State approval required before signs installed
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.
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 stateWhile 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.