Although California often ranks as one of the most cyclist-friendly states, there’s always room for improvement. In fact, recent stats from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration suggest the Golden State may be slacking on its cyclist safety standards. According to current data, 455 California cyclists died in traffic collisions between 2016 – 2018. That’s California’s highest cyclist fatality rate in the past two decades.
While this trend is concerning, many Californian cities have stepped up their “safety game.” This was especially the case in 2020 due to the COVID-19 lockdowns. Since the COVID Pandemic emptied CA’s roads—and more locals got interested in bicycling—city leaders had a rare opportunity to try novel safety initiatives. Below, we’ll “pedal through” just a few of the most effective cyclist safety programs throughout the Golden State.
Pedaling Towards Cyclist-Friendly Streets — California’s Most Significant Cyclist Safety Initiatives
Oakland’s “Slow Streets” Kickstarts A National Movement
On April 10, 2020, Oakland unveiled one of the most influential cyclist safety initiatives in recent memory: Slow Streets. Spurred on by concerns over COVID-19 transmissibility, the Bay Area city decided to close dozens of its streets to car traffic. This gave bicyclists and pedestrians more space to navigate Oakland while steering clear of traffic.
Unfortunately, since Oakland’s Slow Streets program is so new, it’s difficult to say whether it has dramatically affected cyclist safety. For instance, a recent traffic report suggested there were three cyclist or pedestrian crashes on Slow Streets between April and September of 2020. By comparison, there were five crashes in 2018 and eight in 2019 during the same period. However, the number of crashes may have been lower in 2020 due to COVID-19 lockdowns rather than the Slow Streets program, but the data is optimistic.
San Francisco’s SAFE Fights Bicycle Theft
Even when cities have approved bicyclist paths, many Californians worry about bicycle theft. Unfortunately, since Bay Area cities are so bike-friendly, they have been a prime target for thieves. In San Francisco alone, police estimate about 2,000 – 3,000 bikes are stolen per year.
To combat this growing problem, the non-profit Safety Awareness For Everyone (SAFE) unveiled a SAFE Bikes program. This innovative initiative is working to create a comprehensive “bike registry” for Bay Area bicyclists. In partnership with the SFPD, SAFE provides cyclists with registration tags and serial numbers for their bicycles. This way, if the police recover your stolen bike, they will have an easier time returning it to you.
Yielding to Safety
Recently, state assembly leaders approved a bill that would allow bicyclists to yield at stop signs rather than coming to a full stop. Supporters of the bill believe that it will reduce the number of injuries and fatalities at California’s intersections. Traffic studies have shown that a high number of cyclist fatalities occur at intersections. Therefore, the less time a bicycle remains at an intersection the less likelihood of a dangerous collision.
Many cyclists already treat stop signs as yield signs. However, this bill is not yet law. Until further notice, bicyclists are required to stop at all marked stop signs just as if they were operating a motor vehicle. Under current California bicycle laws, if an accident were to occur due to a bicyclist failing to stop at a stop sign, the cyclist would be likely partially liable for their injuries.
Los Angeles Tackles Traffic Collisions with Vision Zero
Despite LA’s growing cyclist community, it remains one of the most car-centric cities on earth. However, that doesn’t mean La-La-Land’s leaders aren’t investing in cyclist-protected lanes.
Most significantly, Los Angeles has been working with the Vision Zero Network since 2015 to eliminate traffic fatalities by 2035. This global initiative helps city planners better identify safety concerns to develop a smarter infrastructure. In the same year, Los Angeles approved the Mobility Plan 2035 to create a new network of bike-protected lanes.
Many of LA’s latest infrastructure changes are inspired by recent Vision Zero reports. For instance, LADOT announced it would be adding bike lanes and new signals along Adams Boulevard.
Berkeley’s CPBST Helps Spread Safety Awareness
Re-thinking roadway design is crucial for cyclist safety, but it’s not the only way to help California’s bicyclists. Another essential aspect of improving cyclist standards is providing residents with high-quality safety education. One group that has been passionate about spreading actionable info is UC Berkeley’s Community Pedestrian & Bicycle Safety Training team (CPBST).
Initially founded to improve pedestrian safety, the CPBST added “bicycle” to its title in 2016. Since its inception in 2009, this group has held hundreds of seminars in dozens of California communities to explain key aspects of cyclist and pedestrian safety.
Although CPBST hasn’t held in-person events during the COVID-19 pandemic, it still offers digital programs for communities throughout California.