A Tragedy Not Even A Bike Lane Could Prevent

D.A. Concludes Investigation of Crash That Killed Kathryn Rickson. It’s Time to Act.

September 26, 2012 | by Carl Larson

Source: BTAOregon

Kathryn Rickson

The Multnomah County District Attorney’s office has completed their investigation of the death of Kathryn Rickson. On May 16th, Rickson was bicycling on SW Madison when a crash involving a large truck taking a right turn on SW 3rd Avenue took her life. The BTA responded to this tragedy with a call for specific changes. In response, the Portland Bureau of Transportation stated that they would have to wait until results of the D.A.’s investigation before implementing any changes.

The investigation is complete. It is time to implement some changes.

Here, again, are the changes the BTA has called for:

  • Bike activated sign indicating the legal right of way for people who ride bikes, similar to the treatment at NE Couch and Grand.
  • Safety warning in the bike lane to alert people to be aware of the blind spots of turning vehicles.
  • Ensure the roadway is properly lit and street lights are free of obstruction.
  • Give exclusive signal control to people who ride bikes, similar to NE Broadway.
  • Assemble a short-term working group to analyze citywide safety concerns at similar intersections and propose proactive solutions.
  • Revisit commercial driver safety education in the context of vulnerable road users. Are current eduction standards sufficient? What improvements are warranted?
  • Repeal Oregon’s mandatory side path law.
  • Require all commercial trucks operating in Oregon to install mandatory side guards.

Triple Mount Hood Mirror
(Often found on School Buses)

During Southeast Sunday Parkways in August, the BTA partnered with Franz Bakery to spread the word about biking around large trucks. Franz brought one of their big yellow trucks and the public was welcomed to sit in the driver’s seat to see the serious limits of conventional mirrors on trucks.

While seeing these blind spots was scary and enlightening, it was also exciting to learn that companies like Franz are starting to equip their trucks with a mirror that directly addresses those blind spots — blind spots like the one in which Rickson was killed. Knowing that these life-saving devices exist, we are calling for one additional safety improvement:

Whether or not criminal wrongdoing was involved, the BTA is firm in our belief that crashes like the one that killed Kathryn Rickson are preventable.

A ChainLinker Provides A Teachable Moment

Just the other day this ChainLink member posted this thread:

Wondering about your thoughts on this sentiment/admonition I’ve gotten for years from my non-riding friends and colleagues. I want to think most of them are trying to be nice, but the implication is that either they perceive cycling as unsafe, or that I won’t “ride safe” unless they tell me to, or that cycling is this dangerous thing, when, in fact, driving puts them at a higher risk (I mean, no one really says “Drive safe!” as a parting greeting…). The other idea is that maybe it’s a good thing, that they are acknowledging that I get around in a different way than they do. And, maybe it’s nothing, but it strikes me as odd sometimes.

Life is unsafe, period. There are enough things that can transpire between visits to a friends home and yours that it makes the departing sometimes sorrowful. Wishing someone “Godspeed” is not a bad thing under the circumstances.

Europeans take a dim view of such things as helmet wearing. Mikael Colville-Andersen has gone on a crusade to ensure that cycling is not perceived as unsafe:

Copenhagen’s bicycle ambassador talks about how important the bicycle is for liveable cities and how bicycle helmets are threatening bicycle culture.

The notion is that wearing a helmet sends the “wrong signal” to those who are considering cycling as a transportation option. So in a sense by donning your helmet before leaving the home of a friend you are the one sending the signal that cycling is unsafe! At least that is the thinking across the pond.

What is unfortunate is that the very folks that advocate for us are giving us hope (not unlike that provided when you buy and wear a helmet) that bicycle infrastructure can make us safer. Here is an excerpt from an Open Letter written by Ron Burke of the Active Transportation Alliance:

The 100 miles of protected bike lanes that Mayor Emanuel is adding will enable thousands more Chicagoans to get out of cars and onto bikes and, by giving bikes their own space, will make streets more orderly and safer for everyone. But 100 miles is less than two percent of our street network, and cars still get to use streets with protected bike lanes.

The spot where Kathryn Rickson was killed.

But the sad fact is that Kathryn Rickson was exactly where she was supposed to be riding a “safe bike lane”. The lane pavement is the same green as we use here in Chicago. It is a clearly marked lane. The problem was that she was sitting in the blind spot of a truck. And it was for that reason that the authorities did not press charges against the driver.

Being vigilant is the least that one can do when venturing out in traffic. Wearing a helmet may be no more useful than a rabbits foot in offering real protection but we do it nevertheless. Painting lanes green and putting up plastic poles might make use feel safer but it too is no panacea.

We all need to keep our “heads on a swivel”. Life is dangerous. Not everyone who will leave home or depart from work today will arrive safely. We know this as certainly as the sun will rise tomorrow.

New York went through a tumultuous summer as people bickered over the installation of bicycle lanes all across the city. The tragic thing is that when these improvements were being defended it was because there was a supposed decrease in accidents to ensue. But now we have news of just the opposite effect:

The Bloomberg administration has not hesitated in past years to attribute declines in traffic fatalities to its own initiatives. “The reduction in traffic deaths as a result of our safety engineering means nearly 300 New Yorkers are alive today who would not have been if we had simply sustained the fatality rate of five years ago,” Ms. Sadik-Khan said in December, as the city announced a record low in annual traffic fatalities for the 2011 calendar year.

The department maintained this week that recent measures had made streets safer. Ms. Sadik-Khan said the rise might have been caused, at least in part, by an increase in distracted driving and distracted walking.

“I don’t think that the iPhone has invented an app yet that will ping you when you hit a crosswalk,” Ms. Sadik-Khan said, adding, “That breakup text can wait.”

Sign holder at memorial for Kathryn Rickson

I am certain that distracted driving, walking and cycling are all to blame for this increase. I am equally concerned that the root cause of the distraction might not always be a cellphone.

City driving on the best of days is an assault on the senses. You are bombarded with information on street signs, advertisement billboards, loud noises from honking cars, pedestrians who choose to cross mid-block and leap out from between parked cars, bicyclists who illegally ride sidewalks on one-way streets, noisy children in the back seat, loud car radios with either music or talk radio, etc. Is it any wonder that we fail to notice that cyclist who is in our blind spot?

Like Mikael Colville-Andersen I am worried that helmets send the “wrong” signal. But it is not the one he imagines. I think that cyclists who wear helmets are under the misguided impression that they provide safety against concussion when falling and against the same when hit by a motor vehicle or during a collision involving a pedestrian.

Likewise I think we are making the same mistake all over again when we tell both cyclists and motorists alike that our traffic engineering efforts (i.e. increase bicycle infrastructure) will help reduce fatalities and injury. Neither helmets nor bike lanes can do a single thing to prevent “mayhem”. Humans can find all manner of ways to “bollocks up” a perfectly grand day with a preventable accident.

We humans are insistent on doing things our way. If we feel like riding down a bike lane “against traffic” we will. If we decided to park our cars in a clearly marked bike lane we will. We will lock our bikes to handrails meant for pedestrians because we darn well want to. We will cross under trains that are loading in the station because we don’t want to be late. We will ride down ramps meant for pedestrians boarding rapid transit trains on our bike and end up dumped onto electrified tracks if find it to be fun.

But more odd than our behavior is our insistence on laying the blame for everything that befalls us on somebody else. Motorists want to blame the cyclists who are constantly (not a myth here) running red lights and blowing stop signs. Cyclists want to excuse their scofflaw behavior by claiming it is ethical if not legal while pointing out that someone is illegally parked in a bike lane. Pedestrians knowing approach automobiles from their blindside at intersections hoping to get a bump and some cash to make the “accident” go away.

No one is ever at fault. It is always me who is the victim here. We set up online computer forums to help us soothe our bruises egos whenever we want to enter denial about something that we might have caused to happen on the way into work today. And we take it wrong when someone offers us a “ride safe” wish upon our departure.

I’ll take all the “ride safes” I can get. I still strap on my helmet before each ride and hope that it works as well as a rabbits foot. In the meantime I am going to distrust that any driver is seeing me while I am on the road with my bike. I am going to assume that riding between cars is actually as dangerous as it looks. I am not going to try hitching a ride on the rear wheel well of a bus even though it might look like fun.

And I will presume that all the bullshit about safe bike lanes is just that. Nobody and I mean nobody can promise me anything. That is why they sell life insurance. Life is unsafe. Deal with it.