HANFORD — Following a high number of bicycle-related collisions last year, the Hanford Police Department appears to be successfully curbing the problem.
Last year, Hanford had 15 bicycle-involved collisions by the end of September. An Aug. 28 collision killed a 16-year-old Sierra Pacific High School student who was riding his bike near 14th Avenue and School Street, outside the city limits.
Around October 2015, police began ramping up enforcement of bicycle laws and visiting schools to teach students about bicycle safety. Officers issued about 50 citations to cyclists in October alone.
Hanford police Capt. Karl Anderson said the city has only had six incidents reported this year.
“Overall, we’ve had a lot fewer bicycle-related incidents since we started our program,” Anderson said.
According to the Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System, the Hanford area, including county islands not patrolled by HPD, has had nine collisions involving bicycles this year. The cyclist was found to be at fault in eight of those incidents.
Most of those incidents involved a cyclist riding against traffic, running stop signs or making an unsafe turn.
Anderson said police have continued to visit schools and educate students about basic safety laws such as remembering to wear a helmet, riding the same direction as traffic and observing other traffic laws. School resource officers have also continued to reward young cyclists who follow all the rules with a gift certificate.
“They stop them and say, ‘Thank you,’ and give them a free ice cream at McDonald’s,” Anderson said.
Anderson said police continue to see issues with cyclists breaking the law, but much less than a year ago. However, some local cyclists believe more can be done to make the roads safer.
Hanford resident Fred Risard began riding his bicycle around town for exercise a few months ago. Risard said some of his biggest safety concerns involve the way drivers treat cyclists. Although he uses bike lanes, he said he often encounters vehicles that pass him too close and too fast, ignoring laws that require drivers to leave ample space.
“Most people don’t know or don’t care,” Risard said.
Risard said he believes the city would benefit from more bike lanes. He moved to Hanford about three years ago from Merced, where a group of bicycle advocates pushed local officials to place higher priority on cyclists including more accommodations for cyclists.
“They were demanding, not asking, for lanes and trails,” Risard said.
Darren Johnson, owner of Fulton Cycle Works in downtown Hanford, said one of the biggest complaints he hears from customers is that the city needs more bike lanes. Johnson said he rides around downtown Hanford and is frequently frustrated by the diagonal parking spaces that force cars to back out in the roadway.
“It’s just difficult to get around,” Johnson said. “Cyclists are not taken seriously, I guess. People are just not used to seeing us on the road.”
Johnson said he recently spoke with a rider who would ride against traffic and cross to the other side if a car approached. Johnson said awareness of basic safety and traffic laws among cyclists is more important than having more bike lanes.
“I feel that the true cyclists do that very well, and it is the uninformed ‘bike riders’ who blow it."
Besides educating the public, Hanford police are also working to better track statistics regarding citations issued for bicycle-related offenses. Anderson said that has been challenging because bicycles are considered vehicles under the California Vehicle Code.
“When you run a stop sign on a bicycle, they don’t break out a special code section,” Anderson said.
Some laws apply only to bicycles, such as the requirement for bikes to use a bike lane if one is available, Anderson said. Over the past year, Hanford police have issued 38 citations for bicycle-specific violations. While police have records of other citations, Anderson said, police would have to manually sort through a large number of entries to find those involving bikes, rather than cars.
“We’re still working on it,” Anderson said.