Opinion: Flirting with Disaster

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(Full disclosure: I co-own a bike tour business in Laguna.)

I’m sorry to say this, but I fear it’s just a matter of time before we witness another horrific bike accident. Raging little electric bikers are swarming all over town, and everyone I know has a story about a near miss.

We’ve been lucky so far. I’m not aware of any bike fatalities in Laguna since 2014. That’s when John Colvin was hit from behind while riding on the shoulder of Coast Highway. His widow Joan said at the time, “The loss is so deep and massive it truly is impossible to explain.” It goes without saying that she and her two daughters are still grieving. And there had been a slew of other bike fatalities prior to that.

But following the outcry over John’s death, bike advocates from all over the County came to Laguna City Hall and demanded better bike safety. Joan stood in front of the public and pleaded, “Please don’t let John’s death be in vain. Do something to protect future riders.” That something was brought to Council by a sustainability group called Transition Laguna, in the way of a proposed north-south bike route that would take riders off Coast Highway, from Crescent Bay to Nyes Place (another disclosure: I was on the board). We knew it worked because we road and vetted it. It was further reviewed by city staff and approved by Council: an inexpensive patchwork of signs and painted sharrows that are still in place today and alert both riders and drivers to share the road.

The results speak for themselves. And while we admit there are still many “lycra” riders blazing through town on Coast Hwy. and putting themselves at risk, there are many more riders who heed the signs and take the safer, more scenic route.

But oh how the world has changed in seven short years. Bicycling is booming because of the confluence of two factors: COVID and batteries. Industry leader Rad Power Bikes just got $150 million in venture funding for a mass rollup. And France just announced they will give people a $3,000 credit towards the purchase of an e-bike if they trade in their old gas guzzling clunker. Bless you, France.

So, my longtime dream of a bike in every Laguna household is manifesting. Except for one problem: they are no longer pedal bikes. Or even e-bikes. They are modified electric motorcycles with pedals. And they are fun. So what kid wouldn’t want the freedom and thrill to buzz around town?

You parents are giving your adolescent kids with half formed brains and raging hormones a lethal weapon that could end tragically. Nobody wants to see it.  And don’t blame the kids. We were all young once. But I hope you parents know what you are doing and are giving your kid the bike safety “I’m serious” speech. Maybe show them what a fatal crash looks like.

And to the drivers out there, it’s on us too. Get off the phone, be spatially aware, and by all means slow down. It’s our responsibility to avoid them since we are the bigger dog in the fight.

It’s time the city implements some infrastructure to protect and encourage biking. For starters, let’s begin installing roundabouts on Glenneyre, so bikers have a north/south thoroughfare that removes dangerous intersections. It will help the flow of traffic as well.

Back in 2014 the city approved a single trial roundabout at the residential intersection of Catalina, El Camino del Mar, and Los Robles. They had originally considered several more congested intersections along Glenneyre but settled on this benign intersection for the trial. The thought was if all goes well here, then we could rollout roundabouts at more needed intersections, like Glenneyre at Thalia, or Calliope, or perhaps on Broadway at Forest, or Laguna Canyon Rd. at El Toro. But those can’t happen until we take control of the 133 from Cal Trans. However, Glenneyre is ours, but here we are seven years later and no one at the city has had the will to take it on., despite the fact that everyone agrees the current roundabout was successful in slowing cares down and preventing accidents. 

I hope City Council will seriously consider making Glenneyre more multi-modal, safer, and easier to navigate with more roundabouts. We have a new City Manager with deep experience in traffic engineering, and this would be the perfect time to build a transportation plan for the future to make biking, walking and driving safer for all. Because we don’t have a minute to waste.

Billy hosts “Laguna Talks” on Thursday nights at 8 p.m. on KX FM.

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5 COMMENTS

  1. I agree with your comments and share your concerns about bicycle safety in Laguna. I live in South Laguna and I’m forced to brave the crowded section of PCH between Nyes Place and Three Arch Bay (as does any cyclist passing North or South through town). I understand the limitations of of this stretch of road with no alternative side street routes, but I think there is more we could do to protect cyclists in this area. The first place to start is in parking enforcement – Landscape trucks and delivery trucks block the side of the road for extended times over an entire weekend. The result is that bikes are forced to swerve around into traffic to pass around them. It would also help to manage the overhangs and encroachment of overgrown plants to open up some space. I often ride South through Dana Point and I’m impressed with the excellent job they’ve done as a city to promote safe cycling lanes – I wish we could give this more attention in Laguna.

  2. I like the idea of a roundabout on Thalia and Glenneyre. That intersection is an accident waiting to happen. And the uneven lines there and extra empty space in the middle make a roundabout even more appropriate. We could even do something creative with the inner circle, and give it some Laguna character!

  3. As regards electric bikes for young, careless speeders, when do they get any exercise? Obesity in our youth is, yes, another pandemic. And now they don’t even have to peddle? Too many unthinking parents caving in to the cravings of their kids. ” All my friends have one ” is a line we’ve all used in our youth. But a $1000 electric bike ? Too many parents with too much $$$ trying to mollify a demanding child. Such is the state of parenting today.

  4. Rob, thanks for your considerable and thoughtful input here. Parking enforcement of trucks and regular maintenance of encroaching plants make so much sense. CalTrans is now building a sidewalk from the Montage to Monarch Beach, which is great for pedestrians. But how about safe passage for bikers? Won’t happen until we take ownership of our streets, like Dana Point did. Dev, thanks for supporting roundabouts as well.

  5. Billy, I agree that it is only a matter of time before a young person is seriously hurt or killed on an electric bicycle in Laguna. It will be tragic. I have had several kids on e-bikes “dart” in front of me or disregard stop signs. Also, one element of bike riders you forgot to mention. Those are the “seasoned” older riders who have a total disregard for traffic laws. I almost struck two male riders in their 40’s who blew through the stop sign at Bluebird Canyon and Glenerrey as I was entering the intersection after stoping. They made no attempt at all to stop. You can see this same behavior all weekend long downtown and on PCH. Don’t traffic laws apply also to bicycles as they do to vehicles?

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