08/13/2009: "Education Of Motorists & Cyclists Needed"
The accident on Lopez Island brings to a head a problem we all share. Tourism is the lifeblood of the county’s economic system. Its impact is both positive and negative, as we all need to accommodate the mass of visitors during the peak tourist season. A significant number of cyclists and walkers join the throng. Each summer day most drivers can share stories of scary experiences and close calls involving cyclists and motor vehicles. Mopeds and tiny three wheeled vehicles test our collective patience and driving skills as inexperienced and frightened riders weave down the narrow roads.
To the Editor:
The single car, roll over, accident on Roche Harbor Road last week occurred at about 10:30 a.m., the same time that large groups are cyclists are frequently found riding toward Roche Harbor. This accident was reported to involve excessive speed while passing another vehicle.
One knee-jerk reaction to mitigate the problem is to decide to build a network of safe paths throughout the county. I agree with the authors of previous letters that we all need to take a serious look at our thinking before talking about investing in more vehicular infrastructure.
Education of both motorists and cyclists ought to be the primary focus. Our county’s lodging tax (4% tax on hotel/motel revenues) has netted over seven hundred thousand dollars each of the past few years. All of this money is invested to bolster our economy through tourist promotion and infrastructure. The $388 thousand budgeted this year for infrastructure goes to support the arts, county fair, parks, museums and the like. No funds are set aside for path construction or for education of cyclists and motorists.
An additional $350 thousand is spent to attract more visitors to the county. The Lopez Chamber of Commerce promotes Lopez Island as “A bicyclists’ paradise,” All promotions I was able to access on the internet included photos of cyclists enjoying the beautiful scenery while riding on our county roads. We are encouraging cyclists to come and are investing in services and facilities to increase their enjoyment. We now need to focus on their safety.
In my opinion, we need to explore ways to educate motorists and cyclists alike. Some of that lodging tax revenue might be designated for this purpose. High school student ambassadors could be employed to distribute welcome maps with safety rules to all ferry riders, for example. Island drivers could be encouraged to check their impatience on the road and steer carefully around cyclists. There are, already exisiting, safe places to pull over for bicycle riders, but they are not currently designated. The county could indicate these with tasteful signs and star them on the back of safety rule brochures for walkers, joggers, and bicyclists. If people know how far it is to the next safe place to stop they will be less likely to pull over in a dangerous spot. These ‘rules of the road” could be given to campers and guests staying in our island accommodations, renting a bike, or purchasing gasoline.
It doesn’t appear possible to develop paths that will protect cyclists from drivers using poor judgment or protect the cyclists from their own carelessness and reckless behaviors. Building more and better paths, at property owners’ expense, may be like the Field of Dreams “If we build them, they will come”. Might this cycle spiral out of control?
San Juan Island