Chicago ChainLink Forum Thread: Analysis of “An Accident”

Background Reading


The original poster had this tale of woe:

An “Accident”
Posted by Chris Lin on June 17, 2013 at 11:10pm

Sharrows ©


On Friday afternoon, while riding northbound on California near Humboldt Park, I had to squeeze the brakes to avoid hitting a car that suddenly swerved into the sharrow. I panicked and hit the brake a bit too hard, flew over my handle bar, and landed on the pavement with my mouth. I broke three of my front teeth and bruised my palms pretty bad, but other than that, I did not sustain any serious injuries. Just partially deformed and very, very sore. A couple of very nice bicyclists and a passerby stopped and helped me, and another nice lady drove me to the emergency room. I couldn’t have been more lucky.

So… fast forward to Monday. I was feeling good enough to move around, and I had a dentist appointment to make. Thought I’d go to the police station to file a report. At the 14th District station, the sergeant told me that he cannot file a report since I never made contact with the car. Told me that I caused this for myself, that I should not have been riding on a street without a bike lane. Then he went on to lecture me about how the PBLs were funded by car owner’s money and the least I could do is to stay out of their way. The report was filed as a “hospitalization” and we called it a day. I was pissed.

First of all, the stretch of California Ave near Humboldt Park has sharrows, and while riding on it, my upmost concern is to stay out of the ways of car doors. Secondly, a jerkwad swerved into the sharrow… for what purpose? The sharrow is half as wide as his traffic lane. What did he think he is going to accomplish? Thirdly, I’m saddened by the fact that because I didn’t actually collide with the car, I’m responsible for my own injuries.

This whole thing is just so maddening and I just wanted to rant. I think I will stay off my bike for a while.

Factual Description?

I have a few problems with the description above:

Sharrow vs. Bike Lane Diagram ©

Sharrow vs. Bike Lane Diagram

  • A “sharrow” lane? The very definition of a “sharrow” is that an icon is printed on the ground in the traffic lane to remind drivers that bicycles are “sharing” the lane. So either this lane was an actual bike lane (in which case it was not a “sharrow” lane) or the cyclist is under the misconception that the “sharrow” icon defines a lane with only one strip (to the right) and none to the left? I will visit the site myself  and take pictures to offer a better judgment. But were I the police officer sitting at the desk I would want some clarification.
  • If the lane was indeed marked with”sharrows” then the description of the situation “a jerkwad swerved into the sharrow” does not make sense. You cannot swerve “into” a sharrow lane. You can pull in front of a bicycle in the lane (passing on the left hopefully) and then stop. It is annoying and dangerous but as far as I know not illegal.
  • In situations where the city has decided to place “bike lanes” adjacent to the parked cars (on the cyclist’s right) indeed “Door Zone Collision” is an issue. As the writer states “the stretch of California Ave near Humboldt Park has sharrows, and while riding on it, my upmost concern is to stay out of the ways of car doors“. But again the problem appears to be with his description. If this was indeed a traffic lane marked with a “sharrow” to my knowledge he is “sharing” the lane with motorists. But his responsibility is to “take the lane” or “he can move as far to the right as practicable” which will probably keep him in the “Door Zone“.
  • If a rider is ‘forced‘ to hug the “Door Zone” then he has two options. He can (a) abandon that street in favor of one where he feels more comfortable or (b) adjust his speed to ensure that an opening door is not going to cause a collision. If you think about it if you cannot avoid a near collision with a car stopping in front of you in the “Door Zone” you are even less likely to avoid a collision with an opening door which moves a bit faster.
  • Then there is the question of technique. This rider may not have known how to execute a “panic stop“. I find that most upright riders are very unskilled at bike handling (even those that claim to ride around all year-round on city streets). I wonder if the lack of formal training is partly to “blame” for this?

The Florida Bicycle Association has a clear description of how to execute what I call a “panic stop“:

Most cyclists will never need to do a panic stop for real. A few will. I personally know two people who needed to do it. Neither knew how, both went over the handlebars and to the hospital. One required extensive reconstructive surgery and has permanent injuries.

We teach the instant stop in Traffic Skills 101 and I daresay, that most who learned it there, couldn’t do it in an emergency today. That’s because it takes practice to get it right and then, an occasional refresher. And like most athletic maneuvers, the set-up has huge influence on the outcome.

So what’s the anatomy of a panic stop? The front brake on a bicycle has potentially most of the bike’s stopping power. As brakes are applied, one’s weight will normally shift forward placing more weight on the front wheel than the rear so the rear will start to lose traction sooner. The farther forward the weight transfer the more effective the front brake. In extreme cases the front wheel may even lock up and over the handle bars you go.

The technique we teach for the instant stop is to come off the saddle, raise your butt up and behind the saddle over the rear wheel and hold it there with arm strength, while applying the brakes. Front brake pressure should be up to three times rear brake pressure. By doing this, you’re putting weight directly over the rear wheel, making the rear brake more effective and limiting the front brake’s ability to force you to lose control.

If the rear tire begins to skid, release pressure slightly on the front brake. The rear tire skidding is an indicator that the front brake is becoming too effective. Releasing the non-skidding brake is an unnatural act and must be practiced.

In order to get the leg positioning to push your your butt up and behind the saddle your feet must be at the three and nine o’clock position. And they have to stay there until you are again back over the saddle, just before completing the stop. For grins, lets call this butt-aft position the IS (instant stop) position.

Cyclists who are operationally good at the instant stop will clearly have their butt behind the saddle. Cyclists who are expert, can actually lay their belly on the saddle.

There are at least two exceptions to this situation:

  • Upright riders on a tandem do not need to perform a “panic stop” by leaving their saddles. In fact bikes like the one I ride (a long wheelbase recumbent) are also no subject to the need for a “lift your butt” movement.
  • Cargo bikes with either a rear storage area (filled with cargo) or one with the front hopper (again full) should be safe in coming to a sudden stop with the rider having to “lift their butt” off the saddle.

Urban Cyclist I have observed seem to be unaware of many of the bike handling skills taught in Traffic Skills 101. This is in my mind a source of the collision problems encountered city driving. The propensity of Urban Cyclists to attempt make the case that “cycling is safe” seems wildly at odds with their panic over having to ride in city traffic.

Responses From The Readers of the Thread

One of the responses that seemed most promising was this one:

Reply by Steven Vance 6 hours ago
Don’t believe the police officer – they are incorrect in just about every way. I’m going to assume there are some readers who don’t know what their rights are and I’m gonna spell ’em out because your story got me upset.

Go back to the police station with this burned to a DVD:

California Avenue has a bike lane between Chicago Avenue and North Avenue. From North Avenue to Milwaukee Avenue it has sharrows. Sharrows, being ~40 inches wide, occupy about 1/4th of a 14 feet wide travel lane. But legally, they don’t occupy anything. They have no legal meaning. They serve only as a signal – people can still drive in/on sharrows. Two points for anyone who can guess what that signal is. I take it back, it has one legal meaning: you can’t park in a lane that’s been marked as a shared-use lane.

You’re allowed to bike on any roadway in Chicago, provided it’s not Lake Shore Drive or an expressway. You’re supposed to bike in the right lane, towards the right, but you can leave that position for just about any reason (rocks, glass, your personal comfort, a pothole, door zone, cats that dart into the bike lane). The traffic lanes belong to no one.

Good description of the “sharrow” lane. So the OPs claim that someone “swerved into” his lane is not correct. And that is what I would have argued in the first instance. I was not there when the policeman was attempting to describe this problem and neither was Steve. The problem that Steve has here is that he might be assuming that the OPs description of what the officer said is accurate.

It seems to me though that the lack of factual understanding of how the “sharrow” is used means that we have here a person with a limited understanding of bicycle infrastructure. And again this is a problem that could be easily remedied by a Traffic Skills 101 class.

What A Lousy Staged Scene!

I was a bit amused while at the same time annoyed by the fact that the video clip cited was as poorly executed as it was. Take for instance, the staged “right hook” at 3:55 in the video. Here are the facts:

  • The car and driver are on a side street, so there is no implied “bike lane“. In this situation the bicycle should be “taking the lanebehind the car.
  • The car comes to a stop but does not signal a right turn. This is his only mistake.
  • The bicycle rider does not come to a complete stop. Instead she is doing a “rolling stop” through the stop sign. She does cease to pedal but never actually stops.
  • Had the cyclist come to a full stop she would not have been able to be “cut off” because the car would have complete the right turn before she was able to get underway again.

How on earth does a city enforcement video demonstrate this kind of problem when the rider of the bicycle is not executing a full stop? This is a fairly silly example anyway. What would have been far more realistic would have been a car making a right turn into a driveway in front of a cyclist on a street where an actual bike lane existed. In the example above no such lane was present. So the positioning of the rider on the bike was her choice. The driver had no reason to provide her passage on the right, since she should have been “directly behind” him.

Reply by Steven Vance 7 hours ago
The Traffic Enforcement for Bicyclist Safety video was created by CDOT and by the Chicago Police Department. All of the police officers are actual officers, not actors. Every police officer is supposed to have seen it.

Someone at CDOT does not understand best bicycle practices. If that is the case how on earth can they design streets for bicycle infrastructure? Once again the CDOT is screaming ineptitude. My guess is that the officers were asked to respond to the details of the situation but that the scenarios being used were created (i.e. staged in some cases) by CDOT and their chosen videographer. Somebody at one of these two departments ought to undertake to fix that one portion of the video.

What the municipal code says:

9-16-020 (f) Turning right in front of a bicycle

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

Other subsections within this section have been omitted, showing only the subsections relevant to bicycling.

Again this is referring to the situation I think should have been used. This one did not require and probably did not imply that the auto overtake the rider and the rider was not in a “bike lane“. What this law is intended to instill in drivers is an awareness that the “bike lane” is another lane of travel. So in reality the car is in the second land from the right and not the turning lane. So in recognition of that fact the bicycle should be allowed to cross the intersection or at the very least not be impeded before reaching the intersection by a vehicle trying to turn into a driveway or alleyway or whatever.

In fact were I inclined to do so I would offer this as a prime example of why a “rolling stop” (which is what the rider was executing) is so very dangerous. I just reviewed the clip and noted that the car and the bike approach the stop sign with the bicycle in the rear. The car does a “quick stop” which means that you can see his tail lights but it does not mean that he has paused long enough to scan properly from left to right and even look behind him.

The cyclist is guilty of doing a “rolling stop” which in this situation is clearly uncalled for. Even Randy Cohen my favorite “whipping boy” supposedly only executes such a stop if no other vehicle is around.

What the car driver most certainly did not do was signal his intention to turn.

So what you actually have here are two vehicle operators behaving badly and one of them being the more vulnerable is being stupid by trying to execute a “rolling stop” in the presence of an automobile.

Another respondent wrote:

Reply by Juan Primo 59 minutes ago
Was this more of a bike handling problem? Even though a car surprised you, you panicked and braked too hard and endo’d.

Once I was driving and a car swerved suddenly into my lane in a bad snowstorm. I couldn’t stop in time and I rear ended him. The accident was legally my fault because I should have had the control of my car to avoid hitting him. It’s a similar circumstance to yours.

The cop has his opinion about where bikers should ride, but that’s his opinion.

The OP responded this way:

Reply by Chris Lin 39 minutes ago
I suppose it could be, but with a swerving car maybe 5 feet ahead of me, packed full of parked car on my right, I didn’t really have the time to process the situation. Could I have handled this better? Maybe. But hindsight is 20/20.

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Because the OP keeps referring to the “sharrow” as being “narrow” it makes me wonder if he is describing a “bike lane” with the term “sharrow“. It is an important distinction because it means that there are some expectations about behavior (which while not always delivered) explain his behavior.

Let me just say this, I am going to assume that he is really talking about a “bike lane“. I should say though that once again a small bit of training of cyclists would help them explain their problems to each other and more intelligently converse with officers of the law. Heck they might even be so well trained that they could quote chapter and verse to support their contentions.

But the really telling thing here is that he claims that because of the obvious narrowness of the “sharrow“, “Logically I didn’t think that is even a possibility, so I wasn’t prepared for it.” Well shame on you. I am always amazed at the stupid things both drivers and cyclists do whether I am in the city or the suburbs. You simply cannot close off to your mind (and your physical preparedness) what you think should not be possible or never occur. This is probably why the policeman was an unsympathetic as he seems to have been.

The fact that your fellow cyclists however are going to coddle you and wipe your nose for you is pathetic. They know better and this sort of thing goes on far too often on this forum. You are for goodness sakes riding in the city! Things happen here beyond your wildest imaginings. Get over it! Keep your head on a swivel. And travel at a speed that is consistent with your ability to maintain control of your bike and avoid injury and collisions.

My chief disgust with the Urban Cyclist Community is that they knowingly grieve over cyclists who ride bikes with no brakes in bike lanes alongside parked cars and the pout when that cyclist cannot stop in time to avoid a “Door Zone Collision“. If they want to grieve go ahead but at least have the honesty to confront the stupidity of the cyclist in trying to do something like that. This OP is not guilty of that sort of thing, but it his experience makes it all the more obvious that as a community we cannot tolerate brakeless riding in situations where even a rider with brakes is unable to avoid injury.

We Need To Stop Whining And Get Trained



The OP in this case is like so very many Urban Cyclists I have encountered on the streets of Chicago, essentially clueless. This particular fellow either did not know how to execute a “panic stop” or because he was traveling faster than conditions warranted was caught unawares. What I see on the streets are cyclists behaving as if they are clearly more concerned about getting wherever it is they need to be than taking the time to be safe. I watched a half dozen on more on Father’s Day 2013 do things I would never want to attempt. Most of it had to do with being unwilling to pause at both stop signs and traffic lights.

The other situation that is quite prevalent in city riding is the lack of space cyclists give automobiles. We have a whining approach to complaints that motorists “buzzed” past us and indeed they do. But what then is the justification for riding between cars in traffic where you come close enough to be crushed by their wheels if you lose control?

I watch in horror as cyclists squeeze past drivers seemingly without regard to what might happen if a bus pulls away from the curb  while they are passing it on the left as they ride very closely to the right of a garbage truck! That one always makes me cringe.

The important thing is not to spend so much time on the ChainLink whining about the situations you get yourself into but rather spend time in a classroom learning to avoid those situations in the first instance and then if forced to deal with them how to best control your bike during a “panic stop“.

Municipalities Should Be Held Accountable For Bike Lane Placement And Widths

The 3-Feet Law is a travesty if it does not cut both ways.

Chicago Bike Infrastructure

Chicago Bike Infrastructure

Cars should not be allowed within three feet of me when passing and I should not be allowed to pass them with less than three feet. Fair is far. But the reality is that municipalities have streets into which they have managed to “shoe horn” bikes lanes of varying degrees of sane design. The worst of these are the streets onto which have been stenciled actual bike lanes that have two lines with an icon in the center, but the lane is barely wider than a single bike.

This produces a couple of problems:

  • Faster‘ riders are sometimes stuck behind slower riders with no real room to pass on the left. And if they do their messenger bags are woefully close to traffic where they can be ‘grabbed‘ by a vehicle outer surface pulling the rider beneath wheels with tragic results.
  • Most of these bike lanes are actually positioned in the “Door Zone“. The so-called “solution” to this manufactured problem is to put the burden on the persons (now pedestrians) exiting the vehicles.

We are unlikely to see a reasonable solution to this problem because cyclists and their advocacy groups are painfully aware that complaining might slow down the addition of new bicycle infrastructure and they do not wish to “bite the hand that feeds them“. But some streets frankly do not warrant being bicycle-friendly thoroughfares. Even a trained cyclist would have difficulty in some situations because if you “take the lane” you end up antagonizing cars piled up behind you, honking incessantly. And the only alternative is to accept riding in the “Door Zone” but Urban Cyclists seem all to have failed physics class as Junior High Schoolers and pretend that they can ride in that situation as fast as they would if further to the left.

Folks, this is madness!