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Editor's note: Today's column was contributed by Amelia Conlen, director of People Power, a nonprofit that advocates for cycling safety and facilities in Santa Cruz County. Learn more about People Power at http://www.peoplepowersc.org/. Contact Conlen at (831) 425-0665 or email@example.com. Your eyes are not deceiving you – green pavement markings in bike lanes have been installed at intersections on Laurel Street in Santa Cruz as well as in the Soquel Village. The green markings, a thermoplastic coating applied to the roadway, is a technique used across the country to highlight the path of people on bikes. The purpose is to make cyclists more visible and let drivers know where to expect people on bikes. This is especially useful in “conflict zones,” places where traffic lanes and bike lanes cross. Laurel Street has a high rate of recorded bicycle crashes, the reason it was selected for the city’s first green pavement markings. Many of these collisions occur when drivers turn from Laurel onto Blackburn, Felix or Walti Streets without checking for cyclists who may be coming quickly down the Laurel Street hill. The green pavement markings are meant to serve as a visual reminder to check for people on bikes. The new green pavement markings don’t change the rules of the road. Drivers are legally required to yield to cyclists before entering the bike lane, and should signal and check their mirrors to make sure the bike lane is clear before turning. Cyclists are required to stay in the bike lane unless it is unsafe to do so. They are legally allowed to leave the bike lane when passing another cyclist, if there is debris or glass in the bike lane, or if they’re in the danger zone of opening doors from parked cars. Cyclists should come to a complete stop at all stop signs and stoplights, and use their hand signals before turning. It’s also a good idea to give cars extra space when going through an intersection and be on the lookout for drivers making unexpected right turns. People Power is thrilled to see green pavement markings in bike lanes in Santa Cruz County. Our goal is for everyone to feel safe riding a bike. If we can encourage cycling for short trips, we can reduce traffic, improve air quality, reduce carbon emissions, give our kids opportunities for healthy exercise, save money -- the list goes on and on. We applaud the Santa Cruz City Council and Public Works Department as well as Supervisor John Leopold and County Public Works for making these new green treatments happen. This is one small step towards creating a bike-friendly community.
Dear Street Smarts, Q: Once again, I am writing to ask why there is no bicycle lane from the Branciforte Street intersection with Soquel Avenue to Ocean Street. Bicyclists are forced to ride on the sidewalk, risk their lives, and even if on the sidewalk, are often blocked by trucks. The outside lane becomes a turning lane a good half block before the Soquel/Ocean intersection, with literally nowhere for bicyclists to go. It is shocking that this has been allowed to continue, or should we call it laziness? Gloria Sams, Santa Cruz A: "There is a bike and in the uphill section, and sharrows in the downhill direction so that its easier for a bicyclist to get in the flow," said Chris Schneiter, assistant director of public works. "Unfortunately there is inadequate room to accommodate all the public's interests. The parking is very important to the businesses and the four vehicle lanes are very necessary for capacity. We did as much as we could with the available street width and within the public process." Depending on comfort level, cyclists should take the lane and ride with motor vehicle traffic or choose an alternate route. Arana Gulch Multi-Use Trial dedication, ribbon-cutting ceremony Rain or sign, the public is invited to celebrate the official opening of the new Arana Gulch Multi-use Trail 2-4 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 14. The family friendly gathering will be at the Hagemann Gulch Bridge's Frederick Street Entrance. It's free and will feature the Kuumbwa Jazz Honor Band, refreshments, city and county leaders, as well as environmental and construction tours! Park at the nearby Santa Cruz Bible Church, at 440 Frederick St., and Our Lady Star of the Sea Church, at 515 Frederick St. Bike valet parking will be provided by People Power of Santa Cruz County. For information, call (831) 420-5160. The impact of gas prices on traffic collisions NPR recently had a discussion about the possible link between gas prices and traffic collisions. The theory is that when gas prices are high, people drive less, lump errands together into one trip, start from the limit line at a slower pace and keep their speeds steady. The interview also determined that people with less money, including teens, don't drive as much because they can't afford the high cost of gas. However, with gas prices falling so low, the assumption is people are going to be driving more, including the younger, less experienced drivers, thus increasing traffic collisions and fatalities. What do you think about that assertion? Listen to or read the full interview at http://www.npr.org/2015/01/06/375308884/the-downside-of-cheaper-gas-more-accident-fatalities then tell Street Smarts. Your thoughts may appear in a future column.
Welcome to 2015. Here are new traffic laws that aim to make roads safer for drivers and limousine passengers:
- Driver license eligibility for undocumented U.S. residents -- Beginning Jan. 2, the California Department of Motor Vehicles will issue driver licenses to applicants who are unable to prove they are legal residents of the United States. However, these applicants are required to provide proof of identity and California residency, as well as meet all other qualifications for licensure. The law was written by Assemblyman Luis Alejo, who was raised in Watsonville, and adopted during the 2013 legislative year. It's goal is to increase safety on the road by ensuring that all drivers are properly trained, know state traffic laws, pass the driving test and are insured.
- Modified limousine safety requirements regarding regulations and/or inspections -- This law creates a modified limousine inspection program to be carried out by the California Highway Patrol. To be implemented by July 1, 2016, this law allows the law enforcement agency to collect a fee as it inspects modified limousines, defined as vehicles that seat not more than 10 passengers, including the driver, but have been modified, altered, or extended to increase the wheelbase of the vehicle, thus accommodating more passengers. These inspections will occur once every 13 months. The law also requires modified limos to be equipped with two readily accessible and fully charged fire extinguishers. Also, the driver or operator of the modified limo must notify the passengers of the safety features of the vehicle, including instructions for lowering the partition between the driver and passengers, and the location of the fire extinguishers. This bill by Senator Jerry Hill of San Mateo was in response to a deadly limousine fire that killed five nurses on the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge in May 2013. The deceased were among a group of nine ladies celebrating the recent nuptials of one of the passengers. The bride was among those killed in the fire. The CHP ruled the fire's cause was a catastrophic failure of the rear suspension system, in which the spinning driveshaft came into contact with the floor pan causing friction that ignited carpets, setting set the vehicle afire. The limo was legally able to carry eight passengers. Also, in June 2013, a similar incident occurred involving an eight passenger limo catching fire in Walnut Creek while carrying 10 ladies in their 90s. All escaped the vehicle unharmed. In these two incidences, neither limo was equipped with fire extinguishers and neither had been subject to CHP inspection.
Tailgaters are annoying. When one is riding my back bumper, I get out of their way as soon as possible. I mention this because there's a story out of Auburn in which a couple of young women were traveling on I-80 recently when they encountered a tailgater. Rather than getting out of the woman's way, they flipped her off. That's when things got really dangerous as the already agitated driver used her pickup truck to try to run the victims off the road. After the event, the women conceded flipping the other driver off wasn't the brightest idea. Now, that other driver is facing a host of serious charges. Back when driver's education was taught in high school, my teacher was adamant in telling us 15 and a half year olds never to do anything to further agitate an apparent aggressive driver. If they are on your tail get out of the way. Don't brake. Don't use obscene language or gestures. This person may be unstable and the situation could escalate. My teacher also said to try to put ourselves in the tailgater's shoes. Why is this person in a hurry? Sure, maybe they're running late for work and should've left their home earlier, but what if that's not the case? He told us to imagine the person was a doctor trying to get to the hospital to see their patient who was in dire health or about to deliver a baby. Perhaps, it's an undercover police officer or volunteer firefighter responding a call. Also, what if that person is trying to get to the bedside of a dying relative to say their last goodbyes? Of course, then there are people who are not in a hurry at all. I have friends who hover behind the car up ahead. When the lead car changes lanes or turns, my chauffer immediately zooms up to the next car and hovers. That's how they drive. No hurry. No aggression. Just pacing. If someone's tailgating and you find that annoying, move over and let them pass. It's the safest thing to do. Slamming on your brakes can cause a collision that you may be found at fault for because you stopped, not for a hazard up ahead or a traffic signal, but because you were being an aggressive driver. Hitting the brakes or giving gestures also may put you in the shoes of the two ladies mentioned above -- afraid for their lives. When a tailgater is showing signs of aggression and driving erratic, dial 911. Give a complete description of where you are, the offending vehicle and its driver, and let the cops handle it. It's what they do and it helps ensure you make it home to your family safe and sound.
Dear Street Smarts, Q: Hardly a day goes by that I don't come across an individual or group walking down the middle of a street or on the wrong side facing oncoming traffic. I understand when there is no sidewalk, which we have quite a few places like this, but most of the people I see walking in the street are on streets with sidewalks. The same goes for people who are running. If jaywalking is illegal, I assume walking in the street is. Thank you, Stephen Hauskins, Santa Cruz A: "To start I would like to state that if you observe anyone violating the law or doing something felt to be unsafe, we encourage you to call dispatch and report it at 831-471-1131," said Sgt. Scott Garner, traffic unit supervisor for the Santa Cruz Police Department. "The California Vehicle Code is very clear on what is and what isn’t acceptable behavior by a pedestrian in or about to enter a roadway. It is illegal to obstruct traffic or cause a hazard in the roadway so again if someone is doing this, please notify dispatch. “'Jaywalking' is covered by California Vehicle Code section 21955 and only applies when there are two adjacent intersections with traffic control 'signals' and/or being directed by police officers. The section that applies to pedestrians when walking 'in' the roadway is 21956CVC which states: '21956.(a) No pedestrian may walk upon any roadway outside of a business or residence district otherwise than close to his or her left-hand edge of the roadway. (b) A pedestrian may walk close to his or her right-hand edge of the roadway if a crosswalk or other means of safely crossing the roadway is not available or if existing traffic or other conditions would compromise the safety of a pedestrian attempting to cross the road.' "Santa Cruz Municipal Code section 10.36.20 regulates that pedestrians shall not cross a roadway in a central traffic district or business district anywhere but in a crosswalk. "Here is a great breakdown regarding “Sharing the roadway” from the DMV website. https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/wcm/connect/3b03ec2e-8423-4ebb-ae1e-d7ec2de61fa0/unit_9.pdf?MOD=AJPERES "The Santa Cruz Police Department enforces all vehicle codes through education and enforcement. We encourage anyone that observes any unsafe behaviors by vehicles, pedestrians, bicycles or other transportation devices, to notify us immediately. Santa Cruz is an amazing city with numerous pathways, trails and endless stunning scenery. We want to ensure that our streets are safe for everyone and we appreciate the community helping us achieve that objective!"
Dear Street Smarts, Q: In your recent column, you wrote about some safety tips. I wish you would repeat one of them. You stated, "Turn on your headlights when it's rainy, gloomy, foggy or overcast." I am appalled at how many drivers make themselves almost invisible when it's dark and rainy. Tell them to use their lights, especially black and other dark cars. We can't see them when they blend into the roadways. It's our lives and theirs that can be saved. Yesterday, in the poring rain, I just missed getting hit by a non-lit motorist. I didn't see her. Thanks, Arn Ghigliazza via email A: Sure, here's a reprint of the blurb about the use of headlights: Turn on headlights bad weather. While driving around in last week's storm, which featured driving rain, high winds, flooded streets and low visibility, there were drivers motoring in those conditions without their headlights on. In bad weather, turning on your headlights helps others on the road see you. Not donning the lights is against the law and is quite dangerous. The other people on the road have a difficult time seeing those vehicles that have been reduced to shadows amid the deluge that swallowed roads and sidewalks. The color of the vehicle has nothing to do with how visible it is when swirling water is coming both from the sky as well as being kicked up by the tires of all the other vehicles on the road. According to the DMV's website, drivers "must" turn on their headlights "from a half hour after sunset to a half hour before sunrise or if snow, rain, fog, or other hazardous weather condition requires the continuous use of windshield wipers, or when visibility is not sufficient to clearly see a person or a vehicle for a distance of 1,000 feet. No vehicle may be driven with only parking lights on. However, parking lights may be used as signals or when the headlamps are also lit." Read more about this and other road rules at www.dmv.ca.com. Bike traffic school Bike riders are invited to learn to become a more confident and competent cyclist at Santa Cruz County's Bicycle Traffic School. It's being offered to riders who've been cited for traffic infractions as well as the general public 6-8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 18, at the County Emeline Health Campus in Santa Cruz. Cost is $35 for cited cyclists and $15 for everyone else. Pre-registration is required. For information, call 831-454-5477 or visit www.sctrafficsafety.org/BikeTrafficSchool.
Dear Street Smarts, Q: Do you have any information as to why the city of Santa Cruz has not yet striped either Laurel Street or Western Drive? The paving on both was finished by mid-November and it has now been a number of weeks with no striping. This is hazardous for all street traffic, especially with darkness falling earlier and inclement weather. Thanks for any insights. Naazneen Barma, Santa Cruz A: Blame it on the rain, which is impacting transportation projects countywide. "It’s been a domino effect with other projects elsewhere, delaying the contractor that does that type of work," said Chris Schneiter, director of the city's public works department. "We’ve been assured we are next on the list. Let’s hope for some dry days next week!" Similarly, on Highway 152, Caltrans' 6-mile pavement overlay project that was supposed to begin at the end of last month from College/Holohan Road near Watsonville to near Mount Madonna Road at the Santa Cruz/Santa Clara County line has been delayed until next spring. Transportation agencies countywide encourage patience on long awaiting projects to come to fruition as they now turn their attention to storm damage mitigation. Turn on headlights bad weather While driving around in last week's storm, which featured driving rain, high winds, flooded streets and low visibility, there were drivers motoring in those conditions without their headlights on. In bad weather, turning on your headlights helps others on the road see you. Not donning the lights is against the law and is quite dangerous. The other people on the road have a difficult time seeing those vehicles that have been reduced to shadows amid the deluge that swallowed roads and sidewalks. The color of the vehicle has nothing to do with how visible it is when swirling water is coming both from the sky as well as being kicked up by the tires of all the other vehicles on the road. According to the DMV's website, drivers "must" turn on their headlights "from a half hour after sunset to a half hour before sunrise or if snow, rain, fog, or other hazardous weather condition requires the continuous use of windshield wipers, or when visibility is not sufficient to clearly see a person or a vehicle for a distance of 1,000 feet. No vehicle may be driven with only parking lights on. However, parking lights may be used as signals or when the headlamps are also lit." Read more about this and other road rules at www.dmv.ca.com.
Dear Street Smarts, Q: Good points [in Monday's column on wet weather driving tips]. One of the most critical points was missed -- tires. Tires without sufficient tread or tires that are too old and have become hard will easily hydroplane or skid on wet roads and water. I see vehicles everywhere with worn out tires. Thanks, Steven Taty, Santa Cruz A: You are so right. Here's more on the subject of tire safety from AAA, found at http://exchange.aaa.com/automobiles-travel/automobiles/car-care-and-maintenance/tire-safety-and-maintenance/. Make sure your tires have adequate air pressure. Over-inflated tires ride rough and wear prematurely wear in the center of their tread while under-inflated tires decrease fuel economy, impact handling, prematurely wear out at the edge of their tread, and can overheat and shred at highway speeds. Once monthly, check tire pressure. Tires normally lose about a pound of pressure each month. Also know that during the cold months, tires lose a pound of pressure for every 10 degree change in temperature. Conversely, they gain one pound of pressure in warm weather. Always follow the inflation instructions in your vehicle owner's manual or the tire label on the driver's door jamb or in the glove box. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, under-inflated tires contribute to more than 600 fatalities and 33,000 injuries annually. Plus, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates those sagging tires waste more than 1 billion gallons of gasoline annually. As for tread wear, those grooves come in handy during wet and snowy weather. Check tread depth by sticking a quarter upside down into a tire groove. If you can see above Washington’s head, it's time to buy new tires. Worn tires with little tread are more likely to hydroplane on wet pavement or lose traction in the snow, resulting in a loss of braking ability and steering control. What's more, uneven or excessive tread wear may require suspension repair or wheel alignment, work that extends the life of tires. Finally, proper tire balancing and regular rotation prevent the aforementioned uneven wear, helping you get the most out of your tires by maximizing their life and providing a safer driving experience. If unsafe vibrations arise from the steering or chassis, have a mechanic check the tire balance. Drivers should rotate their tires as often as their vehicle owner’s manual specifies. If tires wear unevenly, or the vehicle “pulls” to the right or left, it's time to have the suspension inspected and the wheels aligned.
Dear Street Smarts, Q: A neighbor on Wesley Street in Capitola had one of those brightly colored plastic turtle signs asking drivers to slow down. It was placed a little farther out in the street than the parked cars. One day, I noticed the turtle was gone and, a few days later, replaced with a homemade wood stand, not brightly colored, with a paper sign stating 'DEAF CAT.' There are a number of cats that tend to go out in the street in our neighborhood. One of them is apparently deaf. I sympathize with the neighbor, who has small children and lives on a straight street that is a shortcut through the neighborhood. I raised my kids in the neighborhood myself and understand the desire to slow cars down and keep kids safe. My concern is that the sign isn’t brightly colored and seems to stick out a bit far into the street. Their house is a few doors away from Park Avenue, which is a bit busier. The placement of the sign pushes cars going toward Park to the left of their lane while cars turning left from Park might be cutting into that lane as well. It seems dangerous. Are there rules about the placement of the sign? I am worried that with the shorter days, the sign might not be very visible and cause an accident. Thank you, Chris Bowman, Capitola A: "The placement of signs in the road right of way is controlled by city code and private signs are illegal," said Steve Jesberg, director of the city's public works department. "Unfortunately, with the proliferation of these new 'slow down signs' being sold, many people feel empowered to use them. We do not have the crew time to continually enforce these illegal signs and typically only take action if they are creating a traffic hazard. The signs tend to pop up and be taken down much faster than we can respond." Jesberg encourages users of these signs to "keep them close to the curb or parked cars so they don’t create problems," he said. "There could be some liability for anyone placing a sign in the roadway if it were to cause injury or damage."
Dear Street Smarts, Q: The portion of East Cliff Drive, from the new Pleasure Point Park eastward has a designated bike lane striped and marked one way east. Why wasn’t it stripped for two way bike riding as was Beach Street in front of the Boardwalk? As a bike rider who follows your admonition to follow traffic laws, I am at a loss of how to travel westward: Do I ride against traffic in the bike lane? Do I ride on the pedestrian sidewalk? Or am I forbidden to return homeward from Capitola on East Cliff Drive, requiring traveling on heavily trafficked Portola Drive? Bill Patterson, Santa Cruz A: "In regard to providing bike access along East Cliff Drive, for bikes travelling westbound from 41st Avenue to 32nd Avenue, there have always been signs directing bikes at the Hook parking lot area to cross East Cliff Drive to the ocean side and use the two-way path -- either the old one with the white delineators or the new separated paved path," said Jack Sohriakoff, senior civil engineer for county public works. "When bicyclists get to 32nd Avenue, there is a sign directing them to cross East Cliff Drive again. This allows westbound bicyclists to ride along the cliffs throughout the one-way eastbound segment of East Cliff Drive." Q: Perhaps it's time for a yield versus merge lesson. Exiting southbound Highway 1 onto Soquel Avenue is probably the worst. Merge is what you do when you go from two lanes to one or enter a freeway. Ease in between cars as space allows or every other car. Yield means wait until there is a break in traffic, not every other car. Cars coming from 17th Ave toward Soquel have the right of way governed by a light. If they have the green, cars coming off Highway 1 need to wait for a break or the light to turn green, not try and squeeze in every other car. Allison Niday via email A: Sounds like you have a pretty good grasp on traffic law. For further clarification of merge versus yield, check out the California Driver Handbook, which is available online at www.dmv.ca.gov. Too busy to read the driver handbook? Listen to it at http://dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/?1dmy&urile=wcm:path:/dmv_content_en/dmv/pubs/audio. The files can be played on any MP3 player and MP#3 player program as well as burned onto a CD.