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Recent deaths shake cycling community

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Bicycle Safety Awareness

The Napa County Bicycle Coalition is launching a safety awareness campaign for cyclists and motorists. There have been two cyclist fatalities on Napa County roads since May, heightening safety concerns among bike riders. J.L. Sousa/Register

Two bicyclists have died on Napa County roads so far this year, shaking the confidence of many local riders, said Mike Costanzo, executive director of the Napa County Bicycle Coalition.

“Some cyclists say, ‘I say a little prayer before I head out,’” Costanzo said.

Rather than have cyclists live in fear, the coalition — known as Napa Bike — is mounting a safety awareness campaign to give riders greater confidence when they hit the road.

“Be BRIGHT — Drive Smart, Ride Smart” is intended to promote safety by encouraging cyclists and motorists to treat each other with greater respect, Costanzo said.

The campaign urges cyclists to wear bright clothing and use front and back lights even during the day. Most of all, riders need to pedal predictably and defensively, he said. Don’t count on the motorist seeing you, he said.

Over a recent three-month period, two cyclists were killed in collisions with motor vehicles on Napa County highways, according to Officer Garrett Ray of the California Highway Patrol’s Napa office. During the preceding two-year period there were no deaths, he said.

In May, Alfredo Pedroza, 56, of Napa was killed while cycling on Silverado Trail when a car drifted out of its lane at more than 50 mph, according to the CHP.

In mid-August, Richard Becker, 54, of St. Helena was killed on Deer Park Road when a motorist made a left-hand turn in front of him, the CHP said.

For every fatality, there are scores of minor accidents and near-misses that can make even avid cyclists anxious about their personal safety, Costanzo said.

There were 24 bike injuries between January 2010 and the present on county roads in the CHP’s jurisdiction, Ray said, indicating that included some solo bike incidents. According to Napa police, 82 accidents involving bicyclists have reported within the city limits in that same time period.

Costanzo conceded that cyclists put themselves in harm’s way when they do not follow the rules of the road. “A lot of the angst between motorist and cyclist is the fault of the cyclist” who does unsafe things, he said.

The situation would be improved if both motorists and cyclists regarded each other with “mutual courtesy,” Costanzo said.

At the seminar, Jack Holmgren, who lost a friend in a bike fatality on Solano Avenue several years ago, will present strategies for cyclists to be more visible on their bikes.

Napa Bike is looking for sponsors for a public safety campaign that would use billboards and other advertising to encourage motorists and cyclists to do a better job of sharing the road.

Local bicyclists are supporting a bill on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk that would require motorists to give bicycle riders three feet of clearance when passing from behind.

Failure to give a cyclist three feet of separation would be an infraction with a base fine of $35.

The “Three Feet for Safety Act” would impose a $220 fine if a collision occurs between a motor vehicle and a bicycle causing injury to the cyclist.

The bill has been amended since passing the Legislature and being vetoed by the governor last year.

In last year’s version, a motorist who could not give three feet of clearance was required to slow to 15 mph when passing. The revised bill only requires a motorist to slow to a “reasonable and prudent speed” when passing within the three-foot margin.

According to the California Bicycle Coalition, passing-from-behind collisions aren’t the most common type of car-bike accident, but they are the most deadly.

Napa Bike supports Senate Bill 1464, as do Napa County’s legislators, Assemblymember Michael Allen and state Sen. Noreen Evans.

The bill would allow motorists on two-lane highways to drive to the left of double solid yellow or double solid white lines to pass a cyclist under certain conditions.

The current law tells drivers to pass cyclists at a “safe distance,” but this term is ambiguous, cycling advocates say.


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