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Tension in the Canyons

Silverado and Modjeska Canyons provide a rural road cycling experience unlike that of what would typically be expected in suburban Orange County.  Unfortunately, the issues of cyclists and motorists sharing narrow roadways has frustrated canyon residents, as shown in the following article titled “Move Over Rover” which appeared in the “Canyon Beat” section of the September Foothills Sentry:

Canyon drivers are increasingly frustrated by bicyclists engaging in thoughtless, often dangerous behavior on narrow, twisting back roads. They are dismayed by near head-on collisions caused by bicyclists riding in the road rather than on shoulders, riders leaving their own car doors open into roads, and other risks. But surprisingly, locals may not have the law on their side. Those are the conclusions of a report by the Inter-Canyon League’s Gateways Safety and Security Committee.

Committee member Hank Rodgers said he researched state and local codes, and learned that in the past 20 years, laws have increasingly been changed to favor recreational riders.

“They are very organized, and they’ve got the manufacturers backing them in many cases,” he said at the league’s September meeting.

But Silverado resident Dick Ertman pointed out that bicyclists “may have rights, but they also have responsibilities.” He asked bikers to “take a look in that fancy little mirror you’ve got on your helmet. If you see five drivers behind you, pull over for a minute.”

Committee members have spoken with and done ride-alongs with local law enforcement, who say they are extremely shorthanded due to budget constraints,and representatives of two leading bike groups who say they would like to sit down and work things out. The committee is considering a large meeting to let all sides discuss the issues. They are also looking into speed bumps, signs and other possible safety measures. Many residents said they are most upset about the seeming arrogance of the riders, and that simple courtesy would be a cheaper, more effective solution.

“It’s hard because you can’t regulate common sense,” said Modjeska resident Paula Labar.

OCBC board member Brian DeSousa wrote a letter to the editor in reply, which was printed in the October issue, and is also quoted below:

It’s unfortunate and unproductive to see the rather blatant anti-bicyclist bias in last month’s Canyon Beat, starting with the title “move over rover” and continuing through the rest of the article.

This isn’t the first time that bicyclist advocates have heard the same tired old arguments such as “near head-on collisions caused by bicyclists riding in the road rather than on shoulders” presented in the article. Replace “bicyclists” with any other road user, and unless canyon residents are endorsing unsafe passing, the anti-bicyclist bias becomes crystal clear.

Traffic laws are written for the safety and mobility of ALL road users — priority doesn’t go to motorists and/or canyon residents. There are many reasons why a bicyclist may legally choose to use the road over a narrow or virtually non-existent shoulder. This choice provided by the law for the bicyclist’s safety is much more important than a motorist’s fictitious right to travel through the canyons without taking a foot off the gas pedal.

That said, there are things that bicyclists, especially the ones riding in groups, can do to help minimize delay to canyon residents. But working with the bicycling groups will require canyon residents to take a cooperative rather than a confrontational approach on the issues.

What are your thoughts on the issue?