Cycling safety advocates call for increased awareness, education for all who use area roadways

Speaking Wednesday at the site of a recent roadway fatality in Palm Springs, members of Coachella Valley Cycling Communities said everyone can play a role in decreasing the risks that lead to fatalities.
Cycling advocates speak with Palm Springs Mayor Grace Garner Wednesday at the scene of a deadly collision between a motor vehicle and a bicyclist on March 13. In the foreground is a ‘ghost bike’ designed to bring attention to the intersection and the issue of roadway safety.

Nine days after a collision between a vehicle and a bicycle in Palm Springs resulted in the death of a 58-year-old local man, safety advocates are calling for increased awareness about the dangers of all Coachella Valley roads. What they’re not doing is wading into the debate over whether cyclists or drivers are to blame.

Speaking Wednesday at the site of the latest fatality — the intersection of East Ramon and Compadre roads — members of Coachella Valley Cycling Communities said motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians could all play a role in decreasing the risks that lead to fatalities. So, too, can elected officials.

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“All of us need to be aware of each other,” said John Siegel, who organized the meeting attended by Palm Springs Mayor Grace Garner, Palm Desert Mayor Pro Tem Karina Quintanilla, and cycling advocates. “People use the roads in our valley 24 hours per day. We should always watch for car, bike, and foot traffic and always be visible.”

It’s no secret that long, flat desert roadways encourage speeding, and that many streets are poorly lit — both contributing factors to pedestrian and bike fatalities — but cyclists can increase their chances of being seen, one advocate noted, if they had access to essential pieces of equipment and some information about safer ways to navigate Palm Springs and other valley cities on two wheels.

“We need to remind all cyclists that if you ride at night, you need a light,” said Jim Flanagan, a cycling advocate and former Palm Springs Sustainability Commission member. “We need funding for those lights.”

“We also have lots of bike maps available,” Flanagan added. “There are tons of safe routes around the city, but you need to do some work to find them.”

What’s not available, Garner noted, is a way to speed up the often sluggish process of making significant changes to infrastructure that will help separate bicycles and vehicles. While the city routinely conducts studies that lead to approval of specific actions that will increase safety and make roadways better for all, she said implementing those changes can sometimes take years.

“It is a slow process,” Garner said, noting that the timeframe for completing capital projects can always change even when funding seems secure. “Part of what I’d like to see us be better at is communicating that type of information to people in the city.”

For advocates gathered Wednesday, communicating facts instead of misinformation is also important. The cyclist who perished on March 13, Esteban Nelson, lived in the area. He was riding in the 4 a.m. hour on his way to an appointment — a similar experience for many people in the valley who depend on bicycles for their transportation needs.

“A lot of people ride into Palm Springs from Cathedral City early in the morning on their way to work,” Flanagan said. “The easiest way to do that is through using Ramon Road.”

“Some places, there are no bus stops,” Quintanilla said, pointing to the plight of low-income residents who depend on public transportation and the need to improve access to it. “If you’re traveling from the opposite side of the valley, it’s not easy to take a bus to the country clubs, our major employers.”

More information: Bicycle lights (and bike registration) will be available free of charge this Saturday at Ruth Hardy Park from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. during the ONE-PS Community Picnic. Turn here for additional details.

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