Friday, February 11, 2011

No man’s land

The status of bicyclists in crosswalks closes out the week.  It’s complicated.  Municipal Ordinance 10.02.270 defines a pedestrian as “a person afoot.”  There are a number of ordinances that concern pedestrians, including a number of provisions in chapter 10.14, which afford pedestrians the right of way when lawfully within a crosswalk.  But a bicyclist is not “a person afoot,” and thus is not entitled to the same right of way protection in a crosswalk—unless, that is, he or she has dismounted and become a pedestrian pushing a bicycle.  In fact, ordinance 10.48.130 places the responsibility on a bicyclist entering a roadway from a sidewalk or the sidewalk space to “…yield the right-of-way to all vehicles lawfully approaching on said roadway.”

Thus, not only is a bicyclist not entitled to the right of way in a crosswalk, he or she is arguably obligated to yield to any approaching motorists before leaving the sidewalk and entering the crosswalk.  Not only is it a legal twilight zone, crossing intersections in a crosswalk on a bike presents a number of risks and challenges to a bicyclist.  To pick a simple example, consider the intersection of S. 84th Street and A Street.

84A

A northbound cyclist on the bike path/sidewalk along the east side of 84th Street approaches A Street with a green light, and has three vehicles to contend with as he or she prepares to enter the crosswalk.  Vehicle A is waiting for northbound traffic to clear in order to make a left turn onto A St. eastbound.  Vehicle B is preparing to make a right turn onto A Street eastbound.  Vehicle C is preparing to leave a stopped position and make a right-turn-on-red to proceed northbound on 84th Street.  All these vehicles will be turning through the crosswalk the bicyclist is about to enter.

From my perspective, I am most concerned about vehicle B, which is approaching from my rear.  Vehicles A and C are at least in my line of sight, and I have a chance to make eye contact and maybe get some indication from the drivers that I am seen.  With vehicle B, I must rely on my hearing, and perhaps a quick glance over the left shoulder.  If any one of these vehicles collides with me while I am in the crosswalk, there is no violation for failure to yield the right of way, because I am in a legal no man’s land as a bike in a crosswalk .

This is a pretty straightforward intersection compared to Normal and South, Cotner and Vine, or 27th and Capital Parkway, where there are odd angles, more lanes, more movements, more distractions, and thus more danger. Over the years, I have seen many car-bike accidents of this nature, and dealt with a few people who were frustrated and perplexed that the driver of the car didn’t get a ticket.  Such is life: proceed at your own risk.

Personally, I am far more concerned about survival than about someone getting a ticket for mowing me over. This is why cyclists should never listen to music, always wear a helmet, and assume that they are completely and totally invisible when crossing an intersection.  Simple physics is at work: 200 lbs. of bike and rider will always loose in a match with 3000 lbs. or car and driver. 

21 comments:

Steve said...

Great example, Chief. I'm glad you brought up the sidewalk scenario. It may seem odd to some people that a bicycle would have to yield in a situation such as that. Personally, I feel it only makes perfect sense that the smaller, slower moving object would yield to a larger faster one. After all, cars have to stop and wait if a train is approaching a crossing, don't they? This idea could logically take a step further and require pedestrians to yield to bicycles and autombiles. I mean, after all, why make a two-ton moving object come to a stop so that a 150-pound person can cross the street first? Often, the person might actually get across the street sooner if they simply waited for the car to pass. After all, it takes several seconds for the car to come to a stop, and the person usually waits until it does before venturing out from the curb. Had the car kept moving, it would have passed sooner than it could come to a stop.

Pat Howell said...

I remember working a car/bike accident on the North side of "O" at 14th where the bicyclist decided to ride across the crosswalk. He didn't think he was riding as he said he only had one foot on the left pedal without actually straddling the bike. A guy driving a nice older GTO wasn't happy with the damage left when the bike hit his quarter panel. The bicyclist was less than happy when I gave him the ticket for riding in the crosswalk.

Coach said...

Thanks Chief. You bring up a good point. But actually, from a cyclists perspective the Car C making the right turn onto 84th and if the cyclist was approaching from the other side of A street ( Let’s say that is the North side.)is the worst case scenario. Often times what happens is Car C is looking to the South because they can make the Right turn and merge into traffic on a on a red light - the cyclist in this situation would have the Walk sign to proceed. The car C vehicle will often scoot into the cross walk as they are looking to the South for an opening and without looking North to check for pedestrian and cycling traffic and impede the path to carefully cross the intersection. We have many cycling path intersections where this is the case. Examples would be the Rock Island running along Capitol Parkway.

Steve, all I can say is you scare me, and I hope I'm never in your path of potential destruction.

Tom Casady said...

Coach-

Quite true, right-turn-on-red motorists are likely to be checking for their opening, and if you are coming from the opposite direction on the sidewalk, you're out of the driver's "cone of attention". Eye contact helps protect you from this, if you can see into the vehicle and tell that the driver is looking to the south. It's still not 100%, though. first of all, you might not be able to see the driver (A-pillar, window tint, darkeness, etc.), and second--as any bicyclist or motorcyclist knows--sometimes you think a driver is looking right at you, when in fact they are looking right through you.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the commentary, chief.

Cycling in Lincoln is a joy. This great, flat city with an amazing trail network makes it possible for me to rarely drive my car. The earlier commenter was right: a turning car looking into the flow of traffic is the most unaware a driver can be of cyclists moving the other way.

I have one comment regarding Wednesday's post about riding "as close as practical" to the side of roads. Getting as close as practical to the side of a lane does not necessarily make that lane safe for passing. Some or most lanes on the road are too narrow to fit both a bike and a passing car safely. Especially when there's potholes scattered around, a bicycle will drift away from the side to avoid them just as a car likely will. I try to share lanes when possible, but sometimes it simply doesn't make sense to offer room in the lane where a car won't fit anyway. It may impede the flow of traffic a bit but it still fits within the "as close as practical" wording, and angered drivers only have their own impatience and sense of entitlement to blame.

Thanks for discussing this topic!

-Loves to commute

Anonymous said...

Ultimately, let the insurance company deal with it. I've never came across an insurance company that won't settle on the side of the pedestrian even when they are at fault. In the long run, we all pay through our pockets for incompetent outdated laws or drivers.

Dave said...

THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!!! A much needed article!!

Anonymous said...

Chief-Based on your diagram, I would conclude the light is green for N/SB traffic since A is already in the intersection. Therefore, Vehicle A would most likely yield to vehicle B. You would observe a turn signal hopefully on vehicle B which would/should make you yield as a bike rider. In a perfect world vehicle C would observe you less than 30 ft. away and would wait for you to cross with the signal.

In real life, A and B would turn simultaneously, and C would turn right on red in front of you. So I have a feeling you would stop and let the traffic clear before proceeding. Just a guess.

256

Anonymous said...

As a cyclist, I never play chicken with something 20 or 30 times my mass. I also run the appropriate-color strobe, front and rear, in anything but sunny weather. The Chief is right, a bike+rider is a very small vehicle combination, and some drivers have less than great vision. They'll see that strobe, though, even at night in a foggy rain - if they don't, they're either blind, stumbling drunk, or both.

A helmet goes without saying, but it's your choice, because if you think your brain is worth protecting, or if you think it isn't, you're probably right.

ARRRRG!!!! said...

I always ride on the side of the road and cross the street in the crosswalk. I just hope Steve doesn't drive a bus.

Mr. Wilson said...

Where do wheelchairs fit in to the equation?

Steve said...

I'm not saying I don't yield to pedestrians, as that is the current law. I'm just saying from a logical standpoint, it ought to be the other way around.

Tom Casady said...

Steve,

That's how I took your comment, from a survival perspective, but I can see where it could have been misinterpreted a bit.

Mr. Wilson,

Darned good question. Wonder how a prosecutor or attorney in a civil action would look at that. Someone in a wheelchair wouldn't be "a person afoot" either, would they?

Tom Casady said...

By the way,

Several years ago, I asked the City's Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee to look into this, opining that maybe the law needed to be revised to afford cyclists the same right of way in a crosswalk as pedestrians. My interest was spurred by two accidents of this type in a short time span that involved the adult children of people I knew personally. Apparently the lawyers had some issues with that, revolving around the relative speed of approach of a pedestrian vs. a cyclist, and no proposal ever emerged from the deliberations, to my knowledge.

Steve said...

There is certainly a difference in the relative speed of a pedestrian and a bicycle approaching an intersection. Some bikers are probably doing around 20 mph, or even more as they approach, and many seldom slow down at all. A car, checking traffic in all directions, perhaps before a turn, might think everything is clear having looked in all directions, and all of a sudden there is a bicycle right in front of them.


I had an interesting situation some years ago, but it's too long a story for a blog. However, it brings up a question I've wondered about for some time: is it legal for a bicycle to pass on the right between a line of cars and the curb?

Steve said...

By the way, my theory on right of way is not just from the point of view of surviving should there be a collision, it also make sense from a "green" point of view. Why should an auto (or several of them) burn extra gas by coming to a stop and then having to accelerate again in order to avoid making a pedestrian or bicycle be at rest for a few seconds until it passes? This is also my main argument against the "no right turn on red" signs and similar non-sensical traffic controls.

Anonymous said...

I would also like to see an ordinance or regulation that would require bicyclists to obey the same laws as motor vehicles. Right now they ignore stop signs, traffic lights and one way streets. I am sure if I hit one I will be blamed because I wasn't paying attention even though the cyclist ignored the traffic signal.

kupo said...

The Law is fine were it is. I commute to work come hell or high waters and I attest to this: There are different types of cyclists and we see each other all the time on the trails, Hi Guys! I happen to think of my bicycle as a time-efficient mode of transportation (among other thought-out reasons). This means at the rate I'm traveling even the keenest eyes may not realize how fast/slow I'm going (same reason cars have tail lights). The above demonstrated scenario means in order to survive here the cyclist must either dismount at the cross walk or ride in the street to make himself apparent for all to see and be cautious of. The real challenge for our Great City and perhaps you Chief, as far as cyclist are concerned, will be to make cycle routes clearly known to all and have motorists acknowledge a cyclists right to exist on the street (especially when it's a bike route).

Judy said...

Thanks Chief for bringing up this subject again. Along with riding as close to the side as practical, some bicyclists need to be reminded of the advisability of wearing safety gear. There is one gentlemen who consistently rides south on 14th street from north of Superior -- in the dark, wearing only dark clothing, with no reflectors or lights. I've barely missed him several times this winter, especially on foggy mornings. I ride for pleasure, and used to ride to work also, and so am aware of the issue from both sides, but everyone should remember that safety is more important than any perceived right of way.

Anonymous said...

I have tried walking my bike though it affords one lawful protection I am not convinced it is any safer. It takes one longer to cross the street thus making the motorist really Pissed ! They are never very happy, probably because there fat, unfit and unhealthy?

EJ said...

I wish I would have known the law better several years ago when I hit a bicyclist in the crosswalk at 9th & J. I approached 9th from the west on J ready to turn right and head south. With 9th being a one-way, I was looking north for my opening to turn onto 9th as I rolled through the crosswalk (no stop sign). A bicyclist zipped from the south on the sidewalk directly into the crosswalk. I clipped his rear tire with my bumper. I think he may have dropped to the ground, but I'm not sure. He proceeded across J. I rolled down my window and asked if he was OK. He flipped me off and I went home. From home, I called to report the accident. The bicyclist was at the station reporting the accident. An officer came to my home. I filed the report. He said he understood why I didn't see the bicyclist, and that he had lectured they bicyclist about riding on the sidewalk, but that he had to give me a ticket, because even a bicyclist has the right of way to enter the crosswalk. I was able to take a STOP class, during which I learned that I shouldn't have been given a ticket in the first place -- not exactly because of the ordinance as described here, but because I was at the intersection first and thus I had the right of way.