Cyclists who zip along the American River Parkway faster than the 15 mph speed limit may find their free-wheeling ways costing them $50.
Starting as early as this weekend, Sacramento County rangers will be lying in wait – a LiDAR speed gun in one hand, a citation book in the other – to clock, warn and eventually cite cyclists who treat the crowded trail as a racetrack.
"If cyclists want to open it up, they really need to go out on the roadway," County Regional Parks Chief Ranger Stan Lumsden said. "This is a multiuse trail with pedestrians, dogs, horses, strollers and joggers."
Cyclists have long been allowed to ride faster than the posted limit, often doing it safely. But as the parkway has gotten crowded, Lumsden said, rangers have noted more speed-related crashes, including some serious head-on collisions.
Lumsden said parkway groups and users complain about unsafe riders, especially clusters of cyclists hitting speeds of 30 mph.
"People say it's a long time coming," Lumsden said. He acknowledged the effort will be controversial. "Yeah, but everything we do is."
The citations will be issued under the county park code. They will not be reported to the Department of Motor Vehicles, and will not affect a cyclist's driver's license standing or car insurance, Lumsden said.
County officials said the fine will be $50 for a first violation, and $100 for a second violation of the same ordinance within one year.
Reaction among parkway users was mixed.
Wasfi Anabtawi, a serious cyclist who participates in lunchtime group rides on the trail, said it would be ridiculous to require small, self-policing groups to limit themselves to a pedestrian 15-mph pace.
"I guess we can go back to taking our chances on the streets with all the drivers that think we should not be there," Anabtawi said.
He called the county policy a revenue generator masked as a safety issue, and said county rangers should spend more time cleaning up the criminal behavior on some sections of the parkway.
Jim Brown of the Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates said he is OK with ticketing cyclists – if the county focuses on the worst offenders such as speeders on weekend mornings when the trail is crowded with runners, walkers, cyclists and others.
"A summer Saturday at 9:30 a.m., you take your life in your hands," Brown said. "I don't see a way of avoiding enforcing the speed limit, short of providing those cyclists with a different facility."
Brown said the new policy could prompt cyclists to push harder for cities and counties to spend more to lengthen and connect other off-street trails, such as the Sacramento Northern and Ueda trails.
John Blue, a runner and blogger at www.sacramento running.com, said "everyone needs to behave themselves," including cyclists in groups, runners, strollers and dog walkers.
"Lone, speeding cyclists are usually not the problem," Blue said. "I'd be more interested in the rangers cracking down on these big packs of cyclists who are riding in an unsafe manner."
Many serious cyclists say they already avoid the bike trail, especially on weekends, training instead on rural roads where they can legally push the pace to the maximum.
To aid in the crackdown on parkway speeding, county officials took shipment Thursday of a LiDAR speed-measuring device, similar to devices used by CHP and police to clock speeders on highways.
The effort mirrors an evolving struggle among officials in the Sacramento region to come to grips with the "Share the Road" concept.
Governments have encouraged and accommodated cyclists – building bike paths, adding bike lanes on downtown streets, and expanding bike racks on buses and trains. But cities and counties increasingly are cracking down on errant biking behavior, ticketing riders who disobey rules of the road.
Lumsden said rangers in the parkway will issue warnings to speeding cyclists before issuing citations. He declined to say how long the warning period will last, and refused to say when and where his rangers will be stationed with the LiDAR gun.
"I'm not going to tell you," he said. "I will leave that up to individual rangers."
The county-controlled portion of the parkway trail runs from Discovery Park to Hazel Avenue. The trail east of there is under state parks control, and also has a 15-mph speed limit. State parks officials say they do not have a LiDAR speed program, but state rangers have the discretion to cite unsafe cyclists.
Sacramento County officials took another safety step this week – to cyclists' delight – by removing most of the stop signs for cyclists where the bike trail intersects with vehicular access roads.
Lumsden said county officials determined it would be safer to put up stop signs for cars, given that cyclists far outnumber cars at those intersections and both drivers and cyclists have long been accustomed to cyclists taking the right of way.
Cyclists will continue to be required to stop at four intersections, including:
The Nimbus Hatchery at Hazel Avenue, where auto volume is high.
Lower Sunrise Recreation Area at the PCA Bridge, used as a walking path by rafters.
Del Paso Boulevard.
A small private roadway near Urrutia pond, just east of Discovery Park.
Call The Bee's Tony Bizjak, (916) 321-1059. Follow him on Twitter @tonybizjak.