Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dangerous Routes

There's an interesting letter to the editor on the Statesman website today, written by a cyclist.

Here it is, in its entirety.*

Safe walking, riding paths for everyone

I’ve been commuting Downtown via bike since early June. I know that cyclists are rarely “seen” by motorists, and so I ride defensively and restrict my route to the Greenbelt path whenever possible.

Recently, I was struck by a motorist as she was turning onto Glenwood. Luckily, my injuries were limited to scrapes and bruises because my bike took the brunt of the blow and I had a helmet on — had I been a pedestrian, I’d not have been so lucky.

Though several bystanders gave accounts that the vehicle operator did not look both ways before turning, I was cited with an infraction for riding on the wrong side of the road because the sidewalk ends about 50 feet before I was struck, where it exits onto the hotly contested, pedestrian-only path through Riverside Village. Had the path been open to all users or had there been sidewalk available, I wouldn’t have been cited and the accident could have been avoided.

When will we in the Treasure Valley put our money where our mouths are and provide safe walking/riding areas for everyone? We might just lose a few pounds and gain some environmental perspective in the process.


First of all, a snide comment: How about that name?!! I'd sure hate to be Crystal Deschamps-Fogdall, every time I had to sign a check!

On to the content of Ms. Deschamps-Fodgall's (thank goodness for "copy and paste" - haha!) letter.

It sounds like maybe she was riding on the sidewalk, on the against-traffic side of the road, and when the sidewalk ended she drifted over into the breakdown lane and proceeded on up the road, against traffic. And that a motor vehicle entering from the side (likely a parking lot) turned into her path, not anticipating a cyclist approaching from the wrong-way direction.

Is that about right?

Cyclists - if you're in the wrong place, it's no wonder that you're "rarely seen." You'd be MUCH safer riding legally and predictably on the correct side of the road, in bright attire. I'm glad she wasn't severely injured, or killed!

Think about it, if you're also a motorist.

You're pulling out of a parking lot, intending to turn right into busy traffic. The traffic is coming from the left, so you look to the left, eagerly awaiting an opening. Although ideally you'd also look to the right to make absolutely sure there's no approaching hazard, it's certainly understandable that many people don't. I know I've had close calls myself, when some bonehead on a bike comes puttering up the wrong side.

I'm really glad Ms. Deschamps-Fogdall wasn't riding against traffic when another cyclist came along, riding with traffic. (I ride that stretch of Glenwood - sharing the road with cars - probably 4 times a week average. And it's always scary and maddening when somebody is bicycling straight toward me, against traffic.)

On the bright side, I'm glad the cop did his job and issued a citation. (Although that rarely happens unless an accident is involved.)

I agree with Ms. Deschamps-Fogdall that it would be really nice if the Riverside Village path was open to all users. (And I expect it will be soon... I sense "something in the air.") But you can't blame facilities, or lack thereof, for illegal and ill-advised behavior on the streets.

* NOTE - My experience has been that the Idaho Statesman web content isn't a permanent archive; the link will go stale in a few weeks. Thus, I chose to copy the letter over. I hope the folks at the Statesman wouldn't have a problem with that, since I acknowledge the source.


Clancy said...

I saw a bike cop give a warning to a wrong way cyclist today. She was riding the wrong way in the bike lane.

Crystal Deschamps Fogdall (no hyphen) said...

So in a random search of my name on Google, I ran into this post about my letter to the editor and thought I'd comment since the Bike Nazi is clearly not up to date on ID state statutes regarding cyclists on the roadway.

ID Statute 49-717 (Title 49, Chapter 7)section 1 indicates that "any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway...shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway". However section 1 subsection b provides for the following exception: "When preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway." - which applies in my particular case - AND subsection C goes on to state an exception to the right-hand side of the road... "When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions including....surface hazards or substandard width lanes that make it unsafe to continue along the right-hand curb or edge." - which I argued was the case in this particular scenario. I didn't go into the details in my letter to the editor, but the judge agreed with my assessment that (based on the aforementioned laws) I had every right to be on my bicycle where I was...what he didn't agree with was that I was RIDING my bicycle. Instead he felt that I should have gotten off and WALKED my bicycle and indicated that the law IMPLIES that. (I obviously disagree. I would think that would turn me into a pedestrian, in which case, I would need to follow the statutes that apply to pedestrians - not cyclists.) One other point to mention was that the judge allowed for a quick 3 minute break in the middle of my case to allow for both he and the prosecutor to review the subsection of statute that I referenced above as part of my defense. (I assume that the prosecutor was familiar as part of his preparation, but it was clear that the judge was not. He later went on to thank me for educating him on this particular section of the law.)

I understand that cyclists need to do everything possible to follow the flow of traffic and to be smart when riding, however, to blindly state that what I was doing was illegal is ill-informed. Maybe you need to do a bit MORE with the copy/paste procedure and copy/paste the ID state statutes so they're more readily available to you.

Bikeboy said...

Hi, Crystal.

THANKS for the comment! I'm glad you happened across my comments, and took the time to respond.

I wish I'd been in the court room, because I'm still not clear about where you were positioned on the roadway.

If you were northbound on Glenwood, and had crossed over the bridge and desired to turn left onto Riverside Drive... I'd think you would've positioned yourself in the left-turn lane, with the other left-turn traffic. At least that's what I would've done.

If you went all the way across the roadway, and put yourself riding against traffic - northbound in the southbound bike lane - I could NEVER condone that, because of the numerous near-misses I've had with against-traffic bike riders. (A major pet peeve of mine... and it happens a LOT on Glenwood Street!)

I hope your incident didn't discourage you from cycling - the GREATEST form of local transportation!

Ride safe - be happy!

Unknown said...

Actually, these days I work from I'm doing less cycling than I'd like to admit but I still try to get out from time to time. I also live way out on the west side of town where there are very few safe riding areas...especially if I'd like to tow the kidlettes along.

The primary point of my letter to the editor (and most of my cycling rants in general) is this: When we're behind the wheel of a car, we need to be as vigilant about watching for cyclists as we are about watching for other motorists. I'm sure both you and I can account multiple instances where we were riding along on the right-hand side of the street or in the bike lane and got swiped/tapped/thrown off our bike by a motorist who "didn't see us" because all they were watching for is car traffic (regardless of how much reflective tape, flashing lights, or bright clothing that we wore). I certainly agree that cyclists cannot ride willy-nilly, wherever they want. However, you cannot ignore the fact that the risk a cyclist undertakes when agreeing to ride alongside motorized traffic is much greater than their motorized counterparts. When I ride alongside motorists I agree to abide by the contracted laws but I will ALWAYS put those laws aside if/when I need to to keep myself safe and alive. When doing so, I am extra vigilant in watching those around me because I realize that I am moving outside the behavior pattern that is expected of me.(Though I would argue that so few folks actually KNOW what the traffic laws are in regards to cyclists that they don't really know what they should expect.) At the end of the day, I care more about staying alive than some pious BS about "NEVER" or "ALWAYS" doing something because the law specifies it. Piety is great in theory but it won't keep me from being killed on my bike because some idiot in an F-250 can't see me riding alongside them during rush hour traffic.

Unfortunately, in this valley, the only safe place to be on a bicycle is where motorized traffic cannot venture....that's why I think it so essential to support greenbelt and foothill trail expansion.

Bikeboy said...

Crystal, I regret that you feel on-street cycling is inherently unsafe. I accumulate at least 90% of my miles on the streets, and am quite comfortable... doing my best to be legal, visible, and predictable... and defensive! (No denying we cyclists are more vulnerable... we must avoid collisions at all costs, and IMO we increase the likelihood of collisions any time we venture out of the "behavior pattern that's expected of [us].")

I support greenbelt and bike path expansion as well... but as a dedicated transportation cyclist, I also accept the reality that there will never be a dedicated infrastructure that takes me to my every destination... and I'm good with sharing the road.