San Luis Obispo County officials have two main messages they hope spectators remember Thursday if they intend to watch the Tour of California professional cycling race: Ride your bike, if possible, and don’t assume you can park anywhere you want.
“Park in designated areas is the other big message,” said county engineer Michelle Matson. If you don't, your car will likely be towed.
County staff has been planning for the tour’s fifth-day stage finish in Avila Beach since December, figuring out parking, shuttle stops and other details necessary to get perhaps thousands of people in and out of the beach town safely on Thursday.
The Tour of California started Sunday in Escondido and finishes May 19 in Santa Rosa. On Thursday, the 128 cyclists start at 11 a.m. in Santa Barbara and are expected to finish between 3:30 and 3:45 p.m. in Avila Beach.
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However, would-be spectators should plan to get to Avila “the earlier the better,” said Assistant County Administrative Officer Greg Schulte.
Schulte said much of the planning has assumed that about 7,500 people will be in Avila Beach to watch the stage finish.
A half-dozen paid and free parking areas in and around Avila Beach can fit more than 2,000 vehicles — but once the estimated 1,250 public parking spaces fill up in downtown Avila, CHP officials will stop cars from entering and direct drivers to other areas.
The San Luis Obispo County Bike Coalition will manage a bike valet area that can accommodate about 1,500 bikes downtown.
Drivers can expect about half-hour delays Thursday afternoon as the tour travels through the county, and a few roads will be closed.
The only full-day road closures affect Ontario Road, which will be closed to vehicles (not bikes) from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Cave Landing Road and all streets in downtown Avila will be closed to the public from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m.
The county has given passes to residents and employees of local businesses so they can park and access those areas.
Some schools along the race route, including Bellevue-Santa Fe Charter School on San Luis Bay Drive, will let students out of classes early. Arroyo Grande High students finish just before 1 p.m. Thursday, but spokeswoman Amy Jacobs said the early release day was pre-scheduled and just happened to fall on the same day as the tour.
“To minimize disruptions, we have planned our work schedules around the event and selected alternate routes for plant employees to access the site,” he said in an email.
A spectator guide is available at www.amgentourofcalifornia.com/docroot/media/2013/stage-5-spectator-guide.pdf.