01/2011 07:32:14 PM PDT

When bicyclists, drivers and pedestrians share the road, the results are not always happy. In Los Gatos in recent weeks, for example, a lot of people have been complaining about bicyclists who run stop signs. Saratoga says it doesn't really have that problem, while Campbell has joined both cities in making bicycle and pedestrian safety improvements.

"Bike riders are just part of a larger problem of navigating this town safely," Los Gatos resident Libby Lane said. "I have lived in a lot of places, and nowhere have I experienced the need to be on the defensive all the time. People cross Santa Cruz Avenue, Main Street and University Avenue anywhere they want. It really is frightening sometimes."

Her point is underscored by a July 20 accident in which a pedestrian was struck by a car in the Old Town parking lot. It is just one of many car vs. pedestrian vs. bicycle accidents in Los Gatos so far this summer. One accident, at Los Gatos Boulevard and Wheeler Avenue, left a Santa Clara University professor in critical condition. "I don't think either one of those parties saw each other," said Sgt. Steve Walpole, traffic officer with the Los Gatos-Monte Sereno Police Department.

Up the road in Saratoga, sheriff's Capt. Carl Neusel says most of the problems between bicyclists and drivers are over who has the right-of-way. "Every now and then we have conflicts with bikes and cars," Neusel said, "but we take traffic enforcement seriously, so maybe people are behaving themselves. We do enforce the stop signs equally among bicyclists and cars."

Saratoga does have one trick up its sleeve: It has installed sensors at stoplights that can detect bicyclists. All left turn lanes at intersections with stoplights have them, and the city hopes to add them to all streets that have bicycle lanes. Quite simply, when a sensor detects a bicyclist waiting for a light to change, it triggers the signal to change.

"My philosophy is we want to encourage people to share the road," Neusel said. "We go to great lengths to teach kids to wear helmets and stop at stop signs."

He went on to say that one of his biggest gripes is that adults behaving badly set a bad example for children.

Large numbers of children walking and biking in the Pollard Road and Knowles Drive area is the main reason why Campbell is pursuing a bike lane project there. "We observed that there was quite a bit of bike and pedestrian traffic heading toward Rolling Hills school," Campbell traffic engineer Matthew Jue said. "It was pretty visually recognizable."

Campbell was awarded a $255,000 Safe Routes to School grant to fund the project. The bicycle lanes will be constructed along both sides of Pollard and Knowles between Winchester Boulevard and the west Campbell limits near Quito Road.

Jue said some radar feedback signs will also be installed "to show motorists how fast they're going."

Construction is tentatively set to begin this November and wrap up in March 2012.

Approximately $10,000 of the grant money will be used to encourage students to walk and bike to school safely through a helmet giveaway and flier distribution program. Jue said about 100 bike helmets will be given to Rolling Hills Middle School to distribute to children who come to school without one.

"The improvements will encourage bicycling and healthier students, but it's also beneficial for folks who aren't going to school," Jue said. "It will encourage anybody to be able to bike on Knowles and Pollard."

Campbell also worked some cyclist and pedestrian safety components into its ongoing E. Campbell Avenue Improvement Project. Existing bike lanes in the area will be extended once repaving is completed.

Jue said the bridge that goes over Los Gatos Creek was also widened to lessen the occurrence of cyclists riding on the sidewalk.

Bicycling on sidewalks is permitted in a few places in Los Gatos. For instance, there's a stretch of Blossom Hill Road en route to Fisher Middle School where it's allowed. Children under the age of 10 are also allowed to ride their bikes on sidewalks, but only in residential neighborhoods.

But the problem of kids not wearing helmets is evident daily in Los Gatos. On July 27, three youngsters without helmets were spotted riding on Los Gatos Boulevard between Loma Alta Avenue and Shannon Road in a five- minute period. Although Walpole says the town has "pretty good compliance with the helmet law," he expects the town's Juvenile Helmet Diversion Program will be started up again soon. "We send violators to class," Walpole said, "so they have to spend a Saturday in class learning bicycle [laws] from one of our officers."

Avid cyclists admit the problem cuts both ways. "I've had drivers cut me off," downtown Los Gatos Mike's Bikes employee Pete Myers said. "At the same time, at cycling events, you have a lot of people who aren't riding safely."

Meyers pointed to the San Jose Bike Party, which attracts thousands of cyclists, as a place where most, but not all cyclists follow the rules of the road. "You always have quite a few idiots," he said. "Cyclists need to be aware of what's legal and what's nice. You shouldn't have people running pedestrians off the sidewalk." Or off the Los Gatos Creek Trail. Which is why Campbell resident Bill LaCroix refuses to walk the trail on weekends. "The bicyclists are speeding, and they run you off the trail," he said.

Cyclists speeding down Main Street in Los Gatos and running the four-way stop at Jackson Avenue is an area that police have targeted. "There's definitely a problem at Jackson. That's the one location where I've cited cyclists," Walpole said. "College Avenue and Main is also bad."

Mike's Bikes employee Brian Wynn pointed to another area of conflict. "I watched a guy get doored," he said, referring to people who open their car doors to get out and hit a bicyclist because they haven't looked to see if someone's coming up on them.

It's a real hot button issue with Wynn. "Running stop signs, speeding, congestion--it puts cyclists at risk," he said.

Walpole's message to drivers and cyclists, meantime, is simple: "Follow the rules of the road. No one is exempt from stoplights and stop signs," he said.

One area where significant improvements have been made is the stretch of Highway 9 that runs between Los Gatos, Monte Sereno and Saratoga. The three municipalities have worked together to bring bicycle and pedestrian lanes to the highway, following numerous serious accidents and even deaths along the scenic route.

"The improvements have helped tremendously to make that whole stretch a lot safer," Saratoga Mayor Howard Miller said. "There are so many places where we're making changes. They might not be built for 20 years, but at least we've laid out a master plan for what we want to do."

One change that's already evident is the ride up Pierce Road to the Mountain Winery: It's been removed from cycling maps as one way to discourage bicyclists from heading that way.

Since cyclists and drivers aren't going to go away, the disputes will remain, but Meyers' comment about people just being "nice" to each other may go a long way toward solving the conflicts.