Belmont Police Blame Cyclist for Getting in the Way of Driver’s Left Turn

An emergency crew treats an injured 29-year-old man who was hit on his bike by a driver who turned left into his path. Police blamed the victim for carrying bags and talking on a phone. Photo: Belmont Police Department

When a 90-year-old driver turned left into the path of a man bicycling on Ralston Avenue, the Belmont Police Department blamed the victim for talking on a cell phone and not wearing a helmet. The department also warned people on bikes against “carrying packages and bags” in its press release.

None of those behaviors are illegal, nor would they have stopped the driver from turning left into the victim’s path — which, by the way, she didn’t receive a citation for.

The crash on Saturday afternoon occurred on Ralston, where city officials refused to include bike lanes and a road diet in a plan for safety improvements last year.

“Cars come first,” Belmont City Council Member Coralin Feierbach declared in 2013. Feierbach acknowledged that “when you ride your bike on Ralston you take your life into your own hands,” but concluded that there is nothing to be done about it. She deemed it “impossible” to reduce speeding, ignoring the evidence that road diets do just that [PDF].

Victims of Belmont’s failure to implement proven safety measures won’t get any help from the local police department, which issued its statement on Monday to “remind cyclists to drive defensively.”

“Talking on a cell phone and other activities,” the BPD statement said, “such as carrying packages and bags can reduce your reaction time to unexpected hazards.” Reckless drivers, for example.

The driver was at least issued a DMV notice of re-examination, according to BPD Captain Patrick Halleran. Elderly drivers in California aren’t required to take a re-exam unless ordered by a police officer, physician, or others.

As of press time, Belmont officials have issued no reminder for drivers to slow down and avoid running over people on bikes.

Westbound Ralston Avenue at Chula Vista Drive, where the crash occured. Photo: Google Maps
  • mx

    And to think people complain about the City’s attitude toward cyclists in SF…

  • mike_napolis_beard

    Wow, this is maddening — how is it ethical to claim that “[People in] cars come first”? What gives a person who chooses to drive a car more of a right to travel safely than a person who chooses to ride a bike? Amazing what blatant inequality drives conventional understanding of the world.

  • You know, this type of stuff is insidious. I’ve even been lectured by other’s who claim to be cyclists, that if only every cyclist followed every law to the letter, then we’d get respect from drivers. But its the entire system which is screwed up. How does a driver not get cited for hitting a cyclist which is following the law?

  • SuperQ

    That is not a quote, but a moniker given to the council member by the author.

  • It’s definitely a quote.

  • RMN

    If you are making a left turn, and there is an accident, it’s legally your fault, even if the oncoming traffic is not taking care. I’ve been the oncoming traffic, and in my case I could have taken more care (and now I do! accidents are bad!), but it was still the left turning drivers fault. There are all kinds of hypothetical ways the cyclist might have avoided this accident, but the safest solution is for the careless left turning auto driver to stay off the road.

  • Black n Pink Fixed Gear

    Going to/from Caltrain and riding in Belmont/San Carlos as part of my work commute scares me way more than riding in the city. Wide open roads that encourage speeding. Few other cyclists. People honking and speeding as I try to navigate dangerous freeway overpasses that have on/off ramps and poor cycling infrastructure. Many, many jerk motorists who pass me with very little room to spare, or who swerve into the bike lane just after they pass in order to “remind me of my place”. People love their cars around here. It makes me want to barf.

    Reading about this episode just saddens me further.

  • Ion Feldman

    Same attitude from the police in SF. Just yesterday I witnessed SFPD tell an injured cyclist who had been doored by a taxi door opening in the middle of the street that she was at fault. Officer told her “Bicycles are vehicles and it is illegal to pass on the right.” This is, of course, is incorrect and part of a common pattern of anti-bike bias.

  • jd_x

    This is utterly maddening to read. Can an organization like the SVBC start suing cities who pull this crap? I mean, if your civil rights are violated, it’s nice to know that the ACLU will stick up for you. Why is there no group out there doing the same for bicyclists. In many ways, these are in fact civil rights violations. Each person by themselves seems to have no power to stop this incredible bias, but if an organization would take up the cause and start suing cities and police departments, maybe we could get some desparetly-needed change.

  • djconnel

    It’s just an explicit statement of what’s true in fact in every city around the bay, including San Francisco. The language is typically more politically astute, always with a “but”. “I support Vision Zero BUT we need a balanced approach”.

  • mike_napolis_beard

    Funny — at what price human lives? Challenging convention? Seems a little imbalanced.

  • mike_napolis_beard

    The problem is, we’re several generations into a transportation world (physically and conceptually) crafted by shrewd automobile company marketing. We need to help others come to the realization that “convention” is not the same as “tradition” and that a world designed (only) for cars is not particularly livable — on many fronts.

  • HMM burritos

    Apparently Belmont needs to read the DMV driving manual.

  • voltairesmistress

    Nothing like a well-conceived lawsuit against the Town of Belmont and its police department to jumpstart safe streets there. Enough waiting around for the culture to change. This is why I like lawyers.

  • Scott

    Thank goodness the cyclist wasn’t killed. This is another example of biased, ignorant police and politicians that are not only showing their lack of common sense and empathy but deserve to have their city sued in a class action lawsuit.

    Who would be open to creating a protest? How to get more than 5-10 people? How to get the press attention.

    Also, does there need to be a “gofundme” type of a fund raiser to help the victim?

  • Someone injured in the exact spot that was slated for safety improvements until the City punted? That should be an easy lawsuit to win. File it.

  • StrixNoctis .

    I bet the motor vehicle was double parked, probably in the bike lane.

    Here in SF, it’s even easy to get doored passing on the left. There are a bunch of stupid motorists who open the left-side doors into traffic without looking first. I even get a lot of close calls when motorists obliviously walk out from between parked vehicles to get to their driver-side doors. They’re lucky I’m a cyclist with quick reflexes and ride a nimble bike that can swerve with very sharp turns and that my brakes are excellent as well. They’d be doomed if they’d walk out into the path of a car or truck.

  • Actually depending on the situation, I think the cyclists actions were illegal. States that allow cyclists to filter up on the right also say that they do so at their own risk and to take care. I’d never pass a cab on the right that stops in the middle of the road or pulled over to the side.

    If the cab stopped in a cue of traffic and there was a bike lane to the right then, I’d say the cyclists was a victim.

  • Dan

    not wearing a helmet means you’re at fault for an accident? Thank you helmet evangelicals…

  • Guest

    should’ve stopped after the first sentence.

  • Prinzrob

    Lawyers well versed in bicycle cases would beg to differ: http://www.bicyclelaw.com/blog/index.cfm/2012/11/14/Can-a-bicyclist-pass-on-the-right

    A police officer might still blame an injured bicyclist for passing on the right, but that just exposes their own bias and has nothing to do with the letter and intent of the law.

  • Thanks for sharing that link. I love Rick Bernardi and Bob Mionske but for once I actually think that they both misinterpreted the law by NOT considering CVC 21755 in their analysis. I also lost a little respect for the two for quickly turning to calling Paul Schimek names. It was VERY unprofessional of them to never address his point about CVC 21755. Poor form on those two, and considering CVC 21755, I think the two of them are wrong but I still could be wrong if it went to court.

    I’ve done quite a bit of research on bicycle laws to help New Jersey move forward in updating our bike laws. I do know that California’s Vehicle Code is MUCH different to that of almost all other states. As such I’ll admit that I’m no expert on California law. However I do know that other states have provision for cyclists to pass right (NJ does not) but must do so in a safe manner and at their own risk.

  • Amy Smolens

    It’s absolutely absurd that a 90 y/o driver who turns left into the path of a vehicle with the right of way is not cited. But, unfortunately, we’ve all seen way too much of this.
    If all of you commenters and readers would pass a few “Check for Bikes” window/windshield clings (www.checkforbikes.org + on Facebook) on to friends, neighbors and colleagues, at least we’d create more awareness of us bicyclists and help prevent some of the collisions that occur when people are in a rush and don’t look for cyclists.
    Thanks.

  • Prinzrob

    I would say CVC 21755 backs up Bernardi’s argument more than anything. When a bicyclist chooses to pass a car on the right they do so under conditions they deem to be safe (eg clear path of travel), in line with the law.

    When a car passenger opens a door into the path of the bicyclist it changes the conditions unexpectedly, in a way the cyclist could not have anticipated any more than they could a squirrel running into the street or a sinkhole opening up in front of them. However, the door-opening passenger is able to anticipate their own action, and therefore has more responsibility to avoid striking the bicyclist.

    Substitute the bike for a car in this scenario and it becomes more clear where the fault should be. If a driver leaves enough room for another car to pass on the right, then their passenger opens the right side door without looking, hitting a passing car in the process, then who would be at fault? That a bicycle is more narrow than a car does not change the dynamics of the situation.

  • NoeValleyJim

    Contact her, she is on Facebook. I sent her a message telling her what I think of her stance.

  • Hmmm… I guess we will agree to disagree. I guess that’s what a court of law is for. Hopefully one not afflicted with windshield bias.

    Either way, care should be taken when passing any vehicle on the right. No reason to be “dead right.”

  • Cameron Newland

    Nope. Mark is 100% correct. No matter what kind of vehicle you’re using, talking on a cellphone or fiddling with it or sending texts is a distraction, and is a great way to get killed or kill others. Keep hiding behind your anonimity, weirdo..

  • gneiss

    Nope. Riding a bicycle and talking on a cellphone or texting is not against the law. Why? Because the danger to people around you is vanishingly low, and there are *no* statistics that support the notion that texting bicyclists are causing accidents on anything like the rate that texting motorists are doing. If you disagree, please send me a study which shows otherwise.

  • Gezellig

    That’s the inherent problem with respectability politics:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Respectability_politics

    It’s usually an exercise in futility–or at best, diminishing gains–for the minority group involved.

  • Cameron Newland

    What are you going to argue next, that it’s okay for doctors to perform operations on people while they’re playing jenga? A distraction is a distraction, period.

    Though I do value studies and objective data, you don’t need a study to realize that cycling while using a mobile phone is distracting and dangerous. I’ve done it a handful of times and I’ve been careful to do it only in situations when I didn’t have cars around me, however, having one hand away from the handlebars (and more importantly, the brake levers) means that in an emergency scenario, I would not be able to brake or evade a collision nearly as well as if I hadn’t been holding a cellphone. That means that even though I took care to reduce ancillary risks, I was still taking a risk by using my phone while on the bike, and there is some small possibility that I could have gotten in a collision or a crashed as a result, no matter how good of a cyclist I am.

  • jd_x

    @cameron_newland:disqus wote “A distraction is a distraction”

    This is true, but the problem is that, just like the damn helmet debate, it entirely distracts the conversation from the *root* cause which is a driver screwed up, injured somebody, and the cops not only didn’t ticket the driver but blamed the victim. And you realize that this happens all the time even when bicyclists are not distracted, and that could have very well could been the case here (that if the bicyclists wasn’t distracted he still would have gotten hit). So you’re missing the point and redirecting valuable resources from the root cause. When we get to the point where this doesn’t happen (where the cops aren’t so blatantly biased), then we can talk about second-order effects like should bicyclists ride distracted.

  • Indeed. You’d think it would be obvious in this case though…that the people operating multi-ton vehicles would be the ones needing to bear the burden of due care.

  • Althaea

    I was hit on Ralston. Two weeks after I got back from living (and biking every day) in one of the most bike-friendly cities in Europe, that was my return welcome.
    America is sick and nasty. What the cops did to the bicyclist was a clear violation of civil rights.

    Yes, the ACLU should get involved but I think they must be too feeble/brainwashed/deluded to care.

  • Amy Smolens

    I came upon this article again…Wondering if there has been any progress – for example, was the driver eventually cited? Did the driver’s insurance pay for the cyclist’s injuries? Has this community done anything to make cycling here any safer? Thanks. Distributing some “Check for Bikes” clings and stickers to people (cyclists, drivers, peds – many of us are all of the above) would help create some awareness.

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