Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Danger on the right, another example

Stop me if you've heard this story before ...

A bike rider traveling westbound on Beacon Street. A driver stopped eastbound, hoping to turn left across westbound traffic. A gap opens in car traffic. The driver doesn't see the bike rider, turns left, and hits the bike rider.

According to a just-obtained police report*, this is exactly what happened last September at Beacon Street and St. Thomas More near the BC campus. In this cases, the driver hit the biker square, tossing her up onto the windshield.

[The driver] stopped in the road heading East on Beacon Street, waiting to turn left on St Thomas More Rd. A break in the auto traffic occurred and [the driver] accelerated into the turn. At this time [the biker] was proceeding West on beacon on her bicycle and the two collided "head-on". [The witness] stated that [the biker] smashed into the mini-van's windshield and then rolled several times on the street.

It's not clear from the police report whether there was stopped westbound traffic that blocked the biker from the view of the turning car, but it would not be surprising. That's a frequent occurrence at that intersection. Traffic backs up, so westbound traffic stops so it doesn't block the box. The stopped westbound traffic blocks the view of bikes in the bike lanes. The dynamics of the intersection encourage westbound cars turning left onto St. Thomas More to take advantage of the gap and scoot through.

And, this is an intersection with the latest and greatest in bike lanes. There are official bike lanes on both sides of the intersection and dashed lines through the intersection connecting them. Bike lanes are not going to fix the underlying problem of hidden bikes and anxious drivers. This intersection, like the Beacon St./Grant Ave. intersection really demands a more thorough solution.

*Finally got around to BPD HQ to request the report.


jht said...

Almost the exact same thing happened to me a number of years ago, going northbound on Market Street in Brighton. There was (and still is) no bike lane, but it's a wide enough street that there was plenty of room for me to pass the line of stopped cars on the right.

From the driver's perspective, I was completely screened by the line of cars, from which I suddenly emerged.

That's when I learned just how dangerous it is do do that. When passing a line of cars on the right, you've got to be careful when entering an intersection, since the line of cars may block your view of hazards, or, as in this case, block other people's view of you.

Eric said...

Holy crap, is that a comment from a cyclist that alleges that more "defensive" riding from a cyclist can also help curb these kinds of collisions?

My point is simply this, pedestrians stand in crosswalks and look both ways before stepping out into the street, even though laws and often intersection design are in their favor. Why? Becasue getting hit by a car sucks.

If this blog is promoting safety for pedestrians and cyclists as well as awareness to their concerns, then it should also be a forum to warn cyclists of dangerous situations where a change in their behavior can lead to increased safety.

Sean Roche said...

It's not a zero-sum game. Drivers can be more careful and look out for bicyclists and bicyclists can be more vigilant, especially in situations with known risks.

I tried to make the point about the special risks riding on the right in this post:

[C]yclists need to be even more vigilant when traffic is slow or stopped, slow down a bit, and be especially careful when going by a gap in traffic.


So, we all have to get better about what it means for bikes to pass on the right. When cars are slow, everybody really, really needs to pay attention!

Anonymous said...

Yeah Sean, but your true colors also came out in this: "One of our goals, however, is to make roads not only safer, but more forgiving to cyclists. Bikers should be alert at all times. But, it ought to be safe enough to survive less than 100% attentiveness."

Less that 100% attentive?? Your entire theme has been that the driver has a special obligation because the car can cause more harm. You set that tone and that's what comes through. And I'd bet that's why the Alderman probably pushed back with a not so PC comment about the funding.

David Marcus said...

It's one of those little-known facts of cycling that only 3% of accidents are from a passing car. The big risks to cyclists are at intersections: the drive-out (a car pulls out in front of you), the right-hook (a car passes then makes a right-turn in front of you) and the left-cross, like what happened here.

See pics here: http://www.bicyclinglife.com/EffectiveAdvocacy/blvswol.htm

None of these are acceptable driver behavior, of course. Drivers are supposed to be aware enough not to drive into cyclists. But it's also a good reminder that our biggest risk is the oblivious driver in an intersection.

Anonymous said...

What are the statistics for bicyclists getting hit by cars with respect to the age of the cyclist? Do more teenagers get hit than older cyclists? I would guess that there are. Gee, is that because they ride in areas where the drivers are less careful?

As sad as it is to say, drivers are drivers, there are blind spots, there are cell phones, there are radios, there are attractive men and women walking on the sidewalks and there are sandwiches to eat. There will always be something to take their attention off the road. And they should be fined and punished when they do. But I don't see how anyone can declare that they can somehow bear some higher level of responsibility when a cyclist is in the picture. I'm sure there are a lot of cases when a kid ran out between two parked cars and was hit, and the driver was not prosecuted. Maybe the driver was inattentive, but in a split second, they can't do anything about it. Is there anything you can do to make the kid safer even though he was not a 100% attentive? The cyclist takes on a huge responsibility to be as careful as they can. If they aren't careful, you cannot protect them by putting a "special" obligation on drivers to watch out for cyclists.

Steve R said...

Another problem at that intersection is the terrible condition of the pavement. I could easily imagine the biker glancing down to avoid especially bad holes that can throw a bike out of control, and not see a turning car.

@David: exactly. But wouldn't it be nice if we could re-engineer some of these intersections to avoid some of these common conflicts.

dr2chase said...

@eric, regarding cyclist safety and responsibility, if you look at national statistics for deaths from collision of X with Y, it appears (assume a ride share of 1% for cyclists) that cars are about 30-50x more dangerous to pedestrians than bicycles. (I consider this, because it avoid the "fault" issue in cyclist-auto collisions. Presumably everyone is trying as hard as they can to avoid killing pedestrians.)

This says, to me, that cyclists are already doing a lot to be safe. Given that the statistics show that drivers are much less careful (30x more deadly to pedestrians, per "trip", roughly), it seems appropriate to me to focus a lot more attention on driver behavior instead of cyclist behavior. If nothing else, improving cyclist behavior to "perfect" would safe roughly one pedestrian life per year, where doing the same for autos (and trucks) would save 5000.

This may look like an unfair comparison, because bicycles are so much slower, lighter, present a smaller profile for collisions, can see and hear better, and have fewer onboard distractions than drivers do. That, to me, is all part of "behavior", and there's no difference between choosing to run a light on a bike, and choosing to drive a car for a short errand, except that choosing to drive the car is much more deadly to pedestrians (and presumably, cyclists and other people). Look at the numbers (nationmaster.com) -- different choices made, different outcomes obtained, and it looks much worse for the drive-a-car choice.

So why, again, all the harping about cyclist safety? It's clear where the danger comes from.