Road safety: Portola Valley reshapes traffic committee

Rights, responsibilities and interests of cyclists are key

The question "What's in a name?" could not be more relevant in the matter of the Portola Valley Town Council's deciding recently, by a unanimous vote, to change the name of the all but moribund Traffic Committee to the Bicycle, Pedestrian & Traffic Committee.

"The interactions between bicycles and cars is really one of the more important issues in this town," Mayor Ted Driscoll said to open the discussion at the council's Sept. 14 meeting.

Indeed. To say that Alpine and Portola roads, the town's two arterials, are popular with cyclists is to significantly understate the situation. Cyclists in ones and twos are an ongoing presence, as is a knot, similar to a racing peloton, of anywhere from 30 to 100 cyclists speeding by at least once a day when the weather is good.

But incidents over the past few years, not to mention a scattering of cycling fatalities, tell a story.

■ A water bottle, with water in it, thrown by a cyclist at an elderly pedestrian woman, hitting her in the face and leaving it black-and-blue.

■ Sheriff's Office deputies camped out on weekends at a right-turn stop sign to ticket right-turning cyclists rolling through after a long uphill climb.

■ A rock allegedly thrown by a cyclist at a boy walking his dog on the roadside -- there are no bike lanes or sidewalks -- and hitting him in the chest.

■ Drivers who loom ominously behind pelotons traveling at maybe 30 mph in a 35 mph section and which acquire certain privileges to use an entire lane when bike lanes are absent.

■ Two equestrians crossing Portola Road who became engulfed by a peloton that scared one horse into dumping a rider and both of them into galloping along with the cyclists, some of whom are alleged to have heard but ignored the remaining equestrian's plea to slow down.

Councilwoman Ann Wengert, a cyclist and veteran of crossing the United States by bike, reminded Mr. Driscoll of his suggestion made in June that the committee be renamed and that the new name start with the word "bicycle."

"My own views are that we should be moving that to the fore. I would hate to encumber a newly chartered committee," Ms. Wengert said. "We recognize that a lot of these issues being created right now are related to bicycles."

Councilwoman Maryann Derwin said she was fine with the name change provided the committee steers clear of advocacy.

Like the town's 16 other committees staffed by volunteers, this one will offer the Town Council advice on matters that come under the purview of its name.

As was done in 2010 with the Trails Committee, which had developed a reputation for not representing the interests of all trail users, the new Bicycle, Pedestrian & Traffic Committee membership will be based on applicant interviews by a council subcommittee with a mission of obtaining balanced representation.

Information: Click here: to apply for membership on the committee. The filing deadline is 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 28. The first meeting is likely to be in early 2012.

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Like this comment
Posted by PV Community Member
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Sep 29, 2011 at 12:48 pm

Here's hoping that the new Town of Portola Valley committee will help bring more positive light to the cycling community. Yes, some cyclists misbehave on occasion, as do drivers of cars and trucks. This article makes it seem like the cyclists are the ones at fault -- even when run over from behind by a 22-wheel big rig. The sheriffs would be plenty busy ticketing motorists who fail to make complete stops at Alpine and Portola, and enforcing the speed limit in front of the Ladera Shopper. Everyone: Be careful out there, obey the law, and spread positive action in our communities.

Like this comment
Posted by pv rez
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Sep 29, 2011 at 2:40 pm

question to the readers out there regarding this point:

■ Drivers who loom ominously behind pelotons traveling at maybe 30 mph in a 35 mph section and which acquire certain privileges to use an entire lane when bike lanes are absent.

when you come up on a peloton taking the entire lane and you can't pass, what other option is there but to follow behind them?

Like this comment
Posted by Donald
a resident of another community
on Sep 29, 2011 at 7:32 pm

pv rez, follow them at a safe distance. Preferably drop far enough back that you can see past them, but leave at least enough distance to stop without hitting any of them should they fall.

Like this comment
Posted by another PV rez
a resident of Portola Valley: Brookside Park
on Sep 30, 2011 at 10:41 am

Donald - you may be right, but these "peloton" are often longer than a 16 wheeler!

The cyclists that cause dangerous situations are often having to deal with a crash in the heart of the group and they swerve wildly to avoid each other. Perhaps they also need to separate with enough distance to react appropriately?

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Posted by marc
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 30, 2011 at 11:56 am

The horse incident is not accurate--

Those horses were on a trail next to the road 10 yrds down and 10 yrds to the right of the Portola. Only the last few riders could see them.

A woman was not yelling stop or slow down. She was screaming in panic and I could not hear any words. She had between 50 and 100yrds to slow the horse and she did not. Then the horse went up to the street where the trail ended at a driveway. At this point it slipped to almost 45% and so did the rider and ran into to oncoming traffic lane just before Old La Honda. I tried to warn oncoming cars to slow down. I saw this looking back from the very back of the pack because I heard far away screaming. Then another out of control horse with rider properly mounted took the same route and did not slip. A few riders slowed down to help this second horse and the 1st horse --without rider and they did just past when Portola splits towards 84. The horses did not turn left with the pack (it was far away) as we were slowing them down and they were gassed by then. I would say only a few riders knew anything about this at the time and the horses though intimidating were not too fast on the road so they never really got close to catching the pack. These horses very likely should not be anywhere near a road with cars, bikes, kids, dogs, etc. They should be on trails without distractions, or properly trained.

Like this comment
Posted by Donald
a resident of another community
on Oct 1, 2011 at 9:11 am

How far back would you stay from a 16-wheeler? They have huge blind spots so you need to stay way back from them in order for the driver to see you and for you to be able to see around them. No difference with a group of bikes. Nothing good comes from following them too closely; it makes the cyclists nervous and they keep checking behind to see what you are up to when they should be paying attention to things in front of them.

Like this comment
Posted by A Person
a resident of another community
on Oct 7, 2011 at 3:42 pm

Dear Marc:

When a horse has been spooked (which can happen even with the most 'bomb-proof' horse, given the right (or wrong) circumstances,) the right thing for any motorist, pedestrian or bicyclist to do is to stop and wait until the situation resolves itself.

Please share this with your bicycle friends. If the pelaton did not stop, they did the wrong thing and need to learn how to do the right thing.

Your comment about "properly trained" was ignorant. Even highly trained police horses have been known to panic under exceptional circumstances (like the one at Candlestick Park that got a plastic bag caught in his bridle and bolted.)

If you want everyone to "share the road" with bikes, then perhaps you should learn how "share" as well. Sharing means, at times, putting the safety of others before your own selfish interests.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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