County parks officials launched a new bicycle speed enforcement program on open space trails this weekend, stationing two staffers with special radar-type devices in areas that have generated public safety complaints.
Officials hesitated to characterize the move as a crackdown, preferring instead to call it a pilot program that initially will be aimed at educating trail users.
"We want to get data, educate users and hopefully gain a useful tool," said Max Korten, assistant director of county parks. "Through the Road and Trail Management Plan there are a number of proposals to open trail alignments to bikes that have caused safety concerns among some neighbors and preserve visitors about the speed of bikes on the trails," he said. "It's important that as we consider implementing some of these proposals; we have a tool to address this potential issue."
Korten billed the program as a "pilot effort," saying officials "don't have good data about how often speeding is occurring on open space trails and we have not used this technology on open space roads and trails in the past."
Violators will face warnings at first, but citations may be issued at some point "depending on circumstances," he said.
Tom Boss, offroad director of the Marin County Bicycle Coalition, said he welcomed the county's new educational program. "The focus is on education," he said, adding the program will mesh with a "go slow and say hello" effort by a coalition of trail users including cyclists, hikers and others.
Boss, noting parks officials recently designated trails in the San Geronimo Valley for use by cyclists, said using Lidar, or light detection and ranging devices as a tool makes sense. "We're interested in seeing what they learn from it," he added.
Linda Novy of Fairfax, head of the Footpeople, a hiking group that has urged a crackdown on speeding cyclists, applauded the parks program as a step in the right direction.
"Two (devices) are, of course, not enough, but it's a very solid start, and the district is committed to enforcing speed," she said. "We are glad that the Marin County Open Space District will begin using Lidar to track speeds," she added. "Our understanding is that without this device, rangers are not able to issue citations or possibly issue warnings."
Novy said signs are needed to indicate blind corners and areas where bike riders need to "slow down to a crawl" so that hikers or those on horseback are not frightened or hurt. Speeding mountain bike riders are a "big reason for the creeping displacement" of other trail users from open space preserves.
Pat O'Brien, interim director of county parks, said the new program follows "the successful use of speed reduction methods" on the Mill Valley multiuse pathway. Few if any citations were issued for speeding, but 21 were issued for failure to stop at the path's intersection with Pohono Street. Signs, warnings and the presence of rangers and law officers seemed to curb scofflaws, parks officials said.
The two Lidar devices will be used by rangers or deputies to record speeds of open space users on fire roads and trails that have generated the most complaints about unsafe speed. "For years we've had concerns expressed to us about safety on unpaved roads and trails, so we think it's natural to use a proven program in our open spaces," O'Brien said. "I wish to emphasize that the great majority of bike riders respect safety when they ride on the open space trails."
Speed regulations include a 15 mph limit on fire roads and trails, and 5 mph at blind corners. "This new measure will augment our current efforts to address violations and hopefully lead to a safer and more enjoyable experience for visitors," said Ari Golan, parks and open space superintendent. "We're doing our best to ensure safety."
County code says that "no vehicle, including a bicycle, shall be operated at a speed greater than is reasonable for safe operation, nor in any manner which may endanger the safety of others or the protection of environmental resources." The first offense carries a $50 fine and $155 court cost penalty.
Following several collisions involving cyclists, county officials last year added a sheriff's deputy to join enforcement patrols on county parkland, doubling the sheriff's staff assigned to park duty. "The action.......will once again allow for seven-day-a-week law enforcement coverage in the county's park lands," Undersheriff Mike Ridgway said at the time. County park rangers are unarmed and do not have authority to make arrests so they must call for a deputy when dealing with incidents requiring detention of suspects.
Although three high-profile incidents in recent years involving bicyclists colliding with other trail users stirred alarm about speeding, rangers say dogs pose a bigger problem.
The Footpeople, an informal association of trail users that includes Novy and two other Marin Conservation League board members, filed a detailed analysis last year that reported 558 trail violations resulting in 200 citations in a year. Violations included 418 involving dogs and 95 involving cyclists in areas closed to bikes, but "none for speeding, failure to yield or riding in a manner that endangers other users," the analysis said.
Overall, with 11 rangers and a single deputy sheriff on patrol at the time, the 558 violations amounted to "fewer than four violations per month per ranger/deputy," the Footpeople observed.
"The data ... strongly suggests that enforcement of the Marin County Open Space District code provisions relating to bicycles is not given sufficient priority," the Footpeople said.
Cyclists, however, say the lack of cycling citations indicated the lack of a problem. ------ (c)2016 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.) Visit The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.) at www.marinij.com Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC. AMX-2016-04-02T23:16:00-04:00