Cities face legal obstacle to safer biking

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San Francisco has been blazing the trail toward safer cycling with innovative designs such as cycletracks, or bike lanes that are physically separated from cars, which have been installed on Market Street and JFK Drive. But cycletracks aren't legal under state law, something that a San Francisco lawmaker and activist are trying to solve so that other California cities can more easily adopt them.

"Right now, many cities are not putting in cycletracks for fear they don't conform to the Caltrans manual," says Assemblymember Phil Ting, whose Assembly Bill 1193 — which would legalize and set design standards for cycletracks — cleared the Assembly on Jan. 29 and is awaiting action by the Senate.

Ting is working on the issue with the California Bicycle Coalition, whose executive director, Dave Snyder, is a longtime San Francisco bike activist. Snyder says Caltrans doesn't allow bike lanes that include physical barriers against traffic, even though they are widely used in other countries and states and considered to be safest design for cyclists.

"San Francisco is technically breaking the law because they have the best traffic engineers in the state and a good City Attorney's Office and they know they can defend it in court if they have to," Snyder said. "Most places in the state won't do that."

In addition to the direct benefits of the legislation in San Francisco and other cities, Snyder said the legislation seems to be triggering a long-overdue discussion at Caltrans and other agencies about how to encourage more people to see cycling as an attractive transportation option, with all the environmental, public health, and traffic alleviation benefits that it brings.

"It's opened up a conversation about bike lane design and Caltrans' role in encouraging safe cycling," Snyder told the Guardian, praising Ting for championing the legislation. "It's having an impact beyond its immediate impact."

In response to a request for comment, a Caltrans spokesperson said, "It's our policy not to comment on pending legislation."

Surveys conducted by the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition have shown safety is the top concern of those considering riding to work or school more often. Ting said he hopes this legislation will address that concern: "By building more cycletracks in California, there will be increased ridership."

Comments

If safety is such a concern, why no outrage over lack of mandatory helmet laws? And don't give me the lame "it will decrease number of riders" - BS.

Posted by Richmondman on Feb. 05, 2014 @ 6:11 am

"Right now, many cities are not putting in cycletracks for fear they don't conform to the Caltrans manual," I agree with him in this point.

Posted by John Prices on Feb. 05, 2014 @ 7:27 pm

who whine about not riding in the city because they don't feel safe.

As the number of bike lanes increase none of those people are riding any more than they were before. One guy I know lives between two bike lanes that would take him back and forth to work and he still doesn't ride his bike, he spent years whining like a Bike Coalition loser about this issue.

Either progressives just can't think or they just like to make this shit up to sound like they know what they are talking about when they go begging to the government.

The bike thing is like when you discover a new band and think everyone should hear it and annoy everyone you know making them listen to it. After a few months the novelty wears off and you stop badgering people with it. The bike riding novelty has not worn off for Steve Jones, he thinks everyone should join his little club of bike riders because it's so neato.

Posted by guest on Feb. 08, 2014 @ 12:50 am

The question is whether people feel unsafe biking on the block faces or whether people feel unsafe biking through intersections.

Since the bicycle tracks end at intersections, they are not going to make anyone feel safer there. And since cycle tracks cut off escape routes into traffic, they funnel cyclists into intersections where they are vulnerable to right hook turns.

The goal is safer cycling, not any given treatment. Fixation on tactics can blind advocates to the end goal. The SFBC is fixated upon tactics and often loses sight of the big picture, at least until it becomes real for the Queen Bee.

I'd wager that once Leah Shahum gets right hooked in a cycle track at an intersection the focus of the SFBC would change accordingly.

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