The Real Truth About Protected Bike Lanes

Background Reading


Heads up! There is no such thing as a safe protected bike lane. Proof of that is unfortunately part of the explanation of why Kathryn Rickson died while doing exactly what she was supposed to be doing in a protected bike lane with a “Bike Box” turn device. Jonathan Maus writes about the tragedy:

Ryan Gaughan at Rickson's ghost bike on May 18th, 2012

Ryan Gaughan at Rickson’s ghost
bike on May 18th, 2012

This coming Thursday will mark one year since the tragic death of 28 year-old Kathryn Rickson. On the night of May 16th, Rickson was riding downhill on SW Madison Ave just one block from City Hall when a man driving a large delivery truck turned right onto SW 3rd and the two vehicles collided.

Now Rickson’s friends and family have planned a memorial event to remember her. I asked Ryan to share a few thoughts about Kathryn, the collision, and this past year…

Photo of Kathryn Rickson

Photo of Kathryn Rickson

“12 months ago my friend, lover, and partner, Kathryn Rickson, was killed by a delivery truck while riding her bike in downtown Portland. The fact that this accident happened at all is unbearable, but particularly devastating given that she was killed while riding in a bike lane, through a “green box” intersection, at a high traffic bicycle street (SW 3rd & Madison).*

Since that time, the range of emotions for me and Kathryn’s family have shifted between trying to accept her loss, while coping with anger at the fact that such an accident was even possible. Kathryn was an exceedingly conscientious and safe bike rider, and was commuting home from a class at PSU at the time she was killed. I did not have the opportunity to say goodbye to her; she was quite simply plucked from life in a moment.

Kathryn was also a co-parent to my daughter, Madeline. My daughter and I are doing our best to continue with life in Kathryn’s absence. If anything, we have both learned that loving each other, and other people, to the best of our ability is absolutely crucial in this healing process. Words, of course, can not begin to express how deeply appreciative we are of our friends, family, and the Portland bicycling community who have supported us in innumerable ways.

We invite everyone in Portland who is concerned with bicycle safety to attend Kathryn’s memorial this upcoming Thursday, May 16, at 6:00pm, at the intersection where the accident occurred at SW 3rd and Madison, in downtown Portland. We hope that this will be an opportunity for us to all share a moment of silence and reflection on Kathryn’s life, to mourn for her death and the untimely death of all bicyclists killed by automobiles, and to honor the relationship we have with our loved ones.”

One thing that Jonathan Maus makes clear is that the driver of the truck was not ticketed:

[*Note: The DA found no criminal negligence on the part of the truck operator and the Bureau of Transportation released a report about bike box effectiveness which cited high bicycle speeds as one behavior that contributes to right-hook collisions.]

Assessing Blame

In every unwanted collision there are circumstances which make its occurrence more likely. I have to think that in this situation the “Bike Box” played  a major role. If you are not familiar with these things you should visit the Copenhagenize site where one of its chief proponents (if not its inventor) holds court about the values of protected bike lanes (PBLs).

Having used these devices I can only offer that they are a crude very low volume option for the quirkiness of the protected bike lane. They are what you are left with when you place a PBL on the right side of the road and then suddenly reach an intersection where you must make a left turn. In urban settings the cyclists simply ignore these things because it takes two light changes to get around a corner (where a single one would suffice if you were moving through an intersection using the left turn lane.)

And given the propensity of Urban Cyclists to disregard traffic controls of any sort, these “bike boxes” are a veritable joke. But they are the darlings of the folks who are eager to get bicycle infrastructure instituted where they live because the PBLs are a sign of progress. Time will tell whether we have been sold a bill of goods or not.

In the meantime Mikael Colville-Andersen will keep peddling his ideas and writers will visit him in Copenhagen to sit at his feet and learn the wonders of bicycle infrastructure engineering because either he or the folks in Amsterdam are the only game in town. But expect the litigious American society to eventually rise up and challenge his wisdom. These are Kludges and nothing more.