Wednesday, June 25, 2008|Three bicyclists — that I know of — have been hit just before the Pershing onramp to the 5 North, by which I ride my bike five days a week.

The first accident occurred a couple of months back during the morning commute. As I rode past, I saw a towel soaked with blood and a driver who was inconsolable on the side of the road. I was told later by a friend that the cyclist was killed.

This morning, also during the commute, the onramp was again shut down with forensics and police, the ambulance long gone. I spoke with the officer on the scene, Officer Bernard, who was visibly upset. Bits of bicycle reflector littered the street and splotches of liquid were covered in chemical agent.

This was the second accident in this spot in as many weeks, Bernard said. The cyclist this time had survived.

This is a particularly treacherous road for cyclists. Morning drivers are intent on their commute and this onramp provides very little room for acceleration before merging almost instantaneously with freeway lanes. So their impulse is to gather speed here.

So what do we do?

In the short term, I think a big, flashing sign indicating bicycle traffic well prior to the onramp may get drivers to think twice and keep their eyes open. Couple this with a reflective-paint path across the lane exclusively for cyclists. Think of the pedestrian signs in Del Mar. The onus of awareness — ever-present among serious cyclists — must be shared with drivers.

What really must happen over time, in San Diego and everywhere, is our cities must cease to put cars at the forefront of roads projects and civic improvements. Gas is only getting more expensive and its social costs are high enough as they are. Tragically, I fear this spate of accidents might be a result of people dusting off the bike to give the gas-guzzler a rest.

There are many such hazards for cyclists around San Diego. I was recently the victim of a hit and run (less than a mile from where these accidents have occurred), but because damage to me and my bicycle was minimal, I felt the police didn’t really pursue the case. I was told by an investigating officer that unless an ambulance is dispatched or traffic interrupted, San Diego police don’t respond to bicycle accidents. From bicycle lanes that simply vanish to laws that are written for cars and car-on-car accidents, riding a bike is dangerous.

I have had several friends seriously injured by cars while riding their bikes. In each case, the driver was making a last-minute merge or turn, as well as speeding. Drivers, please beware that cyclists are very vulnerable and drive as though there are bicyclists are around you, even if you don’t see them.

If you have been thinking about riding a bike, don’t let me talk you out of it. It’s great fun and exercise, and despite the danger inherent, I would recommend it to just about anyone. The very reasons drivers are dangerous — their lack of attention, their hurry, their aggression — are reasons to ditch the car and pick up a bike. With a climate like ours, why sit pent up in your car? Get out; breathe the air!

But choose your routes carefully, wear a helmet and lights, and obey traffics signs as if you were a car (because, under the law, essentially you are). And importantly, make sure drivers are aware of your presence. Ride respectfully, but assertively. As they say, it’s a two-way street.

But as safely as we operate, tragedies such as those I’ve witnessed on Pershing will continue to occur as long as drivers have the run of the road. It’s high time our driving culture checked itself in the rear-view and took its foot from the gas. The social costs are too high.

Crawford Coates is a North Park resident who always makes sure to look both ways before crossing the road. Send a letter to the editor and start the debate on your own terms.

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