Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Why I slow down (while biking) at intersections (and I don't worry about riding fast either)

Image from a London Cyclist Campaign organization webpage.

Yesterday, I almost got taken out by a "right hook" at 2nd and K Streets NE, by a car that didn't put its turn signal on til they were midway into the intersection.   Had the turn signal been on I would have waited for the car to turn or moved to the left of the car.

Interestingly, this was witnessed by a friend-colleague who happened to be biking by at the same time.

Later he sent me an email, which reminded me that I had been meaning to write about this topic, "why I slow down at intersections." ... because since there is traffic from all directions, there are more chances for mistakes and accidents. 

This is the case even though because intersections are "controlled" by "traffic control devices" (signs or traffic signals) you expect the opposite, that intersections would be safer.

The real issue is that bicyclists who ride following the rules are at a disadvantage if they think that all motorists are following the rules.  Even if they are, they still can make mistakes (as I do when I drive or ride too).

It reminds me of the old AAA "watch out for the other guy" public safety ad campaign. 

And another incident I remember from 25 years ago, when a U of Chicago student was waiting in the median crosswalk, legally, to finish crossing the street when the light changed, only to be hit and killed by an errant, inebriated driver.  She was following the rules, the driver wasn't.

In short, it's about defensive cycling, because it doesn't matter how legal you are, cars are bigger, faster, heavier, and much more deadly.  No point in being "dead right."
1. there was a blurb in the Dr. Gridlock column (in the Post) a couple weeks ago by a bicyclist who complained about cars deferring to bicycles at intersections, when the bicyclist doesn't have the right of way. I agree that it is best to follow the rules, but it's easier for traffic flow if you go rather than have a standoff.  I always wave my thanks. 
And this behavior is more an element of the idea of vehicular traffic deferring to the most vulnerable user, rather than who is on the right, stopped first, etc.  In short, car > bicyclist > pedestrian.  (There is a traffic sign showing this but I can't find an image at the moment.) 
2. And if you saw the sad story about the bicyclist in GGW ("It must have been your fault. C'mon. You are a biker") who ran into a car just past an intersection, because the car made an abrupt illegal left ("failure to yield the right of way") in front of oncoming traffic, into a gas station. 

(The entry also discusses the presumption that the cyclist was riding illegally and the failure of the MPD police officer to do even a cursory examination of what happened.  The cyclist suffered some permanent disability as a result of the accident, and the insurance company settled with him, when presented with evidence of the illegal turn--a fluke that evidence even existed.)
People in the thread discussed "inattentional blindness" which is when people, accustomed to seeing things in certain ways don't "see" other things, including bicyclists.  Basically what it means is that by focusing on one thing you aren't looking for other things.  This is discussed in the New Yorker article "Wrong Turn."

With regard to the specific account, I think the driver lied about not seeing the bicyclist. 

I think what happened is that the driver thought the cyclist was moving at 15 mph or less, and so s/he thought there was enough time to turn into the gas station without impinging on the oncoming traffic. 

The driver didn't expect that the cyclist was moving at almost 25mph--as fast as cars--and therefore ended up not having enough time to make the turn without creating an accident.  "The cyclist ran into me." 

I've heard that one before too... it's about entitlement and not understanding the physics of movement, but also having no real conception of how fast bicyclists are moving or can move.   

3.  Note that I don't think it's a good idea to ride that fast on DC streets in the core especially (not that I have a racing bike anyway). There are too many opportunities for problems, not to mention potholes. 

Bicycle sharing bikes, 300 block C Street SEBy not riding as fast--I have a hybrid bike, so I don't have thin tires anyway and I don't ride much faster than 16 mph when the terrain is flat--and by slowing down and riding more cautiously at intersections, I have more time to react to errant driving. 

By riding faster and taking chances (running red lights and stop signs in the face of oncoming traffic), you increase the opportunity for accidents, and have less time to react besides, which is a nasty combination.
I am not trying to blame the victim.

But I do think it's important to reiterate the imperative that cyclists need to ride defensively when it comes to mixed traffic.  If that means riding slower, sometimes deferring to traffic, and not always following the rules of the road when they favor the cyclist, so be it.  

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At 10:36 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

I'm sure there is some value in setting a liability payment regime based on car-bike-pedestrian.

Let's also not pretend that would be a huge change from the current system. the changes that WABA suggests (in terms of changing attorney fees) don't so much alter the system and try to game the incentives and keep lawyers employed.

Other changes to car safety rules actually have reduced the amount of greenhouse a car has -- as well as increased the height -- with the effect that it is much harder to see. Mandating blind spot detectors that see pedestrians or bikes is technically difficult as well.

So, yes, the onus to "ride defensively" is on the cyclist.

Cameras in known problem areas might help as well in terms of setting the liability. Recording photos from incar cameras also but that is a huge invasive step.

At 10:41 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

as you know, I am a strong proponent of the Idaho Stop. But as long as it isn't enshrined into law it sets the stage for "reckless driving" charges (which are only misdemeanors, but also set the stage for stronger charges).

The dude in SF who killed a ped.--but he was riding at high speeds and recklessly--was also cited because of his running of other red lights before he hit and killed the ped.

... makes you think twice about the unsanctioned Idaho Stop.

At 11:11 AM, Anonymous rg said...

I agree 100 percent that being "dead right" is a losing proposition. I always ride (and walk) defensively. It just makes sense, especially given the entitled attitude and overall carelessness I see from most car drivers. BTW, I really, really wish MPD would crack down on drivers who use cell phones while driving. How does anyone think using a cell phone while driving is a good idea?!?

At 11:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the reasons I ride on the sidewalk in DC and in most cities is because it is simply far too dangerous to "share the road" with distracted drivers- no matter how "good a cyclist" you are- just about everyone I know who is a vehicular cyclist has been in a serious scrape if not outright injured- and you just do not see this in more civilized places like Germany or Holland where sidewalk cycling is not only sanctioned- it is the norm. We need to get away from this crazy insisence on placing cyclists in danger- and cyclists also need to get away from the suburban onsession with speed- you do not need to go fast on a bicycle- and if you do- then you should be driving a car or a motorcycle.


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