Dear Street Smarts,
Q: Last week, I was driving slowly down Old San Jose-Soquel Road in my very full four ton diesel Isuzu NPR commercial flatbed, which is 12 feet wide when the side mirrors are included. This road is barely two lanes, constricting to less than that in many sections. I came up behind a small group of cyclists, coasting downhill. Several were riding side-by-side chatting away. I followed behind them at a reasonable distance for about 3-4 miles, being ignored the entire time, with at least eight vehicles behind me, one of which was enjoying the use of his horn. When I got to the ONE AND ONLY passing section I tapped my horn and proceeded to drive around them as the road was totally clear ahead. No way my air horn could have been confused with the beep of the other guy’s horn. I got two single finger salutes and the contents of a water bottle sprayed through the cab passenger side window! The side-by-siders never even moved!
A question for my cycling friends – what should I have done to keep the peace?
Doug Crawford, via Facebook
Q: The honk when passing probably wasn’t necessary as it’s clear the cyclists took it the wrong way with their gesturing and drink throwing.
Nevertheless, when heading downhill toward the coast on this road, cyclists can reach motor vehicle speed, which is 40 mph along much of Old San Jose, said Cory Caletti, senior transportation planner and staff coordinator for the bicycle committee for the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission and officer Sarah Jackson of the California Highway Patrol. At age 12, Jackson was struck by a hit-and-run driver while she rode her bicycle.
“The approximate 5 miles per hour a motor vehicle may gain by passing them is not worth it,” said Jackson. “Give them space and wait until it is safe. I have found from both perspectives that courtesy is more often returned than forced. Honking and gesturing does not educate anyone or make the road any safer. You may as well just relax and enjoy the ride and/or drive.”
Caletti offers the cyclists’ perspective.
“It seems to me that the predominant complaint is that some bicyclists are taking the lane in some instances on Old San Jose Road and other rural county roads and that the motorists commenting object to not being able to pass and/or bicyclists not moving over in adequate amount of time,” she said. “While it is courteous and prudent for bicyclists to move over when the first opportunity presents itself and let backed-up traffic pass, I would suggest that motorists take existing conditions into consideration at any given point.
“Old San Jose is quite curvy making passing unsafe until there is a straight line of sight,” Caletti continued. “Therefore, bicyclists are advised to ‘take the lane’ until it is safe to pass.”
On this an other roads countywide, cyclists are trying to avoid hazards such as debris, potholes, tree roots protruding from the asphalt, overgrown brush and cracked pavement – all things that can make the cyclists crash, she said.
“I ride on that roadway often and find that motorists often speed and pass unsafely when curves in the roadway make it unsafe,” Caletti confessed. “I sometimes ‘take the lane’ to specifically prevent being passed as it is dangerous – and illegal — to pass too closely. I then motion for the motorist to pass me after determining it to be safe.
“All road users deserve consideration and we are all required to share the roadway, even at the expense of a few seconds of delay,” she continued. “I urge patience, understanding that all users have a right to the roadway and that we all share the responsibility of maintaining our own and others’ safety.”