Monday, January 7, 2013

No more deaths! lets fix freeway interchanges

On Thursday, Jan 3rd  a cyclist was struck and killed at the Clairemont Mesa Blvd/805 on-ramp  Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family. Our thoughts also turn to thinking about how these dangerous interchanges can be made safer for all road users.

The Coalition is aggressively following up with the City, CalTrans, and other stakeholders to demand changes to freeway interchanges. If there is a problem interchange on your regular route or you have had a harrowing experience crossing a particular freeway, please let us know so we can work to make them better.

Below, longtime bike advocate Jim Baross reflects on what this latest fatality says about cycling and what we can do to make it better.

Another person bicycling is killed in San Diego at a freeway ramp; it’s hard for me to comprehend the impact this will have on the family of the person who died, and on the person who was driving. I cannot adequately imagine my own life ending but this news impacts me too – I regularly have to deal with roadway situations that are difficult for bicycling. News of yet another person killed or injured makes we wonder if I should be riding at all; even though I am as careful as I can be choosing safer routes, riding competently, making sure my bike is in good repair, lights and reflectors working, helmet on, etc. But, there’s more that can and should be done, right?

News of recent fatalities raise people’s consciousness temporally, but to effect the changes we want takes informed and continued efforts. If knowing the numbers of people killed by motor vehicles was enough, we should have solved the problems by now… more Americans have been killed in motor vehicle crashes than have died in ALL the wars America has ever fought! More by far than by guns – more than 30,000 every year! Let’s stop the killings!

Freeway on and off ramps designed to allow motor vehicles to quickly enter and exit surface streets are huge barriers for everyone else, bicycling or walking. I remember a student of Kerry Kunsman’s Street Skills class in Claremont riding over the 805 dealing with the fast on-off ramp traffic there asking, “Why are we doing this? It’s scary!” The answer is “because it’s there” and until we get rid of these hazardous intersections, we can’t get around much of San Diego by bike without dealing somehow with these freeway crossings – find another route? – get off and walk? – call a cab? – don’t ride at all? – better yet, change them!

            There is hope for being able to ride more safely on these scary interchanges. With enough political will we might  get completely separated crossings for bicycling and walking, but right now there are positive changes that could be done almost immediately, read on. More certainly needs to be done! By knowing what has already been done, and how more changes can be made, we can help move things along further.

The design and operation of freeway interchanges is set by the California Department of Transportation, everyone calls it Caltrans.The designs for new freeway interchanges and other roadways are embodied/dictated in large part by what’s in two documents, Caltrans’ California Manual of Traffic Control Devices and the California Highway Design Manual (bothavailable for free online). Traffic Engineers are supposed to use these acceptable designs for all State and most public roadways. After several years of effort, we are supposed to be able to get better freeway interchanges for accommodating bicycling. Appreciation for these changes should largely be directed to the work of CABO Board members Bob Shanteau and Dan Gutierrez, along with League Cycling Instructor John Ciccarelli. They have been working with Caltrans through the California Traffic Control Devices Committee and the Caltrans California Bicycle Advisory Committee to create the rational for and the diagram designs for better freeway ramp designs. These changes could be applied RIGHT NOW with enough public outcry and political will at many San Diego locations. Dan, Bob and John emphasize that “It is extremely important that the geometric design MUST make it visually clear who has the ROW (right of way) and who must yield!” The new design standards show how. Click here to see the latest CalTrans guidance of interchange design for cyclists

Progress is being made, and more certainly needs to be done to get to a goal of Zero Fatalities. Bicycling advocacy organizations such as the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition, the California Association of Bicycling Organizations (CABO), and now the relatively new California Bicycle Coalition and locally BikeSD, are helping to move transportation agencies and governments toward better, safer travel experiences. Caltrans and local city traffic engineers have been and are continuing to be moved – yes, moved - toward providing roadways that are better for bicycling and walking. Dan, a League Cycling Instructor and President of CABO, has, under contract with Caltrans, been providing training to Caltrans and other transportation design staff on “Understanding Bicycle Transportation.” In the last five years alone California Complete Streets legislation was passed mandating that roads accommodate bicycling and walking. Legislative requirements for traffic-actuated/on-demand traffic signals to be set to recognize and change for bicyclists is already being implemented. A process for experimenting with new bikeway designs for the Highway Design Manual just passed the legislature in 2012. More should be done. Help make it so. Email chair Kevin Wood at if you’d like to get involved in fixing these interchanges.

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