Safety Suggestions, Some Better Than Others

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Riding to work this morning I crossed the site of bicyclist Lance David’s death. I still don’t know why this tragedy happened, but I do have a few observations on what will– and will not– make things safer for those of us still riding.

First, actions speak louder than words.  Today, a motorist stuck his head out the window of his Lexis and yelled at me, “that’s how people get killed, a**hole!”  Even if he was correct that my riding was dangerous (I felt that I was riding to avoid him since he had already yelled at me earlier), his method of suggestion was unlikely to things safer for either of us.  Everyone (me included) should drive and ride with increased awareness of others.  If other people seem like idiots, let’s give them more space instead of screaming at them and taking our attention off the road.

Second, people say a picture is worth a thousand words.  City traffic engineer Dongho Chang, says “It’s clearly not a dangerous intersection”.  And yet, those of us who ride it know that there are things along that route that would take quite a few words to explain.  Like this:

sidewalk hydrant blocks and signpost

I remember when this stretch of sidewalk was rebuilt.  I thought, “finally, the fire hydrant will be moved.”  Nope.  And why not narrow the passage around it further with cement blocks and a sign post with no sign…

It’s true that there is a bike lane on the other side of the street.  In fact, Mr. Chang has said that safety improvements for the area “could be as simple as restriping”.  But new paint won’t change the fact that bicyclists will still need to cross East Marginal Way to get to the existing bike lane and getting there can be tough.  Adding a marked crosswalk might help, but many drivers seem oblivious to the duty to yield to bicyclists in crosswalks.

In fact, also this morning, right in front of my office, a pickup truck driver made a right turn on red (without fully stopping) and drove through the crosswalk where I was riding (and six pedestrians were walking).  Educating everyone on the rules of the road (police officers too) may go a long way towards improving safety.

 

Bad Beginnings

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This is not how Bike to Work Month should begin.  Someone was killed this morning, presumably riding to work.  I saw him on my ride in.

People are already speculating about what happened.  My job is to prove whose fault collisions were, but as a bicyclist I don’t want collisions to occur in the first place.

This man was killed along a route I ride twice a day.  He could have been me.  He could have been you.  Please be careful.body

Fed Ex, UPS, Fractures and Bringing Bicycling to Afghani Women

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Today is the 40th anniversary of Federal Express, now known as Fed Ex. Although UPS started in Seattle as a bike messenger service, we have Fed Ex here too, as shown below, parked in a bike lane…

Fed Ex

Interestingly, when Fed Ex trucks park in bike lanes and open their doors, their logo reads “FX”, which is also an abbreviation for “FRACTURE“…

fx

In more positive news today, a woman from the US is doing good things in Afghanistan.  Her good deeds include setting up women there with bicycles, the riding of which is still, according to Human Rights Watch, “generally considered immoral.”

A Real Proposal for Mayor McGinn: Protect Pedestrians and Bicyclists Throughout Seattle

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Seattle’s Mayor McGinn was elected using his “Mike Bikes” campaign slogan.  His detractors sometimes call him Mayor McSchwinn.  And yet, despite the rhetoric, Seattle remains a dangerous place for bicyclists and pedestrians.

The Stranger was instrumental in electing McGinn and has been pushing him to embrace the bicycle-focus on which he was elected.  Bethany Jean Clement’s recent piece calls for bike-only streets running north-south and east-west through the city.     A Modest Proposal for Mayor McGinn: “I Know You Like Bikes” | Slog.

Ms. Clement’s idea  is worth talking about, but in the unlikely event that the City actually made two bike-only arterials, it would probably just increase tension between motorists and those who have reason to fear motorists.  Instead, Seattle should improve our laws to protect pedestrians and bicyclists everywhere in the city.  We could do this without closing down routes to cars.  How?  By changing the burden of proof to determine who is at fault when a motorist hits a bicyclist or a pedestrian.

The burden of proof should be changed so that drivers are presumed to be at fault if they hit a pedestrian or a bicyclist.  It is already the law that bicyclists are required to yield to pedestrians when riding on the sidewalk.  That is a good idea.  We should extend this concept.  For instance, it is also the current law that drivers must yield to pedestrians and bicyclists in crosswalks.  Yet, many people, including far too many Seattle Police Officers, are unaware of this.

What we need is a simple concept that everyone can understand.  Here it is:  Protect the vulnerable.  Bikes should yield to pedestrians on sidewalks because bikes are faster than pedestrians and pedestrians can be injured if bicyclists fail to yield.  The same should go for our streets:  Divers should yield to both pedestrians and bicycles because cars are faster and are far more likely to seriously injure or kill people than the most crazed bicyclist on a sidewalk.

I’ve talked about changing the burden of proof against motorists who hit bicyclists and pedestrians at the Road Safety Summit in 2011 and wrote about it in the King County Bar Bulletin in 2009.  This is the handout I’ve provided to Mayor McGinn and others.  My proposal is not perfect, but it is doable.  Numerous European countries have similar laws.  I have reached out to Cascade and to the Bicycle Alliance of Washington on this issue but they have yet to bite.  I’ve heard nothing from our mayor.  Interestingly, in 2012 the League of American Bicyclists contacted me to help work towards these laws nationally.

Seattle could and should lead the US in protecting bicyclists and pedestrians.  Clarifying our laws to protect bicyclists and pedestrians could prevent numerous injuries and deaths.  Let’s not just be known for digging big holes… let’s be the city that best protects bicyclists and pedestrians.

AAA and Rodney King… Maybe we can all get along

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There’s a new PSA out from AAA, the American Automobile Association, which has been described by the Sierra Club as “a lobbyist for more roads, more pollution, and more gas guzzling” that actually seems pretty good.

What do you think?

Remember Rodney King?

Now that AAA likes bikes, will this be next? Cadillac Bike, designed by Robert Egger, 1998

New Commuting Statistics for Downtown Seattle

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Commute Seattle is about to release a study on commute modes in Downtown Seattle.

More people ride transit (43%) than drive alone (34%). This is good.

But more people “telework/flex” (4%) than ride bikes to work (3%).  Who wants to bet which workers are more productive?  Yahoo anyone?

Perhaps the take-home on this is that driving to work downtown is no longer doable… 50% of people did it in 2000.

We most definitely do not recommend this approach to driving to work.

It’s not how many bike lanes you have, it’s how safe the ride is…

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Bike Lanes are getting press again in NYC. A recent poll found that 66 percent of New Yorkers said bike lanes were a good idea while 27 percent called them a bad idea. Mayoral candidate Christine C. Quinn said she placed bike lanes “in the category of things you shouldn’t discuss at dinner parties,” alongside money, politics and religion. Not talking about transportation safety is probably not the best approach.

Here in Seattle we’ve got some bike lanes we ought to discuss. Like the bike lane on Second Avenue in front of our office. Do we need a bike lane on a one-way street going downhill? Assuming we do, should it be on the left? If it should be on the left, should there be parking to the left of it? What about the left turn lane to the right of the bike lane?!

Bill de Blasio, New York’s public advocate, apparently annoyed bicyclists recently when he said where bike lanes have worked, “great, let’s keep them,” but “where they haven’t worked, let’s revise them or change them.” That seems to makes sense there and here.

New York Times

Do we need SB 5564, the safe passing bill?

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The Bicycle Alliance says it’s “just common sense” to allow the crossing of “double yellow lines on an empty road to safely pass a person walking or biking on the shoulder”.  They “just want to make sure you don’t get a ticket for doing something so sensible.”  We agree.  But has anyone actually ever been issued a ticket for this?

Here is what the Bicycle Alliance says:  http://bicyclealliance.org/2013/02/11/its-just-common-sense-the-safe-passing-bill/

Here is the bill: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/documents/billdocs/2013-14/Pdf/Bills/Senate%20Bills/5564.pdf

It would change RCW 46.61.100 to add a section that allows driving on the left side of the road “When overtaking and passing a pedestrian or bicyclist so as to maintain a safe distance of at least three feet”.  That sounds like a great idea, but do we need this law?

RCW 46.61.100 already allows driving on the left “When overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction under the rules governing such movement”.    Bikes are vehicles, so this is already legal.  We are skeptical that the 3 feet language here will make any difference.

As for pedestrians, known among the impatient motorist crowd as “obstructions,”  the current code also allows driving on the left  “When an obstruction exists making it necessary to drive to the left of the center of the highway; provided, any person so doing shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles traveling in the proper direction upon the unobstructed portion of the highway within such distance as to constitute an immediate hazard”.  http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=46.61.100

Finally, RCW 46.61.110(2) currently states that “The driver of a vehicle approaching a pedestrian or bicycle that is on the roadway or on the right-hand shoulder or bicycle lane of the roadway shall pass to the left at a safe distance to clearly avoid coming into contact with the pedestrian or bicyclist, and shall not again drive to the right side of the roadway until safely clear of the overtaken pedestrian or bicyclist.”

The proposed legislation does not seem necessary.  And yet we share the Bicycle Alliance’s goal to increase the safety of bicycling.  Why not legislate something that would actually increase safety?

We support legislation that would make motorists who hit bicyclists or pedestrians presumed to be at fault.  This presumption could be overcome by facts like a bicyclist’s failure to use required lighting during the hours of darkness.  If drivers think that they will likely be found responsible for hitting a bicyclists or pedestrian, it won’t be a matter of measuring 3 feet– they’ll try harder to avoid running us down.