San Luis Obispo works to improve bicycle safety

Nov 5, 2019

UPDATE 11/08/19 10 AM: San Luis Obispo police and volunteers set up a bike light checkpoint at a heavily trafficked, and dimly lit, intersection in San Luis Obispo Wednesday evening. But local authorities weren't giving out citations. Instead, they handed out 400 bike lights and gave tips to cyclists, many of whom were Cal Poly students, on the the best ways to use them. Click the Listen button above to hear a radio version of the story. 

Bicyclists in San Luis Obispo may encounter a police checkpoint Wednesday evening. The city’s police and public works departments are out to ensure bicyclists are equipped with front bike lights and rear reflectors, now that it gets darker earlier in the evening. Without those safety features, bicyclists could face a fine up to $200. The checkpoint comes on the heels of a national discussion about improving safety for cyclists.

The National Transportation Safety Board just released its first analysis of bicycle safety in almost 50 years. The report found more people than ever are using bicycles for transportation. And in 2017, more than 800 cyclists died in crashes with motor vehicles in the U.S.

The NTSB report found three safety issues. Head injury is the leading cause of bicycle related deaths. In a third of bicycle injuries with motor vehicles, cyclists weren’t seen. And roadway infrastructure across the US needs to be improved to increase bicycle safety.

“There is a really a fear of being mixed in with fast auto traffic. It’s something drivers have told us as well too that they want to see more separation so they don’t have to worry about the cyclist as well too,” said Adam Fukushima with San Luis Obispo’s active transportation department. He’s been collecting community feedback about the city’s roadways as San Luis Obispo prepares to update its active transportation plan.

Fukushima said many local bicyclists now want safer roadways compared to separate bike trails, because roadways make a direct commute faster, on “streets like Broad, Madonna Road and Los Osos Valley Road, Santa Rosa and Foothill,” said Fukushima.

City planning staff hope to produce a draft of a new bike plan by March and in front of the San Luis Obispo city council by summer. And the Anholm bikeway plan, between Foothill Boulevard and downtown—which sparked a major debate in 2018—is scheduled to be installed in early 2020.

At the state level, this year the legislature presented Governor Newsom with a bill that would require Caltrans to consider bicycle safety improvements when it repairs or repaves state routes that serve as local streets. But Newsom vetoed it, saying the plan was too costly.