Grasshopper Soup: Plan for danger on the bike trail
Thank you, Mr. Patrick O’Callaghan, for requesting that my column about bike trail safety be re-published. Maybe this will help. I drove a raft bus back and forth a gazillion times between Tahoe City and Alpine Meadows Road for 12 years, and biked that stretch of trail for decades. In summer it is the busiest and most dangerous stretch of bike trail.
The “Walk left, Ride right” rule, and bike trail safety in general, is subject to individual awareness, and therein lies the problem and the solution. My answer is — the Flugle horn! Every bicycle should have one. Bells are too dainty and nonchalant. They are for children. They charm and attract. They do not repel.
I have a Flugle horn on my bike, and I guarantee you, it gets results. When pedestrians hear my Flugle horn they cannot mistake the alarm. They know a warning when they hear one. And they like it. I rarely get a negative response when I honk my Flugle horn at violators of bike trail rules and etiquette. They thank me, or say, “Great horn!” as they jump clean out of my way.
I know I’m supposed to say something like, “We must pass a law to make the bike trail safe for every man, woman and child! Ban bikes! Put up more signs and flashing yellow lights. Save the children!” But, realistically we know that no matter what we do, most people will still walk on the wrong side of the bike trail, and even walk four or five abreast, completely blocking the trail for cyclists, who generally have the right of way, except when they have a stop sign.
The bike trail is officially posted as a bike trail — not a daydreaming, sleepwalking trail.
We could pay people to use common sense on the bike trail. That might work. But, based on my experience, behavioral psychology is no match for behavioral reality.
When we are looking out for our own safety, and are conscious of what is going on around us, and looking out for others, we don’t need rules. When we are oblivious, and show no concern for ourselves or others, rules won’t protect us.
To give you an idea of just how dangerous the situation can be, I saw a dad riding his bicycle at a high rate of speed, towing a child, with his wife and four other children following close behind on their bikes, heading straight for the bicycle stop sign at Alpine Meadows Road.
Unpredictable swarms of cars, trucks, busses and bicycles were converging on the intersection from all directions. Cars coming down Alpine Meadows Road rarely stop at that stop sign (which is BEFORE the bike trail, btw, not AFTER it). At that intersection, cars and bicyclists routinely jump the stop signs.
With such common carelessness no one can anticipate what might happen. But this idiot came flying through the stop sign, leading his own flesh and blood into danger at best and certain death at worse. They all ran the stop sign in a panic, except dad. He didn’t care.
Fortunately, the offending family made it through unscathed, and the cars that had the right of way turning onto Alpine Meadows Road, the cars the family forced to stop on Highway 89, didn’t rear end each other. Several other bicyclists were forced on to Highway 89 into oncoming traffic. It was a miracle that a serious accident didn’t occur.
In reality, the bike trail is a multi-purpose trail. It is even used for storage! If you ride a bike between Tahoe City and River Ranch, don’t be surprised if you hit a pile of rafts, coolers, canoes, paddle boards, kayaks, plastic tropical islands, plastic turtles, the vice squad and a fresh car that just landed on the bike path.
The bike trail between Tahoe City and River Ranch will always be dangerous in summer, even if we pay everyone to follow the rules and police it with Syrian rebels armed by Barack Obama with squirt guns and Flugle horns.
Buy a Flugle horn at the local bike shop and help make the bike trail safer and more fun.
Bob Sweigert is a Sierra Sun columnist, published poet, former college instructor and ski instructor. He has a B.A. and an M.A.T. from Gonzaga University. He has lived at Lake Tahoe for 30 years.
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