Almanac

Viewpoint - June 15, 2011

Editorial: Portola Valley takes on cycling safety

It may be an impossible dream, but the small town of Portola Valley decided last week to come to grips with the ever-increasing crowds of cyclists who roll through their community every day.

Spurred on by a memo from Town Council member Ted Driscoll, who says that he has seen more bikes than cars on the town's roads, the council conducted a wide-ranging discussion about the daily impact hundreds of cyclists have on the town's quality of life and determined that much needs to be done before a successful policy on cycling can be adopted.

The Driscoll memo noted that if a forum on cycling is important and necessary, there must be a change. The issue now is dispersed among various town committees, whose members are volunteers. For example, the Trails Committee considers mountain bike issues, such as conflicts with equestrians; the Teen Committee focuses on bicycle-riding students; and the Traffic Committee, which now has only two members, looks at issues that involve motor vehicles .

The council reached consensus on a few sensible steps that could improve things:

• Seriously consider a combination bicycle and traffic committee, with the goal of providing a forum for all users of the roads.

• Investigate what it would take to create genuine bike lanes that meet state requirements. The white line near the road shoulder is simply a fog line to indicate the edge of the traffic lane. Official bike lane designation requires a wider lane of consistent width. With real bike lanes, the town's law enforcement team can ticket cyclists who are not riding in them.

The council also authorized the town's public works director to seek proposals for establishing true bike lanes on Alpine and Portola roads, and examine Westridge Drive on ways to improve safety; there is no room for bike lanes. It may come as a shock to many cyclists that what appear to be bike lanes along Alpine and Portola roads are, in fact, not.

These ideas look good, but the town needs to make sure the cycling community, which includes riders of all ages, genders and abilities, will agree to be shoehorned into a policy designed by a consultant or town bureaucrats. Many of these riders may not even be aware that Portola Valley has an official town government, or that it has jurisdiction over this long-standing route that is featured in guidebooks sold in the U.S. and abroad.

If the town does enact new regulations, the changes should be circulated widely in the local news media and on cycling websites and blogs. Handouts should be distributed to every rider on Alpine and Portola Road during peak usage periods.

Enforcement of the new rules should follow, but with plenty of warnings so cyclists get the message about the changes. The biggest challenge will be to convince the large, twice-a-day, peloton rides to obey traffic signals and keep their riders in the bike lane. These expert groups have a history of ignoring safety issues and rarely stop at stop signs.

Regardless, the town is taking a necessary and correct approach to establish sensible regulations for cyclists who use this popular loop that winds through Portola Valley and Woodside. The goal must be to make cycling a safer and more rewarding experience in Portola Valley.

With little or no oversight, we already have seen many serious accidents on the route, including several fatal encounters just outside the town's jurisdiction. It is time to ask, and require, the cycling community to take part in a solution that will bring more safety to one of the state's most popular bicycle

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