Cyclists, Caltrans team up on Highway 1 bike lane issue

Special to The CambrianJuly 17, 2014 

After nearly a year of engaging in an adversarial relationship with Caltrans over the agency’s troublesome chip-seal paving project on Highway 1, Cambria’s Slabtown Rollers bicycle group was surprised this month to be invited to partner with the state’s powerful highway authority on another contentious Highway 1 safety issue.

The transition from challenger to ally emerged when Caltrans’ realignment design for 2.8 miles of Highway 1 — which called for an 8-foot paved shoulder/bike lane — was deemed unacceptable by the Coastal Commission. The $57 million project is set to begin next year to protect the road from erosion and rising sea levels.

The commission wanted 5 feet of pavement with 3 additional feet of crushed gravel with prairie grass growing through it. However, Caltrans argued that an 8-foot-wide bike lane was statistically safer (causing about 80 percent fewer accidents), and was consistent with the width of the existing bike lane along that stretch of road.

The Rollers-Caltrans’ alliance paid off. Thanks to in-person and written testimony from the Rollers, and from the San Luis Obispo Bicycle Club, the Coastal Commission voted 8-2 at its meeting in Ventura last Friday to go with the Caltrans plan.

“It’s wonderful,” said Sharon Jordan Evans, vice president of the Rollers. “It’s an indication to me that we definitely made a positive impact on Caltrans. We were an irritant. I’m sure they wanted us to go away. And yet at the end of it all, we are friendly. And we’re allies.”

Jordan-Evans and Rollers’ President Tom Parsons received emails a week before the meeting asking the group to ally with Caltrans in seeking 8 feet of paved shoulder.

“It was absolutely a delight” to be asked to join Caltrans in this issue, Jordan-Evans said. She remembers telling Colin Jones, spokesperson for Caltrans, “Isn’t this fun to be on the same side of an issue impacting bicyclists!

“It’s like a whole new world,” said Jordan-Evans, who logged about 900 volunteer hours from late 2012 through most of 2013 as part of the Rollers’ ultimately successful campaign to have Caltrans revamp the chip-seal, making it safer for bicyclists.

“It’s gone full circle,” commented Rollers member Mike Evans. “Right at the end I think Caltrans realized they might not be winning this battle, so they called in the Rollers and the San Luis Obispo Bicycle Club to help them get something they wanted.”

Parsons, who rides hundreds of miles on coastal highways each month, said, “Caltrans was pulling us in rather than pushing us away.”

The stretch of Highway 1 that’s being moved away from the Pacific runs north of the Piedras Blancas Light Station north to the Arroyo de la Cruz Bridge.

When it is complete, 73 acres will be added to Hearst San Simeon State Park and 3½ miles of new California Coastal Trail will be created.

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