Two Bay Area Cyclists Cut Down By Drivers in One Day

goettingen
Goettingen Street lacks any design measures to discourage speeding. Image via Google Street View

While out with friends last night in West Portal, I mentioned that a cyclist was killed in San Francisco that morning. One of my friends corrected me and said “no, it was San Jose.”

My heart sank as I realized two Bay Area bicyclists had been cut down in separate incidents.

In San Jose, a bicyclist was struck by a pickup truck driver near Martial Cottle Park, as reported by InsideBayArea. “It does not appear that speed was a factor,” said San Jose Police Sergeant Todd Lonac. “It just appears to be a tragic accident.”

Ruling out excessive speed alone, however, does not absolve the driver. We still don’t know if texting or some other form of distraction was a factor. It’s too early in the investigation and not enough information is available for the cops to tell the public it was a faultless “accident.”

In Portola, meanwhile, a 63-year-old bicyclist was killed by a 26-year-old motorist who was apparently speeding and driving on the wrong side of Goettingen Street. The case was extreme enough that the SFPD arrested the driver on “suspicion” of vehicular manslaughter.

Sharrow markings on Ocean already covered by a patch
Sharrow markings on Ocean already covered by a patch.

I rode over to the crash location earlier today. Mariette Alipio, 70, has lived on that street since 1979. She described the victim, who was her neighbor, as a “nice, friendly guy who biked almost every day.” Joe Lu, 53, lives across the street. He said he’s disturbed by young people in the area revving their engines and the lack of law enforcement. “We need more police here.”

More policing would certainly help, but I noticed the road looks like an airport runway with houses on it. It has no speed humps, bulb outs, or any other design features to inhibit excessive speeds.

As I rode my bike to Portola, I encountered an environment familiar to all San Francisco cyclists. Cars parked in bike lanes. Potholes and cracks big enough to grab all but the widest bicycle tire and catapult a rider into the pavement. And laughable safety markings, such as sharrows on streets that are way too wide and fast for them. And even these markings aren’t maintained.

As I finished surveying the block in Portola, I saw a man in his 20s getting into a car with two older women. I asked the man if he saw the crash. He said he couldn’t talk; he was on his way to a funeral. “It was my father,” he said.

  • San Francisco is a slave to its grid. Every road is a mini-freeway, even narrow ones punctuated by stop signs that, theoretically, should inhibit speeding. (Ha! San Francisco drivers say. I can do 40 mph between block to block stop signs. Watch me!)

    In my observation, speed humps and/or severe congestion are the only mechanisms that work to keep drivers to a non-lethal speed, regardless of the preponderance of “your speed is” signs.

    Much depends on whether transportation policy in San Francisco prioritizes moving drivers through the city as fast as possible, or moving people in as energy-efficient, low carbon, healthy, non-destructive and non-lethal manner as possible.

    The thing is, slowing drivers down frustrates them, and frustrated drivers howl bloody murder. This is true regardless of the suffering and deaths of their fellow human beings and regardless of the future of the planet. It is also true that politicians at this moment in time (December 2015) listen far more to frustrated drivers than they do to dead bicyclists. This is a reality.

    Maybe this reality can be changed. I hope so.

  • SFhillrunner

    You forgot to mention the guys doing donuts in the intersections.

    I asked DPT for a stop sign at both Moscow and Excelsior & also at Athens and Avalon. They said no on the grounds that not enough peds cross at those intersections. Upon further questioning, it turns out they do their analysis/count of pedestrian crossings at 2 pm during the week.

    What?!

    We are all at work and our neighborhood – filled with kids – are all at school!

  • RichLL

    I agree that a policy of trying to frustrate drivers into being safer can be counter-productive. I’d prefer the drivers around me not to be mad as hell, especially if they might blame me as a pedestrian or cyclist for those polices.

    I disagree that it is the policy of the city to move drivers through the city as fast as possible, however. The policy imperative is to maximize throughput and capacity, i.e. move the greatest numbers of vehicles through the city, to enable people and goods to get where they are going in a timely way, consistent with an acceptable level of safety.. That is essentially an economic imperative.

    Speed bumps are at best a crude instrument to try and achieve artificially low speeds. They have adverse consequences on some classes of road users, like cyclists and buses. They are best suited to quiet residential streets rather than major roads. And moreover some vehicles with uprated suspensions can go over them at full speed anyway.

    What I would like to see is a less monolithic and inflexible approach to speed limits. Instead of 25 mph everywhere, how about 15 on small streets and 35 on major arteries? Or better, do what they do in Europe and have variable speed limits, dependent on time of day and conditions, informed by electronic signs.

  • murphstahoe

    “We need more police here.”

    Sorry sir, we are too busy ticketing cyclists rolling stop signs.

  • Bernard Finucane

    A simple way to improve streets like Goettinger Street would be to mark the street for slanted parking on one side, and paralell on the other, and to switch sides every 50 yards or so. At the places where the sides switch, tear up the street and plant trees.

  • Flatlander

    Simple!

  • alberto rossi

    That’s a great idea, Bernard, thanks. The folks at Vision Zero have done little more than dab some paint here and there during the first two years of their supposed 10 year project. So expect them to get to this nonpriority street with a “hardware” (that’s what they call it) solution by about 2200, i.e., sometime around when rising sea levels put it under water.

  • Frank Kotter

    There is a saying in northern Europe: Well designed roads don’t need speed limits. This article reflects this very well. Good piece.

  • Frank Kotter

    We could change speed limits and triple the policing with little effect I’m afraid.

    The fact of the matter is that in Europe, the speed limits are often ignored as well. What is different is that streets are built to control speed with calming furniture, blind corners, one way squeeze points and uncontrolled intersections which means all must proceed through with caution.

  • tommy t

    I know that that stretch of Chynoweth is freakishly wide, and is especially crazy now that the new park is being developed on the adjacent land. It’s 100′ wide when it should be 25′. Shame on the leaders of San Jose.
    https://goo.gl/maps/ZEnLjzkoajz

  • Bernard Finucane
  • Zachary Hanna

    “The policy imperative is to maximize throughput and capacity, i.e. move the greatest numbers of vehicles through the city, to enable people and goods to get where they are going in a timely way, consistent with an acceptable level of safety.. That is essentially an economic imperative.”

    See, you got 1 word wrong here. The policy SHOULD be:
    “The policy imperative is to maximize throughput and capacity, i.e. move the greatest numbers of <<>> through the city, to enable people and goods to get where they are going in a timely way, consistent with an acceptable level of safety.. That is essentially an economic imperative.”

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