Kenwood Press

Serving the communities of Kenwood, Glen Ellen and Oakmont

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Guest Editorial: 02/01/2016

Pedestrians to cyclists: “Not on our easement”

By The Pedestrian Coalition – residents of Oakmont and the Villages at Wild Oak (Stephanie Batanides, Sandy and John Temple-Raston, Jean Reed, and Rosalie Bulach)

As reported in the Kenwood Press on Jan. 15 (“Battle over Wild Oak path finally comes to a close”), the legal battle to deny cyclists access to the pedestrian-only easement is virtually concluded by the court ruling of Jan. 7, 2016, but the battle to protect the easement against offending cyclists continues.

Having regained lawful control of the pedestrian easement, the property owners are asking, “Should we bar cyclists entirely or try to permit limited and rule-based access?”

The Pedestrian Coalition says: It is far easier to bar entry than to monitor and prevent rule breaking. It is a well-established legal principle in real estate law governing easements that easement owners may not legally add users if it “unreasonably interferes with the granted users’ quiet enjoyment of the easement.”

The rise of the Pedestrian Coalition

Many pedestrians feel strongly that their granted easement has been increasingly overrun by exercise cyclists since the Bicycle Coalition included it in their 2005 published exercise route. Obtaining no relief from offending cyclists and experiencing steadily increasing group traffic, pedestrians finally began to organize in early 2015 to defend their pedestrian-only easement. They conducted a survey and organized a petition.

The survey indicated:
  • Cyclists doubled (93%) on weekends since 2008
  • Overall cycling rose 49%
  • Two-thirds of pedestrians were frequent walkers
  • 74% of pedestrians were Oakmonters
  • 81% of pedestrians were age 65+
  • 55% walked alone
  • ¼ to ⅓ of pedestrians had leashed dogs
  • 70% of pedestrians suffered only fair or worse hearing, 19% wore hearing aids
  • 11% of pedestrians had other handicaps
Of those who voiced negative interactions with cyclists, the complaints were:
  • 37% said cyclists rode too fast when near pedestrians
  • 37% said group cyclists (25 to 50) crowded out pedestrians
  • 30% of these respondents had near miss collisions
  • 27% complained that cyclists forced them to step aside
  • 27% cyclists gave garbled, late or no warnings from behind; startling both good and poor ears 
  • 23% were offended by verbal or gesture abuse

Respondents uniformly expressed concerns for their safety and comfort. “I told a cyclist that the path had a sign that said, “No Bicycles,” and he called me a “b---h” and went onto the path,” reported one pedestrian. Another said, “My wife and I were walking past the pool one evening when a cyclist without provocation passed and yelled, ‘f--k you!’”

Exercise cyclists pose inherent hazard to pedestrians

Given the demographics of the easement pedestrians and the very nature of exercise cycling, combining them on narrow pathways is inherently hazardous.

It is contrary to the purpose of exercise cycling to slow down for pedestrians. In the words of an avid cyclist at a public hearing: “When riding in an exercise group, my job is to follow the leader. The leader’s job is to set the pace. We ignore most everything around us, relying on the leader and rider in front to avoid obstacles.” Such cycling should not be combined with pedestrian-heavy pathways.

The golden rule of all roads and bi-ways is to yield to the more vulnerable user. Thus, trucks must yield to automobiles, autos to bicycles and cyclists to pedestrians. Yet most cyclists on this pathway expect pedestrians to yield by stepping aside, say pedestrians.

This pathway does not accommodate exercise cyclists. The design of Timber Springs Drive was to serve only its 61-unit residences as a narrow private street without sidewalks. It was not designed as a multi-use, public recreational access route. The five- to six-foot-wide footpath extension to the Church disabled parking area was not intended for cyclists; they were purposefully excluded in the granted easement.

Exercise cyclists cannot be filtered out or controlled

If cyclists were permitted access, there is no practical way to filter out the fast-paced exerciser from the relaxed casual rider. Expecting exercise cyclists to stop exercising for a third of a mile while on this easement is nonsense. Consistent misbehavior for several long years on this easement has abundantly proven this. No one can monitor the length of the easement or stop and change the behavior of rule-breaking cyclists.

In 2008, following the erection of “No Bicycles” signs, cyclists organized a “courtesy reminder” table of flyers advocating safe cycling. That was short-lived. Self-regulation has proven unworkable.

Internet and GPS routes exacerbate the problem

Exercise cyclists now use GPS devices in online applications that offer route guides and tracking of their rides. These applications, Ride GPS, MapMyRide and Strava, are used by cyclists everywhere, aiding riders to find routes, organize rides, increase the number of rides and the size of groups as well as monitor their speed, distance, altitude and frequency of rides. Riders compare speeds and timing to other cyclists, increasing the competitive incentive that encourages riders through this pedestrian easement to go faster…an accident waiting to happen with increased risk.

Safety is the City’s responsibility

The protection of pedestrian users of this easement is now on the shoulders of the City. It is especially discouraging to the pedestrians that the City actively encouraged cyclists to use their easement under its now failed legal theory, going so far as to include it in the City’s Master Bicycle Plan during litigation and over the protests of the property owners. The legally, ethically and politically proper thing to have done was to tell cyclists not to transit the easement until the lawsuit was settled and the courts determined who had the legal rights.

The Pedestrian Coalition has met with members of the council arguing their case for protection and support and complaining that the council has acted one-sidedly in support of cyclists while ignoring the easement pedestrians. The City Council needs to be a part of the solution instead of persisting in being part of the problem.

The property owners also have a responsibility to not add to the easement’s burden and to maintain it free of interference. Property owners are urged to consider the legal rights of pedestrians as enfranchised easement holders before considering permitting cyclists some form of self-regulated access.

Specific recommendations for the City Council

Publish a county-wide letter to all cyclists stating that they do not have an established legal right to transit the pedestrian easement; doing so is a criminal offense.

Remove this easement from the Bicycle Master Plan NOW, not a year from now.

Cite and prosecute scofflaw cyclists who arrogantly trespass.

The Pedestrian Coalition is sympathetic to those casual bicycle riders who are courteous, respectful of pedestrians and who yield in their presence. But barring all cyclists now appears to be the only solution. Any bicyclist can always pass through by dismounting and becoming a pedestrian.


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