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Posted by on May 23, 2008 in Safety | 4 comments

Lessons from Mission Street

Santa Cruz, CA

In the past year, two experienced cyclists were killed on Mission Street. Both were riding near the curb in a lane too narrow to share. Both were hit by trucks.

In recent weeks there has been a battle between cycling advocates and police/city officials to have Bikes May Use Full Lane (BMUFL) signs installed. The hope was that the signs would encourage cyclists to use a safer lane position and inform motorists of their right to do so.

I’ve been following this story with interest on several cycling advocacy listservs.

The resistance from city officials came from the traditional cycling-phobia argument that the street is too dangerous to encourage cyclists to use it.

But here’s the kicker:

Mission Street is a 4-lane road with a 25 mph speed limit. Twenty-five! That’s a residential speed limit. More than likely, traffic signals keep the average speed well below that.

So what’s the problem?

When traffic is light, motorists speed between the traffic signals. And the speed limit is not enforced.

It is not the street design, lane width or speed limit at issue here (a 4-lane road with narrow lanes and low speeds is an ideal cycling facility). The problem is 100% bad motorist behavior and an unwillingness to correct it.

And as always, the vulnerable cyclists and pedestrians pay the price while officials shrug and act as if the danger is due to some uncontrollable force of nature.

The sign issue is not entirely resolved. The city council voted to use this “Bikes in Lane” warning sign. Unlike the BMUFL, this sign is not approved by Caltrans, so there will be more hurdles to clear. However, it is expected to be approved.

I certainly hope there will come a day when bikes in the lane are considered a normal part of the cooperative transportation mix and not something needing a warning or requiring a fight. Especially on a 25 mph urban road.

Perhaps then motorists won’t feel compelled to blare their horns in my left ear as I ride 24 mph on the short stretch of Aloma with a 30 mph speed limit and cautionary signs that recommend 25 mph.

4 Comments

  1. Snipping in a question I asked and it’s reply:
    Q. So WHY did Santa Cruz reject . . . Sharrows & BMUFL signs?

    A. Sharrows were not under consideration. I suppose we could have
    introduced the idea, but we thought a majority of Council would support
    the BMUFL signs so we did not need to introduce sharrows into the
    discussion. That they did not support the BMUFL sign was a surprise.
    Also, since the California MUTCD only allows sharrows on streets with
    parking and there is no parking along Mission Street, this new use would
    have required experimental approval from the CTCDC anyway. Caltrans
    inserted the language about sharrows only being used on streets with
    parking in the first place, so it is unlikely that they would have
    agreed to using sharrows on Mission Street, which is a state highway.

    The Mayor supported the Police Department, which opposed the BMUFL signs
    because they believed that bicyclists would interpret the message as
    allowing them to use the full lane any time and anywhere they want to.
    Also, the PD interprets 21202(a)(3) as allowing a bicyclist to move left
    in a narrow lane only when the vehicle about to pass is too wide to
    share the lane side by side (which is a ludicrous interpretation). The
    PD did, however, support the Bikes In Lane (BIL) sign, because it is a
    warning sign (the BMUFL is regulatory) and the message is more ambiguous
    (where else are bicycles going to be in a narrow lane but in the lane?).
    The BIL sign was not in the Council Agenda Report and I had not seen it
    before, so I was blindsided.

    Three Council members liked the idea of a graphical depiction of a
    bicycle using a full lane on the BIL sign better than the words on the
    BMUFL sign (this was the surprise). We needed 4 votes out of 7 Council
    members, and these 3 plus the Mayor defeated the BMUFL sign. The BIL
    sign, plus allowing bikes on sidewalks, then passed unanimously.

    Does that answer your question, Eric?

    Bob Shanteau

  2. “…Police Department… opposed the BMUFL signs because they believed that bicyclists would interpret the message as allowing them to use the full lane any time and anywhere they want to.”

    I found that amusing. Like, if you put up signs on one street, all of a sudden cyclists are gonna have an epiphany and start acting like first class citizens on every street! The horror! They might get in someone’s way!

  3. –and–

    “Also, the PD interprets 21202(a)(3) as allowing a bicyclist to move left
    in a narrow lane only when the vehicle about to pass is too wide to
    share the lane side by side”

    What you are supposed to do is to study the mirror and move left when a truck is coming.

    • This is what I would tell the officer, and then the judge;

      “Oh yes officer, there was a truck coming. He is a long way off, but that truck will be a coming along here any moment now.”