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Ride to school sparks car vs. bicycles battle


Published: Dec. 16, 2011

A GROUP of bicycle-riding kids and parents commuting to River School has raised the ire of a mother who drives her child to school. The two sides have clashed on more than one occasion, requiring intervention from police, according to bike-riding dad and Bay Bikes owner Devin Maheen.

Maheen lives in Mission Fields and rides with his own children, ages 7 and 9, to school every day. Other students and at least one other parent accompany them, with the group numbering between four and 13, and one adult leads while another follows. Maheen said they are careful to ride with traffic, use hand signals and follow the rules of the road, but the narrow, curving stretch behind Carmel Mission can be tricky to navigate, and often the bicyclists have no choice but to ride in the traffic lane, since there is no bike lane.

The conflict first arose about a month ago, when a father and his daughter got separated from the rest of the riders because they were going a little more slowly due to the girl’s having “a bad day” and not wanting to ride with everyone else.

“A car was behind them honking and wanting to pass, but the dad didn’t want a car to get between them and us,” so he didn’t move over, and “she kept honking and honking,” recalled Maheen, who said he also tried to slow the rest of the group down in order to keep them together. Eventually, everyone arrived safely at school.

Then, a week later, the chain jumped off a boy’s bike as they rode in the same area, and Maheen told him to get off and run the bike to school. The boy obliged, but a driver behind him began honking, and Maheen said he noticed it was the same car — a white Mercedes.

And on Friday, Dec. 2, he saw her again.

“She was right behind me, close enough that I could kick her bumper. I was in the back that day, and I slowed way down so if she hit me, she wouldn’t also hit any of the kids,” he said. But instead of slowing, the woman started to pass the group on a blind curve. Maheen said a car was coming in the opposite direction that she couldn’t see from her angle, so he rode into the middle of the road to keep her from passing and colliding with it, “which really upset her.”

“I looked back, and she had her phone out, and that really infuriated me, because I thought she was texting,” he said. “It turns out she was videotaping me, because she thought what I was doing was illegal.”

Later, Maheen saw the woman talking to Carmel police officer Greg Johnson. Maheen said the officer advised her the children and their adult chaperones were not acting unlawfully.

In fact, police told Maheen the video showed, “my kids are all in helmets and are using hand signals,” just as they have been taught.

CPD detective Rachelle Lightfoot said the woman complained about the riders going too slowly, but a couple of parents reported she was driving too quickly and almost hit one of the children on one occasion. She said police are keeping an eye on the situation.


Condoned by school

River School principal Jay Marden said he heard about the altercations from CPD officer Ken Shen and PTA President Kristen Hunter the following Monday, and he used it as an opportunity to remind the kids to be mindful of their surroundings when riding to and from school.

“There’s no doubt that that area is not an ideal place to ride a bike,” he said. “But I don’t know if any road in Carmel-by-the-Sea is.”

Marden, always an advocate of physical activity for kids, encourages students to walk or ride to school and holds a raffle with prizes every Wednesday for those who do. In conjunction with that, Maheen and a coworker set up a maintenance tent to check the kids’ bikes for safety.

“We both had accidents when we were younger, because our bikes were not maintained,” Maheen explained. To help kids avoid a similar fate, they make sure the handlebars are on properly, and check the shifting and tire pressure. He said it’s normal for kids to put a lot of wear and tear on their bikes, which makes maintenance crucial.

“If kids are not trashing their bikes, they’re not riding them,” he said.

The weekly maintenance is also teaching students to be more aware of the workings of their bicycles.


Safe passage

Marden and Maheen hope that one day, such conflicts will be a thing of the past and the kids won’t have to use the road at all. A plan to somehow bypass Rio Road and other surface streets by cutting through the city-owned Rio Park was in discussion for a while, but no progress has been made since the city council decided to apply for a Caltrans taxpayer-funded grant that would help pay for the project’s design.

“We are interested in creating a safer passage from Mission Fields into Carmel River School,” he said. “I think there’s probably still some work going on it, I but haven’t heard what kind of progress we’ve made.”

Maheen said perhaps momentum will pick up after the city election in April 2012.

No matter what, he said, he and his kids don’t plan on foregoing their daily bicycle rides to and from school.

“We’ve only missed one day this year riding, and it was because I was out of town,” he said. “We definitely don’t plan on stopping.”