BERKELEY -- As Megan Schwarzman sets out on an anticipated long road to recovery from a near-fatal bicycle accident Feb. 2, members of the rider advocacy group Bike East Bay say they are keeping the family in their thoughts and prayers. At the same time, they are demanding the city act aggressively to create a two-block bike lane on Fulton Street beginning at the intersection with Bancroft Way where Schwarzman was hit and dragged beneath a car.
Bike East Bay is calling for striping the lane by May 12, the annual Bike to Work Day.
A driver who may have been "impaired," according to police, struck Schwarzman, severely injuring the 42-year-old mother and research scientist at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health as she rode her bicycle home from work.
The accident "is heartbreaking for us at Bike East Bay," said Executive Director Renee Rivera in a phone interview. "I feel like they're part of the family." Schwarzman and her husband Mike Wilson are avid cyclists and members of the advocacy organization.
Rivera did not mince words in a strongly worded Feb. 9 letter to City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley: "A bike lane on Fulton Street may have made a significant difference in this case," she wrote. "Bike East Bay staff and members have repeatedly called for the City of Berkeley to stripe bike lanes on busy streets as part of their repaving, including at this dangerous location."
In fact, the city's 2000 Bicycle Plan, updated in 2005, calls for bike lanes along the length of Fulton Street.
"There have been 10 reported bicycle-car collisions at the intersection of Bancroft and Fulton alone from 2001 to 2014," Rivera said, citing California Highway Patrol figures.
Last year, before repaving was to be done along Fulton, Rivera said her organization once again pressed the city to paint in a bike lane along the street, but staff turned them down, saying the bike lanes would cause a delay because of the need to first study traffic congestion and parking removal.
Rivera comments on this in her letter to the city manager, saying, "Due to the City's inaction on the Fulton Street repaving last year, Megan's life almost ended this past week, and certainly it will never be the same."
While bike lanes enhance safety, the best option is creating protected bicycle lanes that are physically separated from automobiles, said Councilman Kriss Worthington, whose primary mode of travel is by bike.
Worthington called the area south of Bancroft along Fulton "the perfect example" of where to place a protected lane, given the low rate of automobile traffic and high volume of bike traffic on the block. "It's not like drivers will have to sacrifice to give up a lane," he said, asserting that new state guidelines make it easier to add bike lanes without lengthy traffic studies.
In a Feb. 12 email to this newspaper, city spokesman Matthai Chakko said the BEB's demand for quick action on the bike lanes is not possible, given that a bike lane between Bancroft and Durant Avenue would eliminate an entire traffic lane, and that a bike lane between Bancroft Way and Channing Way would knock out a block of parking.
He further argued that state guidelines exempting a traffic study for bike lanes do not apply. "We still need to follow the current state law requiring that we hold public hearings and do a traffic study," he wrote. "The requirements mean that the striping timeline for Fulton would not be feasible within the timeline (Bike East Bay) stated."
Chakko provided statistics showing that other intersections may be more dangerous. "Over the last 10 years Fulton Street (not just this intersection) had 22 reported crashes. Hearst Avenue had 55, Martin Luther King Jr. Way had 76, Milvia Street had 71, Bancroft Way had 50, and Shattuck had 121," he wrote.