Davis has long been known as a bicycling mecca, it houses the US Bicycling Hall of Fame, and it continues to move toward “Beyond Platinum Status.” At the same time that Davis has finally finished renovations to make major east-west arterial Fifth Street more accessible to bikes, and is spending several millions on bike lane infrastructure inspired by European design techniques, there is also a growing backlash among sectors of the town.
This week, a story on CBS 13 in Sacramento highlights the Davis expansion of bike lane infrastructure with the European-Inspired design plan.
They report, “Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis says the improvements will be built along Covell Boulevard, a major road in Davis. Instead of white paint to distinguish a bike lane, barriers will be built to separate bikes and cars.”
“It’s about visibility and creating safe spaces for the crossings and also making cyclists prominent and in front of vehicles,” he said.
CBS 13 reports, “Two intersections will be transformed into Dutch junctions, which Davis says will help make bikes more visible to drivers.”
“The whole concept is really designed for bikes and pedestrians to be able to move across it and along it without coming into conflict with the vehicles that are traveling at higher speeds,” the mayor pro tem said.
CBS notes, “The infrastructure is needed, he says, to keep riders and drivers safe. He hopes it will also attract more bicyclists. Davis hopes the improvements will help more vulnerable groups like kids and the elderly feel safe enough making the switch to use bicycles as their major form of transportation.”
But there has long been concerns from the non-biking residents who are angered by what they see as the blatant disregard for traffic rules by bicyclists, mostly those who come to town while attending UC Davis. They blow through stop signs and occasionally traffic lights, and create a number of road hazards.
As one long-time resident told the Vanguard recently, who walks around Davis every day, the behavior of people using bikes is truly, in general, rude at best and dangerous at worst.
A recent letter to the editor noted, “Vehicle vs. bike problems have been increasing over the years, and it is time for the city of Davis to step up and take action to merge these two road users together.”
The writer noted a litany of complaints, starting with the failure to use lights after dark.
“I believe this is just the tip of unsafe riding in town,” they wrote. “It is obvious that riders are not following the rules of the road, yet they’re treated as equals when using our roadways.”
They suggested, “A license plate and registration should be required to own a bike and use it in town. Also, bicyclists should have to pass a written test on rules of the road and bike paths in order to obtain a license.”
“Our community is exposed to many students from UC Davis who are from different counties that do not have the same laws and requirements as we do. Let’s get everyone on the same page.”
While I am not sure the city can implement these types of changes, this letter illustrates what seems to be a growing or least persistent frustration that many drivers in Davis have.
A someone who works in the downtown, I see bicyclists ignoring pedestrians and stop signs, and sometimes dangerously cutting in front of oncoming vehicles in their haste or the desire not to hit their brakes.
Once, on a police ride-along, the officer simply stood at the corner of F and 3rd and pulled over countless bicyclists running the stop sign (with a uniformed cop standing on the corner). They were fortunate to get warnings, but obviously the problem continues unabated.
The city has taken a number of steps over the years to protect bicyclists. More than 90 percent of Davis roads have bike paths, which was one of the original progressive era innovations in Davis.
In recent years, we have seen the Fifth Street Redesign, which, while encompassing far more than just bicycle accommodations, remains a critical component.
We have seen the discussion of green waste containerization. There were and frankly remain concerns about bicycle safety when avoiding debris in the bike paths. The city temporarily attempted to accommodate those concerns with double stripping. There are accompanying concerns with storm water drainage, but the city is now moving toward a more full containerization.
In addition to the hundreds of millions that the city needs to invest in road maintenance, bike maintenance remains a critical need as well, with deferred maintenance costs in the tens of millions.
Finally, the city is investing millions into the Covell Corridor project which has a heavy component on bike safety.
However, if the bicycle advocates wish to see the public willing to pump further money into upgrades on safety and other infrastructure, the concerns laid out by many about rudeness, safety and following bicycle laws should be addressed.
If not, there will be a growing backlash by many non-riders that may impair future efforts to add infrastructure and safety features to our roads. As strong believers in multi-modal transportation and bicycling, we hope this can be avoided.
—David M. Greenwald reporting