For cyclists, Mount Diablo — with its stunning views, steep inclines, narrow roadways and blind curves — presents a thrilling challenge. But those same attractions that lure so many cyclists also cause many accidents between bicycles and cars, along with many injuries.
The Contra Costa County mountain is one of the tallest peaks in the San Francisco Bay area and has become so popular that more bikes than cars are thought to enter the surrounding state park. On the two 11-mile routes that run from the base of the mountain to the peak, an accident occurs approximately every 16 days. About 70 percent of accidents happen on blind curves, primarily due to unsafe passing and to both cars and bicycles traveling at unsafe speeds.
A Serious Bicycle Safety Issue
Many cyclists have suffered serious injuries on the mountain, either in solo crashes or when tangling with cars. In many cases, ascending cars cross the center line to pass cyclists and, blinded by sharp curves, strike cyclists as they descend the mountain. In September 2015, a cyclist was injured in just such an accident and suffered broken bones and abrasions from contact with the road. In another similar case, a cyclist suffered a fractured eye socket. Still another went over his handlebars as he avoided an SUV in his lane; that cyclist required surgery for his injuries.
Between 2010 and 2014, Mount Diablo was the site of 116 collisions, and 70 percent occurred on blind curves. Collision reports reinforce the fact that many accidents occur when vehicles cross the single broken yellow line and cross into the opposite lane, where drivers are unable to see clearly what’s ahead.
In many instances, cyclists were involved in accidents. A quarter of the total reported crashes involved both cars and bikes. Some cases, however, involved cyclists alone who lost control on the mountain. In other cases, bikes swerved to avoid cars that crossed the center line and came into their lane.
Petitioning for Change
The specific number of bikes on Mount Diablo is unknown, because park workers do not maintain precise counts of bikes as they do for cars. On weekend days, however, it’s clear that hundreds of cyclists scale the mountain. And for all the reported accidents, official reports may understate the total number of injuries, because victims often are transported off the mountain before park rangers can investigate.
For Al Kalin, observing the many accidents on the mountain led to a petition drive for change. Kalin, formerly a high school teacher and colonel in the U.S. Army, began cycling on Mount Diablo after he retired several years ago. After seeing many people having “near-death experiences on the mountain,” Kalin said he decided to act and started a petition to get the attention of state parks officials.
Kalin’s group, Mount Diablo Cyclists, asked state parks Director Lisa Mangat to take action, including adding signs warning about unsafe passing along with double-yellow lines around blind curves. The group also sought an educational campaign for motorists and cyclists using the mountain. The group also requested that speeding cyclists be urged to slow their descents on the mountain and that impatient motorists be reminded that it’s not safe to pass when the road ahead of them is not visible.
State Parks Officials Take Action
In February 2016, California state parks officials announced completion of a plan for additional safety measures for roads on Mount Diablo. The plan calls for:
- The addition of solid double-yellow lines.
- Signs noting “Do not pass bikes on blind curves” in uphill lanes.
- “Sharrows” — lane pavement markings alerting motorists to share the road with bicyclists — every half-mile on the pavement in uphill lanes.
- “Share the road” signs.
- “Avoid crash, slow down” signs on the downhill lane of South/North and Summit Road.
Parks officials noted that they hope the plan can work its way through the necessary government approvals, including those from the California Department of Transportation, and be put in place by the end of July 2016. The full plan documents include specifications for all signage, along with placement information for all new safety features.
Protecting Yourself on the Mountain
Additional signage and other safety features should help reduce accidents on Mount Diablo, but it also pays to take measures to protect yourself. Whether you’re in a car or on a bike, staying alert can save your life or someone else’s. The California Department of Parks and Recreation notes that due to the many narrow roads with blind curves on the mountain, both motorists and cyclists should be careful and patient. The department offers tips for staying safe while enjoying the mountain, including:
- Adhere to the posted speed limit.
- Do not leave your lane as you maneuver blind curves.
- Don’t wear headphones that cover both of your ears; the practice is against the law.
- Don’t pass if you do not have a complete view of oncoming traffic. Wait until you’re sure it is safe to pass.
What if You’re Injured on Mount Diablo?
If you’ve been involved in an accident on Mount Diablo, it’s wise to consult with an experienced personal injury attorney. Whether in a car or on a bicycle, if you’ve been injured in an accident, you may be entitled to compensation including coverage of your medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. For a free consultation with a professional personal injury attorney, please contact Appel Law Firm LLP at 888-511-6905.