From Pacific Grove to Salinas, bicycle safety depends on where you are
Whether or not Monterey County is bike friendly depends on who you ask and where you’re biking. Some areas are safer than others in terms of infrastructure and busyness.
Salinas city officials identified hotspots for collisions and put the data together to create a high injury network outlining where incidents occurred the most over the past ten years.
Andrew Easterling, a city traffic engineer, said that Salinas is on par with safety compared to other California cities and the national trend. For him, that doesn’t mean they need to stop the work they’re doing.
“Definitely there’s room for improvement,” Easterling said. “We want to make our town safer for cyclists and for people who like to walk around.”
Of all elementary, middle and high schools, 75% are within a quarter mile of the high injury network and 53% of all crashes occur on the high injury network.
The network accounts for 12% of Salinas roadways.
Some of the streets in Salinas that see the most collisions are North Davis Road, North Sanborn Road and Boronda Road.
Monterey County has received $20 million to use over the next three years to continue working on transportation safety in their Safe Routes to School Program.
About half of that money will go toward street improvements to it safer for biking, walking and reducing traffic around schools. The other half goes to non-infrastructure programming, such as education.
“There’s a lot of room for improvement in our street design," said Ariana Green, with the Transportation Agency for Monterey County (TAMC). "That’s one of the things that our cities and the county, the engineers, really care about is making them safer."
The city is looking at opportunities to take four lane streets down to two lanes to free up space for bicyclists and pedestrians, according to Green.
“It’s really hard to make those changes because there is such a strong driver culture, really across Monterey County,” she said. “But it is so important for the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists.”
Many local cycling activists emphasize the need for infrastructure.
Mari Lynch, who founded Bike Monterey in 2009, found herself doing less biking when she first moved to the area in 1981 from Santa Cruz. She felt the infrastructure was lacking in comparison.
She started Bike Monterey to share tips about how to get around safely and to connect with others in the biking community. Lynch says she’d like to see bike lanes that are protected by a physical barrier, not just painted lines.
“I know that it’s easy for people to think it’s just a pie in the sky dream, but it’s not,” she said. “It’s happening all over the country.”
Jeff Richman, who has lived in Salinas for 35 years with his wife, agrees with the want to have a physical barrier. He was a fan of the temporary one that was put up on Alisal Street, but that only lasted a couple weeks.
“Both [my wife] and I saw that it was a lot safer to have a physical barrier,” Richman said. “Living in East Salinas, we’ve wanted for a long time to have a way to get from where we live…to downtown, for shopping, for going to the YMCA, for whatever. But that hasn’t been available to us.”
Hope for the future
Natalie Popovich, a volunteer member of the TAMC’s Bike and Pedestrian Committee, approaches her work both as an academic and a bicyclist. Previously, she worked on the city of Davis’ bike plan.
Davis is world renowned for its infrastructure.
Popovich got involved locally after reaching out to join the Pacific Grove traffic commission at the beginning of 2021. From there, she joined the committee.
“It’s a lot of people who are not a subject matter expert, but a lived experience expert,” she said about the people on the committee. “I’m impressed with the passion and the commitment the people have."
She noted that there’s no interconnected system where someone can get from Pacific Grove to Monterey without risking their personal safety. Nevertheless, she’s hopeful and said that Pacific Grove is in the process of considering making changes.
“There’s a lot of opportunity in Monterey because they’re reconsidering so much infrastructure with the sea level rise,” Popovich said.
Angelica Cabral is a journalist and podcaster for The Californian covering a wide variety of topics from movies filmed in Monterey County to how much political candidates have fundraised. Have a tip for an interesting story? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow her on Twitter @avcabral97