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Cyclist urges city, riders to be vigilant about King Street dangers
Dear Street Smarts, Recently, I was bicycle riding on King Street and was about 30-feet behind a young woman riding a mountain bike near the right edge of the road. She glanced back over her left shoulder for a moment as she neared one of the many side streets that has a drainage pipe inlet next to the curb. This is not the typical road culvert with a grate, but rather just the open end of a metal pipe surrounded by a collar of concrete. There are many such drain pipes along King to guide the gutter water under the pavement parallel to King rather than having a deep channel at the intersection. Apparently, the woman didn't notice the pipe and rode her bike directly into the concrete, which stopped her bike immediately. She flew over the handlebars, landing on her head and shoulder. I stopped and assisted her. Fortunately, she only suffered a thump on the chest – probably against the front tire -- and a slight abrasion of her shoulder. She was wearing a bike helmet and gloves, which probably saved her from more severe injury. She did not have any rear-view mirror on her bike nor on the helmet. The lesson that I want to convey is that bicyclists should be vigilant of these road hazards on King Street, and that the Santa Cruz Public Works department should paint road markings to make these culvert hazards more visible to bike riders. A few of them have a lane stripe parallel to the curb, but only on the trailing side of the intersection, not the approaching side. Nearly all of them are completely unmarked. There should be a lane line starting some distance before the hazard, guiding riders away from the curb, and a white reflective stripe on the concrete collar of the pipe itself. Also, all bikes should have at least one rear-view mirror on the left handlebar end or on the left of the helmet so the rider can take a quick glance back at the scene behind without removing eyes from the road ahead for more than a moment. I have a mirror on both the left and right ends of my handlebars because on a curve, one or the other mirror shows the rear scene when the opposite mirror is showing too much of the side due to the turned handlebar. Another King Street hazard is the abundance of unfilled large cracks in the asphalt between Bay Street and Miramar Drive, which otherwise is a good bicycle route to the Safeway shopping center. One last thing. Years ago I stopped riding conventional upright bikes on the road, such as the common 'road bike' or mountain bike, and now ride recumbent bikes, where the rider sits on a chair-like seat with feet forward rather than atop the frame with feet downward. In that riding position, the bike is not top-heavy. So, if the bike does hit something or if the front wheel gets stuck in a groove or pothole and comes to a sudden stop, the rider falls off to the side, not forward over the handlebars onto the rider's head. Head-over-handlebar falls just don't occur with recumbents because you lead with your feet, not your head. When I am on a mountain bike and lean forward, I can feel that the bike wants to throw me forward over the handlebar. Not so with a recumbent. Not only is the recumbent riding position safer, but it is kinder to the body because it doesn't put weight on your wrists, doesn't put pressure in the crotch where it doesn't belong and so on. Recumbents come in a wide variety of styles, from very low to nearly normal height, with two, three or four wheels. More people would like recumbents if they just gave one a try. Stan Sokolow, Santa Cruz A: Thank you for your email and helpful tips for cyclists. As for your concerns about King Street's level of safety for cyclists, the city's public works department is taking heed. “Santa Cruz is an old community with these type of concrete drainage inlets on King and other streets,” said Chris Schneiter, assistant public works department. “We do stripe around them and have occasionally replaced them when we have funding to upgrade the storm drain system.” Public works will “take a look at the King Street drainage inlets and see if we need to stripe them again,” he added. As for the cracks in the road, they were filled last year but crews will check on them, Schneiter said.