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Mount Diablo gets new bike turnouts to help keep cyclists safe

New safety features at Mt. Diablo helping keep cyclists, motorists from colliding
New safety features at Mt. Diablo helping keep cyclists, motorists from colliding 04:27

If anyone knows the importance of taking bicycle safety seriously, it's Mount Diablo cyclist Alan Kalin. 

"I always have a flashing light in the front and in the back, I always have a flashing red light. Anywhere you ride it's important for motorist to see you," Kalin said on a recent ride.

But even with full safety gear, things can go wrong in seconds as Kalin found first-hand when he was struck by a car on a quiet road leading to Mount Diablo two years ago.

"Fortunately, had a camera in the front and a camera on the back. I went flying through the air. I became airborne qualified for a second time. I was not severely injured, but I was sent off to the hospital," he said.

At the time, Kalin — a retired teacher and colonel in the Army Reserves —was already leading an effort to make the road to Mount Diablo safer for bike riders and motorists.

The collision added his name to the growing list of crashes, close calls and near-death experiences for cyclists on the mountain. Many of those incidents have been recorded by the cyclists themselves.

In 2019, one cyclist was killed outside the entrance to Mount Diablo and the cycling community has placed a white-painted "ghost bike" to mark the spot.

"Maayan Jones, husband and father to three young boys was hit and killed just down the road," Kalin said.

In hopes of cutting down or eliminating tragedies, Kalin studied collision reports and mapped out the locations of all the incidents.

"I realized that 80 percent of all collisions were occurring on or near blind curves," he said.

When drivers pass cyclists on the steep and twisty road, they often veer into the opposing lane without being able to see if anyone's coming. And with a thousand bikes and cars on the mountain on busy weekend days, there often is.

But this week, State Parks and a contractor crew started work on what may be a life-saving solution: bicycle turnout lanes on blind curves.

"Cyclists merge into the bike lane, motorists are allowed to stay in their lane and not hit a descending cyclist," Kalin said as he took the turnout on the way up the mountain. 

A total of 22 bike turnouts are being added to the 17 previously built on South Gate Road, and in coming years, a total of 67 will be built on the mountain at a cost of about $700,000.

"I love bike turnouts. Every bike turnout has the chance to prevent a collision and save a life," he added.

Mount Diablo State Park Chief Ranger Ryen Goering said the turnouts are already making a difference.

"A lot of the safety improvements we've done over the years with the local bicycle community and our partners. We've been able to reduce a lot of the collisions significantly, so we're really happy to install 22 more bike turnouts in the park," Goering said. "Hopefully we'll be able to install a few more in the future as well with additional funding."

Kalin has been nationally recognized for his safety efforts, which also include flashing message boards and smaller road signs all the way up the mountain.

"I can't thank California State Parks enough. Motorists love the bike turnouts. It's safer for motorists, it's safer for bicyclists, it's safer for everyone," Kalin said.

Whether it's climbing to the summit, or descending back down, Mount Diablo has long been a challenge for cyclists. The steepness and curves will make sure that's always the case, but at least now, there is a little more margin for safety.

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