by Richard Fox, Author, enCYCLEpedia Southern California – The Best Easy Scenic Bike Rides (2021)
Updated November 2021
While bike lanes are always welcome on roadways, they don’t guarantee cyclists’ safety, especially on high-speed boulevards where they are not sufficiently separated from traffic lanes. All too often distracted or impaired motorists swerve into the lanes and collide with cyclists with disastrous consequences. The chances of an individual on a particular ride being hit is extremely low, but the 3-5 incidents per year in the Coachella Valley of the Southern California desert is enough to give pause. Cyclists that have the need for speed have no good off road bike trail options in this region compared to other metro areas, and are relegated to ride on these sometimes dangerous byways. The CV Link regional path, when completed in the next few years, will improve that situation somewhat in Palm Springs-Cathedral City and La Quinta-Indio-Coachella, but the gap caused by its banning in Rancho Mirage and Indian Wells wrecked the potential for a valley-wide path that could have enticed more cyclists off of the high speed boulevards.
More casual cyclists, like those who follow our enCYCLEpedia offerings, and are content to travel at 15 mph or less, can enjoy a much safer alternative in the Coachella Valley. Many of the valley’s sidewalks have been designated as bike paths and are a delight to ride on, with beautiful landscaping, and in the areas with large gated communities, long uninterrupted stretches. I call them “sidepaths.” Many sidepaths are not signed as bike paths but still provide an ample alternative. There’s no reason for a casual cyclist to risk being hit by a speeding car on the 55-mph boulevards when there’s a perfectly good sidepath adjacent. However, sidepaths do come with their own set of hazards, and cyclists must ride defensively, using extreme care at every crossing of a road or driveway. Attention to obstacles is also important, especially in unfamiliar territory, and although sprinklers can be refreshing on a hot day, they can also make the path slippery in places. Slow way down around pedestrians and other cyclists, announcing your approach if from behind. Helmets are highly recommended on any bike path, since you can fall over and hit your head on the concrete. What I appreciate about riding on sidepaths in this area is that my safety is more under my own control. As long as I take the appropriate precautions, I am unlikely to be severely injured, versus riding on the busy roadways where I am always wondering whether a speeding vehicle will swerve into the bike lane or do a “right hook” and hit me. In addition to sidepaths, many un-gated neighborhoods with low speed limits are enjoyable to ride through, the best of which is Old Las Palmas in Palm Springs.
For enCYCLE’s 3rd Edition (2021) I added a new ride, RM3, comprised of 10+ miles of beautifully landscaped sidepath loops around the Mission Hills Country Club area of north Rancho Mirage. Along that route alone there have been 3 fatal bicycle accidents on the adjacent roadways in recent years. That inspired me to research other fatal bike accidents to see whether there were alternate off-road paths adjacent or safer routes nearby. Not to say that the victims would have selected to ride on sidepaths versus the roadways, but it illustrates that for the casual cyclist, safer options are available. For every fatal accident there are numerous accidents resulting in injury, but there was not enough information available to report on those incidents. Following are some of the reported fatal accidents since 2007 where safer enCYCLEpedia alternatives exist:
March 28, 2021 73 year old lndio resident William Mohan was struck on Avenue 48 about a quarter mile east of Jefferson, around noon. No details were published regarding where on the road this happened. Ave 48 has both ample bike lanes and sidepaths as shown on the latest enCYCLEpedia maps, all the way from Washington to Monroe and beyond. Casual cyclists will more likely be safer sticking to those sidepaths and crossing very carefully with traffic signals at intersections, than riding with traffic, even in bike lanes. Mr. Mohan may have been trying to make a left turn into the unsignaled Outdoor Resorts property.
April 14, 2020 William Camp, 62, of Palm Springs, was killed at 4:05 p.m. on North Gene Autry Trail near Vista Chino, after being struck by a big rig. No details were available as to where he was on the roadway when he was struck. On rides across Palm Springs, we use bike-friendly Via Escuela, then transition to the wide sidepaths along Gene Autry rather than riding on that busy road. To head south on the Gene Autry bike path along the airport stick to the west side, or to connect to the CV Link, carefully cross with the Via Escuela light to the east sidepath, then to the south sidepath along Vista Chino, to the east (left) to reach CV Link (enCYCLE ride PS4). In 2020 there were several other bicycle fatalities in the valley, but enCYCLE does not have alternate paths at those locations in Coachella, Desert Hot Springs and Thousand Palms. The same holds true for other years.
October 21, 2019 At 9:20 p.m. 30-year-old Raymundo Jaime of Desert Hot Springs was killed in a hit-and-run crash on South Palm Canyon Dr near Mesquite Ave and Morongo Rd in Palm Springs, leaving a widow and young daughter. This road is dangerous enough during the day and is not recommended at night. Take alternate routes like Belardo or through the Deepwell district if possible (PS1, 2).
September 9, 2019 65-year old Thereseem Smith of Palm Desert was cycling on the northbound sidewalk of Hwy 74 south of Haystack at 7:45 a.m. when a car from the opposite direction veered across lanes and jumped the west sidewalk to strike her in a freak accident. Our ride options for this area are mainly on service roads and sidewalks on the east side of 74. This shows that although sidewalks are safer from high-impact collisions with vehicles than roadways, it’s not a guarantee.
April 5, 2019 Palm Springs resident Jack Peterson, 77, was struck by a northbound vehicle while riding his bike east across Bob Hope in the crosswalk on Casino Way toward Agua Caliente Casino at 1:30 pm. It is not known if the vehicle blew through a red light there. enCYCLEpedia doesn’t recommend riding along busy Bob Hope in that area. There is a so-so all-sidewalk route using Varner and Monterey connecting to rides RM1, 2 or 3 (see Bonus Map RM3 on enCYCLEpedia.net.)
March 25, 2019: Alberta snowbird Paul Jackson, 67, riding along the Hwy 111 shoulder near Cook in Indian Wells, crashed into a parked minivan. What resembles a bike lane is actually just a wide shoulder with parking allowed, although since vehicles are rarely parked along there it seems like a Class II lane. Sidepaths run along both sides of Hwy 111 (enCYCLE ride IW1). I have been told that bike riding on the sidewalk paths are “functionally allowed” in Indian wells (i.e. cops will not hassle well behaved cyclists). The city removed the Bike Route signs along the south sidepath a few years ago, most likely for liability reasons (Photo, below). Extending the CV Link regional path through Indian Wells would get a lot of cyclists off both the roads and sidepaths, but the city has banned CV Link within its boundaries.
March 23, 2019: This is not the Coachella Valley, but is a nearby Riverside County enCYCLE ride used as illustration: Family man and outdoorsman Brian Sabel, 52, was the victim of an early morning hit-and-run in an ample bike lane along beautiful and historic Victoria Avenue in Riverside. This road is very popular with road cyclists and seems like a safe place to ride. However, enCYCLE ride R2 uses the adjacent paved Class I Rosanna Scott Bike Trail instead, which is much safer.
December 13, 2018: William Campbell, 32, a local avid cyclist, was struck in the Ramon Road bike lane near Rattler in Rancho Mirage by an alleged street racer traveling close to 95 mph. New enCYCLE ride RM3 is along a wide sidepath adjacent to the bike lane, although the path does not continue east past Los Alamos.
May 14, 2018: Diana Lynn Young, 61, was struck in the bike lane of Country Club Drive in front of the Marriott Desert Springs resort in Palm Desert where she worked. enCYCLE rides RM1, RM2 and PD1 all use the beautifully landscaped sidepaths available on both sides of Country Club through there. They continue for miles in both directions. I sometimes rode in the bike lanes through here to get a good sprint going, until this incident.
April 2, 2018: BC Snowbird Peter Harvey, 74, was hit in the bike lane on Bob Hope Drive near Ginger Rogers in Rancho Mirage. New enCYCLE ride RM3 is along the pretty designated bike/golf cart path along the west side of Bob Hope between Gerald Ford and Dinah Shore.
June 26, 2017: Larry Lee Ortner, 81, hit a parked landscaping truck when gliding down the Avenida Bermudas hill in La Quinta Cove. While this seems to be a safe road to ride on, always watch out for what is in front of you, even in a bike lane. We prefer to ride both up and down the paved Class I Bear Creek Trail (enCYCLE ride LQ1) in The Cove instead to avoid vehicular traffic and enjoy the great scenery in both directions.
February 7, 2015: Todd Barajas, 52, was struck while riding late at night on Hovley Lane near Corporate Way, where there is no bike lane. However, there is an ample sidepath along the north side of the road. This is an alternate route to Country Club when riding enCYCLE ride RM2.
January 6, 2015: Rose Peters, 73, a cycling enthusiast who’d ridden cross country several times and was using a hand-cycle because of hip replacements, was broadsided while riding in the Hwy 74 bike lane in Palm Desert by a vehicle turning left onto Mesa View, which is one of the routes to The Living Desert. enCYCLE’s ride in that area (RM2) uses Hwy 74’s frontage road and corresponding sidepaths rather than busy Hwy 74, but that still involves side street crossings that require extra caution because of turning vehicles.
November 30, 2012: Corey Holley, 38, was struck along South Palm Canyon at Palmera (near Stein Mart). This road is not safe. Much better alternatives now exist along South Belardo Rd to the west between downtown and South Palm Springs, or through the Deepwell District (enCYCLE rides PS1, PS2).
June 2, 2012: Gerald Weiss, 52, a well respected physician and family man, was hit on very dangerous Fred Waring Drive west of Eldorado, in traffic lanes after dark. Indian Wells lost a lawsuit because the road was determined to be unsafe, and as a result erected signs banning bikes along there. It’s not an enCYCLE recommended stretch because the sidewalk alongside Fred Waring between Eldorado and Cook is narrow, though it still is rideable. We detour south, down Class II Eldorado to the 111 sidewalk paths, and back up on the Cook sidewalk path to avoid this stretch that CV Link would otherwise bridge if not banned in Indian Wells (rides IW1, RM2).
April 8, 2012: Donald McCluskey, 49, was on Da Vall waiting at the red light to cross south past Ramon in Rancho Mirage when a minivan heading north blew through the red light, was hit by a westbound vehicle on Ramon, and overturned onto McCluskey and the vehicle next to him. Our new ride RM3 uses the east sidewalk of Da Vall at that location on both sides of Ramon, which would have been out of the line of fire in this case. However, in situations with sudden catastrophic vehicle crashes, cars can just as easily end up on a sidewalk or bike path, so vigilance at all times can’t hurt.
December 4, 2010: Joseph P. Szymanski, 56, was the victim of a hit-and-run midday while riding westbound in the bike lane on 54th between Madison and Jefferson in La Quinta. It would seem like a safe road to ride on, but I guess not. Since that time the bike lanes have been widened (photo) with a little more protection. We use the pretty landscaped sidewalk along the south side of 54th for enCYCLE ride LQ2, and pay careful attention if sprinklers make the sidewalk wet and slippery. La Quinta has since upgraded many of it’s bike lanes to be more separated from the traffic lanes, and we do ride on those, such as along Madison between Ave 54 and Ave 58.
March 7, 2007: Athlete Kim Raney, 26, on vacation from Washington, fell off her bike and was hit by a truck while riding on Hwy 111 in Cathedral City. enCYCLE feels Hwy 111 is too dangerous to ride on. All of our rides that encounter Hwy 111 are either on sidepaths alongside it, or via alternate routes. This includes PS1 – PS4, CC1, RM1, and RM2. The CV Link path will add some great alternatives to riding along Hwy 111 for all cyclists, although it is hindered by its boycott by the cities of Rancho Mirage and Indian Wells.