Are they enough?
Jason Unger rides his bike all over town. He has to.
Unger has epilepsy and hasn’t been able to drive a car for eight years. It’s not that he wants to.
He started riding a bike as his primary mode of transportation while studying at San Diego State University. And liked the idea.
“It was a much more bike-friendly town,” said Unger, a Laguna Beach native. “Now that I’m back in Laguna, I can still find my way around.” But it’s a lot trickier, he said. “I’m sick of having drivers come within six inches of me while I’m riding. It gets that close sometimes. I don’t feel safe at all.”
Last month, Unger appealed to the City Council to stencil sharrows, a double-chevron bicycle symbol, signaling motorists to share the lane on Coast Highway. Sharrows indicate that cyclists have the right of way and enough room to avoid getting “doored” from a parked car and seriously injured.
Instead, last week the council called for a report on a designated bike route off Coast Highway on the inland side in North Laguna. The planned path will run north on Monterey, High and Hillcrest drives and south on Cypress Drive. The bike lanes will include sharrows to alert drivers that they’re sharing the street with non-motorists, smaller-wheeled as well as dog-heeled.
As energy and fuel prices climb and sustainability advocates step to the forefront, cities statewide are integrating pedestrian- and bike-friendly amenities as well as electric-car charging stations into existing infrastructure as well as new building projects.
Newport Beach has considered sharrows on East Coast Highway in Corona del Mar, which the city oversees, said public works senior engineer Brad Sommers, but the idea was recently voted down by the Bicycle Safety Committee. Sommers expects local bicycling enthusiasts to keep interest rolling and bring it to the city council there again.
To waylay cyclists from hitting shoppers on the sidewalk in Belmont Shore, Long Beach added green-striped bike lanes with sharrows along Second Street in June 2009, despite arguments that the street was too congested. Since then, there have been no increases in accidents, according to Charlie Gandy, Long Beach mobility coordinator, and the number of cyclists has nearly tripled.
To Unger, a science tutor who routinely rides 14 miles a day in Laguna between Three Arch Bay and Emerald Bay, adding sharrows on streets that are already safe, such as the ones tagged in quiet North Laguna, isn’t enough. The effort fails to address the real issue of improving safety on unsafe streets, he said.
“I grew up in that neighborhood and never did I feel unsafe riding my bike along those roads,” Unger said. “I dread going through certain areas of town now.”
But the council, with councilmember Jane Egly voicing dissent, voted differently.
“We’re not in control of Coast Highway,” deferred councilmember Elizabeth Pearson, indicating the California Department of Transportation’s jurisdiction over Route 1. “By us putting a sharrow route for cyclists to follow to one of the most dangerous intersections isn’t being as responsible as we should be.” Pearson was referring to North Coast Highway where Cliff Drive merges at Aster Street.
The intersection is one bicyclists also say is the most dangerous in town.
Yet the council declined to support a $15,000 study for a citywide bike route plan recommended by its Parking, Traffic and Circulation Committee. Partial acceptance is better than complete rejection of the proposal, said PTC member Neil Katz.
Les Miklosy, chairman of the city’s Complete Streets Task Force, also sees the council’s abbreviated version as a wheel in the door. “We can experiment in town to get people accustomed to the idea first,” he said. “Let’s see what happens with it in places we know it works. It’s better inland because it’s more of a utility route for local people to use.”
While putting sharrows on safe streets is considered a good start to some bike-lane proponents, it was more conciliatory than remedial among other cycling supporters.
“It’s a step forward but not the ideal step forward,” said Justin Gresh, manager of Laguna Beach Cyclery who shot the first sharrow idea to the PTC committee. “It still leaves a whole lot of the city totally inaccessible to bikes, primarily from downtown to Oak Street on Glenneyre where there’s plenty of appropriate areas sharrows could go.”
In an 84-year-old town where one block is broad and another narrow, Mayor Toni Iseman pointed out the hurdles of designating routes, citing Glenneyre Street where it shrinks to two lanes south of Calliope Street. “You cannot drive down Glenneyre safely,” Iseman said at last week’s council meeting. “It’s cars and bicycles and kids and dogs. You can never just go; you have to stop.”
To councilmember Jane Egly, that’s the point. “Part of our problem is we’re throwing up our hands and saying these streets are unsafe so you can’t have a bicycle on them,” she said. “Having sharrows on those most dangerous streets would slow traffic down and make them less dangerous, but I’m one vote.”
It’s possible to get around Laguna on a bike, said seasoned cyclist Unger, because the town’s small and things are close. But, he said, drivers aren’t considerate of cyclists here and he won’t give up on sharrows along Coast Highway.
“We’re not talking about a designated bicycle lane,” explained Unger, who said he’s never had a seizure while riding because his attention is intensely focused on maneuvering through traffic. “We’ll continue to ride on this rode whether the sharrows are there or not. It’s just making drivers aware that people do ride bikes. It’s not going to make bicyclists take up more space. We already ride close to the cars. If the sharrows are there, I’ll feel much safer.”
The city report on the North Laguna bike lanes, including costs, will be reviewed at a future council meeting.