The streets of Santa Cruz have long been shared by pedestrians, drivers and cyclists alike, but a recent bicycle accident at the intersection of Bay and Escalona on Sept. 25 has reignited the longstanding topic of bicycle safety.
According to an email sent by deputy chief of police Steven Clark, the unnamed cyclist was struck by a vehicle making a left turn onto Escalona Drive. The cyclist was riding downhill and was not wearing a helmet, which according to Clark, “… significantly contributed to the severity of the injuries.” The cyclist was then transported to Dominican Hospital and eventually flown to a Bay Area trauma center via air ambulance.
Santa Cruz aims to double its bike ridership by 2020. This goal raises the question of how bicycle-safe Santa Cruz really is. A 2013 report conducted by a UCSC internship program revealed that from 2003 to 2012 there were 669 documented bicycle collisions with motor vehicles in Santa Cruz.
According to the report, Bay Drive, the location of the Sept. 25 accident, is the most commuted road for UCSC students. The intersection has seen 14 bicycle injuries from 2003 to 2012, establishing itself as one of the most dangerous routes in the area.
“A lot of collisions occur in intersections,” said Santa Cruz transportation coordinator Cheryl Schmitt. “It’s a communication issue, it’s also who has the right of way, and the taking of the right of way when you shouldn’t be taking the right of way that causes collisions.”
Between campus and city police, there has been an active response to the number of accidents that have occurred over the last ten years in the form of bike safety.
The UCSC campus police department has carried out several projects to increase bike safety among students. Last year, campus police handed out $2,500 worth of bicycle lights and helmets to students at the Public Safety Fairs. The fairs occurred last December and again in March, and two more are scheduled for the current academic year.
Providing helmets and bike lights isn’t the only practice campus police have been implementing to prevent bike accidents. On Oct. 1st, city and campus police participated in the Before Aggressive Drivers Get Everyone Stopped (BADGES) program. This program encourages bike safety by enforcing motor vehicle traffic violations, pedestrian violations and bicycle violations.
“We do all these things from an educational perspective,” said UCSC chief of police Nader Oweis. “Today was one of those days where we wrote citations but with that citation we also provided a brochure about bicycle safety and pedestrian safety to anyone we stopped.”
“[Cyclists] have to be aware of what’s going on around them,” Oweis said. “They need to do the right thing, they need to be proactive about their safety and by doing so they will keep themselves safe.”
There are several resources on campus for concerned cycling slugs. The Bike Co-Op, the Health Center and campus police all have information and tips on how to stay safe when cycling on or off campus. There’s also information regarding a series of social bike rides and events happening throughout the quarter organized by People Power, a local bike advocacy group that can be found on the UCSC Recreation website.
In addition to the programs run by the university, including campus police, the city of Santa Cruz is actively working to promote bike safety.
“Most importantly, we need a complete network of bike facilities,” said director of People Power Amelia Conlen.
Santa Cruz’s existing network of bike facilities has expanded in recent years. The city has constructed several bike and pedestrian bridges to facilitate transportation and provide important passages for cyclists getting from the north side of town to the University. The newest bridge, over the San Lorenzo River, was completed in 2009. These bridges are safer routes that connect bike commuters to High Street where they can more easily access campus.
One of the city’s upcoming projects is a bike trail through Arana Gulch that will connect Santa Cruz with Live Oak. The trail will act as an alternative route for UCSC students commuting to school on bikes. Construction will start this fall.
“[The Arana Gulch trail] will enable students who are living in Live Oak and beyond to easily travel this corridor to get up to the university,” Schmitt said.
Another project on the city’s horizon is the conversion of the Santa Cruz Rail Corridor, sections of which can be seen on Bay Street and Beach Street. This planned corridor will wrap around the bay to Monterey into a bike and pedestrian path.
“It’s over 30 miles and the intention is to build a bike and pedestrian path along that rail corridor to connect Santa Cruz and Monterey,” Schmitt said.
Funding for the Santa Cruz Rail Corridor will be discussed at the next city council meeting.
These recent measures demonstrate that Santa Cruz is striving toward becoming a more bike-friendly location.
“There has been a strong presence of cyclists in the city of Santa Cruz,” Conlen said, “but showing that this is a broad issue that lots of people care about, and that people want to ride their bikes safely, is very important.”