Motorist Hits Cyclist in Valencia Street Bike Lane

One of San Francisco’s most popular bicycle thoroughfares
was the scene of a crash on Tuesday, when an automobile incautiously pulled out
of a parking spot and struck a bicyclist riding in the bike lane on Valencia
Street near 20th Street.

2678873269_aa66065604_b.jpgValencia Street’s bike lane. Flickr photo: mary jane watson

According to the police report, the driver “unsafely pulled
out” and hit the bicyclist around 9:17 p.m. The driver admitted fault on the
scene and said, “I pulled out, I just didn’t see” the cyclist. The cyclist was
transferred by ambulance to San Francisco General Hospital with a laceration
above the left eye and shoulder pain, the report said.

In an account of the crash posted on Mission Mission, Rachel, the bicyclist’s girlfriend, wrote that she was riding single file in front of him, that they were riding  "as far left as possible" in the bike lane, and both "had lights on our bikes." She also wrote that as she passed the parked car, it "zoomed out after me and my boyfriend hit her front tire and went flying."

Her account of the injuries is similar to the police report’s, though in greater detail. "He suffered multiple facial fractures, some stitches and a bruised shoulder and is damn lucky," she wrote. "Probably the worst part of it was being stuck in the emergency room of SFGH for 15 hours." 

A citation was not issued, though San Francisco Police
Department spokesperson Sgt. Lyn Tomioka said one could be eventually. “When
this goes to Traffic, it may result in a citation,” said Tomioka. “They often
do.”

The collision, which occurred through no fault of the
cyclist, highlights the danger posed to cyclists by inattentive motorists. SFBC
Program Director Andy Thornley said this particular crash likely could not have
been avoided through any physical improvements to the bikeway. “Valencia Street
is about to undergo quite a thorough transformation,” said Thornley. “The
parking lanes are going to get a little bit wider so that the car doors won’t
be right there against the bike, because right now that’s probably the biggest
hazard on Valencia for cycling.”

While the wider lanes should help reduce dooring, collisions
involving drivers pulling out would not be reduced. “None of the changes that
are happening on Valencia would really address this phenomenon,” said Thornley.
“I don’t know that there’s any facility that would deal with this.”

In the absence of greater driver awareness, even physically separated bike lanes might not be a perfect solution. “A separated bikeway, either as a
channel that’s parallel to the standard street or as a swapped bikeway-parking
lane, eliminates some of the hazards, but it potentially introduces new
conflicts,” said Thornley.

“Conventional traffic engineers and transportation planners
always point out that it seems like you’re going to be safer if you have a
separated bikeway, but whenever you come to an intersection, you’ll still have
the problem of paths crossing. And along the middle of the block, wherever
there’s a driveway or any kind of interruption in the curb, there’s the
potential for a car crossing that bike lane path.”

Bicycle infrastructure has a major role to play, but
motorist education could be just as essential to preventing such collisions, if
not more so.

“The bigger, softer, long term answer to this is much better
education of motorists,” said Thornley.

“In European countries such as Germany,
when a person goes and takes their driver license exam … if that motorist opens
the driver door with his left hand, he’ll fail the exam just on that,” said
Thornley. “Instead, you’re meant to reach over with your right hand so that
your body turns and you are positioned to look out the window and even back to
see whether there’s anybody coming.”

Though San Francisco’s new police chief George Gascón has
uncertain livable streets credentials, as Streetsblog reported, the SFBC
believes the door could be open to more effective street safety policing.

“The stings are okay, but that’s not really going to change
the culture of how people behave on the streets,” said Thornley. “We need to
actually look at having a street safety unit at the SFPD, and not just
motorcycle cops, but probably some cops on bicycle, on foot.”

“We’re very excited at the prospect of a new chief because
there are definitely topics, and this may be topic A, that we’ve been waiting
to really engage and begin a new initiative on all sides in having real,
meaningful prioritized enforcement on the streets.”

All of this may be cold comfort to the cyclist in Tuesday’s
crash, but as the city moves to improve pedestrian and cycling facilities on
Valencia Street and across town, the collision is a vivid reminder that driver
education and awareness is an equally or more essential component to achieving
greater street safety.

Thanks to Mission Mission for the first account.

  • marcos

    “We’re very excited at the prospect of a new chief because there are definitely topics, and this may be topic A, that we’ve been waiting to really engage and begin a new initiative on all sides in having real, meaningful prioritized enforcement on the streets.”

    And waiting, and waiting and waiting.

    What’s been the impediment for these past six years since we’ve opened up the Police Commission?

    Surely watching the paint dry on the bike plan could not have been all that consuming?

    -marc

  • Peter Smith

    Time to start putting together legislation that would actually penalize drivers for driving recklessy. If there are injuries, then we need to treat it the same as we’d treat firing a loaded gun into a crowd — felonies.

    Driving is an inherently-dangerous activity — oftentimes it is lethal. We need laws that actually deal with this reality.

    Education is great, but we need enforceable laws so we don’t have to beg the DA to beg charges when these crimes happen.

  • marcos

    @Peter Smith, what good are laws holding motorists accountable if the cops feel that they don’t have to enforce them, or, worse, are allowed to enforce minor cyclists violations instead?

    Just saw a cop giving a cyclist a ticket in Golden Gate Park while CarSharing by the Conservatory of Flowers on my way up to the Richmond.

    -marc

  • There are no excuses for hitting bicyclists on Valencia Street. It’s the most heavily trafficked bicycle corridor in the city. If you drive on that street, you are signing on to watch out for bicyclists. If you don’t want to deal with bicyclists, drive and/or park on Guerrero. I agree that drivers need to be held accountable for their dangerous actions. Sending someone to the hospitable should equal loss of license for a month.

    I don’t agree that there are no infrastructure changes that could have prevented that accident. A bike lane between parked cars and the curb would have prevented that accident. Getting rid of car parking on Valencia Street would have prevented that accident. Eliminating cars on Valencia Street altogether would have prevented that accident. Just because these are options we don’t want to pursue (yet?) doesn’t mean that they don’t exist.

  • ZA

    I’m just glad that both the cyclist wasn’t injured horribly and that the driver stuck around and acted responsibly.

    My $0.02:
    1. Focusing on improving education is entirely right, but also unavoidably inadequate so long as DMV licensing requirements are set so low, and a license that prepares you for the congested highways of Anyplace, USA does precious little for your technical driving in mixed-use San Francisco, or rural Soledad for that matter.

    2. Slightly wider spacing between dooring-prone parked cars and a bike lane could have helped in this case in that the increased distance also increases reaction time for both cyclist and driver. It’s a skin of an improvement, but an improvement nonetheless.

    3. If we want to start to specialize the space, then Valencia would make a very good candidate as a “Bike Boulevard.” The cars dominate Guerrero and Dolores, and Mission is both heavily transit and heavily pedestrian. Generally segregated east-west crossings for cars and bikes are also feasible, with 16th, 17th, 24th, and Cesar Chavez demonstrating likely spots.

  • g

    It would seem that the driver should be cited. Enforcement is another thing not addressed in the City Bike Plan that was called for by many, many people. A possible way to help the police deal with car to bike crashes would be to re-design the crash reports so there are specific reporting forms for such collisions. This would make effectively dealing with crashes easier so seemingly more likely. Also officer education, not sure what the status of that is? Creating bike specific forms was first propsed to the MTA in 2001. They were pretty excited about the idea until…

    Enjoy the Bike Network.

  • The criminal law (ie.: citations) is not the only mechanism for deterring this sort of behavior. If the driver was negligent, then the injured cyclist can bring a civil claim against the driver. It is a shame that the police won’t take care of this on the front end, but don’t think this driver will get out of this without paying a few dollars.

  • If the driver admits fault, how is there no citation?!!! If I bump into you while we are walking, that is an accident. If your car hits me on Valencia street and lands me in SFG, that is criminal. What happened to “reckless endangerment”?

    This city better catch up to the times, ’cause they are a changin’.

  • thegreasybear

    Yet again, a motorist who officially admits fault for hitting and injuring a cyclist drives home without a citation. We saw this with the injury accident at Octavia and Market a couple months back.

    I wonder what would happen if cyclists just started injuring motorists randomly, and admitting fault. “Oh, yeah, sorry. Didn’t see you there. Sorry about the head injuries. Well, off I go!”

    Or, for that matter, if cyclists all over the city, all day and all night long, just arbitrarily closed down an entire street to automobile use because, you know, we got somethin’ to do and we’re just going to occupy some other mode’s entire roadway for a while? Yep–there would be a sudden blizzard of SFPD citations.

  • marcos

    @G, enforcement is indeed addressed in the Bicycle Plan policy document:

    http://sfgov.org/site/frame.asp?u=http://www.sfmta.com/cms/bhome/homebikes.htm

    5. ENFORCEMENT AND SAFETY
    ENFORCEMENT AND SAFETY GOAL AND OBJECTIVES
    Goal:
    Improve bicycle safety through targeted enforcement
    Objectives:
    • Increase San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) enforcement of motorist and bicyclist traffic violations that pose the greatest threat to safety
    • Provide San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) bicycle safety education to SFPD staff and to those cited for moving violations that focuses on safe cycling, relevant traffic laws and safe sharing of the roadway
    • Increase SFMTA and SFPD enforcement of motorist violations in bicycle facilities

    SO first on the list is to enforce against motorists AND CYCLISTS which pose the greates threat to safety. Second in the priority list is to educate the SFPD, and finally is the call to protect bicycle facilities.

    It seems like this was written to “balance” the interests of cyclists with motorists instead of as a visionary document that illustrates a bike-centric view. Maybe the calls for enforcement against cyclists should be relegated to the “auto plan?” Of course, even play is an auto plan in a city that pays only lip service to the notion of “transit first.”

    When we criticize the SFBC and the MTA Bicycle Program for their lack of accountability, we do so for reasons evident in their work product, the anti-cyclist approach of this official policy document.

    -marc

  • g

    that “enforcement” section is a useless collection of statistics and suggested actions.

    …actions which are not funded, or even designed.

    Like all quality studies it just hangs a bunch of suggestions in mid-air and seemingly waits for some planning gnomes to come during the night and do the work.

    As I was saying enforcement was not addressed in the bike plan…

    There are a lot of things that could be done, but…no place to do the work, because the bike plan was privatized by the SF Bike Corporation.

  • Taomom makes good suggestions in comment #4 but I have a technical and behavioral question: If the parking lanes are wider (I assume this just means that the marked cycle lane is moved further away from the curb) won’t drivers simply park their cars in any part of it, i.e right up against the curb and also up against the bike lane/legal limit?

    It seems that cyclists will want to go in a straight line and will still end up being close to a lot of cars.

    Sliding doors may help with this but unfortunately it seems that only some delivery trucks and cars like the Peugeot 1007 have them.

  • marcos

    One thing we learned from the competitive Gonzalez 2003 campaign was the zen of politics, that one gains from creating the conditions for one’s ideas to flourish rather than anally trying to control the process to elicit a desired outcome.

    Part of that is having the confidence in one’s position to occasionally cede power at strategic junctions rather than strong arm a strait jacketed process. The mano duro approach is a sign of insecurity in the substance of one’s political position and/or underestimating one’s political power and generally produces brittle, non durable outcomes.

    The Bicycle Advisory Committee needs to adopt the task of taking the temperature of cyclists and ascertaining what our community’s priorities are as relates to the various policy realms related to cycling. These priorities should be reflected in official city bicycle policy documents.

    The SFBC is a lot like the proselytizing missionary or a developer lobbyist or the SFBG for that matter, as we all know that the SFBC wants bike lanes über alles just like we’ve all heard the “good news” of the New Testament, know what Bruce and Tim think of PG@E, and know the developers want unrestricted zoning. Your concerns have been noted and logged, Kirk out.

    Given the paralysis in achieving their main goals over the past five years and given the lack of engagement in critical issues such as enforcement and dangerous conditions mitigation, the SFBC has really forfeited the high ground in dominating this discourse moving forward.

    The BAC needs to step up and own its broader base of political legitimacy and take on the task of fostering a public process that engages cyclists in self determination for our own policy future. This public process should be integrated into a rolling approach to bicycle facilities improvement where ideas are constantly incubated, studied, prioritized and implemented instead of producing unwieldy omnibus legal targets.

    -marc

  • PStoll

    New York has the bike lane along the curb represented by a wide green area. Then the parking lane has the traditional hatched off parking spaces right next to the traffic lane. This would eliminate bicyclists getting pulled out on and being doored by driver side.

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