Most residents of SLO seem to know someone who’s been hit while riding, or involved in, a bicycle related accident.
On April 21, Cal Poly architecture engineering student Sean Hillman collided with a truck while riding his bicycle through the intersection of Grand Ave. and Fredricks Ave. at around 4:30 p.m. Hillman was transported from the intersection to the intensive care unit where he remained until the following Monday, ultimately succumbing to his injuries and passing away on the April 24.
“I do not believe the infrastructure is ideal in SLO for biking and I think it really has to do with perceptions,” said Justin Pioletti, a former Cal Poly student and cyclist who’s been involved in two accidents involving cars. “While there are good bike paths downtown, you know a lot of people live just on the border of downtown, whether that be near Santa Rosa or Foothill, so if you’re biking as your primary transportation then you’re most likely not only going to be biking downtown, and just outside of downtown, especially Foothill, it is very dangerous.”
Pioletti says the bike paths outside of downtown are only a few feet wide at times, and one can feel when large trucks pass by them. He also stated that along with inadequate lanes outside of downtown, another possible cause of the frequent accidents is the lack of awareness motorists have for the existence of cyclists in San Luis Obispo.
“Both times that I got hit, both people just weren’t looking for me which I guess is how it works with most accidents, they just didn’t see you,” said Pioletti. “For example, my first accident, the person was turning right, and they just blindly turned right, you know if the city was only run by cars that would be fine because there would definitely be no one there but I was in the bike lane that they intersected in and they just ran right into me.”
Designated a “bicycle friendly community” since 2007 by the League of American Bicyclists, the City of San Luis Obispo’s website states this is due in part to the 75-plus miles of bike paths and lanes in SLO. Despite the mileage of designated bike networks around town, San Luis Obispo County saw 81 bicycle related accidents that resulted in injury or death in 2020, according to the California Office of Traffic Safety.
“Reduction of accidents can occur with folks following traffic laws, both those in cars and those on bikes, and driving with extra caution when cyclists are present,” San Luis Obispo Police Public Affairs Manager Christine Wallace said. “SLO has added protected bike lanes, and the green painted bike lanes which help provide drivers with visual awareness.”
Collin Green, a former Cal Poly student, and a cyclist who’s been hit by a car while riding in downtown San Luis Obispo, weighed in on the prevalence of bicycle related accidents in the city.
“Overall, I would say it’s a combination of biking prevalence, distraction of drivers, and age demographic,” Green said.
Green also noted that specific areas of town seem to be more dangerous than others for cyclists due to small bike lanes, paired with high concentrations of motorists.
“When I lived in SLO, some roads, California and Foothill specifically, were extremely crowded and busy with cars driving fast,” Green said. “These two roads, although having bike lanes, didn’t provide bikers enough space or protection. I biked everywhere in SLO and felt the least safe on the intersection between California and Foothill.”
To promote a safer San Luis Obispo, cyclist organizations like Bike SLO County advocate for bicycle projects and policies in the county. According to their mission statement, “Bike SLO County inspires, educates, advocates, and works to build a safe, healthy, and connected community through bicycling.”
The organization currently offers cyclist safety workshops, as well as providing instructional information on what to do in the case of a crash, and resources to report reckless drivers.
“As far as recklessness or lack of focus, this is hard to track or change; and I can say I was a bit of a reckless cycler in my college years as well,” Green said. “Whether it be advertisements, campus involvement, a social media presence, or something else, I think influencing a movement about drivers and bikers coexisting safely could be a positive thing.”