LONG BEACH - The death of a young cyclist this week has raised caution flags for some cyclists and has prompted the city to examine the lack of bicycle lanes on Shoreline Drive.
City officials are hoping that education, awareness and better engineering are the keys to safety.
"In the past, Long Beach hasn't really recognized bicycles as a transportation option the way other cities have," said Charles Gandy, the city's mobility coordinator. "The leadership has made the decision to change that, and (Gustavo) Ramirez's death reminds us of how important this is."
Gustavo Ramirez, a 30-year-old Belmont Shore resident, was killed Tuesday morning when his bicycle collided with a semi truck at the corner of Shoreline and Shoreline Village Drive.
Friends said Ramirez's death came a shock considering he was an experienced cyclist who regularly traveled the city's streets and bike paths.
"I don't know what happened," said close friend Jonahvan Rico, 30, who rode weekly with Ramirez. "Maybe he was listening to his headphones. Maybe he thought the truck was going straight."
Police said Ramirez, who had been riding eastbound on the south sidewalk of Shoreline, was entering the crosswalk on the south side of the street when he hit the big rig as it turned right from eastbound Shoreline onto Shoreline Village Drive.
Police said Ramirez crashed into the right side of the trailer, just behind the cab. Authorities are investigating whether or not Ramirez was distracted or possibly misjudged his speed.
The truck driver has not been cited, said Long Beach Police Officer Jackie Bezart on Wednesday.
Gandy said the tragedy on Shoreline Drive is an example of the No. 1 cause of accidents between bicycles and vehicles. Most accidents, he said, occur when drivers turning right collide with bicycles heading straight.
In the case of Shoreline, Gandy said, many cyclists may not feel safe riding along a busy street with no bike lanes and instead opt to ride on the sidewalk.
Gandy said the city is now examining the intersection and could eventually put a bike lane along Shoreline. As cyclists approach the traffic light, the bike lane would direct bikes to the left of the vehicles in the far right lane, avoiding right-turn collisions.
From 2007 to 2008, the city saw an alarming 21 percent increase in bicycle vs. vehicle accidents, according to statistics. While the city does not yet have sound numbers on how many people are riding bikes, that jump in accidents is likely due to an increased ridership, Gandy said.
"Bike riding is up across the county," he said. "A lot of people are trying to save money on gas in the recession or they're adopting an active, healthier lifestyle."
Through its "Bicycle Master Plan," Long Beach has been hoping to follow in the footsteps of other bike-friendly cities like San Francisco and Portland. The plan aims to promote a greener Long Beach by planting more bicycle lanes and focusing on safety education classes for cyclists and motorists. The city is also utilizing a $500,000 "safe routes" grant for education at elementary and middle schools.
"We're initiating bike education programs across the board because we know engineering is not enough," Gandy said.
Gandy said education is key for bike lanes like Belmont Shore's green-striped "sharrow," a busy path along Second Street that leaves many bicyclists and drivers wary.
"If you look at the numbers, (the sharrow) is actually very safe," he said.
Second Street has seen about 6 million cars and about 90,000 bicycles since the green strip was painted in June. From June to November, there were only two reported bicycle vs. vehicle accidents, and neither was serious, Gandy said. The sharrow has increased bicycle ridership on Second Street by about one third since it was painted, he added.
Gandy said he hopes the accident on Shoreline will encourage cyclists and motorists alike to take a few safety courses.
"Gustavo Ramirez's death is a tragedy, but we hope it's a teachable moment," he said.
Ramirez loved to ride in Long Beach and especially enjoyed a route that took him by the Queen Mary, said his friend, Rico. An outdoor enthusiast, he would often ride to work at REI in Manhattan Beach, an outdoors sports supplies store.
When he wasn't surfing the Web for upgrades for his bicycle, Ramirez, a devout Catholic, could be found watching religious services on YouTube, Rico said.
"There wasn't a bad bone in his body," he said.
Ramirez idolized Lance Armstrong and dreamed of one day participating in a cycling Grand Tour, his friend said. He most recently participated in the Tour de Tahoe in Lake Tahoe and the Tour de Long Beach.
Ramirez had hoped to eventually ride with the Velo Allegro Cycling Club in Long Beach.
"He always wanted to ride with those guys but he never got the chance," Rico said. "I'm going to ride with them now, in honor of Gustavo."
For more information on the city's bicycle program visit www.bikelongbeach.org
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