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Downey's 25th Annual Kids Day last Saturday featured both 10-mile and 2-mile bike rides sponsored by City of Downey Parks and Recreation in partnership with Cruz Cycling Club. These rides highlighted an overall fitness theme for Kids Day this year, implicitly recognizing the major health challenges that confront young people in these times, with epidemic obesity and sedentary lifestyles the norm.
Attendance was nominal, consisting mostly of Cruz Cycling Club members. But those 20 or 30 Downey residents of all ages who attended experienced a safe and well-guided tour at each distance.
Parks and Recreation is to be commended for incorporating these and other fitness activities into Kids Day. The inauguration of bicycling at a major City event in Downey bodes well for the future development of active transportation in the community, including both bicycling and walking.
Yet bicycling is still distinctly a minority pursuit. The Southern California Association of Governments' 2012 Regional Transportation Plan reports a paltry, though slowly increasing, seven tenths of one percent (.7%) bicycle commuter mode share in the region as of 2009, and a recent anecdotal assessment of bicycle use within the Downey Unified School District confirms similar percentages. A 2009 National Housing Travel Survey concludes that about 2% of Californians go to school on a bike--more than double that of students in Downey, but a tiny percentage nonetheless.
In spite of these numbers, perhaps even because of them, it's important that cyclists (of all ages) and vehicles coexist on public streets and roadways. In future columns we will continue to examine the reasons why. But for today, let's talk about the rules of the road for bicyclists.
It may be that vehicle drivers know the law better than many of those who ride bikes, simply because the regulations regarding bicycle riding are made unequivocally clear in the California Driver Handbook--a document that might not yet be familiar to a teenager who hasn't begun to drive. In a nutshell, cyclists have essentially the same rights as drivers--AND the same responsibilities. Namely, they "must obey all traffic signals and stop signs," "must ride in the same direction as other traffic, not against it," "shall ride as near to the right curb or edge of the roadway as practical," and "must wear a helmet if under the age of 18."
These four rules cover the most important elements of state vehicle code regarding bicycles as summarized in the CA Driver Handbook, though the handbook actually makes eighteen specific points. You can check them out online under the "Share the Road" chapter of the handbook at: dmv.ca.gov. Or just Google "California Driver Handbook."
Each of these rules deserves special emphasis. Regarding traffic signals and stop signs, bicyclists must obey them just as diligently as drivers, lest bike riders give the impression that they think they're exempt. Further, as I mentioned last week, ongoing personal experience strongly suggests that vehicle drivers go out of their way to defer to bicycle riders at stop signs.
With respect to the direction rule, bicycles are considered to be vehicles, not pedestrians. (This is a good thing, because, as we will examine further, this legitimizes a fossil-fuel- and emission-free vehicle to share the roadway with all other traffic.) A cyclist riding on the left side of a two-way street jeopardizes not only himself or herself, but also every other driver, cyclist, or pedestrian within view. So bicyclists MUST ride on the right side of the road, as far to the right as practicable, except when merging into traffic to make a left turn, or on a one-way street, where riding on the left is acceptable.
Concerning helmets: cyclists, that helmet can save your life, and no matter how dorky it looks, you become a scofflaw if you're under the age of 18 and not wearing one. Parents should take responsibility for leading and directing their children on this one.
Finally, though not an element of traffic code, it seems to me that the "back street" approach favored by Google Maps cycling directions, as mentioned here last week, is much preferable to riding a bicycle down the major arterials. In Downey that would mean avoiding Firestone and Paramount Boulevards, for example, in favor of 5th/Cecilia, or say Downey Avenue--or better yet, a combination of residential streets, where most of the time significant vehicle traffic is almost nonexistent.
Why focus on rules for bicyclists, rather than motorists? Because it's apparent that a significantly greater percentage of bicycle riders violate rudimentary traffic laws, which apply equally to bicycles as to vehicles. Whether this is due to ignorance or to a misguided sense of entitlement is not entirely clear. But it's critical that cyclists of all ages abide by the rules, because in effect those of us who cycle are ambassadors to the driving community.
Published: May 17, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 05