By Karen Billing
Rancho Santa Fe had 12 organized bicycle events come through the Covenant last year, four in one month alone. The influx of riders on Ranch roadways creates some challenges, especially when the Rancho Santa Fe Association is not given much advance notice that the cyclists will be rolling through.
As a response to the RSF Association’s request for help with this issue, San Diego County’s department of public works hosted a meeting with event organizers at the county’s Kearny Mesa office complex on Nov. 6 to go over the timelines for the event permitting process and stress the importance of working with community groups and homeowners associations that will be impacted.
“The earlier you get the word out the better,” Michael Kenney, county traffic engineer told the event organizers. “ With bike events that becomes more and more important.”
At the meeting, Rancho Santa Fe was represented by RSF Association Assistant Manager Ivan Holler, Rancho Santa Fe Patrol Chief Matt Wellhouser, RSF Association Assistant Planner Chris Livoni, and CHP (California Highway Patrol) officers who help serve Rancho Santa Fe.
“We’re hopeful as a result [of the meeting] we will see an improved process,” Holler said.
Joann Fang, from the county’s department of environmental health, and Bob Fuller, from the department of public works, went over the special event permitting process with organizers.
Fuller said they have about 180 events a year, about a third are athletic events and the majority of them are bike races.
“They create the most impact because an overwhelming number of bicycles can be on the road at any time,” said Fuller, who added that the popularity of cycling events is increasing.
“About 15 years ago an event would average about 50 to 60 cyclists, now they have significantly larger groups coming forth wanting to do larger events, a lot driven by fundraising,” Fuller said.
Fang said non-profits with events that start or stop in incorporated county areas must have community event permits, which incorporates the approval from 10 country agencies, from food and housing to risk management. The 22-page document related to the approval process is now down to three pages.
Even with the three-page document, Fang stressed that the application still requires a lot of time for processing, at least 45 days in advance or 60 days in advance if the event requires road closures.
Department of public works special event permits are required for events that are open to the public and have any impact on road operations — even if the event will just block the sidewalk, the permit is needed for anything that impedes normal traffic flow, Fuller said.
The event coordinators are responsible for traffic control, directional signage, rest stops, and CHP officers at key locations.
Fuller said within the county, there are very limited areas in which a ride or race can start from because there needs to be adequate parking. The county does have preferred routes for rides — a four-lane road with designated bike lanes, but he said the county doesn’t have that everywhere. Many roads meet the county’s minimum design standards but don’t have a lot of room for both riders and cars, Fuller said, something that is especially true in Rancho Santa Fe.
“People get really upset when they’re stuck behind 15 to 20 riders,” Fuller said.
As much as possible, the county prefers not to close a road.
Fuller told event organizers that the most important part of their application is community contacts such as emergency responders, community planning groups and homeowners associations (HOAs).
“It’s your burden to notify these people what you’re planning and get input from them that you can implement into your planning,” Fuller said, advising planners to contact community groups and HOAs in a reasonable time frame, 30 to 60 days in advance.
Wellhouser said he likes to work with the county and event organizers as they plan routes because a lot of their choices of Covenant roads are “not the greatest with that volume of riders.”
“Four-hundred riders on a two-lane road that gets 1,000 cars a day, you can have problems. Advance notice makes life better for participants and for the community. Once we get the right route figured out, it turns out to be a pretty good event and we don’t get a lot of complaints,” Wellhouser said. “Short notice? That’s where we get the complaints.”