For eight years, I drove Highway 9 and Bear Creek Road from Boulder Creek which was like being dropped onto the Laguna Seca Raceway competing with Formula 1 drivers. Ripping along tight, windy, steep mountain roads, my first year driving to work from Boulder Creek felt like I was risking my life as cars rode my bumper at 60+ mph. The stress of the daily drive left me at times in tears!
But, after a year of driving the Santa Cruz mountains to get to work, I became one of those aggressive lead footed race car drivers! I grew frustrated when other drivers did not use the pull outs right away or dawdled along at the speed limit! God help anyone who biked on those roads during commute hours.
Driving to work has become a competitive sport for many drivers. As commuters leave the highway, making their way home through people’s neighborhood streets, even moms with kids in their back seat can be seen speeding and reacting angrily to pedestrians or cyclists that cause them to slow down. Drivers whip through intersections and regularly slip in and out of the bike lane without looking to see if cyclists are coming up beside them on the right.
Santa Cruz County has one of the highest bicycle fatality rates in the country and our pedestrian fatality rates are high as well.
As a result, Santa Cruz County has one of the highest bicycle fatality rates in the country and our pedestrian fatality rates are high as well. There are traffic calming measures Public Works could construct to ameliorate this public safety crisis, but the cost of implementing county-wide infrastructure is high and takes years to finish. What can we do right now to help make our streets safer for everyone to walk and bike? We can drive more slowly. I can drive more slowly.
Speaking for myself, years of stressful commuting turned this usually courteous driver into a lead foot. How did this happen? How can I return to my earlier safe driving habits?
I found that long days battling extensive traffic, dropping off and picking up kids from school, making time to shop, cook, do laundry, and countless other essential tasks contributed to the pressure to rush from one thing to the next in a well-intended attempt to maximize time at home with my family. But the sliver of quality time with my family barely allowed for decompression. The rush, rush, rush to engage in the dream had become the nightmare. And I know I am not the only one who has come to feel this way.
It was not until I began coaching mountain biking for middle and high school kids that I became increasingly aware of my own driving habits and the dangers our streets posed. Taking kids out onto the streets on bike rides caused me to look seriously at my driving habits. Soon, I became very intentional about my driving, ensuring I always check for bikes in the lanes before I merge or turn right, taking it safe and easy, and driving the speed limits in our neighborhoods. At times, I have to actively remind myself to slow down, take a breath and take it easy, and make sure my driving is safe enough to protect kids on their bikes or walking across the street.
When people feel unsafe biking on the roads or walking across the street, fewer people are likely to get out and bike or walk, especially the elderly and our kids.
When people feel unsafe biking on the roads or walking across the street, fewer people are likely to get out and bike or walk, especially the elderly and our kids. This is a sad place for our community to be, if we want to encourage happy, active lifestyles we’re going to have to start changing both how we design our streets and also how we drive on them.
We all should continue to support adding traffic calming measures to our neighborhood streets, and while we wait for these to be implemented, I invite you to join me in taking a deep breath before getting into the car. We can all choose to drive more slowly and safely to grow awareness and allow the trust to build in our community so people feel safe to walk and bike.
Our hurried car-centric society is endangering the lives of our community members, but we can be the change, one driver at a time.