Ready, Shoot, Aim… The ChainLink’s Knee Jerk Response…

Summary

A tragedy occurred yet again this week in Chicago. This time it was a middle-aged cyclist who was run over by a truck while occupying the bike lane as the truck attempted a right turn. The cyclist went under the rear wheels of the truck which indicates that the truck and he collided perhaps after the cab portion of the vehicle was beyond the position of the cyclist. Questions arise:

  • How exactly does this sort of thing happen?
  • Can it prevented?
  • Who is to blame?

In that alternate universe knows as the ChainLink Forum the onus is always on the motorized vehicle. So the very first order of business is to pass some legislation, right?

Reply by Julie Hochstadter 4 hours ago

It was just explained to me by someone with immense legal knowledge that involuntary manslaughter statute and reckless homicide statute require more than just negligence.

Now its time to try to change that law. Something to make drivers take an extra second to look. Stricter rules and laws scare people into changing their habits. At the least if someone causes a death have their drivers license taken away for 6 months.

That’s not terribly harsh, but it would scare more drivers to remember to look before they turn right. Currently they get a ticket, or at least that’s what the news reports.

I’ve been driving more recently and I find myself doing something I never did before I started biking – I lean over and make sure there is no cyclist to my right before I turn right.

I started a conversation on my fb account to try to reach out to all my non-bike friends. Cheryl Zalenski, also a Chainlinker, chimed in with very relevant article about how an accident in Wisconsin got cyclists in our neighboring state to lobby – http://www.jsonline.com/blogs/lifestyle/139938613.html

I’m sickened by two tragic deaths in 3 weeks.

An aside here. Let us assume that “stricter rules and laws would scare people into changing their habits”. Does that mean that if we want cyclists to obey stop signs and red lights that we should double down on fines, registration and taxation for them? Oops! I forgot the punishment is always to be directed at the enemy (namely motorists), my bad.

Kathryn Rickson

So let’s get back on track and get serious about this accident and others like it. The first one that comes to mind was the death of Kathryn Rickson. She was riding in the bike lane where there was indeed a bike box (follow the link and view the images). The driver however did not see her. It was later determined that there is a well known “blind spot” on trucks of a general design that makes it nearly impossible for children, and cyclists (especially guys like me on a low slung recumbent) to be seen by the driver.

Understand the driver’s problem. He is like an airplane pilot with a jumbo jet of a vehicle under his command. He is unable and I mean completely unable to see motorists who are directly behind him. Quite often as truckers shifter from neutral to first their rigs back up momentarily a foot or so while the gears engage, cars whose driver cannot make eye contact with the truck driver via his mirror are invisible to that truck driver. The mirrors serve as instrumentation in the same way that the gauges and dials on a jumbo jet help the pilot determine what corrections he should make while flying that plane.

Now here is the rub. We already know that trucks have this “blind spot” problem and yet we have cities who take the consultative advice of Cycling Advocacy agencies on how and where to place bike lanes and bike boxes and set things up for a street crew to install.

And guess what a truck without the proper mirrors runs over a cyclist that is invisible to him. Now how do I know that every single municipality and cycling advocacy consultant knows about this “blind spot”? Just take a look at your postman’s truck. Notice that odd mirror on the front that seems too large and is convex? Now turn your head as your local school bus driver passes your house. Notice the very same mirror on his vehicle? Yep. We have always known about this “blind spot” problem and have already made corrections for it on governmental vehicles of all sorts. Most street maintenance trucks and city water vehicles all have this mirror.

Triple Mount Hood Mirror
(Often found on School Buses)

So what does this thing look like? They are not terribly expensive when one considers the lives they save. We have known about this issue for decades and have witnessed countless kids crush under wheels as they pass in front of a school bus too short to be seen by the driver. In fact the ones on the governmental vehicles is aimed to be able to view both the sides and immediate front of the vehicle in question. It works and its saves lives.

Now let’s go back and further consider what the proposed remedies would be in ChainLink land:

Reply by Charlie Short 3 hours ago
At the very least, two large tickets should be issued in this case. 1. The ticket the driver got (for failure to yield.) 2. A ticket for failure to exercise due care. Municipal code below. I’m searching for the 3 foot law…
9-4-025 Bicycle safety violation–Penalty – Permalink
(a) Any person who violates subsection (e) or (f) of section 9-16-020, subsection (c) of section 9-36-010, or section 9-40-060, of this Code, shall be subject to (i) a penalty of $150.00 or, (ii) if such violation causes a collision between a motor vehicle and a bicycle, a penalty of $500.00, for each offense.

(b) Any person who violates sections 9-40-160 or 9-80-035 of this Code, when such violation interferes with the movement of a bicycle, shall be subject to (i) a penalty of $150.00 or, (ii) if such violation causes a collision between a motor vehicle and a bicycle, a penalty of $500.00, for each offense.
Added Coun. J. 3-12-08, p. 22781, § 2
9-16-020 (f) Turning right in front of a bicycle – Permalink
When a motor vehicle and a bicycle are traveling in the same direction on any highway, street, or road, the operator of the motor vehicle overtaking such bicycle traveling on the right side of the roadway shall not turn to the right in front of the bicycle at that intersection or at any alley or driveway until such vehicle has overtaken and is safely clear of the bicycle.
Added Coun. J. 3-12-08, p. 22783
9-40-160 Drivers to exercise due care – Permalink
Every driver of a vehicle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian, or any person operating a bicycle or other device propelled by human or animal power, upon any roadway, and shall give warning by sounding the horn when necessary and shall exercise proper precautions upon observing any child or any confused or incapacitated person upon a roadway.
Amended Coun. J. 3-12-08, p. 22781, § 1

We are still focused on the hapless driver. Make his life a living hell is their motto. So let’s consider all the players and let the chips fall where they may. There are at minimum four or five players in this skit:

  • The truck driver
  • The company that owns the truck
  • The cyclist
  • The municipality that constructed the infrastructure designed to improve safety
  • The consultants who drew up the plan for the variation of the bike lane design being used

The trucker is trying to determine whether he can turn, but he cannot see anyone situated in the wrong place with respect to his mirrors, so he makes a turn based upon the available information at that time.

His company (assuming he is not the truck owner) has determined that his driving credentials are up-to-date and he is provided with a vehicle that should be legal in all the states to which it is destined to travel. But since it does not have that triple mount hood mirror the driver cannot see what he needs to see. This is a big problem. Ding on the company for failing to outfit the truck properly. And there is a second ding because we also know from the same woman’s death that there should have been some mandatory side guards installed to prevent riders from falling under the rear wheels of that truck. So Ding, Ding on the company!

Now we come to take a look at the cyclist. He is the only one in the scenario who has a clear vision of the roadway ahead and it appears that he would have seen the truck turning, so why not stop or slow down? Perhaps by the time he realized that the truck was turning he was already being dragged under the rear wheels. But assuming that he was in the bike lane and situated properly he really does not have much to answer for.

So how about the municipality? Well there should already be a law on the books to require that trucks of all sorts have the mirror we discussed and the side guards as well. If there is no law either at the state or municipal level then both entities should get a ding. And a very big one at that. Why? Because they are the ones who have put into play a new street design that requires cyclists to ride to the right of traffic and sometimes to the left of parked cars. This arrangement present has its tensions. On the one hand a rider wants to avoid the door zone (which it turns out is part of the very lane he is assigned to) and on the other he is trying to ride far enough right to ensure that trucks and cars and buses can give him three feet. But the really stupid thing is that many bike lanes cannot do both simultaneously. Let’s give the bastards another Ding, dammit.

Finally the consultants. These are the cycling advocates who trot around the city and suburbs trying to wield their influence just enough to justify the donations they keep asking for. Since all of this bike lane stuff is new to Americans (it is being transplanted in whole or in part from the European Bike Heaven) cities rely on these yokels to give them the straight poop. If they did not explain that there needed to be signage for truckers and even suggest putting up the kinds of mirrors commonly installed at the entrances and exits of every single municipal buildings parking garage to avoid crushing pedestrians walking past that entrance/exit then I want to know why. You could easily install such mirrors at troublesome intersections on lamp posts just below the sign that says “Watch out for cyclists just to the right of your hood”.

But We Prefer To Go After The Motorists

Motorists are an easy target. They scare the crap out of us cyclists as they whizz past. And they are constantly haranguing us about not riding lawfully. It would not be useful to turn out spotlight on the municipalities that build these ghastly bike lanes because without them we cannot get new infrastructure built. And we certainly have to turn a blind eye to the consultants that work hand-in-glove with the municipalities because they are our friends and we want a deserve lifetime achievement awards from them come next years banquet.

And how could we dare blame the cyclist even if he were at fault because that reflects poorly on our class of road users, so the driver it is. God bless the poor sod! We want to strip him of his license and ruin his life. And while we are doing this we want to stand in the hallway outside the courtroom and shout shame, shame for not obeying the rules! Of course we have all sorts of really good reasons why we don’t need to obey the rules ourselves but bringing that up just then would be bad form.

So rather than correcting the fundamental problem of lack of instrumentation on vehicles that could save lives we shoot first and aim later at the driver. This of course is what is wrong with Cycling Advocacy today. It is all about being adversarial and has very little to do with problem solving.

Do we really want to waste cycles crafting a vulnerable user law to remedy this specific problem? Obviously the answer is yes.

Shame on us for being so foolish and cowardly.

Some Additional Musings

When attempting to explain why drivers are often not charged with heavier crimes during accidents one respondent gave a reasoned analysis:

Reply by David Barish 8 hours ago
Criminal laws are for intentional acts. We don’t send somebody to prison for their negligence. The civil laws help remedy negligent acts. If I am not looking and I walk into somebody and they die I will not go to prison for murder. If my stupidity was such that I was reckless there is now a level of intent and I can be charged with reckless homicide. Although I may not go to prison for being an idiot I may certainly pay for it. I can be sued for my negligent act (he was reading his newspaper and walked right into…).

If a driver does something negligent he or she did something they may regret; something we all may have done at one time or another and lived to tell about it. We have all done this on our bike and in other places. If we harm someone we will not go to prison but we may pay damages in a civil case.

Once the stupidity increases from mere negligence to recklessness or a higher level of intent we are exposed to both criminal and civil penalties. If the driver had a duty to look for the cyclist and just turned without looking he might be reckless rather than merrely negligent. He may be exposed to both criminal and civil penalties. If he looked but did not see the guy or he simply made a mistake, he will only be civilly liable.

This makes sense to me. We want society’s pound of flesh for evil people who intend to do bad things. Society does not need a pound of flesh from somebody who screwed up. However, the injured party certainly may be entitled to a couple of kilos of flesh. That would be resolved in a civil claim.

If we punished negligent acts with criminal penalties we will have way too much activity in criminal courts. The volume would be so high that I fear there may be selective enforcement. Who gets a pass and who does not? Also, all of us risk spending time in the pokey for being mere idiots. I find that a particularly barbaric way to organize society.

How do we do the above and still promote a safe environement for cyclists? We pass laws that define certain acts as reckless. We require drivers to do things on the road such as giving 3 feet of clearance and yielding to cyclists, even foolish or dare I say…reckless ones. Given the danger of driving a motorized behemoth we increase the duties of the operator. What may be a mere “D’oh” in your house may indeed be reckless given that you are operating a vehicle. For example, you are entitled to be as drunk as you want walking the sidewalk so long as you don’t disturb the peace. If you get behind the wheel you better be below .08 bac. If you are Denzel Washington and flying an airplane there is no tolerance for any alcohol. If you shoot an arrow in the air in the Noble Square neighborhood, you better care. This is reckless and if you kill somebody you will likely face criminal charges. If you shoot that arrow in the woods in the middle of nowhere you may only be negligent. If you throw a snowball in the air in Noble Square and it lands on somebody’s head you will not likely have a criminal charge unless you were standing in the middle of a group of schoolkids.

I still don’t know what happened so I have no idea whether criminal charges and reckelss behavior apply. I suspect there will be civil iiability unless we find out the rider’s actions were the cause of the accident.

This kind of rationale is a bit too nuanced for some of the folks in the group to accept:

Reply by Duppie 3 hours ago
You say as long as the driver didn’t kill me intentionally we should not hold him personally responsible (ie. jail time) and should just rely on insurance to deal with and pay for the damages.

So if I get hit and killed by a car, it better be by a commercial truck? So my estate might be able to get more money in a civil case. (As far as I know commercial drivers have to carry a lot more insurance than private individuals). After all that is the only recourse we have according to your viewpoint.

Thanks. I’ll keep that in mind.

This reply may be evidence that when reasoning goes beyond you snarky is the best way to deflect what you do not wish to consider. Trained seals are always in evidence on this forum. They have a narrative that essentially says that cars and their operators are bad and nothing will satisfy the cycling community so much as seeing them suffer for their sins.

But then along comes this gem of a response which is something of a two-edged sword:

Reply by Michelle Stenzel 4 hours ago
In response to what David Barish said — I think the problem is that we as a society are very quick to say that any crash that is motor-vehicle-related is simply due to bad luck, or “mere” negligence, simply because the result was not the intention of the driver. However, my gut tells me that many crashes must occur due to poor judgments that are made by drivers and risks that they take over and over, MOST of the time, with no negative consequences. So they believe it’s not actually risky, just normal driving. (Read the book Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt for tons more on this.) The person who blows through a red light has nothing happen the first 100 times they do it, until that one time a 12-year-old kid steps out onto the crosswalk with their signal into their path. And then somehow, the death dismissed as just “bad luck” on the part of the victim, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and there’s sympathy for the driver because it “wasn’t really” their fault, he didn’t mean to harm anyone, and that “could have been me” in the driver’s seat. And so the driver just gets one ticket, maybe two, for “failing to yield to a pedestrian” and that’s it. And that’s just not right. I think often of the senior citizen who was struck and killed on Sheridan Road last year crossing on a crosswalk with the green (I wrote about it on Bike Walk Lincoln Park here). It was daylight, she was in the well-striped crosswalk, the cab was turning from a side street. How could running her over NOT be reckless behavior, and reckless homicide? I don’t think we should rely on civil actions to address this kind of crash.

I wonder if this cyclist ever thought how very easy it would be to use this explanation against the scofflaw behavior of cyclists? Did she ever wonder whether a cyclist who blows through signs and lights repeatedly ever gets to the point that their sensitivity to their own bad behavior and that of other cyclists begins to seem like “normal cycling”? Well that is exactly what I would imagine any non-cyclist would say and certainly this cyclist does as well.

Once again I have to stand in awe of the sanctimoniousness of cyclist towards drivers while not considering their own faults. Ultimately this sort of stand-off is not going to end as well as one would hope. If money gets tight and the current transportation act is renewed it will be increasing more difficult for cyclists to get buy-in from the general public to build additional cycling infrastructure. We will have burned all our bridges and that we leave us with a partially built city network and a largely untrained urban cycling population ill-equipped to deal with the admittedly mean streets.

How long will it take to jump start renewed interest in Vehicular Cycling in such a bleak future? Someday it may occur to the activists that a little problem solving and less histrionics is a far better approach to making the streets safer. Someday it may occur to cyclists that even motorists can be on their side if they will only dispense with that large chip they carry on their collective shoulder. But until that time I would suggest trying not to piss off so many potential allies.