Editor’s Note: Pete van Nuys wrote this opinion editorial in response to a string of accidents in which cars struck cyclists this month in San Clemente, Seal Beach and Newport Beach.
Recent deaths in Newport Beach have rallied residents and promoted action by officials many consider long overdue. Newport knows it has a problem. But residents in other towns shouldn't feel too smug ― the trends that challenge Newport are headed your way.
First, bicycle use is increasing. Aging Baby Boomers who haven't ridden in years may wonder why, in Orange County of all places, people are discovering bikes. Reasons include:
Teenagers and young adults aren't as car crazy as previous generations. License restrictions are tougher. The cost of insurance is higher. More young people are unemployed and car payments suck up money most would rather spend on social media, Iphones, and gaming.
Most trips are within 2 miles of home. People get it: short trips are hard on their cars; it's often as fast to let the car rest in the garage and bike those errands.
Bicycling is fun. OC's weather is great, the exercise makes people feel good and good about themselves. And, oh yeah, they're saving money while they're at it.
Second, car traffic is worse. It's not your imagination; even in this recession traffic delay, poor road maintenance, and the lengthening "rush hour" increase driver frustration. (Just imagine how bad it will be when more people get back to work.) Ironically, Newport Beach's challenge is made worse because their streets are wider, traffic runs faster, and motorists' sense of entitlement seems greater there than other OC cities.
Mix more bikes with more frustrated drivers and conflicts seem inevitable as if drivers and cyclists were separate warring tribes. But they're not. And dissolving this tribalism is central to resolving the conflict.
There are no Motorists. There are no Bicyclists. We're all just taxpaying residents who make daily mode decisions. Every cyclist I know is a licensed driver; all have cars with fuel in their tanks and pay the same gas taxes as everyone else. Most own homes and pay property, state, and federal income taxes, and these taxes fund the lion's share of road construction and maintenance. Cyclists are fully vested road users with the same rights and rules as everyone else.
Sharing space with a growing number of bicyclists is the new reality. That's a bitter fact for the hopelessly motor-headed, but focusing on the upside should help:
1.) There's no place in OC, California, or America where congestion is caused by bicycles. Every bicycle is literally One Less Car. One less competing with you on the metered on ramp, for a parking space at the mall, for a place in the cue to drop Junior at school.
2.) Bicycling helps people stay healthy and healthy people keep medial costs down.
3.) Bikes are good for business. Bicycle friendly downtowns increase patronage and profits for local businesses-- that's a proven fact.
The sweetest deal is, you reap these benefits whether you bicycle or not. All you have to do is control your car and not run over your fellow citizens. Is that really too much to ask?
Pete van Nuys is the Executive Director of the Orange County Bicycle Coalition.
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