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Cyclists lobby Malibu for safety on highway

The Malibu Times: Cyclists lobby Malibu for safety on highway

Wednesday, September 8, 2010 11:04 AM PDT

The issue of motorists versus bicyclists on safe use of the highway is taken up during a Public Safety Commission meeting.

By Knowles Adkisson / Special to The Malibu Times

Representatives from several bike clubs in Los Angeles County attended last week's Malibu Public Safety Commission meeting to lobby on behalf of cyclists who use the highway. During the meeting, heated debate took place regarding who is at the crux of safety problems on Pacific Coast Highway when it comes to cyclists and motorists.

Public Safety Commissioner Susan Tellem's recent call for stricter enforcement for bicyclists through her controversial “Share the Road, Share the Tickets” campaign, urging law enforcement officials to be more aggressive in ticketing cyclists for breaking road rules, aroused a suspicion of persecution among many of the cyclists who attended the Sept. 1 meeting, which both sides were eager to dispel.

“We have a two-way problem here. Cyclists are sick of getting battered by motorists. Motorists are sick of seeing cyclists running red lights,” said Jay Slater, secretary of the Velo Club LaGrange, one of California's oldest and largest cycling clubs, and a Los Angeles City Bicycle Advisory Committee member.

Tellem concurred, saying, “I totally agree that [reckless] motorists are a bigger problem than bicyclists are.”

While several at the meeting alluded to the tension between cyclists and motorists, some considered it a false construct. Chris Kostman, a promoter who organizes bicycling events, said, “I think the ‘cyclists versus motorists' thing is overblown. I can count on maybe two hands the number of cyclists who don't drive.”

The heaviest debate centered on cyclists running red lights and stop signs on Pacific Coast Highway. Members of the safety commission expressed frustration with the practice seemingly becoming more commonplace. Cycling advocates acknowledged the problem, but bristled when commission members suggested they needed to self-police fellow cyclists more heavily.

“On the issue of red lights, it's absolutely illegal,” said Rachel Stevenson of the blog group Bikeside LA. But in reference to self-policing, she continued, “How am I going to stop them, throw a stick in their spokes?”

Stevenson and others suggested that the best way to eliminate the practice was for law enforcement to write more tickets. Local citizen Marshall Thompson (who is married to Tellem) disagreed that self-policing of bicycle groups was ineffective, noting the MADD campaign's success in empowering citizens to call 911 to catch drunk drivers.

“Groups are made for that,” he said of self-policing.

Commission Vice Chair Christ Frost, himself a cyclist, said he “relished” chasing down cyclists whom he witnessed breaking traffic laws when on his bicycle.

Tellem, referencing a strategy of education, engineering and enforcement to promote safety, said, “There's not that much we can do about engineering, unfortunately,” due to the lack of space between the ocean and the mountains.

The ideas of education and enforcement did find mutual agreement among commission members and cycling advocates. Several cyclists lamented the lack of general knowledge among motorists of bicycle laws. Eric Bruins, who teaches cycling safety at USC, said, “If there is something that would come out of this, it would be [motorists] giving cyclists three feet of passing room,” as provided by the California vehicle code.

Slater suggested more public service announcements about safety would help, as well as increasing the number of “Share the Road” signs currently posted along PCH.

Cyclist Amanda Lipsey agreed, and said that more signage, combined with tighter enforcement of existing traffic laws, would “make the highway [more] predictable for cyclists and motorists.”