A Bicycle Rider’s Crash on Valencia Street: Was Serious Injury Preventable?

The standard bike lanes on Valencia Street place riders in a dangerous spot right alongside moving cars. Photo: Bryan Goebel

An unidentified man in his late twenties was rushed to San Francisco General Hospital after falling off his bike and being run over by a minivan in the Mission District Wednesday evening.

San Francisco police confirmed the 7:30 pm crash on Valencia Street between 17th and 18th Streets. According to eyewitness Brooke DuBose, the rider was traveling in the bike lane when he appeared to lose control of his bicycle and fall in front of the passing vehicle, which apparently ran over his torso and head. The driver stopped and he and his family were visibly distraught. The victim was wearing a helmet.

“This was one of those situations where nobody was at fault, and even on one of our best bike corridors in the city, the design is still not safe enough,” said DuBose, who works as a bicycle transportation planner.

“When I saw what happened, and how close this person came to dying just bicycling home,” she thought, “we just need to build our streets so much better than they are now.”

The rider appeared to be reaching into his rear pocket when he lost control, said DuBose. Police and ambulances arrived within minutes, and police said a citation was issued to the driver for not having a license. A police spokesperson would only say the man’s condition was “non-life threatening.”

Had a physically separated bike lane been available, this victim probably wouldn’t have been run over. The SF Bicycle Coalition is calling for protected bike lanes on Valencia Street in its Connecting the City campaign.

The victim likely wouldn't be in the hospital had he fallen on a bikeway like this one in Aarhus, Denmark. Photo: Aaron Bialick
  • Anonymous

    Not that this is worth replying to, but please give this more than a knee-jerk thought process due to your hatred of hipsters on fixies. Think of the admin costs of such a system, there is NO WAY it would pay for itself. You’d fight to have this program started then in 5 years you’ll be bitching because it’s just another program the state can’t afford to run and there are still assholes on fixies.

    It’s old hat. I don’t know if you are looking for a rise, but your lack of thinking this out is pretty insulting.

    And I’m glad you are seeing cyclists and pedestrians, maybe we should give you honorary deputy status so you can rid the world of such heinous crimes against humanity. Odd how you never see drivers distracted though.

  • Or we could pay people to cycle.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Aaron.

  • Anonymous

    Sad to hear .. but how about spending some of the street design resources on pedestrian safety in Supervisorial District 6 where the injuries and deaths of pedestrians are the worst by far. I’m so angry at the SFMTA for aiding and abetting the murder of pedestrians in South of Market … their negligence is inexcusable. Let’s spend money on where it can do the most good for the most people – 240 injured and 4 dead pedestrians in 2010 could have used some yellow ladders painted in the SoMa crosswalks, some pedestrian exclusive cycles at intersections where vehicle drivers tend to speed around the corners to land in any one of 3-4 traffic lanes without care for someone in the crosswalk, and we need to lower the speed limit to 20MPH in downtown San Francisco.

    Shame on the SFMTA.

  • Anonymous

    what’s unfortunate Jamie is that we already spent money re-doing Valencia and it turns out we didn’t quite get it right (this happens with Pedestrian improvements too as you well know). Sigh.

  • jd

    Ge wrote: “Except there’s less room to maneuver when passengers exit the parked cars”

    Not true. You just have a buffer between the parked cars and the bike lane that is at least as wide as an open car door. See this video for an example:

    Besides, it’s much better for cyclists to take their chances with pedestrians and non-moving vehicles than with moving vehicles. So it is HUGE progress for everyone if we put bike lanes on the other side of parked cars with a buffer between it and the parked cars.

  • Anonymous

    I hear ya … I’m just saying instead of spending more money to now redo Valencia, can we spend something on pedestrian safety in the area where it is needed most? Granted, our previous Supervisor didn’t give a rat’s ass about pedestrian safety and that probably influenced, in part, why I read about improvements being made everywhere but District 6 … but I think WalkSF’s chart of pedestrian injuries/deaths in 2010 by Supervisorial District should provide plenty of reason to spend some resources in District 6.

  • That vimeo shows how well anything can work other than what we have. Who has passengers in cars anyways? Carpooling is so 90’s:) Thanks jd

  • Anonymous

    Wait a moment. I kept hearing about how this was a big achievement and it’s not like people didn’t have input into the design. Now we’re told it’s faulty? So why did we spend all that money and not bother to come up with a “better” design?

  • Anonymous

    CC is going through the planning process right now as well, but they are doing the same kind of crappy bike lane design. However with CC and Masonic, you’ll get a great waste of space down the middle of the road as well.

  • Anonymous

    I’m sorry… I usually keep to myself, but I’ve been reading the comments here for a while and I have to express my frustration that this example is being used to classify the new street scape as a “failure of design”.

    The whole concept that we need to design our infrastructure to accommodate distracted users (someone whom loses control when they take their hands of the handle bars and reaches into their back pocket) is incredibly frustrating to me. This completely reminds me of an article that Streetsblog ran last fall regarding increasing the width of auto lanes in order to accommodate distracted drivers.

    I live a 1/2 block off the Valencia corridor and in my opinion the new street scape is great. Sure it’s not perfect for any one user… but everyone got a little something out of the redesign. As a pedestrian the wider sidewalks are great, you can finally stroll the neighborhood side-by-side without having to fall into single-file every time we pass someone else. The businesses have started taking advantage of the wider sidewalks with tables chairs and goods on display. As a cyclist, the new wider bike lanes enable me to ride completely outside of the door zone. I’ve been doored and this is something I am incredibly cautious of and the new lanes are a vast improvement over the older, narrower lanes. They also did these improvements without drastically effecting the flow of auto traffic (I know some people aren’t too concerned about autos… but I much prefer riding my bike next to a happy attentive driver than one whom is frustrated in traffic and is looking for any type of opportunity to get home 5 seconds sooner.) The bike lanes in their new configuration also allow for cars to parallel park, deliveries to be made, and taxis to let off passengers without blocking the travel lane by pulling over into the bicycle lane. I know some cyclists see this as a huge inconvenience… but they really aren’t that hard to go around. Cars really are not moving that fast along Valencia where you can just take the lane. My only complaint is that those green wave 13mph signs aren’t bigger and plastered on every stop light so that all the road users know the lights are timed.

    Sure the picture of Aarhus is nice… but I see 2 or 3 cyclists, 1 or 2 pedestrians, one 4′ wide sidewalk that looks awful to walk along, a few cars, and a few houses… The notion that this can just be plopped down on Valencia Street, an active commercial corridor with lots of bikes, pedestrians,cars, and businesses just doesn’t seem realistic. I also think there is a big cultural difference of how the various road users interact in Denmark versus the often strained relationship of peds, bikes, and autos here in the U.S.

    I do support cycle tracks… but I think we have a lot to figure out with how they are implemented in SF and I’m not sure that these 4-blocks were the right place to test one out. (I would love to see one along the Embarcadero and I hope the do implement one as part of the preparations for the Cup race). I really think we are selling short the vast bicycle infrastructure improvements that we are getting in the city by calling every non-cycle track improvement a “failure of design”.

    Just my 2 cents (okay… it got long maybe that was a full nickel)

  • Perhaps this street is more like Valencia? http://www.flickr.com/photos/16nine/2967760786/

    Would all these people be riding if they had to skim the door zone and dodge taxis?

  • Anonymous

    “Streetsblog ran last fall regarding increasing the width of auto lanes in order to accommodate distracted drivers.”

    Never saw that one.

    “The bike lanes in their new configuration also allow for cars to parallel park, deliveries to be made, and taxis to let off passengers without blocking the travel lane by pulling over into the bicycle lane.”

    It’s actually the opposite, having the bike lane to the traffic side of parking allows for double parking, deliveries to be made and taxis to drop off their passengers IN the bike lane.

  • jd

    ccstar,

    I agree that the current configuration of Valencia is a big improvement over what it used to be, and that must be acknowledged. But that doesn’t mean we stop improving. Also, since the redesign of Valencia, bicycling has exploded in SF (and around the country), so we know a lot more know than we did a decade ago when Valencia’s redesign was created.

    ccstar wrote: “The bike lanes in their new configuration also allow for cars to parallel park, deliveries to be made, and taxis to let off passengers without blocking the travel lane by pulling over into the bicycle lane. I know some cyclists see this as a huge inconvenience”

    Inconvenience?? No, it’s downright dangerous. Sure traffic on Valencia isn’t always going fast, but it’s fast enough to injure or kill you. It definitely sucks having to be forced into the traffic lane, and not because it’s an inconvenience but because it’s dangerous. Go poll cyclists and I can guarantee that the vast majority of them would agree that it is more dangerous to be forced into traffic because a car is double-parking in the bike lane. What is really annoying is that it is in fact for the *convenience* of those drivers double-parking. So by condoning this behavior (which we do, by the way, since nobody gets tickets for blocking the bike lane), we are putting the *convenience* of drivers over the *safety* of cyclists, and this is something I think many are realizing is the main problem with our current urban design.

    As I’ve said before, it is relatively easy to improve Valencia St: on the blocks with that useless center turn lane, remove it and split that width in half and put it on the other side of the parked cars. Voila, we have a protected bike lane. Nobody loses anything (okay, except those who park there … but again, we shouldn’t be putting people’s convenience, especially since it is all an off-the-books agreement between the cops and churches/funeral homes anyway, over the safety of others). We could at least try it. Yes, there are obstacles to overcome, but I’m sure we can figure them out.

  • Anonymous

    I apologize if I came off too harsh… I just think the Valencia improvements have been great for the neighborhood and it’s frustrating to see them be called a failure and a waste of money. I think the transformation of Valencia is a great study of incremental change. I do hope it continues to evolve, but I don’t think that just because it’s not there yet doesn’t mean it’s a failure. I don’t think we would have the design we have now without first going from four lanes to three lanes.

    Aaron, the picture you posted is great. That is what I hope Valencia could become. And I think it could happen down the road simply by converting the parking spaces to parklets. However, the merchants along Valencia probably aren’t ready to give up their parking just yet. (I may be wrong… but I think the fight over parking is what is preventing the completion of the bicycle lane on 17th between Harrison and Potrero). Maybe someday they will, but until we start winning that fight, I think we have to be willing to accept incremental change as a means to an end. But even in that street section in the picture there is the risk of a cyclist falling into traffic, which I believe is why the Valencia street design was first criticized. I do hope that something like that image is considered along Valencia instead of the central cycle track, which I am having a hard time understanding (I haven’t really dived into the details of it… so I don’t want to say it can’t work… but I’m skeptical)

    Jd, I apologize if I downplayed the dangers of taking the lane. There are definitely corridors in the city in which I am very nervous about taking the lane (Folsom in SOMA comes to mind). However, I don’t think that Valencia is corridor in which it is terribly dangerous to take the lane. Cars are moving from traffic light to traffic light since they are timed for 13mph so they never get going that fast. (Again, my main criticism is that the green wave signage isn’t posted larger and everywhere… but I view that as a failure of signage not of design). I personally prefer the delivery trucks and taxis stopping in the bike lane over having them stop in the auto lane. Having hand trucks with vegetables pushed back and forth across the bike lane and having people exiting cabs across the bicycle lane sounds more dangerous to me than having to take the lane and go around them. I will admit that I am somewhat biased here because my dooring experience was with someone exiting a cab across a bicycle lane (the cab was stopped a few cars back att a light and I guess the passenger decided that’s where they wanted to get out and they just threw open the door into the bike lane).

    I also do have to admit that I am more of a vehicular cyclist, which makes me somewhat skeptical of separated bicycle lanes. I just feel that we have fought so hard in order for people to respect the rights of bicycles to be on the street, that I get a little nervous about moving bikes off of/to the edge of the street. With that said, I do understand the importance of the separated bicycle lanes to provide good cross-town routes for the young, the old, and the more casual cyclists. So I am somewhat conflicted about them…. I guess I just hope that they are implemented somewhere in the city and they are done well so that we all can see how they would work in SF. I just am not sure that a neighborhood commercial corridor like Valencia is the best place to test them out. I do hope they do them along the embarcardero, where I think there is a real opportunity for a cycle track (the cruise terminal may be a bit tricky… but I’m sure they can figure it out.)

    Mikeson, below is the link to the article I was referencing.
    http://usa.streetsblog.org/2010/09/24/forgiving-distracted-driving-wont-keep-our-streets-safe/

    I appreciate the discussion and I apologize if I offended anyone with my previous rant.

  • Anonymous

    I apologize if I came off too harsh… I just think the Valencia improvements have been great for the neighborhood and it’s frustrating to see them be called a failure and a waste of money. I think the transformation of Valencia is a great study of incremental change. I do hope it continues to evolve, but I don’t think that just because it’s not there yet doesn’t mean it’s a failure.

    Aaron, the picture you posted is great. That is what I hope Valencia could become. And I think it could happen down the road simply by converting the parking spaces to parklets. However, the merchants along Valencia probably aren’t ready to give up their parking just yet. Maybe someday they will. But even in that street section in the picture there is the risk of a cyclist falling into traffic, which I believe is why the Valencia street design was first criticized. I do hope that something like that image is considered along Valencia instead of the central cycle track, which I am having a hard time understanding (I haven’t really dived into the details of it… so I don’t want to say it can’t work… but I’m skeptical)

    Jd, I apologize if I downplayed the dangers of taking the lane. There are definitely corridors in the city in which I am very nervous about taking the lane (Folsom in SOMA comes to mind). However, I don’t think that Valencia is corridor in which it is terribly dangerous to take the lane. Cars are moving from traffic light to traffic light since they are timed for 13mph so they never get going that fast. (Again, my main criticism is that the green wave signage isn’t posted larger and everywhere… but I view that as a failure of signage not of design). I personally prefer the delivery trucks and taxis stopping in the bike lane over having them stop in the auto lane. Having hand trucks with vegetables pushed back and forth across the bike lane and having people exiting cabs across the bicycle lane sounds more dangerous to me than having to take the lane and go around them. I will admit that I am somewhat biased here because my dooring experience was with someone exiting a cab across a bicycle lane (the cab was stopped a few cars back att a light and I guess the passenger decided that’s where they wanted to get out and they just threw open the door into the bike lane).

    I also do have to admit that I am more of a vehicular cyclist, which makes me somewhat skeptical of separated bicycle lanes. I just feel that we have fought so hard in order for people to respect the rights of bicycles to be on the street, that I get a little nervous about moving bikes off of/to the edge of the street. With that said, I do understand the importance of the separated bicycle lanes to provide good cross-town routes for the young, the old, and the more casual cyclists. So I am somewhat conflicted about them…. I guess I just hope that they are implemented somewhere in the city and they are done well so that we all can see how they would work in SF. I just am not sure that a neighborhood commercial corridor like Valencia is the best place to test them out. I do hope they do them along the embarcardero, where I think there is a real opportunity for a cycle track (the cruise terminal may be a bit tricky… but I’m sure they can figure it out.)

    Mikeson, below is the link to the article I was referencing.
    http://usa.streetsblog.org/2010/09/24/forgiving-distracted-driving-wont-keep-our-streets-safe/

    I appreciate the discussion and I apologize if I offended anyone with my previous rant.

  • Phyllis Orrick

    This also points to another danger: unlicensed drivers. They are statistically more likely to be involved in serious crashes, and other types of crashes.

  • Uglyneo

    The citation was issued to the driver for NOT having a license, not for an unlicensed driver.

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