Thursday, May 22, 2008

Santa Cruz approves "Bikes In Lane" signs for Mission Street

State approval required before signs installed

Santa Cruz council approves "Bikes In Lane" sign for Mission Street
In a meeting last week, the Santa Cruz City Council unanimously voted to request "Bikes In Lane" signs to be installed on Mission Street, where two cyclists were killed by passing traffic over the past eight months.

Local cycling advocates, traffic engineers, and officials agree that Mission Street is too narrow to share safely, especially with the heavy truck traffic that travels down the road. The city's hands are tied, however, because Mission Street is California State Highway 1 and is under the jurisdiction of Caltrans District 5. Caltrans originally refused to install anything besides "Share the Road" signs, but after People Power Santa Cruz asked for state Assembly Member John Laird's assistance, Caltrans relented and agreed to install signage that the city of Santa Cruz considers more effective.

At the meeting, the decision to make was between three different signs: an advisory "Bicycles May Use Full Lane" sign that's becoming more common in California, a yellow "Watch for Bicycles Using Lane" sign proposed by Caltrans, and the "Bikes In Lane" sign that was approved by the council. The Santa Cruz police department opposed the "May Use Full Lane" sign but supported the "Bikes In Lane" sign.

Mission Street sidewalk cyclist
This cyclist rides on the sidewalk alongside Mission Street near Bay in Santa Cruz, California. While the sidewalk is empty on the mid morning when I took this photo, pedestrian traffic is typically heavier on the weekends and other times when traffic is high on Mission Street.

Bill the cyclist Bill of Boston rides his heavily laden bicycle down the middle of the lane on Mission Street in Santa Cruz, California. One citizen at the council meeting said cyclists should use the sidewalk. Riding on the sidewalk, however, does nothing to protect cyclists from right hook collisions.

Several traffic engineering experts explained how to improve the safety of bicycling on Mission Street. John Ciccarelli of the Bicycle Technical Committee of the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices explained that the "Bicycles May Use Full Lane" will likely be in the 2009 edition of the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices published by the Federal Highway Adminstration. The MUTCD is the standard used by all U.S. transportation departments for their road signs -- it's the reason all stop signs in the United States are red octagons with white letters with a standard size and standard height.

Santa Cruz police chief Howard Skerry said they may ticket cyclists who in their view impeded traffic, regardless of any signage installed by the city. If bicyclists did not agree with that interpretation, he invited them to let the courts decide the matter.

Bob Shanteau spoke after the CHP and noted that the California Vehicle Code for impeding traffic only applies to 2 lane roads, not 4 lane highways such as Mission Street. "As long as the lane was too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to share side by side,' says Shanteau, "then the bicyclist was allowed to take the full lane."

"People have been taught since childhood to stay out of the way of cars, and that two bicyclists in Santa Cruz had followed that advice and they were both now dead. We need to make sure that never happens again," Shanteau continue as people in the council chambers applauded him.

Selection of non-standard sign may hinder final approval by state

While the engineers and advocates wanted the Bikes May Use Full Lane signs, the city voted for the "Bikes In Lane" sign instead. People Power Director Micah Posner said, "In the end not that much different. Having the sign will really improve the campaign to encourage awareness. It's about informing cyclist and motorist and it's about cyclists asserting their rights. These signs will be a big step forward."

Posner expressed some exasperation about the police department's threat to ticket cyclists who "impede" traffic. People Power has already gone to court on behalf of ticketed cyclists and "we beat it in court based on California Vehicle Code."

Caltrans still must get approval for the proposed sign from the California Traffic Control Device Committee, which meets next week. Because the city of Santa Cruz endorsed the untested "Bikes In Lane" sign over the standard "May Use Full Lane" sign, state approval is uncertain. The city council approved the Bikes In Lane sign thinking that Caltrans could get them installed this summer, but their selection of a non-standard sign will possibly mean a delay until this fall at the very earliest.

More: Thank you to Micah Posner and Bob Shantaeu for the details.


bikesgonewild said...

...i hope this will make a positive difference in the awareness & attitudes of drivers along that stretch...

...thousands upon thousands of touring cyclists, for many years have used that section of roadway & it took the recent deaths of two people before signs that state the law, could be placed to raise awareness...

billy said...

thanks for this post Fritz!

im still confused about this line "the California Vehicle Code for impeding traffic only applies to 2 lane roads, not 4 lane highways"

can i be ticketed for taking the lane on a 2 lane road?

Fritz said...

I've made a couple of corrections to the article based on some feedback that Mr. Shanteu sent to me in email.

Billy, I'm not a lawyer, but here's the text of CVC 21656 - Turning Out of Slow Moving Vehicles: On a two-lane highway where passing is unsafe because of traffic in the opposite direction or other conditions, a slow-moving vehicle, including a passenger vehicle, behind which five or more vehicles are formed in line, shall turn off the roadway at the nearest place designated as a turnout by signs erected by the authority having jurisdiction over the highway, or wherever sufficient area for a safe turnout exists, in order to permit the vehicles following it to proceed. As used in this section a slow-moving vehicle is one which is proceeding at a rate of speed less than the normal flow of traffic at the particular time and place.

And here's the text of CVC 22400 - Minimum Speed Law: (a) No person shall drive upon a highway at such a slow speed as to impede or block the normal and reasonable movement of traffic, unless the reduced speed is necessary for safe operation, because of a grade, or in compliance with law.

billy said...

thanks again fritz.

it is not clear to me how CVC 21656 and 22400 (the ones you mentioned) work together with CVC 21202 which states:

"21202. (a) Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at that time shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway except under any of the following situations:
(3) When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions (including, but not limited to...substandard width lanes) ...
For purposes of this section, a "substandard width lane" is a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the lane."