Aarian Marshall is a transportation reporter at WIRED and former CityLab contributor. She lives in San Francisco.
Tough luck for mountain bikers caught going over 15 mph.
How fast should a mountain bike be? On the trails of Mount Tamalpais, in Northern California’s Marin County, no faster than 15 mph—and the county parks department is stepping up enforcement of the speed limit with radar guns. The San Francisco Chronicle reported last week that law authorities’ decision to post roaming sheriffs to “bike speed stakeouts” is an effort to reduce the number of collisions between bike riders, pedestrians, and equestrians. From the Chronicle:
[Assistant Director of Marin County Parks Max] Korten said the parks department’s idea is to “assist and educate folks about speeding” and that nothing has worked better, educationwise, than the 64 citations and warnings issued by radar-toting sheriff’s deputies over the past year on the popular Mill Valley-Sausalito trail that passes through wetlands and alongside a soccer field.
The enforcement campaign on that trail worked so well, Korten said, that park directors decided to try it throughout the county.
“We noted a decrease in speed,” Korten said. “The number of problems went down.”
Unsurprisingly, this decision has not received a warm reception from some in the robust Bay Area biking community, who live in what is arguably the birthplace of mountain biking.
“There are thousands of miles of multi-use trails across the country where mountain bikers peacefully co-exist with others. Less than one percent of these trails have a posted speed limit, much less rangers with radar guns enforcing them,” Greg Heil, editor-in-chief of the mounting biking website Singletracks.com, told Fox News. “What I do see from this unfortunate waste of taxpayer dollars is that Marin continues to cement itself as one of the least mountain-bike-friendly locations in the nation.”
Some chagrined riders point out that it can very difficult to stay below 15 mph while going downhill in the Mount Tamalpais area. (Also, it’s kind of boring: the speed “feels like crawling,” one rider told the Chronicle.) Still, it’s important to note that the parks department will only be distributing verbal warnings for now, not tickets. Fines between $45 and $150 will only be levied after a two-month “education period,” the website Gear Junkie reports.
The enforcement is also not without precedent. The U.K. has sorta-kinda similar rules in its royal parks—one cannot be fined for going above a specific speed, per se, but for “dangerous and careless cycling.” In Seattle, a man accrued a $103 citation in 2013 after he went over the speed limit in a school zone. That’s about $80 less than the ticket would have been had the infraction occurred inside a car.
Marin County Parks and Open Space Superintendent Brian Sanford also clarified to Gear Junkie that the department is stepping up enforcement on the “fire roads,” which are dirt paths (wide enough to accommodate emergency vehicles) that are more heavily trafficked by a mixed-recreation crowd. One trail rider told the website he worried the stepped-up enforcement would push rule-flouting bikers into single-track paths where fast biking is more dangerous, but also said slowing to 15 mph traffic is just courtesy and common sense.
Which brings us to the real lessons here: Be considerate, ride safe, and avoid the long radar guns of the law.