Published Thursday, Jan. 18, 2001, in the San Jose Mercury News

Trying to foster good will among cyclists, drivers

Mercury News Staff Columnist

If you didn't have to deal with rolling blackouts, Wednesday's blue skies and mild temperatures provided a brilliant, absolutely perfect day to tune out and take a bike ride. Or to host a photo op by the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands.

The occasion was to show off a new poster in a barely year-old ``Share the Road'' campaign in Marin County that is trying to get cyclists and motorists to occupy the same roadways in harmony. Two-time Tour de France winner and Olympic team cyclist Lance Armstrong agreed to pose for the poster that will go up around Marin County.

``We worry that some bicyclists ride three abreast, and we worry that some motorists believe that the roads are theirs alone,'' said Marin County District Attorney Paula Kamena, who spearheaded the campaign.

``We want our roads to be safe. We care and you need to care, too.''

As superficial as photo ops feel, we need this message. And we need this badly beyond the boundaries of Marin County.

Over the years, around the Bay Area, there have been shocking collisions involving cyclists that stem from road rage to drunken driving to sheer inattention. There were the cyclists who were killed in rural Alameda County several years ago when a teenage driver reached to change a tape cassette. There was Olympic cyclist Maureen Kaila-Vergara, who in 1997 was thrown 150 feet on an Aptos road and badly injured when a motorist deliberately hit her.

In Marin, Cecy Krone was killed by a drunken driver and Kirk Ross killed by a driver experiencing a medical episode, both in the closing months of 1999. And in San Francisco, Chris Robertson was killed by a reportedly angry truck driver last November.

With the strong economy, more people, more crowded roadways and more stress, the Bay Area's roadways seem to be angrier and more competitive places than ever before.

In some ways, it makes perfect sense that the one county that has been able to get it together is Cycling Central. Marin County is a major cycling magnet, with weekend recreational cyclists and professional riders wheeling down its roads or heading to those single-track dirt trails.

But the entire Bay Area has an active and vocal bicycling community, from the hot spots of Santa Cruz, to Berkeley to Palo Alto. Activism reaches its heights with San Francisco's Critical Mass, the last-Friday-of-the-month ritual that has sometimes raised motorists' ire. So how is it that Marin is leading the way?

Two words. Paula Kamena, Marin County's district attorney.

Out of the two tragic cycling deaths on Marin roads, Kamena seems to have provided enough leadership and channeled community energy to create a genuine momentum around a problem that sorely needs addressing.

The beginning was simple. ``Somebody needs to do something about this,'' Kamena said she exclaimed to her husband at home early last year, tsk-tsking over a newspaper story about the death of the second cyclist in four months on Marin roads. He didn't let the rhetoric pass. ``What's the DA's office going to do about it?''

So there was the challenge. But that's not the whole story. Two more words might help: money and participation.

Kamena convened a task force that included some high-powered officials and moneyed private-sector types who, as it happens, are cyclists. People like Thom Weisel, an investment banker and major sponsor of the U.S. Postal Service Team, whose last big gig was the Olympics in Sydney. People like Rich Silverstein, whose little advertising company, Goodby Silverstein and Partners, you might have heard of. Don Osipow, who is part of the U.S. Postal Team marketers. And then there was Peter Stock, a San Francisco print broker and Marin resident, who just happened to be the bicyclist who was riding behind Cecy Krone when she was wiped out by that drunken driver. Weisel bankrolled the posters and other items.

The dead cyclists' friends, notably Malcolm Foster, who has dedicated himself to the Share the Road campaign, have provided the force of will.

While Kamena has made a big deal about raising the awareness levels of cyclists and motorists (and equestrians and pedestrians, for good measure), another component of the effort includes education, said Foster. That means volunteers going into schools, getting to kids (who inevitably will get to their parents), he said. And enforcement. The Marin County district attorney's office has some pending prosecutions of motorists stemming from road rage incidents, such as assaults on cyclists, Kamena said.

About 50 posters each will be distributed to district attorneys' offices in the nine Bay Area counties. That includes San Francisco.

Mayor Willie Brown's office has announced the city has $220,000 in grant money to wage an awareness campaign that will launch several months from now. It'll pay for banners, bus ads, more signs. And that's a beginning.

But it's going to need more. Can the mayor's office get the will and the participation of crucial stakeholders -- cyclists, police and the district attorney's office? Can the city of San Francisco shepherd this in a cooperative spirit without getting bogged down? Can the friends of Chris Robertson channel their grief into action that will yield results?

Sometimes it's more than two miles that separates San Francisco and Marin. San Francisco has its own way of doing things. And it badly needs to find its own way to make this work.

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L.A. Chung appears Tuesdays and Thursdays and wants you to share your stories with her. Contact her at or (415) 394-6881.

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