Articles Posted in Bicycle Accidents

Word that a recent Vision Zero enforcement effort yielded more than 40 citations in just two hours is a reminder both of the program’s importance and of the larger role that our laws and courts play in ensuring the safety of both pedestrians and cyclists.

According to the advocacy organization Bike Portland “the Portland Police Bureau wrote 43 citations (for 61 separate violations) and handed out 23 written warnings… between 6:00 and 8:00 pm on Southeast Hawthorne Blvd between 12th and Cesar E. Chavez Blvd.” As the organization notes, this is a busy area, yet its car-focused traffic design ”hasn’t changed in decades.” It added that the Vision Zero enforcement action took place just a few blocks from the spot where a 15-year-old was killed last August while trying to cross the street.

Vision Zero is an initiative underway in Portland and a number of other cities with the goal of eliminating pedestrian and bicycle fatalities. As bike Portland notes: “unless we stop normalizing dangerous behaviors, introduce more safety regulations on car owners and redesign our streets to encourage safer behavior, this game of cat-and-mouse between police and road users will continue.”

Today is back to school day here in Portland and that means that in many neighborhoods the streets and sidewalks are going to filled with kids headed to school in the morning and home or to after-school activities each afternoon. Coming one week after a 15-year-old was killed while crossing a city street this is a time to reflect on what we can all do to help keep kids safe.

According to a report by TV station KATU, the fatal crosswalk accident took place earlier this month at the corner of Southeast Hawthorne and 43rd. The 15-year-old girl was hit by a 20-year-old driver who “was passing other cars, reaching upwards of 60 mph” before the fatal accident. The girl’s friends and family came together last Friday for a memorial bike ride in her honor that began on Salmon Street, stopped at City Hall and ended at the accident site. “The protestors, specifically, have taken issue with Vision Zero, Portland’s initiative to reduce and eventually eliminate traffic deaths,” KATU wrote about the memorial ride. “Critics argue the initiative hasn’t done much except outline a goal.”

With the accident freshly in mind The Oregonian offered some useful reminders concerning back-to-school safety. The newspaper notes that there are no statewide regulations requiring school zones to be identified in a consistent manner. That creates a special responsibility for drivers to be aware of their surroundings, since it isn’t always immediately clear that one is around a school, especially when in an unfamiliar neighborhood or city. The paper notes that only 30 percent of kids arrive at school in a family car and 22 percent ride a school bus. That leaves about one-third of all students walking to school while another 10 percent ride bikes.

The death over the holiday weekend of a well-known figure in Brooklyn’s cycling community is being investigated by police as a possible intentional hit-and-run, according to the local website Gothamist. The death is focusing attention once again on the dangers the cycling community faces even in cities that strive to be bike-friendly.

The website, citing law enforcement sources and a local television station, reports “that the driver of a black Chevy Camero intentionally crashed into (the victim) around 2:20am Saturday” on a Brooklyn street as he was riding home from his job as a bartender in Manhattan. Video of the incident was captured by a security camera at a restaurant near the scene of the fatal bike and car crash.

It is especially important to note that the victim was riding in a bike lane at the time of the incident. “Investigators believe the driver pulled alongside… slowed down and moved the car partially into the bike lane, where the victim was riding… the driver then hit (the bicycle’s) rear tire and as the victim fell off his bike the driver slammed into him again, running over him and dragging him about 20 to 30 feet.”

According to a recent article in The Oregonian “the city had, as of Friday (April 1), tallied 12 traffic fatalities so far in 2016, compared with seven over the same period last year. Five of those killed were walking when they were hit by a car, and one was riding a bike.” This raises a clear and obvious public policy question: what is the best and most efficient way to fix this situation? Yet according to the newspaper, millions of dollars in federal funds that could be used for essential pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure upgrades are likely to be directed toward other priorities.

As The Oregonian reports: “The debate focuses on a $130 million pool of (federal government) money that comes with few restrictions and can be awarded by Metro over three years to a variety of transportation projects.” Specifically, the question is whether to focus those funds on upgrading pedestrian and bicycle safety infrastructure or to direct it toward other projects, notably mass transit. The money, “known as regional flexible funds, is important to bicycle and pedestrian advocates because most federal funds are earmarked for road or transit projects. The pool is expected to grow by $17 million compared with the last three-year cycle,” the paper writes.

The current plan is to direct most of that money toward “new high-capacity transit lines being planned connecting downtown Portland to Gresham and Tualatin.” There are, however, two strong arguments for focusing the money, instead, on safety upgrades for pedestrians and cyclists. First, those increased fatality statistics, which indicate a serious and rising problem here in the city. Second, the fact that because the sum – $17 million – will go much further and have a more dramatic effect if focused on pedestrian and bike projects. These tend to be small and inexpensive when compared with rail or highway-building which can cost tens of millions of dollars per mile.

A recent blog posting at the Bike Portland website highlights a decision by the city’s Development Commission to spend $88 million to purchase the main downtown post office building (the post notes that the main postal sorting facility is expected to relocate from downtown “to a site near the airport”). That might not seem like it would have an immediate effect on the cycling community, but its impact could be far-reaching.

As the advocacy group outlines, when the post office’s local headquarters moves out of the city center “hundreds of daily truck trips will vanish from the Pearl District area… and the street grid between the north Pearl and the Willamette River will connect for the first time in more than 50 years.” That development alone could have a huge impact on the number of bike accidents in central Portland.

Looking more broadly, the group believes the project will mean better biking connections to the Broadway Bridge. The group also states that “in addition, the bike lanes on Broadway and Lovejoy are due to be upgraded to protected bike lanes.” The proposal is part of a larger plan to create a “Green Loop” consisting of “low-stress bikeways circling the central city” and a large public plaza in front of Union Station. In short, it is a plan that ought to make our famously bike-friendly city an even better place to walk or cycle.

Police say marijuana was involved in last weekend’s hit-and-run death of a Portland cyclist, according to The Oregonian. The newspaper quotes Portland police saying the 38 year old bike rider “was wearing a helmet and the back of his bike was equipped with a flashing red light” when he was struck from behind by a 26-year-old driver.

The fatal Oregon bike accident occurred early Saturday evening “in the 4200 block of Northeast Lombard Street, which is also called Portland Highway.” The Oregonian reports that the driver left the scene of the accident but was arrested shortly thereafter about three miles away. The suspect has been booked “into Multnomah County jail on accusations of second-degree manslaughter, reckless driving and driving under the influence of intoxicants.” The cyclist died at the scene of the Oregon bike accident.

The legalization of recreational marijuana use here in Oregon will create new and potentially challenging legal issues over the coming years, but when looking at an accident like this it is important to keep the basic facts in mind. Based on the published accounts citing local police this fatal bike accident involved an impaired and irresponsible driver.

Portland’s drive to eliminate bike and pedestrian deaths within a decade, known as “Vision Zero”, took an important step forward this week with the release of a 78-page “vision statement”, according to a recent blog post by Bike Portland. The document was prepared by the city’s Bureau of Transportation and was distributed to the Vision Zero task force on Monday. In the words of Bike Portland, the document “offers the first glimpse into the concrete steps PBOT might take in this unprecedented safety effort.”

As I wrote a year ago, the “Vision Zero” idea is modeled on a program originally introduced by New York City mayor Bill de Blasio. The goal, in both Portland and New York, is to bring dramatic safety improvements to the city’s streets over the course of a decade and, in doing so, to eliminate pedestrian and cyclist deaths while also making the roads safer for drivers.

A key component of the plan is applying sophisticated data analysis to decision-making about traffic, pedestrian and bike safety. As Bike Portland notes, one slide in this week’s PBOT presentation showed that 62 percent of all fatal crashes in the city involve drugs or alcohol, and that of that total alcohol accounted for eight of every ten crashes. The clear message is that drunk driving education and enforcement must be significant components of any city-wide traffic safety plan.

A report released earlier this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlights both the health benefits of cycling and the potential risks. As the report notes, “only about 1% of trips across all modes of transportation” are made by bicycle here in the United States, but the number of deaths associated with cycling remains disproportionately high – and in some places much higher than in others.

The report examines nearly 30,000 cyclist deaths on American roads over a 38 year period – 1975 to 2012 – and leads with some good news: “annual cyclist fatalities declined from a high of 955 in 1975 to 717 in 2012” with the proportion of cyclist deaths among all motor vehicle-involved fatalities dropping from 2.3 to 1.4 percent from 1975 to 2003. In the decade since, however, the figure has risen back to 2.2 percent – meaning that proportionately we are pretty much where we started 40 years ago.

A table accompanying the CDC news release shows that over the period measured by the study fatal Oregon bicycle and car accidents have fallen by 45.9% – a figure that places our state 35th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The greatest improvement was shown by Vermont, where fatalities dropped by more than 82%. Florida (9.7%) and Wyoming (6.7%) had the worst improvement rates.

A report on the public radio program Marketplace this week focused on yet another way that our city is becoming a leader in promoting cycling. According to the report, a locally-based tech entrepreneur “has created an app called Ride, which asks cyclists to collect data as they cruise around Portland. The data will then help the city plan better cycling infrastructure, like signals, lanes, safer routes and where to avoid traffic.”

The report notes that around six percent of Portlanders use bikes to travel to and from work, a figure far above the national average of one percent. More dramatically, “that number leaps to 25 percent in the inner city.” Combine this with almost 350 miles of bike infrastructure in and around Portland and our city is uniquely well-equipped to help people improve both their health and the environment by replacing cars with bikes.

Unfortunately, Portland bicycle accidents involving traffic remain far more common than they should be. The hope is that by collecting a constant, and far more accurate, stream of data those accidents can be curbed – something that would benefit everyone.

A blog post this week from Bike Portland contained some good news for all of us concerned about bike and car accidents here in the city: “After more than a year of focused activism… one of Portland’s highest-traffic neighborhood greenways has been chosen as the site of a traffic calming pilot project.”

The announcement referred to Clinton Street where, it said, Portland will soon begin building a series of “diverters, speed bumps and signage” designed to slow down traffic in an area that a city study found “has some of the higher auto traffic volumes and speeds in the neighborhood greenway system” according to Bike Portland.

The group notes that “Diverters are already used on many neighborhood greenways to allow foot and bike traffic while blocking car traffic at certain intersections, preventing it from being useful to non-local car traffic.” (if you are unsure what exactly a “diverter” is click on the link below and look at the photo accompanying the article)

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