The Sage Publication is the student news site of Sage Creek High School in Carlsbad, CA

The Sage

The Sage Publication is the student news site of Sage Creek High School in Carlsbad, CA

The Sage

The Sage Publication is the student news site of Sage Creek High School in Carlsbad, CA

The Sage

Staff Spotlight
Lexi Thurman
Lexi Thurman
Staff Reporter

Lexi Thurman is a senior new to Sage Creek and is a staff reporter for The Sage. She enjoys listening to live music, playing guitar, and spending time in nature.

The Importance of Bike Permits, and Why They Aren’t Enough

Photo By Connor Carroll
Students bike among cars and pedestrians.

When I learned about the new bike permit program near the end of summer break, I felt that familiar sense of exasperation with change that I always feel when I have more paperwork to do. This frustration is irrational, but it makes sense — who wants added complexity?

There is an understandable human urge to seek simplicity. In a school setting, there is always a problem, and the goal of the school is to enforce a policy severe enough to curb detriment and unobtrusive enough to avoid conflict. 

Solutions are never perfect, and high school administrations are beyond aware that their efforts will be picked apart to no end. While students subconsciously understand this reality, it can sometimes feel like solutions overstep while failing to fully address a problem. 

This is essential to remember when it comes to Sage Creek High School’s (SCHS) bike permit program. Safety should be the first priority for our school. While the new policies are a start, they cannot meaningfully address the issue.

The city of Carlsbad needs more than guidelines to keep students safe. Their recent campaign to introduce permits to the district and plans to support what they call “complete streets” with painted bike lanes and pedestrian safety measures demonstrate an understanding that there is a problem, but these solutions fall short of the safety we desperately need near our schools.

In May of 2021, I got my first electric bicycle. This was a pivotal moment in my life after long dreading hills on my regular road bike. While it may sound silly, I was quite excited to be able to finally use the leftmost lane to make turns. That simply wasn’t something I had felt comfortable doing before.

About a week into biking to school every day, I prepared to make my usual turn into the left-turning lane of College Boulevard outside of SCHS. The yellow light was about to turn red, and as I rode out of the bike lane, the small car that I glimpsed coming down from the horizon did not slow. By the time I realized what was happening, it was too late. 

Drivers and bicyclists alike use College Boulevard’s two left turns to get to the Sage Creek campus. (Photo By Connor Carroll)

I missed school that Friday, and I spent that weekend in guilt. I knew that it wouldn’t have happened had I decided to wait out the car or used a different route and forgone the shared lanes entirely. 

In retrospect, getting hit by a car that did not slow down was not my fault. I do not think it should be argued that it was the driver’s fault, either. The variables that created this situation shouldn’t have been present in the first place. 

While cars carry people, the exterior of a car ensures that the experience of people in cars is quite different from the experience of those actually on the road. Despite that simple reality, US laws typically consider cars and bicyclists as one and the same, forcing bicyclists to take risks that are simply not present when driving. In order to have this conversation in good faith, all parties must accept that people on bikes face a greater level of danger on the road than people in cars. 

The data supports this conclusion. The CDC reports that while bicycle trips make up barely one percent of all travel, they account for over two percent of all crash fatalities. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), roughly 96 percent of those fatalities were the result of a collision with a motor vehicle.

Despite the dangers posed by riding next to cars, one of the first things new bicyclists learn is that bikes don’t go on the sidewalk. You could get a ticket or hurt a pedestrian in low visibility. Now that the turning lane outside of SCHS has proven uncertain, biking off of College Boulevard and onto the sidewalk is the only practical way to avoid a potential collision. For all the warranted concerns over pedestrian safety, one is left wondering how people on bikes are not allowed similar safety precautions.

That isn’t to say that students never use the car lanes. They cross or turn where I do not, and they weave between cars while signaling to ensure that drivers know where they are going. They may feel safe, but the conditions are such that studies show that many potentially enthusiastic parents opt to drive their children to avoid the unthinkable. The moment overconfidence takes over, there is nothing to protect them. 

It’s not a shocker to most that bikes are not prioritized on the road in the United States. It makes sense; most people here primarily drive cars. But as e-bikes and bikes are adopted by children and adults alike as a cheaper, greener active alternative to driving, we must all consider an important question: is an infrastructure system built to satisfy the needs of vehicles rather than people a system that we want to continue?

Over the last few decades, a great effort has been made to solve this problem by increasing the number of painted bike lanes on high-traffic streets and roads, such as the one on Cannon Road outside of the SCHS campus. Despite their intention to foster safety, statistics show that these lanes can encourage a false sense of security without significantly changing the conditions that lead to crashes in the first place, namely because bicyclists can still easily be hit by cars, especially turning ones. A 2019 study found that cars on streets and roads with painted bike lanes even kept less distance between them and people on bikes than they did on roadways without any bike lanes at all.

Cannon Road is one of the high-traffic roads where the city has installed painted bike lanes. (Photo By Connor Carroll)

While I support any and all efforts by our school to promote good biking practices, a SCHS-run bicycle and e-bike safety program and permit application physically cannot perform two essential functions that are necessary to ensure the least possible number of bicycle fatalities. Firstly, and quite obviously, SCHS can’t control the habits of passing drivers. Secondly, and more crucially, SCHS can’t force students to care.

I, for one, care about bicycle safety and sharing the road. However, hoping that drivers will consistently obey painted lines in high-speed, high-traffic areas or relying on the maturity and foresight of high schoolers are futile efforts.

Coupled with the inevitability of irresponsible drivers and bicyclists on school grounds and teenage rebelliousness, both painted bike lanes and seminar-based safety programs manage to cultivate frustration with the expectation of effort from drivers and students while failing to create a significantly safer environment.

In order to achieve the bicycle and pedestrian safety that students and other residents of Carlsbad deserve, we must begin to rethink how our roads work.

American intersections are standardized and follow the goal of efficient car passage. This appeals to our desire for simple measures, but allowing cars to turn right on red (RTOR), allowing cars to merge into bike lanes or allowing obstructions anywhere near where vehicles start and turn is a recipe for disaster. While there remains surprisingly limited data on the impacts of RTOR, research following the widespread adoption of the policy in the ‘70s showed that crashes increased by anywhere from 20 to 60 percent in areas where it was established.

Some do not see this as a problem in exchange for a smoother flow of traffic. However, if we are to address American bike safety, managing turns for cars and bikes will be the foremost hurdle.

Protected bike lanes and bike paths are often referred to as the “gold standard” of bike lanes, and for good reason. They protect bicyclists during the most dangerous part of their journey: when they are away from intersections. As 64 percent of all bicycle crashes occur away from turning areas, protected lanes are incredibly effective at avoiding the factors that leave bicyclists vulnerable in high-speed, high-traffic areas.

These lanes are modern infrastructure’s best bet at making urban cycling less dangerous. They create a transportation strip isolated from automobiles by posts, walls, barriers or planters, making the road safer for pedestrians, drivers and bicyclists alike.

Protected bike lanes of all types have been installed in urban areas throughout the United States. Bike Lanes by SDOT Photos is licensed under <> CC BY-NC 2.0 DEED

The major flaw with protected bike lanes is that they are sometimes used as the only means of addressing bike safety in high-speed, high-traffic areas and are forced to intersect with car lanes. When bicyclists in these lanes reach intersections, they are usually once again in conflict with car traffic. Cities implement protected lanes but fail to warn or guide drivers around the new system; when a city has right turns on red and high-barrier protected bike lanes while lacking signage to signal bicycle crossing, the potential for crashes in low-speed areas is even greater than if there was no specialized infrastructure at all.

Seeing these complications as a reason to avoid improvement altogether would be a mistake. When faced with complexity, it can be easy to desire simplicity. In lieu of a simple solution, many argue that we should focus on individual responsibility and just continue to ride between cars when necessary. 

As mentioned, Carlsbad has made a significant effort to prevent historical problems with new infrastructure. New roundabouts, signaling measures, speed management, traffic calming, sidewalk safety additions and educational programs are all part of the Safer Streets Together Plan, which was implemented directly following the proclamation of a local traffic safety emergency. 

This is a massive step for our community, and it is one that other communities around us have taken in various different — and often unfortunately lacking — ways. However, the cost of projects like the Safer Streets Plan, let alone designing new lanes or protecting new ones, can be daunting. However, the Carlsbad Traffic and Mobility Commission did not respond for comment on this story.

It cannot be stressed enough: these expenses are real. The approved and fully funded measures related to the Safer Streets Plan as it exists today total upwards of $12 million. That number does not include the city’s initiative to “Explore [a] school busing program,” an approved measure that estimates the $44 million Carlsbad would spend on 110 electric buses. 

In order to get a perspective on our city’s history with large, quality-of-life construction projects, the Alga Norte Park was a $40 million investment that, adjusted for inflation, would cost around $55 million today. This beloved recreational center of Carlsbad includes everything from a dog park to a 56-meter competitive pool and a baseball field and is only 32 acres (around 0.05 square miles). Annually, our city spends about $23.2 million on public works, which makes up about 11% of the 2023-24 budget.

Protected bicycle lanes typically cost anywhere from $15,000 per mile to $536,680 per mile. As an investment that could be implemented only in necessary small segments throughout the city while saving public health and long-term road maintenance funds, there are few downsides to making protected bike lanes the focus of our tax dollars, especially compared to what we already spend. 

People are capable of creating, implementing and adapting to complex solutions to problems that do not necessarily jeopardize the majority of people. A remarkably similar process and reaction to the potential implementation of protected bike lanes occurred when the US adopted High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes from the 1970s to the 2000s in response to issues with traffic congestion. These lanes are not needed for our roads to function, but their positive impact cannot be denied. 

When it comes to protected bike lanes, however, the goal is not simply greater convenience. The goal is to ensure that people are safe.

In order to implement protected bike lanes with their safest and most efficient impact, we must embrace recent road and street measures. The NHTSA has demonstrated for years that roundabouts, bike paths, low-speed streets, crossing signal innovations and clear bicycle crossings vastly increase safety for bicyclists and drivers. That’s not even considering the uncomfortable reality that American research is decades behind that of bicycle-friendly countries. 

New crossing rules implemented in places from Downtown to the Netherlands allow pedestrians and bicycles to cross in all directions as the intersection is closed to all cars, completely eliminating the concerns that rest with protected bike lanes.

Thanks to several pioneering engineers at the City of Carlsbad, there are multiple projects in speculation for bicycle safety improvements near Carlsbad Unified schools. Unfortunately, just one of them includes any protection for bicyclists as they appear on the website. To achieve the safety CUSD students deserve, our city must commit to the extended implementation of protected bike lanes.

If we fail to adapt to new procedures at intersections and new biking infrastructure as it develops throughout the nation, we may never be able to provide adequate safety for bicyclists or pedestrians or shift to greener methods of transportation. The separation of bikes and cars, more importantly, is not simply necessary as a result of the actual danger bicyclists face on the road; it is also a demonstration of our city’s continued commitment to serving the people of Carlsbad and to continue to make our home better.

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  • R

    Ryan SharifiNov 2, 2023 at 10:48 am

    I agree with many parts of this article, it is very well thought out and well written. Although, a large piece of the equation is left out, and that is the root cause. Protected bike lanes and safer intersections are needed, but still, the root cause are the cars. With the amount of cars on the roads in Carlsbad and the speed at which they are going on many of the trunk roads, it is no shocker that cycling is very dangerous here. Protected bike lanes, curbs, and safer intersections are needed, but just as much is the limitation of speed for cars. This doesn’t just mean to put in new speed signs, or put electronic signs telling cars to slow down. It is a known fact that neither of these do not work if the road is designed badly, tempting cars to drive faster, such as the 5o mph zones in many places in Carlsbad. It is at these zones where the majority of crashes happen. There needs to be permanent traffic calming implemented, such as speed bumbs, roundabouts, narrower lanes, and extended streets in order to slow down cars and make cycling safer. There should also be fewer cars on the road, and this can be achieved by an investment in cycling, denser building, building amenities closer to dense housing, and investing in public transport, if we are to build better cities suited for future growth.

  • C

    CalebOct 23, 2023 at 5:48 pm

    The kid with his helmet on his handlebars leaving with his airpods in got caught red-handed in the image at the top haha.

    • C

      CalebOct 24, 2023 at 1:52 pm