Bicycle race ordinance for Lower Rock Creek Road gets shelved, for now (Photo: Steve Schmunk)
With spring in the air (although you wouldn’t know it after all the snow recently), cyclists are breaking out their helmets, pumping up tires, and lubing up chains for another spectacular summer of riding and racing in the Eastern Sierra. Riders here know that the area is one of the most scenic and strenuous in the world for biking, whether on dirt or pavement, but what many may not have known is that over the winter a key road for several bike events came very close to being shut down to cycling races.
On Feb. 26, Mono County Supervisor Hap Hazard sent a draft ordinance out to his constituents. The ordinance called for the closure of Lower Rock Creek Road to bicycle racing events, specifically the Everest Challenge held in the fall. Since then, a flurry of public feedback and comments has led to a temporary shelving of the ordinance that relies on how the Everest Challenge is conducted this year.
Hazard explained to The Sheet that conflicts have been occurring with the Everest Challenge for the past four years. Efforts to get the event’s promoters to build more safety precautions into the race hadn’t changed anything.
“The promoters weren’t taking it seriously,” Hazard said. “They were told when they received their permit last year that the race could not continue the way it was.”
The main source of public outcry over bike event traffic has come from the neighborhood of Swall Meadows, according to Hazard, who described the area as a retirement community.
“These people are struggling to drive,” Hazard explained. So groups of cyclists taking up lanes on a road with many blind curves are tough for them to navigate.
John Armstrong and other members of local cycling club Eastside Velo, which provides support for the Everest Challenge and is therefore also feeling pressured about the proposed ordinance, heard about it in early March and quickly got involved.
“The style of the way it was handled was a bit alarming,” Armstrong said. “Supervisor Hazard seemed to shoot first and ask questions later.”
Armstrong did agree that bicycle events on Lower Rock Creek Road have issues that come from the nature of the roadway itself. The road is two lanes, narrow and winding with obscured sight lines and very little paved shoulder. It is the only access to the two communities of Swall Meadows and Paradise. The problem lies in the fact that on race days when athletes are passing, and are sometimes two across on the roadway, traffic, including emergency vehicles, can be prevented from moving freely.
A meeting was held on March 12 with all interested parties and Supervisor Hazard to try to see what could be done in lieu of passing the ordinance. According to the March issue of the Eastside Velo newsletter, “Represented were Mono County officials including Sheriffs, Public Works, Planning, Permitting, Paramedics and Supervisors, California Highway Patrol (Bishop and Bridgeport), and Caltrans permitting. Randy Fendon, Jeff Byberg, Jim Pettigrew and John Armstrong represented Eastside Velo and Corty Lawrence represented local retail bike shop interests. Steve Barnes from Everest Challenge made the trip up to Mammoth and Bishop for a couple of days and he was able to propose several measures designed to improve the operation of the September 25-26 race.”
The measures proposed by the Everest Challenge, according to the same Eastside Velo newsletter, include rerouting the race so that riders ascend Pine Creek before climbing Lower Rock Creek Road. This change is expected to spread riders out due to speed differences, creating less congestion by the time they hit the conflicted road. Other measures include more signage and public awareness, more volunteer marshals to ensure racers are following passing rules, stronger sanctions against riders who violate the rules, banning private and team support vehicles along Lower Rock Creek Road, and a full course clean-up at the end of the race to leave a good impression on residents.
These measures satisfied Hazard and he agreed to shelve the ordinance for now and take the measures to Swall Meadows and Paradise to further work on their effectiveness for this year’s race.
While Hazard claimed that the Everest Challenge would be the only race affected by this ordinance, concern lies in what future implications would be if it were passed.
At press time The Sheet’s e-mails to Everest Challenge Race Director Steve Barnes had not been returned.
Scenic Loop project
The Scenic Loop Rehab and Bike Lanes project is expected to break ground the first week of June according to Town of Mammoth Lakes Senior Associate Civil Engineer Peter Bernasconi. The project is a 5.8 mile rehabilitation project on the Mammoth Scenic Loop from the Town of Mammoth Lakes north to the intersection with US 395.
The project work includes minor grading, drainage, pulverization, aggregate base and HACP, as well as the addition of 5-foot wide, paved, Class II bike lanes on each side of the road. The Federal Highway Administration is paying approximately $7.6 million for the road rehabilitation while the Town of Mammoth is paying $1.2 million for the bike lanes. One million of the $1.2 million is grant money and the other $200,000 is a match from the Town. At this time it is unknown where the $200,000 match will come from, but an answer will be determined during the Town’s upcoming budget policy discussions.
Road construction on the project is to be accomplished in two phases, half of the road worked on at a time, which means the Scenic Loop road will be closed for the summer.