Why Sharrows Don’t Cut it: Even SF Bike Safety Instructor Bert Hill Got Hit

When a driver rear-ended Bert Hill, he was using all of the safe bicycling techniques in the book — after all, he’s one of the most heavily-consulted bike safety instructors in San Francisco. Hill even had a major role in the SFMTA’s new video for Muni drivers on how to share the streets with people on bikes.

Nonetheless, a driver rammed Hill from behind on May 31 around noon as he was pedaling west on Bosworth Street in Glen Park, which has no bicycle infrastructure except for sharrow markings. Hill suspects that the driver was distracted — how else could a motorist unintentionally ram straight into a bicyclist from behind?

“There’s no reason why it could be anything else,” Hill told KTVU in a report this week. Hill says police also told him the driver didn’t have a license.

“I got out of it with a lump over my right eye, a sprained wrist, bruises, some road rash, sore shoulder and something going on inside my hip,” Hill, the chair of the SF Bicycle Advisory Committee, told Streetsblog. “I’m happy to say that I am very fortunate, and that other than a slight limp, am doing quite well. I can’t say as much for my trusty Univega” bike.

Hill’s crash flies in the face of assertions from vehicular cycling advocates that bicycling is perfectly safe on streets designed for cars first, and without any protected bike lanes, as long as people on bikes do their best to “drive” their bike like they would a car — and in particular, always riding in the center of a lane that’s too narrow to be shared. It’s a philosophy that could only make sense among the few people, mostly adult men, who are adamant bike riders and feel comfortable keeping pace and mixing it up with cars.

Meanwhile, a growing body of research shows that protected bike lanes in North American cities not only increase bicycling rates by an average of 75 percent in their first year alone, drawing from the many “interested but concerned” bicyclists. Protected lanes also reduce the risk of injury by up to 90 percent.

Bert Hill was rear-ended by a driver on Bosworth Street, which only has sharrows. Image: KTVU

A Portland State University study released last week found that 80 percent of 2,301 respondents who live near eight protected bike lanes in five cities around the country said the lanes increased the safety of biking on the street — whether they bike or not.

Take it from Mickey Sullivan, the woman on the street who told KTVU, “It’s terrible in the city, yeah, with the bikes. Unless there’s a lane.”

As a study released in May from the League of American Bicyclists showed, 40 percent of 628 Americans killed on bikes were rear-ended by drivers, the most common type of fatal bike crash by far.

While cracking down on distracted driving is certainly one key, enforcement can only go so far. Cases like Hill’s should signal the urgent need to build the kind of bike infrastructure that’s proven to save lives. In the end, people not in cars should not always be at the mercy of those who are.

“Whatever the distraction can be, it can end up changing everyone’s lives, ruining someone’s life,” Hill told KTVU.

Police told Hill that the offending driver will “most likely will be charged with ‘unsafe speed,’ because no one witnessed direct evidence of distraction.”

While on the ground after the crash, Hill said the driver sat in his car, as Hill called 911 and read the license plate number. Hill says he suspects the driver hadn’t left his car because he was considering fleeing the scene, until he saw Hill using his phone.

Coincidentally, he said, a police officer was driving by and stopped at the scene. “I do have to comment that the SFPD officers were very supportive and helpful,” he noted.

Hill said he’ll be “back in the saddle this week.”

  • nocklebeast
  • Andy B from Jersey

    Agreed to a point. I’m all for changing the built environment but our sick society ain’t gonna’ change anytime soon. VC will help you cope and survive until that day. And many roads will NEVER change.

    I’ve never enjoyed cycling as much as when I’ve ridden the rural roads of my native New Jersey. Many of those roads haven’t changed much in 300 years and hopefully won’t change much in the next 300. And I used some of those roads to get to work. I’d rather learn skills that I need to keep me safe so I can ride where I please and need to go.

  • Andy B from Jersey

    Agreed but when I teach a TS 101 class, I tell my students that I will teach them in 8 hours what took me 12 years to learn on my own. It’s best to be exposed to these skills and words of wisdom than not. You can apply them to your riding as you feel comfortable.

    BTW, I’ve trained 14 yo kids using an LAB approved traffic skills curriculum. These kids were then able to execute their skills with incredible effectiveness on a 200 mile bike ride organized by a major national advocacy group.

  • Gezellig

    I get your point but that’s pretty apples to oranges. Rural 18th-century roads in New Jersey are pretty different from Bosworth St in SF, still intact with its 1950s-era cars-first quasi-freeway design…except now with a halfhearted wishful-thinking sharrow slapped on it. This in a dense urban area governed by explicitly stated principles of Vision Zero/20% modeshare by 2020/8-to-80 infrastructure, etc.

    This is why people are mad. Despite all this I actually don’t share the pessimism that such stretches will never change–SF can get there. But we’ve gotta push for better designs such as separated infra when freeway-esque roads like Bosworth do come up for road diets.

  • Andy B from Jersey

    Agreed again. 1950 freewayesque maximum traffic flow street designs have no place on our city and suburban streets that are shared with human beings on foot and bike.

    I’m not opposed to such changes but peoples total dismissal of VC on this blog to me seems rather naive considering VC is all about improving ones personal safety on a bike no matter the traffic scenario or bicycle facility.

    BTW, can San Fran really ever have 20% bicycle mode share considering how hilly it is? I open wonder about that living currently in “nearly as hilly” Seattle. The hilly nature of these cities will self “un-sellect” a large portion of the population that might otherwise ride a bike to work in a flat place like Copenhagen, Amsterdam or even Davis, CA.

  • Gezellig

    Yeah, hills will always be a detracting factor for some SF neighborhoods but that being said there are some surprisingly large swaths of totally flat (and flattish) land in the city–some of them, such as SoMa, Polk Gulch and the Mission are pretty densely populated and already quite bike-curious.

    And there are ingenious routes such as The Wiggle (there are other less famous wiggles, too) connecting flat areas to each other while mostly avoiding inclines. SF’s failure to get anywhere near 20% probably has less to do with hills than policy. This underscores all the more the importance to push for really good infrastructure in flat (and flattish) areas already receptive to biking to get around (e.g. The Wiggle, SoMa, Polk, Mission, etc.).

  • Fred

    Yes, in over 500 doorings which would not happen if there were decent separated infrastructure how many died of this? In a collision where the car is doing 50 MPH, how often is the cyclist killed? I have been doored 2x and literally nothing happened. I was unhurt. Two friends were rear ended at low speeds as he was “controlling the lane” and he was totally messed up. In NYC data for 10 years there were only a handful of deaths on slower streets. Most are clustered on arterials, the places in which I suggest that one avoid. Note, I do NOT advocate for riding in the door zone nor in the death zone (travel lane) but rather to not bicycle if the conditions are not safe and to advocate for better infrastructure.

  • You are right that shared bike lanes without barriers do not provide protection to riders especially from rear end collisions. Unless and until there are more segregated “bike only” lanes, though, it is incumbent upon cyclists to do all that they can to avoid these mishaps. Rear view mirrors, lights and reflectors for night-time rides and, more importantly, constant vigilance in and around motor vehicles is the best (although not perfect) way to avoid cycle accidents.

  • rlrcoaster

    So the latest answer is to put a bike lane on an EXPRESSWAY? I can’t believe anyone would be so STUPID as to close an entire lane on San Jose Avenue. Cars were backed up for 1 mile, taking 6 light cycles to get through Randall. Motorists were losing their minds sitting there, and several of them simply drove up the bike lane.
    Meanwhile, the bike lane was totally and completely empty…not one cyclists…because riding beside a congested expressway is NOT what I’d call enjoyable.
    I would never ride a bike along a freeway offramp. It’s not only a hazard, it’s ugly and unpleasant, and built for cars, no matter how you slice it, and a false sense of security.

  • rlrcoaster

    That’s exactly the reason I can’t ride. Bad knees and all, too. I hate driving, but Muni has stranded me so many times after 11pm out at Stonestown, I’ve had to wake up my husband to give me a ride (Uber and Lyft don’t go there.)
    But there has to be a better way to have protected bike lanes without removing lanes everywhere, which just makes everyone inhale fumes from traffic jams, and fosters ROAD RAGE.
    In SF, I think a 3% share is about as good as it gets.

  • Gezellig

    I live nearish Stonestown, too, so I get ya on giving up on Muni. One reason I bike is simply that it’s faster than Muni in many/most cases, especially in conjunction with bike + BART.

    With your knee issues you raise a good point that biking is not always an option for everyone. However, something that’s often lost in the mix is that protected bike lanes do help more than just people on bikes:

    http://youtu.be/xSGx3HSjKDo

    In addition to helping people of various abilities get around on various devices they also are better for pedestrians, especially in reducing pedestrian crossing distances at intersections and crosswalks.

    Btw, you don’t necessarily have to remove car lanes for protected infrastructure–after all, in many cases it takes the same amount of space to just flip the position of the already-existing bike lane the parking to create a safer bike lane for everyone.

    As for fumes, the more separated a bikeway is the better it does in terms of reducing fume inhalation:

    http://usa.streetsblog.org/2014/06/19/new-research-suggests-separation-key-to-protecting-cyclists-from-pollution/

    As for road rage, I actually think protected bikeways *decrease* road rage. This is because bikes and cars aren’t duking it out in the same space nearly as often. Road rage is a spontaneous thing as a response to in-the-moment events.

    Something like a road diet (reducing car lane width or number of lanes) doesn’t seem to do that. In fact, because of Braess’s Paradox (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Braess's_paradox) road diets often lead to *less* traffic for cars (http://quakerattled.wordpress.com/2014/03/31/roads-traffic-and-braesss-paradox/).

    This has been seen directly in examples such as Octavia in SF. By the time Octavia ends at Hayes, it’s barely anything more than a minor neighborhood street with low traffic and low speeds (and in my experience low road rage). Yet it replaced a full-on freeway, to incorrect prognostications of Carmaggedon.

    Similar Doomsday scenarios also haven’t panned out when other places all around the US (such as Portland and NYC) and the world (Seoul has a pretty dramatic example) have closed down or significantly reduced volume for cars.

    The latest example of this phenomenon, from Memphis:

    http://usa.streetsblog.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/5/2014/06/walking-in-mephis.jpg

    http://usa.streetsblog.org/2014/06/17/memphis-turns-two-highway-lanes-into-a-car-free-oasis-by-the-mississippi/

    “Thanks to years of temporary closures during the annual Memphis in May festival, the city knew nearby streets could absorb the auto traffic without much trouble.”

    That’s Braess’s Paradox, right there even in Memphis!

  • Prinzrob

    This is off-topic, but we have found that while just scheduling classes and promoting them to the general public can work, it is still a lot of effort for little gain. Our more successful education programs are integrated into existing organizations and community groups, while still mostly being made available to the public. This way we bring these opportunities to the participants instead of expecting them to come to us.

    Last year we hosted almost 150 classes to over 4,500 adult, youth, and family participants in three languages. We are also expanding our education programs well beyond ‘safety’ to cover any topic which will help attendees get over whatever barrier is keeping them from taking more trips by bike. Through these programs we have also identified a lot of new partners that we are continuing to work with on advocacy and outreach efforts in that specific community.

  • The safest place to ride is the place which encourages drivers to change lanes to pass.

    Encouraging riders to ride in a place where drivers will pass close to them is bad.

  • One texting driver and you’re dead is actually a more likely scenario for an edge rider than someone controlling the lane.

    Texters tend to drift a bit. They look up every few seconds and correct course. They will tend not to notice an edge rider during those brief look ups. They will tend to notice a bicyclist in the middle of the lane and stop paying attention to their phone.

  • They are not likely to be rear ended, no matter how many times you try to conflate all rear end collisions with collisions happening to slow traffic moving at a consistent speed.

  • DG

    Godspeed Bert.~DG

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