Punched for Riding a Bike

Cyclist Attacked By Motorist at MacArthur BART

Mary Ann Blackwell at the location where she was punched by a motorist last week. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
Mary Ann Blackwell at the location where she was punched by a motorist last week. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

Last Wednesday, March 8, at 9:15 am, Mary Ann Blackwell was riding her bike down Martin Luther King in Oakland, on her way to the MacArthur BART station, to get to an appointment in San Francisco. She turned left onto 40th, to reach the station entrance. The long-time cycling advocate saw something familiar to cyclists throughout the Bay Area–a car, in this case a black sedan, stopped on the bike lane. “There wasn’t even a car against the curb, but he didn’t pull over,” she told Streetsblog, during her first trip back to the location since the incident.

Blackwell did what many Bay Area cyclists do—she was frustrated, so she said, “this is a bike lane!”

“This isn’t parking,” she added to Streetsblog, pointing at the striped bike lane at the MacArthur BART station. “I never made any slur or anything like that.”

But this motorist, who was in the process of discharging a passenger, got out of the car and punched her in her eye. “I was very fortunate. It wasn’t a bad punch; it was a glancing blow. If it had been full force it would…” she trailed off, motioning to her eye, which still has signs of purple bruising. It had enough force, however, that she was left stunned and lost her balance. “I was straddling my bike. I set it down and then fell over,” she recalled.

She fell into traffic. As the perpetrator got back in his car and drove off, good Samaritan cyclists stopped and blocked traffic and helped her out of the busy traffic lane, probably saving her life.

Her fellow cyclists, she said, seemed to show more concern for her than the BART police did. “The BART police listened to me but seemed to take no particular interest–their main issue was ‘do you need medical treatment?’” she said. “And then they said ‘it’s in the street’ so it’s Oakland Police (OPD) jurisdiction.”

The OPD sent an officer to her house the next day. Blackwell said the police are hopeful that they can get evidence from security cameras located around the station (if they are working). Additionally, one of the cyclists got a partial plate and a description of the suspect. All in all, she’s hopeful the man who hit her will be apprehended and charged.

That said, there’s another “perp” she holds responsible for what happened, and that’s the city engineers who designed the street. “This is poor infrastructure,” she said, motioning to the wide lanes and insane design of the bike lanes, which she says contribute to creating conflicts between cyclists and motorists.

For those unfamiliar with the area, there’s a green “kermit” lane, also called a “super sharrow,” down the right lanes of 40th leading up to the station. However, 40th, with two wide lanes in each direction, is more like a ground-level freeway than a street, with cars continually speeding along it. “This green stripe has been called a fail. Cyclists don’t have the confidence or knowledge to hold the lane and the drivers are aggressive and fast,” said Blackwell.

Cyclists are expected to hold this lane amid high-speed traffic. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
Cyclists are expected to hold this lane amid aggressive, high-speed traffic. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

“All of 40th Street remains problematic, including the green ‘super sharrow’ experiment which has not yielded favorable results,” wrote Robert Prinz, Education Director for Bike East Bay, in an email to Streetsblog. “I was involved in an intentional (non-injury) hit-and-run on 40th, right on top of a green sharrow and next to a ‘bikes may use full lane’ sign.”

As Streetsblog has long argued, except on the calmest streets, putting down sharrows or door-lanes or any other kind of paint-only treatment is a travesty. It’s pretend infrastructure that offers no protection and, in many cases, just intensifies conflicts and hazards. A wide road needs physically protected bike lanes and intersections. “We have brought issues regarding bike and pedestrian safety with both 40th Street and the internal station streets to the attention of BART and Oakland staff and electeds over several years, but with no action taken yet,” said Prinz.

MaryAnnpointing out dangers
Even during Streetsblog’s interview with Mary Ann, car after car drove on the bike lane and buses crisscrossed it, creating obviously hazardous conditions for cyclists. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

In fact, where 40th goes under the freeway to the BART station, as seen in the above photo, even the green stripes disappear, and it returns to being a door lane. Motorists are supposed to jog across the bike lane to discharge passengers at the curb. Short of feeding cyclists onto the freeway above, it’s hard to imagine what traffic engineers could have done to make the area more dangerous–it’s a staggering example of bad design that desperately needs to be fixed. As Blackwell points out, there “isn’t even a curb cut so cyclists can get from the street . . .  into the station.”

Prinz, meanwhile, hopes this can be improved in the future. “Oakland’s bike master plan update, happening throughout 2017, will be a great opportunity to rethink not just these streets but also safe and stress-free bikeway connections to all transit hubs around the city,” he wrote. “With a new DOT, talented staff, and local funding to make things happen, Oakland is poised for some very transformative changes, but only if we choose to prioritize safety and mobility.”

This bent pole on the sidewalk under MacArthur BART says volumes about the dangerous road conditions. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
This bent pole on the sidewalk under MacArthur BART says volumes about the dangerous road conditions there. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

None of these issues, of course, forgives the motorist for punching her. But Blackwell hopes the incident can be a catalyst to focus public officials on fixing this dangerous area, before more road violence occurs. “Reconfigure this to have a protected bike lane and a curb cut, and I’m also requesting a couple of bicycle-mounted policemen patrolling this urban, dense BART station,” she said, adding that cops on bikes can see much better and are more connected to the environment.

Blackwell is slowly getting back into her regular routine, but it’s been difficult. She’s caught herself crying over the incident. “I’ve been riding all over this area with impunity for twelve years. I even used to go to the De Young Museum by myself on a bike. I no longer feel like I can do any of those things,” she said, her voice cracking. “And I’ll be 68 in March,” she said, pointing at her shiner and trying to force a smile. “Now I won’t get any young boyfriends anymore.”

Mary Ann Blackwell during happier times, on a ride in Sacramento. Photo: From Facebook
Mary Ann Blackwell during happier times, on a ride in Sacramento. Photo: Facebook

 

  • cmu

    Well if you’re a helmet person, fine, no problem. The thing is, there are probably a billion cyclicts world-wide who don’t wear helmets and are alive. I agree that it’s one of my pet peeves because (vide Seatlle ride-share demise) it stops people riding and fosters a cycling-is-dangerous mentality….and it’s ineffective.

  • cmu

    Actually, why do you think 35 on, say San Jose Ave is unsafe? How is that different than many cyclists who think 25mph on a bike is safe on city streets?

  • Joe R.

    My figures are showing about 0.75g. Your math is off. 0.75g deceleration from 30 mph would take only 40 feet. Here’s the math:

    0.75g = 0.75*32.174 ft/sec² = 24.131 ft/sec²
    30 mph = 44 ft/sec

    time to decelerate from 30 mph at 0.75g = 44/24.131 = 1.823 sec
    distance to decelerate = 22 feet/sec * 1.823 sec = 40.1 feet

    Note that your average speed when decelerating from 30 mph to 0 is 15 mph, or 22 feet/sec, assuming constant deceleration. In practice, you probably are decelerating at a higher rate than 0.75g when you first start braking due to air resistance at 30 mph, and a lower rate than 0.75g when you get close to stopped.

    It admittedly takes some skill to stop a bike this fast. You’re only using the front brake, and you need to modulate it so the rear wheel is just barely off the ground. You also need to lower your center of gravity as much as possible. Rear brakes are pretty much useless here if you want to get any kind of stopping power given how easily the rear wheel slides. It’s pretty much impossible to slide the front wheel except on sand, snow, or ice. You’ll flip over long before you slide.

    The light mass of a bike works in its favor here because the wind drag at higher speeds offers a significant contribution to the deceleration rate. Total drag at 30 mph is roughly 10 or 11 pounds. If the bike plus cyclist weighs 200 pounds, then the drag is adding about 0.05g to the deceleration rate.

    A more practical maximum deceleration rate for a less skilled cyclist might be closer to 0.5g. That stops you from 30 mph in roughly 60 feet. That’s still enough to keep you out of trouble if you keep a good situational awareness. I tend to avoid situations which might require me to stop suddenly anyway and/or I slow down if I can’t.

    Obviously if a cyclist insists on only using their near useless rear brake high speeds are going to be dangerous. I’m lucky to stop within a block from 25 mph using just the rear brake.

  • Corvus Corax

    ‘avoid most of the common mishaps’ – yes, I am glad to be able to say that we seem to be coming into agreement. I have never had any serious incidents (except for the time I blew a tire at the bottom of a hill at a sharp curve on Rte 1 and did a long skid on my side – still finished the trip back to SF). I am always ready to take a quick right at intersections; I am always careful about forced merges around double-parkers; I am always watchful – period. But shit happens: drivers you can’t see fling open their doors as if they hadn’t a care in the world, people park with their wheels turned out, so you can’t know when a car will shoot out of its spot without looking. I see all of this, if not daily, at least weekly (usually a few times a week). So I know that being alert and watchful, although necessary, is not enough: we need better infrastructure, better enforcement and education. Way too many cyclist are injured and killed by inattentive and dangerous drivers. I am 72, so while you were being born, I was graduating from boarding school and enrolling at NYU. I got my first two-wheeler, a Raleigh 3-speed back in 1955 and although not allowed to ride off the block, was zooming around Manhattan, and then 2 years later, biking for transportation in Northwestern NJ.

  • Stuart

    > I’m in Brooklyn and there’s enormous fuss here about delivery vehicles double-parking on commercial streets

    Right, that’s closely related to the point I was making: drivers would not tolerate the level of constant blockage that bike lanes in many parts of SF experience. Many drivers will, as in the examples I gave above, block bike lanes in ways that the majority of drivers would find completely unacceptable, but they don’t give it a second thought when it’s “only” the bike lane they are blocking.

    In fact, plenty of drivers can’t even tolerate cyclists taking the lane when there’s no bike lane and the lanes are too narrow for side-by-side travel (i.e., the conditions where the CA driver’s manual suggests that cyclists take the lane). Our very own bobfuss, under the RichLL name, has been a staunch apologist for drivers who perform dangerous and illegal punishment passes against cyclists who do that, saying essentially that the cyclists brought it upon themselves by antagonizing the drivers for daring to go slower than the drivers want to go. Even on multi-lane streets where legal and safe passing is totally possible. Even when it’s because the driver wants to speed in an urban environment, which is also illegal and unsafe.

    So bobfuss has no actual interest in a live-and-let-live road environment where people generally follow the law, and also cut each other some slack. Rather, it’s about cars always being right, and everyone else being wrong. If the topic is taking the lane, it’s their fault if they are hurt or killed. If the topic is obstructed bike lanes, they should wait, and if they dare to go around it’s their fault if they are hurt or killed. If the topic is any kind of protected bike lanes to reduce the problem, it’s every possible excuse for why it’s impractical. And no matter the topic, he’ll justify his anti-cyclist rhetoric with twisted, obsolete statistics to claim that everyone is on his side (basically, his view is that everyone who wasn’t a daily commute cyclist in 2010 is pro-car and anti-bicycle).

    He wants bicyclists to be marginalized, and for as many people as possible to be afraid of biking, and for those who still dare to bike to meekly submit to anything drivers subject them to, because he views safer, more multi-modal streets as a threat to his car.

  • Joe R.

    I think the fact we both never had really serious incidents speaks volumes for the value of doing the things we do. I’ll certainly agree you can’t avoid everything. A big fear of mine is being rear-ended by a drunk driver going at a very high rate of speed. Nothing I can do to avoid it. I would probably be dead before I realized I had been hit. I also have my own “hill mishap” where I crashed into a pothole at 37 mph one night. I came out of it with just road rash. I was back on the bike the next day. I learned from that incident to avoid high speeds unless I knew a given stretch of road was in good shape after having gone over it recently.

    I certainly agree infrastructure is key to cyclist safety. The more we’re separated from motor vehicles, the less chance of one taking us out.

  • Corvus Corax

    I live a half-block away from San Jose Ave: it is a small half-street where even 20mph would be too fast and even foolish as there are stop-signs at every intersection. San Jose Expressway is NOT a city street, so 35 would be fine (I do see many cars doing 60 or more on it which is NOT safe).

    You sound suspiciously like RichLL, so if you are not he, you are still someone I choose not to interact with, so I think this is my last post to you. Bye-bye.

  • Corvus Corax

    One night, many years ago now, I was biking home from a party, late; this is before bike lanes went in on Valencia, so at that hour, after 2am, Mission was a safer bet, so there I was, close to the parked cars as dooring was less likely, and there was suddenly something wrong about the light from behind, so without further thought I ditched between 2 parked cars, turned to see a Bonneville or some other ultra-wide car going by almost scraping the parked cars. I realized the guy was drunk, and that the thing that was wrong about the light was that some of it was coming from WAY too far from the right. Whew! He was going slowly, so I likely would not have been killed, but I am just as glad that I ditched.

  • Joe R.

    Good thing you realized something was wrong in time to ditch. As strange as it might sound, I’ve had premonitions a few times. It was sort of like an invisible hand gently nudging me to the left. And then a half block later a car door might swing open where I wasn’t expecting it. That happened to me a few times. I usually use the same more straightforward methods you use to avoid mishaps, but I also don’t ignore premonitions the rare times I get them.

  • Stuart

    Because the car has about 40 times the kinetic energy, and is thus wildly more likely to seriously injure or kill someone. You can’t just hand-wave that away as you did above: plenty of collisions happen where people have barely started to brake, if even that. You also, in your calculations, ignored factors like human reaction time, which is a *huge* factor in collisions, since it’s several seconds long on average.

    So say someone steps out 100 feet in front of someone in each scenario you’ve described (yes, they shouldn’t, but maybe it’s a child, maybe they are impaired in some way, maybe they just didn’t see you–things happen, and whether or not people die when they do is a pretty important aspect of safety):
    – The driver starts braking at about the point where they hit the person (100ft – 35mph * 2s), so is still going 35mph.
    – The cyclist started with 40x less kinetic energy, and has had about 25 feet (100ft – 25mph * 2s) to slow down and reduce that even further.

    (And that’s without even looking at factors like reduced visibility in a car, maneuverability, size, etc.)

    Drivers kill at least an order of magnitude more pedestrians than cyclists even when you account for number of trips. That’s not a coincidence, it’s physics.

  • Corvus Corax

    I envy your ability to trust your premonitions: I tend to walk a fine line between the goofy idea that things will work out, if not for the best, at least ok, and generalized anxiety. So any dark premonitions tend not to happen. I have been discounting them for a long time now, ignoring them, actually. If I didn’t, I would be ducking for cover a few times a day.

  • cmu

    Well, the consensus (any my physics background) says a cycle does not stop shorter than a car (particularly one with anti-skid technology.) The point is, even if I concede all your points, so what if the “bike stops shorter” by a few feet. In the majority of cases, at 30mph, a bike
    emergency stop that fast will result in a spill.

    Why cite a hypothetically perfect, well-hunkered (as it that makes much of a difference to cg unless you’re a contortionist.) wind-resistance, etc when we should be talking about the average rider? Then you could say a racing driver will stop faster than, say, me, which is true.

  • cmu

    >Our very own bobfuss, under the RichLL name, has been a staunch apologist for drivers who perform dangerous and illegal punishment passes

    Wow, that’s insane. Had not read too much of that poster before, have to read in the future keeping this type of comment in mind. I thought he was just being snarky.

  • bobfuss

    You make a mistake of thinking I am here to fight against the war on cars. Not so. While I’d agree that the city does little to make the lives of its drivers and car owners any better (unlike the vast majority of the nation, which does) it seems to me that the ideal cited by some here of a car-free future is so remote and unlikely that it quite simply would not be a good use of my time to advocate against that.

    If my utterings here educate some, stimulate others and entertain even a minority, then it’s a useful effort. Clearly Streetsblog enjoys my activity and enthusiasm here as well, since it has resisted calls to censor or suppress more diverse opinions such as mine. And my input should enable those who wish to advocate more successfully to better hone their arguments.

    For the rest, I enjoy the cut and thrust of debate, and am pretty damn good at it. I doubt that you and Covus would take much notice of me if I really was the type of gormless one-liner uneducated troll that do feature in many sites.

    When I point out that it’s false to claim that this woman was punched for riding a bike, that is pretty much obviously the case. Her mistake was escalating a minor incident with someone who just happened to be unhinged. And I maintain that there are a sufficient number of such crazies around to make that a bad idea.

    Sometimes the best thing to do is just move on and accept the imperfections of the world. Living in a crowded city and expecting a smooth, uninterrupted ride anywhere is naive.

  • John Lindstrom

    Driver: turn the corner, stop on a side street, and let the passenger walk a little farther. No conflict. Car driver will have to take more time, however. PATIENCE is not an attribute of car drivers, including myself. Driving brings out the worst in me! That’s why I like myself better on a bike.

  • bobfuss

    Except that in the parts of SF where this happens, those side streets are just as congested. And I may be setting down children, seniors or disabled people. Or I may be picking them up and so need to be at that precise location.

    I like myself more in a car than on a bike, because it is safer. And funnily enough it is cyclists who often strike me as impatient when, as in this case, they can’t tolerate being delayed for a few seconds.

  • bobfuss

    There is often no more space on a side street, and if i am picking up then it has to be at precisely the arranged location

  • John Lindstrom

    Good Point about pickup.. We know that exact spot in Oakland, and have stopped our car to meet someone in the special pullout(s?) for that purpose. Bus stop is there too. We Blocked No One. Side streets there could work also, as I recall….much quieter and less busy. It’s definitely not smart to agitate a driver!!

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