Friday, October 25, 2013

Thoughts On The San Diego Coastal Rail Trail Working Group Meeting

On Wednesday, October 23, 2013, SANDAG held the final meeting of the Coastal Rail Trail Working Group. This is an advisory group, meaning that they can make recommendations to SANDAG, and the City Counil, and all of the other stakeholders, but ultimately have little to no power how things will swing in this crazy town of uplifted politics. Darren and I, of course, attended with some dream that there would be bike paths through canyons and dreamy Class 1 lanes for leisure riding through Rose Canyon, maybe a true "Rail Trail" route. That option, at least in this meeting, wasn't even on the table. (Gotta give it to the hostile Rose Canyon lady, she has shut down any tampering of a trail in canyons, despite the fact that a FUCKING TRAIN can run through there several times a day.)

Alas, this is a hostile group. Generally speaking, the majority of people at the meeting want safe bike infrastructure to get from Rose Canyon, near the McDonald's on the north end of Mission Bay Drive, up to Sorrento Valley and through to Del Mar, while also servicing UCSD. However, the TransNet funds and project goals always include this huge 60% segment of the population of people who might be interested in riding bikes if conditions were safe enough to do so. Generally these meetings and forums are filled with bike commuters who already ride no matter what the conditions, homeowners and renters and parties who will fight to the death if they lose parking and traffic lanes, and advocates for other interests that see bike lanes as the ultimate failure of the world and everything will suddenly collapse if they let those goddamn bicyclists- who run lights, who take over the roads, who have no regard for anyone but themselves- get any part of current roadways.

It is super interesting to sit in on one of these meetings. Living in the urban core of San Diego, I'm right between the intersection of where North Park, City Heights, and Normal Heights converge, and I haven't owned a functioning car in nearly five years. Obviously I've been driven and can drive in these areas, but I feel less bike advocate than I do pro-multi-modal transportationist. Sometimes I need a ride, so a friend or the bus or the trolley suits me. Sometimes I bike and can get in and out of places faster than a car because I'm not chasing parking or stuck in traffic when things break down, like water mains or traffic lights or tragic accidents. And other times, I just walk. Generally speaking, there aren't people at these meetings who represent me, and that is precisely why I show up. I'm not a "cyclist", I happen to sometimes ride a bike, or ride in a car, or ride the bus, or take a cab, or walk, but I am out most every night, and every night I have to decide how to get from point A to point B and safely home again. There is no other choice, then, to show up and speak up at these meetings.

These meetings get really crazy when people speak about their experiences- a mom with toddlers not wanting cyclists in her park, as if she owns it, as if only homeowners have rights to these public open spaces. Even as a self-described cyclist, the same mom can't see the forest for the trees, or in this matter, that in a few years, her toddlers have the potential to grow up where safe bike paths exist, where in a few more years, her kids could have the mentality that running errands means packing up a basket on a bike instead of loading up the Benz to get groceries, or get dinner, or to have a fun night out.

I was incredibly flattered, after attending just four or five of these meetings that a SANDAG rep came over and whispered to me, "YOU really need to speak up. This isn't going well and these people need to hear from people like you." People like me. People like me sometimes don't have transportation choices. People like me ride in bike lanes when it's safe, but will ride a sidewalk when it isn't. People like me will ride with a 6 year old- sometimes on the street, sometimes in bike lanes, and sometimes on sidewalks- to have fun and ride because it can be so fun, so liberating, and a total escape from humdrum life. People like me don't gear up in jerseys on 10-speeds, we ride the bikes we can barely afford or the hand me downs, or the bikes we get from Craigs List. We light up our bikes, and we ride for freedom, for necessity, for fun.

It is incredibly exciting that our culture is changing, however slowly, to accept bikes on the roadways. It is exciting that a hipster on a fixie, a cholo on an undersized BMX, a beach bum on a Cruiser, or average people riding average bikes can maybe be considered when all of this bike infrastructure is finally laid out. It's exciting that California passed a 3 foot law for passing bikes (in effect 9/16/2014). It's reassuring to know that killing a cyclist isn't just an "Oops" and a small fine. Today it is just paint...sharrows and buffered bike lanes and signs to "Share The Road", but maybe all of this will be built out someday, and when I'm old, maybe I can be assured that showing up to these meetings in 2013 means that I'm alive to enjoy a bike in 2023, 2033, and beyond.

The meetings will continue. Follow up about the "Coastal Rail Trail" at the next public meeting sometime before the end of the year. There are projects happening all over the county, too, so READ UP, SIGN UP, and SHOW UP. After all, YOU are paying for all of this. Make it happen. Fight the state when they try to move the TransNet tax money into the general fund, where it is lost forever. Demand multi-modal infrastructure, command attention on your neighborhood needs- sidewalks and curbs and parking and safety-, and VOTE in the special mayoral election. David Alvarez is the guy who still cares about shit like this, while Faulconer and Fletcher hide their special business interests but will go right back to pouring money to developers and hoteliers.

As a final thought, I will say that I was perfectly content spending my twenties into my thirties in a stagnant lifestyle. I had a shitty bike that I sometimes used in necessity, but it wasn't until my mid-thirties that I got a decent bike. With the new bike came a change in lifestyle, freedom, and an entirely new mindset. I suddenly remembered how it felt racing down a hill on a banana-seat bike when I was 10. I suddenly paid attention to the houses and apartments and restaurants and buildings in my neighborhood. I grew a sense of pride in my 'hood and in myself that no job nor paycheck could ever match. And it is contagious. I hope I'm sharing this with you, and you will share it with your friends and family and neighbors and community. If you haven't been on a bike in a while, think about why. And think about how awesome it was when you were young  and got rid of your training wheels and you felt liberated. This is a step further. Get a bike, ride within your limits, jump on a bus and go someplace you've never been. Ride the River Path. Ride over bridges. Ride the streets. Ride Downtown, ride the Bayfront, City Heights and Normal Heights and the Coast and Coronado. It will make you love a bike again. It will make you a better driver. And it will make you love the amazing City of San Diego that you get to call "HOME".


Friday, October 4, 2013

California Bicycle Coalition: Three Feet For Safety Act Passes

I hate to be a lazy blogger, and I hate to post, verbatim, another blog, but in this case, I'm going to suggest that getting the word out is more important. A few weeks ago there was a petition to ask Governor Jerry Brown to sign "The Three Feet For Safety Act." The law mandates that vehicles give bikes 3 feet of distance for passing. The law was signed and passed, though it doesn't go into effect until September 16, 2014. You can read another interesting blog post about the law here. Good, thoughtful drivers will start observing the law immediately.

Three Feet for Safety Act Hailed by Media; Bicyclists
The passage of the Three Feet for Safety Act on Monday September 23rd was cheered by bicyclists across California. In the past week, the media has also been supportive.
The Los Angeles Times‘s Robert Greene called the legislation a “Victory for California cyclists”. In his column, he recounts the many setbacks that the legislation suffered before Governor Jerry Brown finally put the ink on paper and adds:
“Getting the law on the books has been a top priority for cycling advocates in California. Cycling has long been part of the civic culture in most large cities here, but in numbers that left pro-bike policy a poor cousin when compared with car-oriented laws and regulations — until the last five or six years. The state is beginning to catch up with the rebirth of cycling around the nation.”
Olivia Hubert Allen’s column in KQED News ran with the forceful headline: “Give California Cyclists 3 Feet–It’s Now the Law”. It largely mirrors the LA Times column. So does the column on it in KTLA 5 by Melissa Pamer.
Pamer adds:
“In recent years, enthusiasm for cycling in L.A. has been buoyed by the support of a growing activist community and that of politicians such at former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. The city in 2010 launched a “Give Me 3″ graphic campaign encouraging drivers to create a safe cushion between vehicles and bicyclists.
Bicycle Times‘s Adam Newman hailed the new law and showed optimism: “A $35 fine seems pretty petty, but it can be raised to $220 if a.) a collision occurs, b.) the cyclist is injured and c.) the driver is found to be in violation of the statute. Somehow that doesn’t seem like much of a penalty for breaking the law and hitting someone, but I guess a weak law is better than no law.”
Finally, Emily Baker, a California bicyclist, had this to say in response to the law’s passage:
“It’s a shame that there are kits available to buy for cyclists asking not to be killed. While the new law is a step in the right direction, there needs to be a lot more to educate cyclists and motorists and save lives.”

Our executive director, Dave Snyder responds: “That’s why we’re working with AAA and the Better World Club to educate their motorist members about the new law. We’re also working to make sure that the state’s new “Active Transportation Program” preserves funding for education as well as infrastructure to educate everyone about safe sharing of the roads.”

California Bicycle Coalition: Three Feet For Safety Act FAQ

This is the basic information about the Three Feet For Safety Act, via California Bicycle Coalition.


 How can drivers tell whether they’re giving a bicyclist three feet of clearance?

 By doing what they already know how to do. Most drivers who can park in a parking stall (like at a shopping center) can park their cars with enough space so they can open the passenger-side door — which is at least three feet wide — without hitting an adjacent car or wall. That’s how much clearance they should give a bicyclist when passing in the same lane. Easy, huh?

 AB 1371 will make safe passing a lot less confusing. Existing law simply requires a driver to keep a “safe distance” from a bicyclist. How is a driver supposed to know what’s considered “safe”?

 How will this law be enforced?

 It will be enforced the same way California’s current passing law is enforced: a driver who is observed to be violating the law can be cited. Many drivers will obey the law and some won’t – and won’t get caught. That’s a problem with enforcement, not with the law itself. (And yes, it also means drivers will need to be educated about the law.) The law will be particularly valuable where a violation results in a collision that injures a bicyclist, because it establishes a clear basis for citing the driver for unsafe passing.

 Believe it or not, under existing law it’s not illegal to injure a bicyclist with a car. In far too many cases drivers who injure bicyclists never gets cited or punished in any way. Drivers who kill bicyclists can be prosecuted for vehicular manslaughter, a criminal charge. But there isn’t a comparable charge for injuring a bicyclist, even when the injuries are severe or permanently disabling. AB 1371 will result in more careless drivers being punished and some of the worst offenders being taken off the road permanently. This protects everyone else on the road, including other drivers.

 What will be the penalties for violating this law?

 AB 1371 contains two penalties. For a violation that does not result in an injury, the bill sets a base fine of $35, which becomes a $233 fine for the driver once court and administrative fees are added. This is the existing fine for unsafe passing. For a violation that involves a collision that injures a bicyclist, the base fine is $220, which becomes a $959 fine for the driver. This new penalty is equal to the lowest fine imposed for reckless driving with bodily injury. Will the law apply when passing a bicyclist who is riding in a bike lane? No. AB 1371 amends the California Vehicle Code section that deals with one vehicle passing another vehicle from behind in the same travel lane and traveling in the same direction (the technical term is “overtaking”). When a car and a bicycle are traveling in separate lanes, the safe passing law would not apply.
How would drivers give bicyclists three feet of clearance on roads that are too narrow?

 Keep in mind that state law doesn’t guarantee drivers a right to pass whenever or wherever they want. Drivers may only pass another vehicle or a bicycle when it’s safe to do so. This wouldn’t change under AB 1371. AB 1371 would require the driver to slow down to a safe and reasonable speed and wait to pass only when it was safe to do so. The driver would have to be prepared to demonstrate that three feet were NOT available and the slower, closer pass was done according to the law. This is a higher burden of proof for drivers than we have under the current law, which places no conditions on how to pass at a “safe distance.” 

Why do we need a law just about passing bicyclists? We already have a law about passing bicyclists.

 Existing state law requires drivers to pass at a “safe distance.” The problem is, there’s no way for drivers to know what’s “safe” when state law doesn’t specify a distance. That’s why we have Assembly Bill 1371. Plenty of traffic laws reflect the fact that many road users — pedestrians, school children, emergency workers and road crews, for example — are especially vulnerable in the event of a collision with a passing motor vehicle. That’s why drivers have special speed limits and special passing rules when approaching crosswalks, schools, school busses, emergency vehicles and road crews. By specifying three feet as the minimum passing distance when cars pass bicycles, AB 1371 simply extends this concept to passing bicyclists, who are just as vulnerable to motor vehicles.

 Would AB 1371 prohibit a bicyclist from passing a car too closely?

 No. The bill applies specifically to motor vehicles passing bicyclists from behind. A bicyclist who passes a motor vehicle by less than three feet –- for example, when pulling alongside a car stopped at a red light — would not violate this law (and wouldn’t cause the driver to be in violation of the law, as the bicyclist is passing the driver and not the other way around). The reason should be obvious: a passing bicyclist represents none of the risk to drivers that passing drivers present to bicyclists. In fact, we’re not aware of any evidence that a bicyclist passing a car has ever harmed the driver. AB 1371 simply reflects the unique potential of motor vehicles to cause significant harm to other road users.