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It's dangerous out there: City looks at bicycle, pedestrian road fatalities


Vehicle traffic on Chester Avenue can be dangerous for bike riders, and some choose to ride on the sidewalk.

The numbers include men and women, young and old.

On Bakersfield roadways, since 2014, dozens of people at all stages of life have been struck and killed, according to recently released statistics from the City of Bakersfield.

The city and local groups are trying to keep those numbers as low as possible, both by improving and creating more crosswalks and bike lanes, and educating bicyclists and pedestrians on the rules of the road.

Pedestrians and bicyclists were at fault in 73 percent of collisions in 2014-17 that resulted in deaths to either a pedestrian or bicyclist, according to the city's Bicycle & Pedestrian Safety Report, updated Oct. 9. A total of 55 pedestrians and nine bicyclists were killed. 

Most of the deaths occurred because of failure to yield to vehicles in areas without a crosswalk, the report says. 

The youngest death was a child of 4, the oldest an 89-year-old, according to the report. The average age of pedestrian fatalities was 46, and bicyclist fatalities 36. 

What's being done to help prevent these deaths?

The report says metropolitan Bakersfield has 260 miles of existing bikeways, and since the adoption of the 2013 Bicycle Transportation Plan the city has completed or received funding to construct more than 35 miles of bike lanes and routes through Bakersfield.

The city collaborates with groups such as Bike Bakersfield, a nonprofit bicycle advocacy group, in increasing the public's awareness of bicycle and pedestrian safety. 

Other action includes paying more than $8.8 million over the past four years for Community Development Block Grant funds for pedestrian-related improvements, such as sidewalks, and partnering with GET to construct sidewalks and access ramps near and adjacent to bus stops. 

It is also pursuing a grant from Caltrans for a Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Plan. 

"The proposed plan would include, but is not limited to, identifying locations that have a high potential of collisions and recommending improvements to said locations," the report says. 

Bike Bakersfield has partnered with the law firm of Chain Cohn Stiles and Kern Family Health Care to give away 650 free bicycle lights, and more than 100 safety helmets, throughout Kern County over the next few weeks. 

The group held its first such event this year on Oct. 19, and will hold additional ones Oct. 26, Nov. 2 and Nov. 9 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the following locations: the corner of Roberts Lane and North Chester Avenue in Oildale; Niles Street and Mount Vernon Avenue in east Bakersfield; Planz Park in south Bakersfield; and Bike Arvin in Arvin.

"Many cyclists still ride at night without lights, a practice that is illegal and life-threatening," said Jack Becker, Bike Bakersfield program manager. "And with the sun setting early this time of year, it is important that bicyclists be visible on the roadway."

Despite similar events held in past years, Becker said he continues to see a number of people riding bikes at night without lights. And sometimes even without brakes and against the flow of traffic.

A combination of those factors is almost like asking for a collision to happen, he said.

Becker said he considers many of the bike lanes on Bakersfield's busiest streets to be too narrow. There's not enough space on the road for bicyclists when cars are going 55 mph, he said.

He cited main arterial roads such as Ming Avenue, Stockdale Highway, White Lane and Gosford Road as examples. 

"It's not really the best design of a bike lane," Becker said.

Better design practices would involve a physical barrier, like curbing, between the bike lane and motor vehicles, or a bike lane with more space, he said.

He'd also like to see more Class I bikeways, which provide a completely separated right of way for the exclusive use of bicycles and pedestrians. 

Bakersfield isn't alone in its desire for more options for bicyclists and pedestrians.

A poll commissioned by Oakland-based California Bicycle Coalition found that "8 in 10 California voters believe state and local transportation departments need to change the way they build streets and roads to make it safe for everyone of all ages and abilities to get around, whether they usually drive, walk, bike, or use public transportation."

The results of the poll, discussed in a June news release from the coalition, found that nearly two-thirds of people said they would bike more often if they had protected bike lanes on streets in their neighborhoods.

"Transportation officials are decades behind acknowledging this shifting demand and investing taxpayer dollars as much in alternatives to driving as we have invested in making it easier to drive," Jeanie Ward-Waller, at the time the coalition's policy director, said in the release. 

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