Tag Archives: bike safety

Two Lives Lost to Reckless Bicycling

23 Jun

While I was dealing with doctors, chemo and its aftereffects, I still kept up on news as best I could.  As readers of this blog know, one of the prime dangers to pedestrians, in addition to bicyclists using the sidewalk as their personal expressways, is bicyclists running red lights.  Although running red lights is against the law throughout DC for bicyclists as well as autos, this law is virtually never enforced against bicyclists.  Yet every day I walked to work I had to be especially alert for bicyclists running the red lights, often after appearing from behind stopped cars to fly through the light.  This behavior is a daily occurrence and many pedestrians have been injured either by being hit a glancing blow or by falling trying to get out of the way to avoid being hit.   Still no enforcement.  But this spring two deaths pointed to the need for MPD to take this problem more seriously.

Pedestrian, Jane Bennett Clark

The first event was the death of Kiplinger editor, Jane Bennett Clark.  On March 9, at evening rush hour, she was going home from her office when she stepped off the curb into the pedestrian crosswalk with the walk signal and all cars stopped.  She had every right to expect she would get safely to the other side where the Metro Station was.  Instead she was hit by a bicyclist running the red light.  While the Post article was not specific regarding her injuries, I am pretty sure that her head hit the concrete street, which is a virtual death sentence particularly for older people.  Despite being rushed to the hospital by DC Fire and EMS, she died the next day.  So far the 27-year old male bicyclist has only been charged with “disobeying a traffic control device” according to a Post report in April.  While the article I read indicated the investigation was ongoing, I have read nothing further since April.

Nor have I read any comment by Mr. “do nothing for the people” Ward 2 council member Jack Evans. When I was first campaigning to keep bicyclists from riding on the sidewalks, I was told by his office that I needed a group behind me before he would pay any attention and a member of my own Dupont Circle Citizens Association cautioned me that “some one important” needed to be hurt before anyone in office would pay attention.  And I’m sure Ms. Bennett Clark’s death got more press because she was well-known, unlike the Asian man a couple of years before who was hit by a hit and run bicyclist on Capitol Hill on a Thanksgiving Day weekend.  I remember hunting for news of his death a couple of days later and finding only a one-liner in regional news.  To me every person is important and one death is one too many.  Still I see little evidence that this daily danger to pedestrians is being taken seriously by the MPD or City Council.

I was encouraged by the comment responses to the article on the charge brought against the bicyclist in Ms. Bennett Clark’s case.  Although I read and printed out only the first 20 comments of 233, every comment, most from responsible bicyclists, showed that ordinary people know how wrong the current situation is.  These comments were representative:

Dan Schiff:  I am a cyclist and I am often more fearful of other cyclists than I am of drivers.  I blame lack of enforcement of cycling laws, as well as inadequate bike infrastructure, which makes some cyclists feel like they have to be rogue ninjas to navigate the streets.

Cyclists should follow the same safety rules as everyone else:  Be aware of what’s in front of you, to your sides, and behind you.  Yield to pedestrians.  Make yourself seen and heard.

Mike Pcf1:  Like some of the posts below, I work in DC and bicyclists never stop at read lights or obey most traffic laws.  If you don’t get out of their way crossing the street they give you the dirty look when they should be the one yielding.  I’m surprised there aren’t more accidents like these.  Police need to crack down on cyclists who run red lights.

Bialk:  As a life-long bicyclist, I am the first to say something has to be done about bicyclists in DC.  There are apparently no laws and certainly no enforcement governing their apparently free-for-all use of roads and sidewalks.  While some oblige, most completely disregard traffic laws.  The police need to get off their phones and actually do something.

Other commenters, bicyclists themselves, brought up the need for licensing bicyclists and tests to get them as other states require.  And one commenter brought up the sidewalk bicycling issue:

Starling1:  Earlier this week, I was walking, just before sunset, on the sidewalk.  A bicyclist passed me, just barely missing me.  I had no idea he was there until he was beside me.  If I had moved even 6 inches to my left, he would have hit me, and I would have been fortunate to avoid the hospital or morgue.  Virginia law requires bicyclists to ride in the street and observe the same laws as motorists.  This bicyclists should be charged wit manslaughter or vehicular homicide.

Ordinary people understand the need for stranger laws and enforcement of the ones that exist.  How long before the Powers-That-Be wake up and do something?

Bicyclist, Dan Neidhardt

Sadly, when bicyclists disobey traffic laws that are their for everyone’s safety, sometimes the bicyclist is the victim.  That is what happened to Dan Neidhardt when on April 28 he rode through a red light and collided with a pickup truck at First Street and Florida Avenue NW.  The Post also wrote more than one story about him because he was part of a small artist community in Brookland.  According to the May 13 article, Mr. Neidhardt had taken up cycling as part of his exercise regimen as he turned 70.  Four years later he’s obviously become as serious cyclist, takin on 20 mile rides and riding a $5000 carbon road bicycle.  But sadly he never learned the rules of the road.  His death could have been avoided if he had and the Brookland artist community wouldn’t have lost a friend.  This tragedy is yet another argument for licensing bicyclists as we do auto drivers.  At lead they will know the rules when they set out instead of just watching others who may be intentionally ignoring them.  Whether cyclists follow the rules or not is their choice.  But more enforcement of existing laws would help them make the right choice.

This has been a long post.  So I will just end by saying, to pedestrians, bicyclists and auto drivers alike–BE ALERT; DON’T GET HURT.

 

Back in the Saddle

16 Jun

As my regular readers know, I had to put this blog on hiatus last October as I entered the hospital for a serious operation. I didn’t mention that if was for Endometrial Cancer Stage IVB because I didn’t want to bum everyone out.  And, having no prior experience in my whole family with any form o cancer, I foolishly thought I would be back to my old self earlier.  But it was not to be.  I have since learned that my cancer, which gives no early symptoms, is a a particularly virulent form that the late PBS anchor Gwen Ifill also had.

But, although I’m not in remission, I am on a “drug holiday” and have the strength to return to part-time work and writing this blog.  Before posting new insights on the dangers to pedestrians of sidewalk bicycling and other reckless behavior, I do want to thank regular readers Bob and Harriet for checking in on me during my absence.  And to welcome new regular reader, Emily, who joined us in May.

Retirement of a friend to all travelers

Unfortunately, one of the things that happened while I was laid up was that Robert Thomson, Dr. Gridlock of the Washington Post, retired in April from writing his regular column.  As you know if you read his column or this blog where he was often quoted, he always had sensible things to say.  And he printed letters that I wrote as well.  His wisdom will be missed.  So I will close this post with his closing words:    “My wish for the future is that people stop dividing themselves into categories based on how they get around and just look out for each other..  We’re all in this together.

Safe travels everyone.”

As readers of this blog know, I agree with that statement and ride a bike myself and drive a car as well.  And I have praised good bicyclists for their riding.  I am against sidewalk bicycling because it is dangerous both for pedestrians and bicyclists and for that reason is not allowed in most cities.  and so I’ll close this post as I usually do.

Especially in summer with many more people in town and not always following traffic rules or paying attention:  STAY ALERT! DON’T GET HURT!

 

Holiday Potpourri

22 Dec

First, I hope you are all having a wonderful holiday season.  This post contains a few bits of info and even a movie review that I didn’t have time for this year.

But, first, be sure to read the comment to my last post (Holidays are coming…) from one of this blog’s faithful readers who tells a story that’s all to familiar to DC pedestrians.  He’s walking with the pedestrian light in the crosswalk but has to do so really carefully because cyclists are running the red light.  Not just the first one, whom he yelled at to watch the light, but five or six behind that guy!

Interestingly, after I got that comment and approved it I heard about a bicyclist in DC near the MD border who ran a red light and got hit by a car.  A couple days later he died and the Post article confirmed that he had been running the red light.  A sad way to go when it can be so easily avoided by just following the law.

New MPD Enforcement Initiative

And speaking of the law, I saw a piece two weeks ago on NBC4 News that the police are going to start enforcing the law against bikers riding in the street, forcing them to obey the same laws as other traffic–no running red lights, talking on your cell phone while riding, etc.  And MPD should do this because cyclists in the street are traffic, whether they like it or not.  Only problem I see is it will force more onto the sidewalks, where traffic laws don’t apply, only a few ambiguous rules and, of course, common courtesy, which the rogue bikers ignore.

City Paper’s Best Place to get hit while riding a Bike

Every spring the City Paper comes out with their “best” awards.  And this one caught my attention because the winner was Connecticut Avenue NW, which runs through my neighborhood and where I used to do more shopping than I do now, in part because even on a lazy weekend you will find reckless cyclists riding on the narrow sidewalks hitting pedestrians who dare to stop to look at a shop window.  The author of the City Paper piece notes that riding from Chevy Chase Circle to Farragut Square is a problem–no bike lanes, potholes,  and MD drivers, etc.  His solution, of course, is to ride on the sidewalk any place outside of the CBD.  But he does add: Sidewalk riding is still a bad decision since even the sleepiest portions of Connecticut Avenue are filled with pedestrians, even more so around Dupont Circle and the National Zoo.  Oh, pedestrians, we’re such pests, walking on the only place we’re allowed to walk, filling up the space so the bikes can’t speed by easily.

Best Movie of the Year for Readers of this Blog

Finally, earlier this year I saw a Noah Bambach  film, “While We’re Young”.  Good movie about a 40ish couple who meet a young couple in their twenties who seem to have a lot of the same likes and dislikes, and introduce them to experiences that have them reliving their youth.  The whole film takes place in NYC so, when Ben Stiller, the 40ish guy, and Adam Driver, the millenial, are biking in Manhattan, amid much more serious auto traffic than MD drivers and world class potholes, they are biking in the street, of course, and I think not just because it’s against the law to bike on the sidewalks but because they’re real men, not these wimpy big kids we have here.  But, about 2/3 of the way through the film came a line I didn’t expect, but definitely made my day.  Ben and Adam are walking on the sidewalk in downtown Manhattan when a rogue biker speeds by them.  And it’s Adam, the young guy, who yells at him:  Ride in the street, Man!

With that, I say belated Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanza and Happy New Year to all.  But, remember, STAY ALERT!  DON’T GET HURT!  Because I want you back here reading and commenting in 2016.

 

 

Scary tales from Manhattan

10 Oct

I’ve been traveling recently and not able to take the time to post as often as I’d like. But when I was in NYC on a combination business and pleasure trip a week or so ago, I was told by friends about a woman who was hit and killed by a bicyclist in Central Park in September. My friends didn’t remember all the details, but as luck would have it there was an article in the NYT I was reading as I was coming back in the train. I cut it out and don’t have time to look for the link this time. Sorry. But it is a cautionary tale that needs some explanation to those not familiar with NYC. At any rate, the article was in the September 29 print edition in the New York section and entitled “Deaths expose Chaos of the Loop.”

Background

Back in the early 1980’s the NYC pols got what they thought was a great idea. And those of us who could walk to Central Park and used it as our playground on weekends thought it was a great idea too. The idea was that they would close most of the roads in Central Park to automobile traffic on the weekends so that joggers and bicyclists could use the roads, which form a big loop around the park, for exercise on the weekends. I was at my first job out of school, had a neat apartment in a newly renovated building on the not yet too trendy or expensive Upper West Side and thought this was pretty cool. But, when I was biking, I tried to do it responsibly, watching out for pedestrians in the crosswalks that cut across the loop at various places. And when I walked across the park to play paddle tennis with a friend, I had to use those cross walks.

A Good IDEA Spoiled

It didn’t take long for bicyclists to begin to abuse the privilege we’d all be given. Even in the 1980’s there were accidents and injuries from bicyclists hitting joggers and pedestrians. I took extra care, waiting for a break in the constant action before running across the crosswalk to the sidewalk that led to the courts.

And Now..
Over the years I moved to other cities and lost track of this problem. But a couple of years ago, I opened up my Sunday New York Daily New, which I still get because unlike the NYT, it’s the people’s paper. And what did I find? An article about a legally blind jogger who had been hit and severely injured in Central Park by a hit and run biker. This would not have been news except that the jogger was also a lawyer and, because there was no way to find the biker, he sued the city for non-enforcement of the traffic laws in the park, speeding and yielding. This came just as I was starting the campaign here to get bicyclists off the sidewalks in crowded DC areas. So I was suddenly interested again. I used this article in my hearing testimony and also in a letter to the Mayor and my council rep to show what could happen. IF YOU DON’T ENFORCE EXISTING LAW, THE CITY COULD BE SUED.

Fast forward to the present day. I don’t know how that jogger-lawyer’s suit is going. It’s probably still going through the courts, or there might have been a settlement. But now non-enforcement in Central Park has reached a new level–death. The one that made the news was the 57 year old woman because the biker actually stayed at the scene and was not charged with a crime or ticketed according to the NYT article. Why not? That is what a lot of New Yorkers are asking. The bicyclist said he had swerved to avoid other pedestrians. The article also noted that in August a 17 year old bicyclist, dodging a pedicab crashed into a 75 year old man, sending him hard to the pavement. He died 3 days later. Again no criminal charges or traffic summons were filed.

Police can’t file charges if there are no witnesses who can say what happened and no evidence, like the skid marks they can get from cars, to indicate speed. BUT REGULAR ENFORCEMENT of speed laws and yielding laws would definitely help as they would here.

In each case, you’ll note, the bicyclist said he was trying to avoid another “obstacle”. MY QUESTION IS: WHY NOT RIDE SLOWLY ENOUGH SO YOU CAN STOP, AND EVEN DISMOUNT? THAT”S SAFE CYCLING!

And in DC

The NYC situation applies here because the same mentality of so many bicyclists causes problems here and it’s only a matter of time before we have another pedestrian killed by a bicyclist running a red light or speeding along a sidewalk when he suddenly comes upon a pedestrian who turns a corner. WE NEED CONSISTENT ENFORCEMENT OF AT LEAST THE LAWS ALREADY ON THE BOOKS.

And with that, I wish you a happy Columbus Day holiday, and remember to STAY ALERT!DON’T GET HURT!

I Bike Therefore I Am

24 Jul

This post’s title is the mantra of many bicyclists. There’s even a T-shirt that trumpets it to the world. But, as we’ve learned, there are bicyclists and then there are the others, more properly described as rogues or idiots on bikes.

When I first say a guy wearing this T-shirt, it was shortly after I got the snarky pingback from Urban Scrawler Schneider (see my earlier post, Tips for Pedestrians). The link again is

http://urbanscrawldc.com/2014/06/06/will-the-district-bar-bicycling-on-sidewalks/

And, after all the fuss in the last couple of weeks about bicyclists’ behavior, it seems a good time to discuss the difference between good bicyclists and the rogues and idiots. Saving the best for last, let’s start with the latter.

The Bad and the Ugly

The T-shirt quote sent me back to Descartes’ original saying: “I think therefore I am.” Of course, Descartes, being a great philosopher as well as a mathematician, did not stop there but added: “It is not enough to have a good mind. The main thing is to use it well.” As Shakespeare said, “ay, there’s the rub.”

Bikers who don’t use their minds well, like Urban Scrawler Schneider, bike recklessly and try to use high-end
words without fully understanding their meaning. You know that your blogger learned early in life to never guess, but look it up. So, when he threw “crotchety” at me, I looked it up and found it fits him more than me. A “crotchet”, it turns out is “a highly individual and usually eccentric opinion or preference.” And someone who is crotchety is one who is “subject to crotchets, whims or ill temper.

And what is more crotchety than to think that, based on one personal incident when he ran into a pedestrian on a sidewalk, pedestrians are never hurt when hit.?

Or that people who recognize safety and quality of life issues for pedestrians and bicyclists alike when bicyclists ride recklessly on the sidewalk are NOMS (“not on my sidewalk” types), instead of being concerned about all of us? “Everyone is a pedestrian”, as the opening to the DDOT Master Plan Pedestrian section reminds us. Most of us are going to work, pushing our kids in strollers, often with a toddler also in hand, getting groceries and sometimes stopping to have a friendly talk with a neighbor.

Or that pedestrians have to wait until this Urban Scrawler gets a bike lane on every street and no cars in his way before he allows pedestrians to live without fear of being run over by bikers like him?

On the other hand, he did give your blogger a great quote that I’ve already used in correspondence with DDOT and others. After failing Research 101 on biker/pedestrian accidents resulting in serious injury or death, he goes on to say what your blogger and others have said all along:And any one who’s ever ridden on the sidewalk with any frequency has probably run into a pedestrian at some point…” But in Scrawler Schneider’s crotchety fantasy world, the pedestrians are “fine” after being hit. If you check past blog posts here, including links to other sites, you will find ample evidence of injuries, including one to your blogger, and even the death by a hit and run bicyclist that was a major reason for starting this blog.

Finally, the Good

I Googled the bike mantra to see where it came from. That how I found out about the T-shirts. Although I didn’t find the origin, I did find a wonderful post from last summer by a good bicyclist on the Crazytownblog, which is a blog for the NYC artistic community. Here’s the link:

http://www.crazytownblog/crazytown/2013/08/i-bike-therefore-i-am.html

In it an actor, singer and writer named Sam Perwin advises a novice NYC female bicyclists on how and why to bike in Manhattan. He says, although scared at first, it took him only 6 weeks to become confident and happy bicycling in a much tougher bike environment than DC. Although you’ll enjoy reading the whole post, I’ll highlight below his basic points without his added explanation in most cases. I’ve also put a few comments of my own in brackets.

Sam, whom Descartes would love, says:

7 Simple Rules for Biking in NYC and not killing yourself or someone else

1. For God’s sake wear a helmet.
2. Ride in the direction of traffic. Yes, that means in the bike lanes too.
3. And, on that note, use the bike lanes when they’re there.
4. Obey traffic signals…most of the time.
[I disagree with “most of the time”, but here’s Sam’s excerpted comment: “OK, so we’ve all crossed against a light when no cars were coming… But, for the most part, it’s dangerous, and no one likes that guy who’s trying [to] jam his bike through a perpendicular throng of pedestrians[my emphasis added here] Wait for the light.”
5. Buy a lock long enough to get through your frame and your wheel.
6. Choose non-major cross streets. [Sam’s excerpted comment, which is definitely applicable to streets like Corcoran Street in Dupont here]: …Most are tree-lined and even if there’s no bike lane, there’s usually plenty of room.”
7. The West and East Side highways are your friends.[These have dedicated bike lanes, like 15th Street, NW, in DC]

And Sam concludes:
“So take the plunge! Citi Bikes [NYC’s version of Capital Bikeshare] makes it easy for sure, but don’t be one of those drunk idiots riding on the sidewalk. Those people are the reason survival of the fittest exists, and they will be roadkill soon enough. Don’t be like them. Get out, get on a bike, and enjoy the end of summer.”

And, as a former Manhattan bicyclist myself (when there were zero bike lanes), I say–Sam, I couldn’t have said it better. And, to paraphrase the song "New York, New York"–
If you can bike the streets there, you can bike 'em any where!

Back at you next week with a few facts gleaned from the WaPo columns and stories. Meanwhile, STAY ALERT! DON'T GET HURT! DO THAT MOVE DC SURVEY! And, like Sam, I hope you enjoy the end of the summer.