The narrow, two-lane stretch of Newell Avenue that winds through the Parkmead neighborhood looks like a Hollywood studio set of a 1950s American suburb. West of Interstate 680 and on through to Olympic Boulevard, the street is lined with big leafy trees and charming but modest houses featuring well-tended lawns.
This 0.4-mile stretch is also the site of longstanding tensions about traffic, and more recently concerns about how motorists and bicyclists can safely share the road. Over the years, Newell Avenue serves not only as a connector between several neighborhoods, Rossmoor and downtown but as a bridge between two major trail systems.
Last Wednesday morning, a 12-year-old boy was hit by an SUV. The boy, who was wearing a helmet, was not seriously hurt and did not need transport in an ambulance that arrived at the scene, said Public Information Officer Tom Maguire of the California Highway Patrol.
The boy entered the road in an unsafe way, Maguire said, so the SUV driver was not at fault. As it happens, a special CHP unit was working along Newell Avenue that morning because of concerns about the safety of kids out for summer vacation riding along very narrow Newell Avenue. That area of the Parkmead neighborhood lies outside the city limits, so traffic is enforced along Newell Avenue by the highway patrol.
Maguire explained that the highway patrol is also concerned about the number of recreational cyclists using the road, especially on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. On those days, Newell Avenue is heavily used by cyclists traveling between the Iron Horse Trail, which crosses South Main south near Rudgear Road, and the Lafayette-Moraga Trail, at the end of Olympic Boulevard.
Maguire said cyclists don't often follow the rules of the road when they pedal along this portion of Newell Avenue, which passes by Parkmead Elementary and the Dorris-Eaton School.
I'm a resident of the neighborhood, and it's pretty common to see bicyclists pedaling through the two stop signs along Newell Avenue, at Lilac Avenue and Magnolia Way. Motorists also must slow well below the road's 25- mph limit to follow bicyclists, who are usually traveling in groups and sometimes take up the entire lane.
And, both motorists and bicyclists have to share the road with pedestrians. A sidewalk on one side of the road sometimes becomes impassable when residents put out their garbage cans, cars park there, or when puddles form during rain storms.
Here is a video, shot between 9:15 and 9:40 a.m. Sunday. It shows different groups of cyclists perhaps slowing, but never stopping, at the stop sign and crosswalk at Newell Avenue and Magnolia Way.
The video also shows some motorists zipping along the road, perhaps at faster than 25 mph, and not coming to what the CHP might define as a full stop either.
In the video, the only time cyclists fully stop at that Magnolia Way crosswalk before proceeding is when they are forced to because a father, pulling his young child in a wagon, enters it.
Attempts to reach a representative of the East Bay Bike Coalition were unsuccessful on Friday and over the weekend.
On its website the group advocates for cyclists to follow the rules of the road, which includes stopping at all red lights and stop signs. The group also cites state law that essentially says that bicyclists, traveling on roadways at less than the normal speed of traffic, can't ride in packs and must travel as far to the right of the lane as possible.
"Any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at that time shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway." The exceptions are when the cyclist must avoid hazards in the right side of the lane or to make a left turn.
But, in a discussion titled "Stop Sign Politics," writers explain why cyclists don't come to complete stops at stop signs and why they shouldn't have to follow the same rules of the road as motorists:
"I know of no driver who always comes to a dead stop, always drives the speed limit, etc.," one wrote. "It is not special treatment to acknowledge there are significant differences between different vehicles on the road. To insist bicycles,cars, buses, and trucks are the same makes no sense."
Another writer explained that bicyclists must exert a lot of physical energy to stop and start at stop signs and suggests that California should bring its laws in line with other states that allow bicyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs:
"For a car driver, a stop sign is a minor inconvenience, merely requiring the driver to shift his foot from gas pedal to brake, perhaps change gears, and, of course, slow down. ... While car drivers simply sigh at the delay, bicyclists have a whole lot more at stake when they reach a stop sign. ... On one hand, stop signs increase safety [for bicyclists] by decreasing the number of cars on a road, andslowing the remaining ones. On the other hand, they make cyclists work much harder to maintain a reasonable speed."