Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Common Sense: Long Dead And Reeking

Front page of this morning's Indianapolis Fishwrap, headline "A Lane Of Their Own:"
Bill [Redacted] was pedaling along the Central Canal Towpath and crossing Meridian Street in April when an SUV turned right on a red light and left him with a broken leg.
A specially designated lane for cyclists could have helped him avoid being hit.
(Story continues, detailing plans for some 200 miles of bike lanes, an idea I kind of like if we can afford it).
How would a special lane have helped here? --And how would it be any more special than the marked lane (and "safety island") that already exists where the CC Towpath, along with Westfield Boulevard, crosses Merdian Street?

No question in my mind that Bill got a very bad deal; he had the right of way and thanks to an inattentive driver, suffered injuries and had a long, painful recovery. (Almost the same kind of damage I took -- so I don't have to guess, I know it's teh sux). --But in any confrontation between two wheels and four, the four wheeler wins. Every time. Ask the guys on big Harleys if you won't take my word for it.

There is no special lane that could have prevented this accident. If we don't want cars and bikes to clash, then having them cross on the same level isn't an option; but it's expensive and not always possible.

More specialness would not have prevented the accident the Star cites. A little more attention paid to where they were going on the part of all involved might have helped; it's an angled intersection with sub-optimal visibility and tootling along with one's head in some other game and/or -- drivers, I'm looking at you here! -- a celphone stuck to one's ear is a recipe for collision.
Whatever you are driving/riding, when you are at the controls of a vehicle on the roads, that's your task. Yakking on the phone, pondering the day ahead or just past or (as I watched someone do as she turned left in front of me the other day) applying mascara is not a good idea. About the only way to fix the problem by means of a bike lane is to pave the lane with inattentive drivers: attractive notion but not, alas, a practical option.


karrde said...

But in any confrontation between two wheels and four, the four wheeler wins...

What can I say to add to this?

Not much.

I've been tootling around on two wheels for a while, and only recently graduated to one with a motor on it.

Even when I'm driving a 4-wheeled vehicle, I drive defensively. But on 2-wheelers, I plan ahead to avoid trouble. Know the path; know the route-plan; slow down for unknown intersections; cross only when safe, etc.

Anonymous said...

Well, the existing path is separated from the roadway by a grass margin (or whateverthehel you call that separator between the sidewalk and the curb), while the new bike lanes are supposed to be carved out of the existing roadway (example: 116th Street west of Keystone). That puts the bicyclists immediately adjacent to the other vehicles, which makes 'em more visible.

But I can't figure out the Star's story, either: If the SUV driver was westbound and turning right on red, then Bill blew through a red light. (oops!) If the SUV driver was southbound and turning right on red, then either Bill was already more than halfway across the intersection (if westbound), or he had popped out from behind the obstructions on the northwest corner (if eastbound). So I don't see how a special lane along the north side of Westfield would have made any difference. (If Bill was eastbound, a "special bike lane" would have helped, because the lane would have been on the south side of Westfield, the other side of the intersection. But I don't think that's what the Star writer had in mind.)

None of which addresses the problem of folks who drive SUVs while talking on the phone and eating breakfast.

Sevesteen said...

I used to be a fairly active cyclist, averaging 150 miles or so per week. (Most of that was back and forth to work, a 20 mile round trip)

There are good parts to bike lanes, and they may have their place in a few high-traffic areas. They have significant disadvantages that proponents rarely mention--They often accumulate all the road debris, they encourage the idea that bikes and cars shouldn't share the same roads. This was made law in some "model municipal code" that many Ohio cities used--If a bike path exists, it was illegal to cycle on a parallel road. Unenforced, except where it applied all cycling accidents were 100% the cyclists fault.

...and it more often than not makes situations like the one mentioned here more dangerous to cyclists, because they are abruptly part of traffic at intersections with little to no ability to blend with it.

Anonymous said...

Getting back to the Star story, it feels like a case of: "We've got this program to roll out. This accident loosely relates to what we want to do. We'll cite it as a reason for proceeding, even though our program doesn't really solve the problem that caused the accident in the first place, and hope nobody notices."

And the reporter doesn't ask any questions because (1) the bike lane program fits the paper's agenda (see "Stadium, Colts") and (2) because the reporter is accustomed to doing "press release" journalism (see "Star, Indianapolis").

Somerled said...

Careless bicycle riders have collided with and have caused serious injury to pedestrians using sidewalks. Maybe the government should enact a ban on all vehicles, motorized or not, plus all beasts of burden.

I don't think transit rights of way are broad enough for multiple: car and truck lanes; bicycle paths; pedestrian walkways; bus and commuter train routes; and bridle paths for camels, horses, mules, sled dogs and llamas that have been known not to get along.

Perhaps it can be done if the government exercises eminent domain and bulldozes residential and business properties along both sides. It would be one hell of a set back.

Anonymous said...

I am all for biking paths...but think they should be seperated from the vehicle lanes by some kind of physical barrier. I know bike riders have the same rights as drivers (although I rarely see the bike riders signal, etc.) I'd love to ride a bike to work, but no way on the roads with our drivers. For safety's sake, the two should not be sharing the same traffic lanes. Most vehicle drivers are just not very good nor attentive enough. And a 3 foot bike path next to a busy road...are you gonna trust that the driver coming up on your six is even aware you (the bike rider) are there?

Roberta X said...

Though the law gives the bicycle rider the right of way in this situation, it would have been more prudent to have waited on the car -- if he was aware of it. We don't know if he was; he may not know, either.

Part of the problem is that it's most likely the two were travelling parallel to one another until the car turned right, so that neither one was thinking "collision course."

The driver of the car is at fault but being in the right is no consolation for getting injured.

The guys who taught the motorcycle courses I've taken offered simple advice: "Assume people in cars are trying to kill you."

Bike lanes -- even a trail like the Central Canal Towpath which is well-isolated from roads along most of its length except at crossings -- cannot substitute for the need to be a lot more suspicious of others using the roads than most of us (including me!) usually are.

Anonymous said...

My attitude when driving any vehicle is: If another driver can do something incredibly stupid, at the worst possible time, they will.

Fenris said...

I don't know how folks are in your neck of the woods, but I loathe the cyclists of Portland. They seem to believe they have all the rights of a vehicle AND pedestrian at the same time without any responsibility. On a regular basis I'll pass them on my commute to and from work anywhere on the roads except for the bike lanes. They rarely signal, blow through stop signs or red lights, and will cut out in traffic. Heavens forfend if one of them gets clobbered by a car. The entire community rises up to shout down the evil of cars.
I hope the guy on the bike in the story was being a responsible rider, because out here I wouldn't give it very good odds at all.