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Archive for July, 2011

Riding with the flow of traffic

About 50% of all bicycle crashes involve falls, often caused by road surface hazards, like potholes, loose gravel, cattle guards, storm grates, etc. Another 33% involve animals, other bikes or something besides a motor vehicle. Only 17% of bicycle crashes involve motor vehicles.

Yesterday I saw 3 separate bicyclists riding against traffic on Reno’s Mill Street in a 3 minute period. No doubt they chose that side because they felt safer facing traffic or crossing Mill was inconvenient enough to keep them there. Here is a breakdown of the causes of bicycle-motor vehicle collisions, the 17% of all crashes:

Who is at fault?

Action

%

Bicyclist Wrong-way riding facing traffic

14%

Bicyclist Left turn from the right side of the road

11%

Bicyclist Failure to yield from driveway

9%

Bicyclist Running a stop sign or signal

8%

Bicyclist Swerving in front of car *

5%

Total Bicyclist

47%

Motorist Left turn in front of the bicyclist

13%

Motorist Right turn in front of the bicyclist

11%

Motorist Running a stop sign or signal

8%

Motorist Opening car door into path of bicyclist

7%

Motorist Failure to yield from driveway

6%

Motorist Didn’t see the cyclist *

3%

Total Motorist

48%

Undetermined

5%

* Cyclists hit from behind are included here

It seems to me that if I avoid road surface hazards, don’t crash into another bicyclist or curb, don’t do those things on the top of the list, and look out for motorists doing the things on the bottom of the list, I can be pretty safe on my bicycle.

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One of my favorite sayings is, “Never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity or ignorance.” This moral came to mind recently on a bicycle ride with some friends.

My wife and I were riding in the neighborhood with a new rider, one with a family where every member at least owned one bicycle. When my wife and I stopped at an intersection with a stop sign, this surprised new rider asked, “Why did you stop?” To us, the obvious answer was, “There’s a stop sign”.

I had always assumed that bicyclists coasted or “blew through” stop signs because they didn’t want to lose any momentum, they were feeling rebellious or otherwise just found it inconvenient to obey the law. It never occurred to me that they might just not know that the road signs for motorists also applied to bicyclists.

The Nevada revised statutes say, “Every person riding a bicycle upon a roadway has all of the rights and is subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle ….” Obviously, there are some provisions that are specific to just bicyclists and some that apply only to motorists. Generally though, the Rules of the Road apply to bicyclists as well as motorists.

That means stopping at stop signs, at least to the extent most motorists do in my neighborhood, by which I mean slow to a crawl and yield before proceeding. That means stopping at red traffic signals and waiting until they turn green.

Why is this important? Very, very few bicycle motor vehicle collisions happen because the bicyclist has ignored a traffic signal or stop sign. It’s not a safety issue. Why it’s important is that it is a matter of etiquette.

Society’s relationships and interactions are lubricated by etiquette and no more so than when operating a motor vehicle. Every motorist knows the Rules of the Road, a kind of etiquette, follows them and, as a result, everyone gets to where they are going without crashing into each other. When a bicyclist uses poor highway etiquette, he’s rude. When bicyclists ask for a little more space on the road, be it a bike lane or a 3 feet passing rule, motorists remember being treated rudely and are less likely to give up a piece of the road, to which they wrongly or rightly feel solely entitled.

So… the message here is, “Don’t be rude on the road.” Vehicle rules apply to bicycles, too.

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Light rail is coming to Reno! Well, almost light rail. This is light rail on rubber wheels and paved roads. Kind of “light-rail-lite”.

The Washoe Country RTC is introducing an express bus service between the downtown 4th Street station and Meadowood Mall, named “RTC Rapid”. It will ride in “bus only” lanes on South Virginia Street and stop at fewer stations than the regular bus, named RTC Rapid Connect. The South Virginia corridor has the most heavily used city buses in Washoe County.

The South Virginia corridor also is heavily used by bicycle commuters. So, where do the bicyclists go if a whole lane is designated for exclusive use of RTC buses?

I talked with Sgt. Stegmaier of Reno PD yesterday. We identified 4 choices:
1. Bikes and buses share the lane
2. Bikes ride next to the curb
3. Bikes ride in a bike lane left of the bus and right of the other traffic
4. Bikes are prohibited.

Bikes riding next to the curb would conflict with the bus at every bus stop, with the bicyclist in danger of getting squeezed. The plan is to construct nicely coordinated bus stops that allow easy bus entry and exit and a bike lane there, in the few places where there is enough room, would conflict with this plan.

Bikes that ride between the bus lane and the other traffic lane would be vulnerable from both sides. A real bike lane would be required for bicyclist safety and there’s not enough room for one in big parts of the corridor.

Prohibiting bikes would be an enforcement nightmare.

So, the RTC met yesterday (7/13/11) and decided to have the “bus only” lane be a “bus and bikes, only” lane. It will soon be signed like that, I’m told.

This makes sense to me for two reasons: 1) bicyclists in general go where they find most convenient and safe, regardless of law and signage, and 2) the “bus and bikes, only” lane will be empty when not occupied by a bus. Besides, trying to control bicyclists is like herding cats so it’s safer to adapt the environment to them.

Here’s a link for more information on RTC Rapid – http://www.rtcwashoe.com/RTCRAPID/documents/RTC.RAPID_brochure.pdf

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Bale of Hay in the Road?

NCWV wrote: This law sounds awful. It is difficult to enforce and in some instances could be dangerous. What about areas where the bicyclists are riding up a two lane road where there is no bike lane going a lot slower than the other traffic. Is a car supposed to cross the yellow line just to pass? The bicyclist shouldn’t be there in the first place. The law should not punish drivers in all cases as it is not always their fault. The whole situation should be solved with education and more bike lanes not with punishment.

“Is a car supposed to cross the yellow line just to pass?”

The short answer is, “Yes”. If the obstacle in the road was a bale of hay or a farm tractor blocking the lane, wouldn’t a motorist cross the yellow line just to get around it? In rural Nevada, most motorists would cross the yellow line at 70 miles per hour and think nothing of it. The alternative in many cases is to come dangerously close to the bicycle rider. It’s a misconception that a motorist can NEVER legally cross the yellow line.

“The bicyclist shouldn’t be there in the first place.”

The only roads where bicycles are prohibited in Nevada are limited access freeways. It would be nice if there were a network of connected bike lanes but today a bicyclist has to share roads without bike lanes to get from point A to point B.

“The law should not punish drivers in all cases as it is not always their fault.”

This is a law governing how close a motorist can come to a bicyclist when passing in an otherwise lawful manner. I’m a motorist and a bicyclist and I can’t imagine a situation where, as a motorist, I would be forced to pass with less than 3 feet clearance. That’s because I can’t imagine a situation in which I would be forced to pass. Is this a “the devil made me do it” situation? In every situation where, as a bicyclist, I “took the lane” and blocked cars from passing me, I delayed motorist behind me less than one minute. In every case, I “took the lane” because the lane was too narrow for us to safely share it side by side.

“The whole situation should be solved with education…”

Exactly! The point of this legislation is to let motorists know that less than three feet is too close. I don’t think anyone is expecting a lot tickets to be written.

“… and more bike lanes…” Amen, brother!

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Bike lanes are great for bicyclists and that’s were I feel the safest. But it can be frustrating when the bike lane is full of debree, construction signs and parked cars. Not to mention being surprised by a Vespa going twice my speed.

This is an amusing video sure, but it rings true.

Motorists are pretty sure that we are required to ride in a bike lane if there is one. I almost always do. But NV law has no such requirement.

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Semi-Safety?

The Reno media is all abuzz about the collision of a gravel truck with an Amtrak train in Fernley.

Fernley Amtrak / Davis Trucking Collision

In the first adrenaline rush, reporters slammed the trucking company for its safety record. Later they reported that this trucking company averaged a failure rate of 4% in random NDOT safety checks versus a 20% failure rate for all NV trucking companies, concluding that this trucking company had a superior safety record.

When I heard that I thought “WHAT?” 20% of the big trucks on the road fail random safety checks? That should make a motorist pause and reflect, let alone what a bicyclist should do.

So, I’m correlating this news with some other recent events accumulated in this brain:

1) Bicyclist Don Campbell was killed by a gravel hauling semi-truck 4 years ago this month.
2) The bill to prohibit semi-tractors from pulling more than 2 trailers died in committee in this legislative session. Before it died the gravel haulers got an exception for their trucks.

3) A couple of weeks ago, a woman was killed by a garbage truck at Kietzke and Mill in Reno.

Okay, I’ll grant you that trucking companies have more political clout than motorists and bicyclists. But are they negligent when it comes to safety, too?

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