Judgment day is coming for drivers and cyclists, and it’s about time.
With an average of one cyclist a month killed in Orange County, law enforcement in four cities is joining forces this month to turn around this tragic trend.
On Saturday and again on Feb. 24, police in Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Costa Mesa and Laguna Beach will fan out for a special crackdown on drivers and cyclists.
Called the Bicycle Safety Enforcement Operation, the focus will be on violations that lead to bike vs. vehicle collisions.
To our men and women in blue, I say thank you.
You might want to join me in welcoming the Bicycle Safety Enforcement Operation. It marks a significant step toward saving lives as well as a step toward saving the future of road riding in one of the nation’s premier cycling locations.
“The goal of the program,” said Newport Chief of Police Jay Johnson, “is to educate the public about the safe and lawful use of bicycles, as well as the safe and lawful use of vehicles that share the roadways with bicycles.”
Johnson’s words may seem simple and straight forward. But they are bold and brave.
After witnessing raging debates over road rights, Johnson’s language is sure to drive some people nuts.
But they represent what our county should be known for: Share the road.
Some might argue that the Bicycle Safety Enforcement Operation doesn’t include every city. They might say it won’t prevent all future injuries and fatalities.
I’ve written more than a dozen columns in the last five years about smashed bicycles, broken bones and death. I know paralyzed people as well as widows and widowers. And I ride the road.
To those who criticize the crackdown, I say grow up.
Cyclists should stop doing dumb stuff. And drivers should learn how to drive.
My introduction to Johnson came last fall. His e-mail had a headline: “Cyclist killed in Newport Beach.”
Several cyclists were killed in Newport Beach during the summer. Another one? But Johnson quickly explained.
“If you’re anything like me, the above headline puts a pit in your stomach,” he wrote. “Fortunately this time it is not true, but as the Chief of Police I don’t ever want to read that headline again.”
While I was annoyed with the bait and switch, I liked Johnson’s style. He not only knew how to get people’s attention, he was compassionate and serious.
The rest of his e-mail is worth sharing:
“Two weeks into my new job as Chief of Police in Newport Beach, I responded to the scene of the fatal accident of cyclist Michael Nine on Spyglass Hill.
“Though I have been to many in my 23-year career in Long Beach, they never get any easier and sad as all of them could have been prevented.”
Johnson’s e-mail concluded by inviting what he called “20 leaders in the cycling community” to an open meeting. “The first step,” Johnson said, “is building relationships and starting some dialogue.”
A meeting often is the first step. I worried the meeting also would be the last step.
CREATING A COALITION
On the night of Oct. 21, 2010, I walked into Newport Beach’s Oasis Senior Center. There were about three-dozen people casually dressed and about a half-dozen uniformed officers.
The size of Johnson’s posse indicated the chief wasn’t there just to yak. He meant business.
Tall, tan and chiseled, Johnson reiterated the deaths and asked for suggestions on how to prevent injuries and fatalities.
Johnson listened patiently to more than an hour of comments. There were tales of crashes, plenty of stories of aggressive cyclists and aggressive drivers and some good suggestions.
Driver and cyclist awareness – and courtesy – emerged as two themes.
I went home and the debates over who should be and shouldn’t be on the road continued, sometimes on the Internet, other times at busy intersections.
But Johnson kept working.
In unveiling this month’s Bicycle Safety Enforcement Operation, Johnson said this is an especially auspicious time for drivers and cyclists to learn to share the road.
“With more traffic congestion on our city streets and more people turning to bicycles as a transportation alternative,” Johnson said, “we need to make sure that all road users understand the rules, laws and safe behavior.”
How will police do that?
“Extra officers,” Johnson explained, “will be on duty patrolling areas frequented by bicyclists and vehicles.” He also said, “Prevention is a key component of the program.”
Some drivers may complain that cyclists shouldn’t be on the road and that cars are king. And some cyclists may complain that they are being harassed and they shouldn’t be cited for rolling through stop signs.
But we’ve been hearing that kind of whining for the past five years – while burying more than 80 cyclists.
Johnson’s ready for something different, something that reminds me of a friend’s green shirt with a red circle and slash mark over the word “whining.”
The Newport Beach police chief also made an extra effort to point out officers will enforce the law equally for both cyclists and drivers:
“Officers will be addressing traffic violations made by all vehicle operators, bicyclists, and other vehicle drivers that lead to bicycle vs. vehicle collisions, injuries and fatalities.”
Whether you’re a driver or a cyclist – and most cyclists are both – let’s applaud the effort.
And if your city was left out, you might ask your local law enforcement about joining or having its own Bicycle Safety Enforcement Operation.
The life you save could be your own.
In announcing the Bicycle Safety Enforcement Operation, Newport Beach Police Chief Jay Johnson cited a list of laws that – if obeyed – should reduce bicycle vs. car collisions.
Here’s his breakdown along with the California Vehicle Code.
Bicycle vs. motorist:
• Bicycle must be operated on a roadway or the shoulder of the highway in the same direction as the flow of traffic. 21650.1
• Failure to stop at Stop Signs. 22450(a)
• Failure to stop at Stop Lights. 21453(a)
• Yield the right of way to all traffic. 21804
Motorist vs. bicycle:
• Failure to yield when turning left. 21801(a
• Unsafe turning movement. 22107
• Failure to stop at red light. 21453(a)
• Failure to yield to others lawfully in intersection. 21451(b)