Dear Street Smarts,
Q: Thank you for your response to Gloria, who is unhappy about cycling in the same direction as traffic. You advised her it was safer to ride with traffic, not against.
As a child, I was originally taught to ride facing traffic by my parents, who considered bicycling to be a faster method of walking. But really, we are driving a vehicle — albeit a slower one. At least, that’s what bicycle school taught me about 45 years ago. Even back then, we were officially taught to follow traffic laws when driving a bicycle.
I cycle to work several times a week. It always unnerves me when I’m in the bike lane, riding with the flow of traffic, and I see a bicyclist coming towards me in my lane, putting both of us at risk. And somehow, that rider always expects me to ride to the left, into the flow of traffic, while they hug the sidewalk in relative safety. Why should my safety be more at risk, when you are the person choosing riskier behavior?
I would very much like to see police officers give tickets to bicyclists traveling the wrong direction in the bike lanes. I feel traffic laws should be enforced on bicyclists the same as motorists. If all types of vehicle traffic follow the same general patterns, we are all more safe.
BJ Crawford, Capitola
A: Well said, BJ. And law enforcement officers do cite cyclists for misbehaving.
Meanwhile, regarding wrong way cycling injuries, Street Smarts tapped the expertise of Dr. Richard Hencke, a physician in Dominican Hospital’s emergency room.
“The car always wins,” he said.
Wrong way cyclists involved in head-on collisions with automobiles are more likely to die than if they were struck from behind while traveling with the flow of traffic, he said. The reason is this: If a vehicle is traveling 30 mph while a wrong way cyclist is heading toward it at 5 mph, they are coming together at a combined 35 mph.
“That’s more deadly,” Hencke said, noting that the likely cause of death would be head injury.
Here’s a YouTube video of a car and cyclist going head-to-head. In this case, the vehicle could be held at fault for not yielding to the cyclist. But study the anatomy of this collision, the aftermath and tell me what you think.
Speaking of traffic laws, while cyclists are supposed to follow the same rules as automobiles, there are variations – riding on sidewalks, for example.
While state law prohibits cyclists from riding on sidewalks, local jurisdictions can make their own rules. While Capitola and Watsonville banish bicycles from sidewalks, those in Santa Cruz’s commercial zones are bike free areas. In neighborhoods where bicycles and electric bikes are allowed, they must yield the right-of-way to pedestrians. As for the unincorporated parts of the county, there is no ordinance on the books banning bikes from sidewalks but the California Highway Patrol, a state agency, is inclined to enforce the state’s law of bike free sidewalks. Scotts Valley, however, allows cyclists on all sidewalks.