Drivers, Bicyclists Must Find Common Ground on Safety


Being a bicyclist in Southern California isn't easy, as attested to by the bike-versus-car accident statistics for the region.

In the last year alone, this paper has written more than 65 articles about bicyclists injured or killed in collisions with cars and trucks.

But one of those fatalities may not have been in vain.

The April 11 death of 42-year-old Debra Goldsmith, hit while she was riding home from a morning training ride, has spurred an effort to educate motorists and bicycle riders alike about the rules of sharing the road.

Goldsmith was wearing a helmet and pedaling with traffic on the right side of Palisades Drive, as cyclists are supposed to do, when a driver in a late-model Range Rover hit her from behind.

The impact threw Goldsmith up onto the vehicle's hood, and she died of blunt-force trauma, according to Dan Kemble, an investigator in the Los Angeles Police Department's West Traffic Division.

The Los Angeles city attorney's office has filed misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter charges against the driver. If convicted, the driver would face a sentence of up to a year in jail, a $1,000 fine and a one-year license revocation.

Goldsmith's death touched the region's large cycling community, which includes about 100 clubs with more than 10,000 active members. Two of the clubs organized a 42-mile Memorial Day ride in her honor, and drew more than 500 riders who wore black arm bands emblazoned with a yellow traffic sign reading "Share the Road."

In late June, the Los Angeles County Bike Coalition, organized three years ago to improve riding conditions, formed a 'Share the Road' committee, says Ron Milam, executive director of the group.

Many of the volunteers are from Goldsmith's bike club. Their goal is to begin an educational road-sharing program, already in place in Northern California's Marin County, to foster more understanding between motorists and cyclists and to reduce accidents and deaths.

Cyclist fatalities are nothing new for Los Angeles and other metropolitan areas. In the Los Angeles area, about 34 cyclists are killed annually, says Milam. Nationwide, 750 bicycling fatalities were recorded in 1999, the most recent year for which statistics are available, according to Peter Moe of the National Center for Bicycling & Walking.

Bicycle riders in Southern California, though, say they don't worry only about death and injury.

Every cyclist seems to have a story.

Sarah Bradshaw, president of the bike coalition's board of directors, says she was riding in Hollywood with a friend a few summers ago when two men in a car began following them. "One guy reached out and whacked me on the behind," says a still-incredulous Bradshaw. She says the men were laughing as they sped away.

Bradshaw says she didn't file a police report, but wouldn't hesitate to do so now if something similar happened.

Another problem, some experts say, is that motorists may resent bicyclists on the street, unaware that bike riders, like motorists, are regulated under the California Vehicle Code.

The law requires, for instance, that cyclists ride as close to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway as practical, except when passing or preparing for a left turn--or whenever else it might be necessary to leave the right-hand curb area. On a one-way street, though, cyclists are permitted to ride near the left curb or edge.

It also can be difficult for motorists to judge the speed of cyclists, making it tough to decide whether to speed up and make that right turn, for instance, or to wait for the cyclist to pass.

And cyclists aren't blameless.

Bike riders on a roll who want to keep up their heart rate often run red lights or stop signs, Milam admits. And they can sometimes hog the road, especially when riding in groups.

"Bicyclists have to learn to be better about signaling. We are atrocious," Bradshaw said.

Milam believes that the proposed "Share the Road" program is the long-term solution. He hopes to model it after a similar program launched a year ago in Marin County. Malcolm Foster, who started it, was spurred to action by the death of two area cyclists in vehicle-bike collisions in 1999.

The program, Foster says, includes awareness, education and enforcement and has been cited as a model by the League of American Bicyclists.

The awareness part of the program is being put into place: 10,000 posters--showing super-cyclist Lance Armstrong piggybacking atop a classic 1959 Buick--are being distributed to auto dealers, bike shops and merchants throughout the Bay Area community.

The education portion will include, among other programs, school instruction about safe bicycle routes students can use.

To enforce the rules of the road, Foster has the support of local police departments, the Marin County sheriff's office and the California Highway Patrol.

"Part of this program will be unpopular with cyclists," says Foster, an avid cyclist. That's because police intend to ticket cyclists who commit such infractions as running stop signs. Local jurisdictions will determine the exact fine, which Foster estimates would range from $50 to $250.

Milam hopes a similar Los Angeles area program will be up and running soon.

He invites motorists to join his committee by contacting the coalition at (213) 629-2142 or

Until the formal program is in place, attitude adjustment may be a good start, Milam says.

If motorists could view cyclists in a different light, it would help, he says. Rather than seeing bikes as an obstruction and a distraction, he says, think of a cyclist as "one less car on the road," a blessing in a traffic-congested city.

Good Carma is a guide to automotive-related health and consumer issues. Kathleen Doheny can be reached at

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