Mount Diablo State Park Cyclist and Motorist Safety Report                  Oct 2017

Purpose: To improve the safety for cyclists and motorists on the roads of Mount Diablo

Background: Mount Diablo has become a  premier climb for cyclists and a destination for motorists not only within the Bay Area, but also throughout the nation. The Amgen Tour of California has put Mount Diablo on the cycling map throughout the world. But for cyclists and motorists is it worth the risk?  Traffic on the roads of Mount Diablo has significantly increased. On a typical weekend day, up to 500 drivers share the roads with approximately 700 cyclists. Drivers striking cyclists in head-on collisions on blind curves pose a serious threat that State Parks is refusing to adequately address.

In 2016,  State Senator Glazer and Assemblywoman Baker convinced CA State Parks to accept Caltrans Standard engineering recommendations to paint a double-yellow centerline and install advisory signs. These safety improvements have decreased the unlawful passing and speeding on the mountain. However, near-miss collisions continue to occur frequently at blind curves, of which there are over 300. Uphill bound drivers still cross the centerline to pass cyclists, thereby entering the lane of downhill-bound cars and bikes, unseen because of the blind curve. The next head-on collision may be imminent, and the result will be a serious injury or a fatality.

For over one year State Parks has been presented with two additional solutions to this dangerous situation, but they will not respond: 1) Bike Turnouts allow cars to safely pass bicycles when traveling uphill, without crossing the center line; 2) providing a Verbal Motorist Safety Advisory to all drivers entering the Park informs them of the Bike Turnouts and how to pass cyclists, while ascending the long, slow, winding road with little or no shoulder.

Bike Turnouts are supported by State Senator Glazer, Assemblywoman Baker, Mount Diablo State Park staff and volunteers, Bike East Bay and other cycling organizations, motorists, cyclists and the California Highway Patrol.  Multiple surveys of drivers and cyclists identify Bike Turnouts as the critical next step in preventing Bike vs. Vehicle collisions.  Three Bike Turnouts have been installed as a trial, and have been overwhelmingly successful according to many. According to Park leadership,  “Ten more locations with sufficient pavement for a Bike Turnout already exist on the mountain.  They only need to be swept and painted.” The cost to paint these ten Bike Turnouts is under $5,000.  Why hasn’t State Parks spent this small amount of money for a huge investment in saving lives?  Locations for 35-40 additional Bike Turnouts over the eighteen miles of roadway on Mount Diablo have also been identified. When will State Parks authorize construction of these Bike Turnouts?

The Verbal Motorist Safety Advisory is vital, but can only be provided to a driver if there is someone in the entrance kiosk to provide it.  For years, the kiosks at the North and South entrances to the Park have been staffed only sixty per cent of the hours that the Park is open. According to Park Leadership, "Mount Diablo State Park receives an annual Park Aid budget to fully staff North and South Gate Kiosks for the entire year." Many motorists entering the Park never hear the safety message. As a result, they pass cyclists on blind curves, unwittingly causing a Near-Miss or an actual Bike vs. Vehicle Collision. Moreover, no fee is personally collected from these motorists, and there is no one to answer their questions or give directions. Park Rangers report that, “the majority of them never stop to pay.” An estimate of lost revenue is over $100,000 per year. How could State Parks best utilize this revenue to save lives of cyclists and enhance the experience of motorists visiting Mount Diablo?

When 100 Motorists were asked:

  1. Is this your first visit to Mount Diablo; majority said Yes
  2. Did you receive a Verbal Motorist Safety Advisory; majority said No
  3. Did you know there would be so many bicycles on the roads of the Park; majority said No
  4. Did you know that the roads are narrow and winding, with lots of blind curves: majority said No
  5. How many bicycles did you pass as you drove up the mountain; 25-30 bicycles
  6. Did you cross solid double yellow lines to pass some bicycles; 95% said Yes
  7. Do you think Bike Turnouts would allow motorists to pass bicycles without crossing the Solid Double Yellow lines; 100% said Yes
  8. How wide and long should a Bike Turnout be on a blind curve for you to safely pass a bicycle; majority said 5ft wide & 50-100ft long
  9. What's the phone number to report an unlawful act to a Park Ranger; 100% said they did not know

Findings:

  • We reviewed the California State Park System Statistics Reports from 2007 to 2014, MDSP Monthly Visitor Attendance Reports (DPR 449s), and documents received through Public Records Act requests (2016/17) . The hand written DPR 449 that the North/South Gate Kiosk staff fills out daily, weekly and monthly actually says “Free bikes.” We also spoke to Park Leadership, volunteers and visitors at Mount Diablo State Park.
  • The Free Day Use category consists primarily of road cyclists, a few walk-in, and equestrians on Mount Diablo.
  • Monthly Visitor Attendance Reports for 2014: South Gate Kiosk was not staffed 181 days and North Gate Kiosk was not staffed 86 days
  • Data is collected by park employees on days when the North and South Kiosks are staffed.
  • The attendant at the kiosk manually clicks a hand counter to count road bikes when he/she has the opportunity; in-between taking money, answering questions and giving directions to Paid Day Use (vehicles).
  • Road cyclists are frequently not counted as they ride pass the kiosks.
  • Mountain bikers typically enter the park on dirt trials and are not counted.
  • According to Park Leadership, " In 2016 and 2017, the majority of vehicles on Mount Diablo have been bicycles."
  • For years, the kiosks at the North and South entrances to the Park have not been staffed 40% of the hours that the Park is open.
  • According to park records, several times per week the Park is opened at 7:15am, but the Kiosks are not staffed until 10am.
  • The Verbal Motorist Safety Advisory is vital, but can only be provided to a driver if there is someone in the entrance kiosk to provide it.
  • Therefore, many motorists entering the Park never hear the safety message.
  • The majority of motorists have never been to Mount Diablo before and unaware of the narrow winding roads, blind curves and hundreds of cyclists.
  • There has been an increase in Near-Miss Bike vs. Vehicle Collisions.
  • According to Park Leadership, "Mount Diablo State Park receives an annual Park Aid budget to fully staff North and South Gate Kiosks for the entire year."
  • Moreover, when the kiosks are not staff, no fee is personally collected from these motorists, and there is no one to answer their questions or give directions.
  • Park Leadership report that, “the majority of them never stop to pay.”
  • An estimate of lost revenue is over $100,000 per year.
        • California State Park System Statistics Reports (2007/14)

          Year                        Total Free Day Use    Increase of Free Day Use per year  

                                           (Road Cyclist)                    (Road Cyclist)

          2013/14                       103, 804                                 23,979

          2012/13                        79,824                                       5,193

          2011/12                        74,631                                        7,859

          2010/11                        66,965                                        2,820

          2009/10                       63,845                                        9,927

          2008/09                       53,918                                        6,682

          2007/08                       47,236

  • MDSP (2013/14): Paid Day Use (Vehicles) 232,651 and Free Day Use (Cyclists) 103,804.
  • Over 40% of all vehicles were bicycles.
  • MDSP (2007 to 2014): Increase of 56,568 of Free Day Use (Cyclists). Over 100% increase in the number of bicycles.
  • According to Park Leadership on week days and especially weekends “there are twice as many bikes than cars on Mount Diablo”
  • During FY 2013/14, over 60,000 cyclists were reported to have entered MDSP via the South Gate entrance.  However, based upon our research and input from Park leadership and volunteers, the actual number of cyclists entering via the South Gate that year was closer to 80,000.
  • We conducted an 8-hour survey in 2015 of cyclists using Diablo Scenic Blvd, Alameda Diablo (CA State Easement), South Gate Road to enter MDSP (South Gate Kiosk).
  • Sunday (March 15, 2015): we counted 484 cyclists, MDSP Visitor Attendance Report counted 100 cyclists and 332 Paid Day Use (vehicles).
  • Thursday (March 19, 2015): we counted 130 cyclists, MDSP Visitor Attendance Report counted 0 cyclists and 0 Paid Day Use (vehicles) (Kiosk not staffed).

Conclusions:

  • Combine the manual count of Free Day Use (cyclist) collection with conversion factors in order to collect and report true and accurate data. Data should be converted into estimates of cyclists (road/mountain), special cycling events, High School Mountain Bike Teams, and included in the Free Day Use category.
  • “Conversion factors should be established anew twice a year, on the assumption that there will be significant differences between figures relating to the recreation season and the off season.” Mount Diablo State Park should “make a survey in the same manner as described for Paid Day Use,” per California State Parks, Departmental Notice No. 96-24.
  • If an accurate process were implemented to collect Free Day Use (cyclists) data, the true number would be closer to 150,000, not the reported 103,804 for 2013/14!
  • The Free Day Use (cyclist: road/mountain) category has been significantly under collected and under reported by tens of thousands of park visitors from 2007 to 2017.
  • New historical data collection procedures and processes need to be implemented immediately in order to answer the question: How many visitors access Mount Diablo State Park each year by riding a bike?
  • Publishing true and accurate Free Day Use (cyclist) historical data is essential for many reasons: it’s the foundation for state park and elected officials to make informed budgetary decisions concerning local state parks and the overall park system.
  • It is also valuable information for local state parks to use as a strategy to develop a plan to justify additional funding, equipment, supplies and staffing.
  • According to the Park Leadership motorists who enter the Park when North/South Gate Kiosks are not staffed, usually do not pay the entrance fee.
  • Mount Diablo State Park  is losing thousands of dollars each year. 
  • In addition,  motorists entering the Park when the Kiosks are not staffed, never hear the mandatory (Dec 2016) "Verbal Motorist Safety Advisory" message that is required by CA State Parks.
  • As a result, their is a significant increase in Near-Miss Collisions between Bikes and Vehicles.
  • Bike Turnouts have the potential to significantly reduce the number of collisions, serious injuries and possible fatalities; if provided to all drivers, the Verbal Motorist Safety Advisory will tell them, DO NOT PASS CYCLISTS ON BLIND CURVES.  Together, these initiatives will save lives.