This posting is a follow up to Independent Sources Malibu: Sunshine, Movie Stars, and Senseless Deaths on PCH and we recommend that you read that posting first before continuing with this one. Also before reading the post (and certainly before riding on PCH) you must note that there are in fact NO bicycle lanes on PCH, despite the fact that thousands of cyclists ride on it every weekend. Instead, cyclists are forced to ride in a shoulder which ranges in width from a few feet to non-existent and varies in condition from bad to deadly. (h/t: Susan Gans). Henceforth I will refer to this shoulder area as the “bike passageway” since that is how cyclists use it.
Pacific Coast Highway
Just south of the Malibu Pier there is a state road sign that tells you that you are on the Pacific Coast Bicycle trail.
How ironic that this sign is positioned at the beginning of a nine mile stretch that is one of the most unnecessarily dangerous areas for cyclists in California.
PCH is a beautiful stretch of land with sweeping ocean views and hillside and canyon vistas. Furthermore it is the primary (or in some cases sole) method for reaching the many canyon roads that criss-cross the Santa Monica Mountains. For these reasons and others, PCH is extremely popular with road cyclists. However, PCH is an extremely dangerous road–made worse by a lack of planning and care by the state and local agencies who have jurisdiction over it.
Yesterday, I drove a 20 mile stretch heavily traveled by cyclists (click here for satellite image of the route). I wanted to catalog places that are inherently dangerous to cyclists due to encroachments into the bike passageways. I particularly wanted to find areas where cyclists would be forced into traffic lanes occupied by fast moving cars and trucks. The photos below will show you what a dangerous route it really is.
Northbound (permanent protrusions)
I started at the corner of West Channel and Pacific Coast Highway. I selected this as a starting point because it is a common access point for cyclists riding on PCH. Riders coming from the east would take San Vincente to get here and those from the south would likely have taken Ocean Ave. Unfortunately, as riders get on PCH they are immediately faced with a very dangerous stretch.
Due to a landslide in the late 1980s, a retaining wall was built to protect the highway from falling dirt. Unfortunately, the bike passageway has an abundance of weeds, mud, rocks and other debris. The worst however is that about 1/2 mile down for reasons that I cannot fathom the passageway narrows greatly pushing cyclists right out to the road. (This happens right where PCH bends to the right so that drivers not paying attention could easily drift into the shoulder making it even more dangerous.)
Up a mile and past Temescal Canyon is a road construction site that has shown no signs of completion. The construction crew put up 100 yards of concrete barriers forcing cyclists completely into a high speed traffic lane (the same situation that cost Scott and Stas their lives two weeks ago.)
Up another 1/2 mile and just past the intersection of Sunset Blvd. and PCH is an extremely dangerous 1/4 mile. First the bike passageway becomes very uneven and rough before disappearing into a mountain of mud. Cars are given no indication that the shoulder is about to go away and that cyclists will will soon be coming into traffic (with the right-of-way). Worse is that the pavement uneven, muddy and wet making it one of the most dangerous situations one could imagine.
Up another 1/2 mile and just before getting to Topanga Canyon, there is a more recent landslide that Caltrans has been working on shoring up. Unfortunately, Caltrans did not leave any room for cyclists when setting up the barriers. However, to their credit they did put up a “watch for cyclists” sign and also have swept the area inside of the barriers so that one can ride to the right of the barriers (unconventional yes, but safe) and stay out of the way of automobile traffic. [Update (9/30/05): Caltrans or someone has taken down the "watch for cyclists" sign.]
For the next several miles the bike passageway becomes dangerously narrow and also contends with parked cars taking up the passageway. Fortunately, no fixed encroachment of the bike passageway until you pass Pepperdine University and you get to the construction zone where Scott and Stas lost their lives (see link above for full story). This is an inexcusable blockage of the bike passageway and it speaks volumes that even after two unnecessary deaths the construction company has not moved the barriers in even a few feet. If you look at this photo you can see that the concrete barriers appear to be protecting dirt. (Hard to imagine that this was an important enough task to create such a hazard). [Update: it was reported to me that as of today 9/30 the barriers have been removed and that workers on the site were sweeping the bike lane of debris. On behalf of all of us, thanks!]
A few miles down the road is the site of another landslide. This one comes on a downhill. There appears to have been no attempt to fix this or mitigate it.
Just past Trancas, there is a fairly large road project that eliminates the bike passageway on both sides. Note the cyclist in the photo below is in the middle of the traffic lane and right in the way of the car coming up behind them. Despite having the right of way, there is absolutely nothing the cyclist will be able to do if the driver of the automobile behind them does not slow down.
Southbound (permanent protrusions)
I turned around after the road construction at Trancas (see photo above) which affects southbound cyclists as well. Ignoring the generally dangerous Zuma section (mostly from drivers on the left who are looking at the ocean and not the road) and surfers on the right opening doors and swinging surf boards, the first major obstruction comes at the intersection of PCH and Kanan Dume Road. Here cyclists come across a big wet hole and a couple of traffic cones. I have no idea what this even is but it is quite dangerous.
It is then relatively safe riding on the highway until passing Malibu Colony when you come to the stretch from Malibu Pier to Santa Monica (“blood alley”). While there is no permanent protrusions on this stretch, cyclists are constantly interrupted by: a) absolutely dismal parking jobs by residents seemingly oblivious to the fact that cyclists depend on there being a gap between the highway and their cars, b) delivery trucks that stick out into the street, c) trash bins, and d) pedestrians; all the while cars are speeding up behind one’s flank. (see “temporary” protrusions below for photos of some of these).
The next permanent encroachment in the bike passageway you come upon is the landslide just south of Topanga Canyon. Here the bike passageway disappears but two lanes of speeding cars behind you do not. It is absolutely frightful and lasts a quarter mile or so (probably some of the fastest riding you will do in your life).
The next 1/2 mile of the highway is generally uneven pavement (with lots of little cement droppings left by careless road construction crews) bringing you into the Sunset Blvd. intersection. Here the shoulder is squeezed into non-existence by the Gladstones restaurant. From the photo it looks like Caltrans had to make a choice of protecting the restaurant from errant cars or protecting cyclists. (Gladstones won.)
Up another mile the bike passageway disappears once again. In an eerie replay of Scott and Stas’s tragedy, while I was setting up my camera a cyclist came by and was squeezed into traffic by the barrier and was nearly hit by a catering truck. Fortunately, this particular driver was paying attention but I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I was shaken by the experience.
If you look closely at the next photo, you see that the barrier that almost forced the rider above into the catering truck is once again protecting dirt–isn’t this just plain wrong?
“Temporary” Protrusions (observed north and southbound in one 2-hour period)
In addition to the relatively permanent encroachments of the bike passageway there are numerous other blockages more temporary in nature but that can still send cyclists into fast moving traffic. For example, brush clearance crews:
Movie crews (which I might add made it far more dangerous by their “orange traffic cones” and you can see how much of the bike passageway they took up):
and more utility work:
and yet more:
Big trucks parked:
Remember all of these photos were taken on one round trip to Trancas and back and would haven been encountered by anyone riding on PCH that day.
Despite what you read in Independent Sources’ other postings (like improving education or interjecting economics into problem solving), we are realists and we do not expect miracles (e.g., drivers to suddenly change behavior). But we do not believe that it is too much to ask:
- the permanent and semi-permanent blockages of the bike passageway be immediately addressed
- parking regulations be created or enforced that would keep automobiles from forcing cyclists into traffic
- more and better signage at dangerous points
- construction zones to factor in bicycle traffic
These are just a few of the reasonable actions that the city, state and all responsible parties should take which I believe will be more effective than the recently announced Malibu Sheriff’s policy.
Readers: If I’ve missed something please list it in the comments or email me a photo. Camera phone photos are acceptable but be careful taking them.
In memory of Scott Bleifer and Stas Ionov.
Note to our out-of-area readers: I use PCH as a proxy for dangerous riding conditions everywhere. Please do not wait for someone to be killed to address unnecessarily dangerous cycling conditions in your areas.
All photographs were taken by Insider on 9/21/05 from 2 to 4 pm.
Read comments below including one from the Malibu Times reporter who has been providing the most comprehensive coverage of cycling in Malibu. There is also a comment from the rider in the photograph above who was almost hit by a catering truck right in front of me.
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