Public forum to address bike safety

June 27, 2008 5:50:54 PM PDT
More and more people are getting on their bikes to help the environment and save on gas money, but Bay Area roads can be dangerous to cyclists. The Commonwealth Club and Mineta Transportation Institute are holding a free public forum on Saturday to find solutions.

The Highway Patrol says nearly 200 Bay Area bicyclists have been killed and more than 25,000 injured over the last decade.

Santa Clara County had the highest number of fatalities and injuries per capita compared with the other Bay Area counties, so the Commonwealth Club and the Mineta Transportation Institute decided to hold a free public forum in search of solutions.

"We know there are going to be more people riding bicycles because we're trying to get away from driving our cars. We know that people on the roads are not used to that many people driving bicycles so there's a tendency for negative interaction between them and we've got to figure out a way to stop the carnage," says Rod Diridon of the Mineta Transportation Institute.

Caltrans director Will Kempton will be on the panel, along with seven others with a stake in keeping the roads safe for bikes, including former Olympic cyclist Linda Jackson.

"I'm a cyclist but I think cyclists have a big sense of entitlement on the road and they need to make a huge effort to stay to the right, to obey traffic laws. They're just going to make it worse if they're out there running stop signs, running red lights. People have to work together to make this work," says Jackson.

Jackson founded women's pro-cycling team Tibco, and though she's not competing now, she still spends 10 to 25 hours a week on her bike.

Canada Road in San Carlos is one of her favorite places to ride. But it's also where a friend and fellow cyclist was killed about 10 years ago. Safety is never far from her mind.

"I think that if you're a cyclist that also drives, you understand what the issues are, but if you're a motorist that's never ridden a bike in this area, you don't understand the dangers of driving too close to a cyclist. So I think there's got to be a lot of education," says Jackson.

"We all need to take personal responsibility, cyclists and motorists alike," says Corinne Winter, executive director of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition.

Winter will be on Saturday's panel and is hoping it spurs change.

"Just more of an engagement from the community. We'd like to see more people interested in this issue, more people aware of cyclist rules and responsibilities on the road as well as motorist rules and responsibilities," says Winter.

The city of San Jose's bicyclist and pedestrian program director John Brazil will also be part of Saturday's panel. He says the city has lots of practical advice for cyclists and motorists, based on accident analysis. The city has many education programs available and he says there are lots of simple lessons that can make a big difference.

"Some of us that have been around for a few years can recall being told informally, 'oh you should ride against traffic because you'll be seen more.' False. That's incorrect. Everyone should take home that message, don't ride against traffic. Not only is it unsafe it's illegal. Ride with traffic," says Brazil.

The free public forum is at San Jose City Council Chambers at 12:30 Saturday afternoon. Organizers are hoping for a full-house.

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