BY DAVID WHITING
THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Published: Sept. 13, 2010
Updated: Sept. 14, 2010 7:57 a.m.
Have you ever feared you might accidentally hit a bicycle with your car because of the cyclist’s behavior?
It can be a terrifying moment for a driver, not to mention the cyclist. You’re trying to get from one place to the next and some crazy cyclist makes a weird move, or a gang of riders hogs the road.
As a driver, the last thing you want to do is hurt someone on a spindly bike.
Why can’t they behave – or stay off the road?
If you’re like hundreds of readers who have contacted me since I started writing about the outdoors five years ago, you have plenty of company.
But your fear, frustration and – when it’s really scary – anger might be coming to an end.
Executive director of the Orange County Cycling Coalition Pete van Nuys, Orange County Wheelmen representative Michelle Kashima and I huddled last December in an Orange County Register office talking about what needed to be done.
We walked out with an action plan. It starts with cyclists.
In a county with more than 3 million people and a cycling paradise on the brink of bloody ruin with an average of one cycling death a month, our little meeting might seem pathetic.
But it was just a start. And whether you’re a cyclist or not, that means there’s hope.
Ban road cyclists?
Last week more than 80 people jammed into the Orange County Wheelmen’s monthly meeting. Most were cyclists. But many were not. And what was especially encouraging – and appreciated – was that each person took time for what promised to be a pretty somber evening.
The title of my topic? “Why cyclists are killing one another, and how we can stop.”
Considering anyone at all showed up speaks not only to the commitment to safety, it speaks to the dire situation.
(Or maybe it speaks to the amazing free food the Wheelmen offer, much of it prepared by President Jim Brewer’s wife, Anita, and her friends. Thanks!)
In the last five years, I told the crowd that some 80 people have died riding bicycles in Orange County. That’s enough to nearly wipe out the entire room.
It’s a staggering statistic, especially when you consider that deaths are actually down from 2006 when 18 cyclists were killed. As of last week, according to the coroner, seven cyclists have died this year.
But don’t go by coroner statistics alone. Some traffic-related deaths go uncounted. Some of the injured linger for weeks, even months and die – technically – of something else. And the fatality statistics do not include those injured.
At this point, you might think the solution is to ban bicycles from roads.
But remember, bicycles have a legal right to the road (and not just bicycle lanes). And saving cyclists by killing cycling is, when you think about it, wrong.
It also would be a terrible waste to throw away hundreds of miles of bicycling lines in what is arguably one of the finest networks of such lanes in the United States.
Let’s just give the cycling clubs the opportunity to get their act together.
We just need some sense and sensitivity.
Here is what I proposed last week:
• No riding two abreast.
• Single-file cycling packs known as pelotons.
Obey all traffic laws.
Violations would be enforced with club suspensions. This would include not being allowed to wear a club jersey. (One month for the first offense, two months for the second, etc.)
This allows self-enforcement by clubs. And drivers could contact clubs when they spot riders violating the rules.
If you’re a driver, the points might sound simple and straight-forward.
But if you’re a cyclist, you probably already are freaking out. And not just about the jersey.
Obeying red lights is probably not the deal breaker. But stop signs? As a cyclist, I know many of us figure they don’t apply to us. Wrong.
And single-file pelotons? You might be muttering, “Not going to happen.”
As one man said Wednesday night, cyclists are more visible and safer when riding in a pack. And I might agree.
But I’m also looking at it from a driver’s perspective. Not only do packs block streets, they scare the bejeebers out of drivers.
Simply put, cyclists need to extend courtesy to drivers whenever possible. Swarming a road is not the way.
This particular cyclist also was concerned about pelotons stretched out over a quarter-mile. Me, too.
As another cyclist in the audience suggested, break the pack up into chunks, about a dozen riders each.
Cyclists, keep in mind, this is Phase I. Phase II would focus on driver safety.
Calling all clubs
The Orange County Wheelmen prides itself on being the oldest cycling club in the county with more than 400 members. That means it also might be the most difficult to adapt to change. Not so.
Since that December meeting, the organization has worked hard to change its culture. Its bylaws include, “promote bicycling courtesy and safety on and off road.” And it’s more than just a slogan.
Every meeting, including last week’s, opens with a session on rider safety. Members, such as Kashima, have taken the time to become certified cycling safety instructors. And other members are enrolling in classes.
“Ride to come back alive,” is the mantra.
After riding Orange County roads for more than 13 years, I took a beginning class last year taught by van Nuys. I figured I knew everything about riding but need to get some cycling safety “nuts” off my back.
Attention master riders: I learned a lot. I’m a better, safer and more confident rider, especially in traffic.
I’d like to say the next step is up to drivers. But we’re not ready for Phase II yet.
A lot more cyclists need to clean up their act before we can really focus on non-cyclists.
They need to stop breaking traffic laws, ride safely and ride with courtesy. It’s the least each and every cycling organization in Orange County – mountain and road, official and unofficial – can do to help reduce the number of deaths.
Here’s a shout out to just a few: Rebel Riders, SoCal Trail Riders, 3F Bicycling Club, Trail Angels, Laguna Rads, SHARE Mountain Bike Club, and, yes, the Cuomo Street studs.
The life you save may be your own.