Collision Puts Messy Road Rules and Design in Spotlight

Road safety is something that should matter to everyone.

Some cities are starting to address the issue by Vision Zero or through other measures. But in many cases, such as in relation to the increase in cycling for transport, these issues aren’t being addressed.

The unimaginable happens daily and it’s not just how we react in the moment, but also how we react for the future. I had a harrowing experience in May that brought all of this to the forefront of my mind.

My daily bike commute takes me around Arlington National Cemetery and across Arlington Memorial Bridge. This stretch of my ride is on mixed-use trails and typically safe, with the exception of a few crosswalks where drivers, cyclists and pedestrians converge, like in the satellite view below.

brendanopus1_map

Right before where the star in the image is located, I rolled up to the crosswalk and saw a white SUV approaching from the bottom of the ramp. The driver was decelerating as she approached the stop sign and crosswalk, before turning left on Memorial Avenue. As I entered the crosswalk, I saw the driver looking to her right but not to the left where pedestrians and cyclists were entering the sidewalk. Instead of coming to a full stop, the driver yielded and continued to make her left turn. Only as the driver entered the crosswalk did she look to her left to check for traffic. As she did so, she saw me and my blinky lights and slammed on her brakes.

Unfortunately, it was too late and the front of the car made contact with my leg and the back of my bike. The jolt knocked the back end of my bike out from under me, but I was able to catch myself without completely falling over. My mind was racing, and I was unsure if I was okay.

The driver seemed shocked as well, but became upset when I asked for contact and insurance information. Concerned she might leave the scene, I took a picture of her license plate. She suggested we relocate as not to impede traffic from Route 110. I agreed and carefully walked my bike across the street to continue speaking with her. She further questioned why I needed her information since I didn’t appear to be injured. With my adrenaline pumping from the collision, I couldn’t be certain that I wasn’t hurt or that my bike wasn’t damaged. She said in order to obtain her details, I would need to call the police.

About 10 minutes after calling 911, a U.S. Park Police officer arrived and asked if I was okay. I said I didn’t know but I knew I wasn’t bleeding. He then left me to speak with the driver. After a few minutes of interviewing the driver, the officer walked back over to me, presumably to take my statement about the incident. Instead, he stated I was at fault by not dismounting my bike before using the crosswalk.

I was incredulous for two reasons:

  1. The officer had not asked for my statement regarding the crash.
  2. There is no Virginia requirement for cyclists to dismount in a crosswalk.

He further asserted that Washington D.C. law requires cyclists to dismount, at which point I politely reminded him that the crash occurred in Virginia.

At this point, the officer said we could handle the situation one of two ways:

  1. Chalk it up to a “learning experience” or
  2. I could request a traffic-incident report.

I requested the written report, knowing just how important they are in traffic studies, which can lead to safer redesigns of our roadways. Without the report, the crash would never be recorded as an example of the intersection’s poor design. In return, the officer gave me a citation for “disobeying a signal device” despite there being no signal device at the crosswalk. Below is my original ticket and an excerpt of my traffic-incident report I finally received at the end of June. I always wanted to redact something. Now I can say I have.

Brendan - ticketBrendan's Incident Report

I took my ticket but realized that my “learning experience” probably isn’t all that unusual. How many minor car-on-bike/pedestrian accidents go unreported if a victim isn’t gravely injured? I made sure to call Bruce Deming, The Bike Lawyer (and also an ATP Champion), to get his professional opinion afterwards.

So yes, my commute home one afternoon didn’t go quite as planned, but that hasn’t prevented me from continuing to commute by bike. This “learning experience” further supports my belief that many of our streets are in need of better design. Also, many users need more information about the laws and how we share our streets regardless if you are driving a car, biking, or walking. Even in a larger metro area like D.C., we need to be looking out for each other – if not figuratively, then literally.

This article was originally published by Arlington Transportation Partners.

Photo by Seamoor

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Sheryl Gross-Glaser

Here at CTAA, I often point out the numbers of fatalities involved in car crashes. I do not call them accidents anymore because the roadways are perfectly designed for the tragic confluence of the human brain and speed of two-ton machines. Recently, a friend’s son, a sweet 24 year old, was killed. You were lucky not to be injured.

I hope you fought the ticket. You were correct not to follow the path of least resistance. Road design and the traffic laws have important – no pun intended – impacts on safety. And police should not just be making up rules as they go along.

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