Let’s blame car drivers, not the pedestrians wearing black clothes!!?? | An Alternative View | Diana Diamond | Palo Alto Online |

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Let’s blame car drivers, not the pedestrians wearing black clothes!!??

Uploaded: Feb 22, 2019
A recent car column by Gary Richards in the Mercury News offered a reader suggestion that pedestrians and bicyclists should avoid wearing black clothes at night, a sentiment I readily agree with. But the responses perplexed me. One woman called the idea “in very bad taste,” suggesting it was the driver’s responsibility to watch for pedestrians and the notion of lighter clothing was simply “victim blaming.”

Another said it was a “disservice” because it “lets drivers off the hook for their own responsibility.” Another said the idea of wearing lighter clothing was “not cool and not amusing.”

Do these brighter clothing critics know what it’s like to drive a car on a dark rainy night with headlights on and suddenly encounter a pedestrian clad in black crossing a street in the middle of the block? Or encounter a cyclist dressed in black on a bike with no back reflector, no front light, no pedal reflectors? It’s terribly scary, particularly when these bikers soar through stop signs without looking either direction. What particularly worries me is when I see teens on an early winter night dressed in black, pedaling along with only a tiny rear reflector. Don’t their parents care about the bikes their children ride?

Technically, drivers are responsible if they hit a biker. But I asked a former Palo Alto police chief if such a driver is automatically at fault and he told me (paraphrased), “Not necessarily. The biker also has responsibilities on the road. And no headlights and dark clothing are legal considerations.” Yet I’ve read other reports that say motorists are always at fault.

I checked the official “California Driver Handbook” and it said, “During darkness, bicyclists should avoid wearing dark clothing and must have the following equipment: … a front lamp, a rear red reflector or a solid or flashing red light, a white or yellow reflector on each pedal and on the front and rear wheels or reflectorized tires.”

So residents, how many bikers do you see at night that meets these legal state requirements? And what about that DMV rule that bicyclists must also “obey all traffic signs and signal lights.” We all see bikers that routinely glide through stop signs, without even looking for oncoming traffic.

Of course there are many good cyclists, who ride on well-equipped bicycles and who do obey traffic rules. I salute them. It’s the ones that don’t that worry me.

I also know there are motorists who are careless, especially on right turns, don’t check if cyclists are in the area, and think they own the road. I think these drivers are the biggest offenders because they are licensed drivers of vehicles that are a ton heavier than a bike.

So yes, lighter clothing for both pedestrians and bikers would really help make driving safer. I bought a white winter jacket and feel more visible now as a pedestrian, and my jacket is just as warm as my old black one. That’s one quick solution to a worsening problem.
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Comments

 +   12 people like this
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Feb 22, 2019 at 11:40 am

I wish we could have a sensible conversation about this without always laying blame or being offended.

I recently was blinded by the late afternoon sun. I stopped at a stop sign and was afraid to move because I knew there was a pedestrian somewhere before I stopped but when the sun blinded me I couldn't see. The pedestrian had in fact disappeared but I couldn't tell where - possibly turned round or went into a driveway. There are also many places where shadows on bright days mean that the sidewalk is in shadow and pedestrians often appear to step out of nowhere to cross.

Yes as drivers we have to be very careful of bikes and pedestrians. But when has it become the norm that bikes and pedestrians have carte blanche to step in front of a vehicle and expect the vehicle to stop?


 +   8 people like this
Posted by cedar box, a resident of Downtown North,
on Feb 22, 2019 at 11:41 am

Please be fashionable in your dark clothes!

I will suffer greatly as the driver who couldn't see you until it was too late... it will be awful for both of our families. A tragedy.

But you'll have been quite fashionable!! All your friends will make a note of that at your service.


 +   8 people like this
Posted by resident, a resident of Community Center,
on Feb 22, 2019 at 11:43 am

I was almost hit by a car driver when I was half way across the street in a crosswalk wearing a bright white shirt. Realistically, all colors of clothing look dark if the street is poorly lit and the driver isn't paying enough attention. Once a pedestrian has crossed the first lane, asking them to make eye contact with every car driver is not realistic. I would never make it across the street before the traffic light changed again if I stopped and waited at every lane. Drivers have to turn off their phones and pay attention to what is in front of them.

I also blame the city for making street lights at intersections often too dim. Dim street lights may be adequate for younger drivers, but Palo Alto's population is aging and older drivers often have much worse night vision, especially when they are distracted by a bright cell phone screen.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Annette, a resident of College Terrace,
on Feb 22, 2019 at 1:47 pm

Annette is a registered user.

Another good column - thank you! I look forward to the day that I sell my car and get around in alternative ways. I will gladly forfeit the "pleasure" of sitting in traffic and avoiding perilous situations. Not a problem!


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Diana Diamond, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Feb 22, 2019 at 4:37 pm

Diana Diamond is a registered user.

Looks like I am not the only one encountering road problems.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Rick, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Feb 22, 2019 at 6:38 pm

Not a fan of the PA bicycle community and their drive to install roadblocks for the majority of us who use automobiles, but I have to say that most of them have and use appropriate lighting. Pedestrians who wear dark clothing after dark are, like drunks, responsible for their own outcomes. If I see you, I'll avoid you. If I don't it will be your fault if I hit you, regardless of what the law says. I'm a big fan of conspicuity wear for precisely that reason.


 +   9 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Feb 22, 2019 at 9:37 pm

"I was almost hit by a car driver when I was half way across the street in a crosswalk wearing a bright white shirt."

The writer does not mention whether this was in daylight or not, but let's presume it was at night. We have a new consideration here.

To light up the road and avoid dazzling everybody, modern car headlights are designed to be very very superbright below their mounting level--where the road is--and much less bright above--where people's eyes tend to be. That means the area above the waist is relatively dimly lit.

To be visible to drivers after dark, wear light colored trousers, socks, shoes, and/or reflective bands on the lower legs, because that's where the headlights' light will be.

And don't wear camo when biking at anytime.


 +   9 people like this
Posted by Rick, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Feb 23, 2019 at 8:40 am

@Curmudgeon - exactly.

...and pedestrians stepping into crosswalks without looking and, worse, listening to music. I'm a big fan of those YouTube videos with security cam video showing oblivious pedestrians narrowly avoiding death and blithely carrying on totally unawares. Thankfully YouTube doesn't show those times the pedestrian met a grisly death.

Physics people, physics. You might be in the right, but don't be dead-right. Hoary comment, but true.


 +   10 people like this
Posted by mauricio, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Feb 23, 2019 at 1:27 pm

mauricio is a registered user.

I generally don't blame victims of accidents, but I've had many instances of pedestrians or joggers wearing very dark closed with no reflective stripes during very poor visibility:darkness, heavy rain or heavy fog ,who assume they are visible to drivers. Despite being very cautious under such conditions when I drive, I came close to hitting invisible joggers and pedestrians several times when they would suddenly step onto the road. Luckily, I always managed to stop in time. When I walk my dog in darkness, fog or heavy rain, I always wear reflective cloths and attach a blinking light to my dog's collar. Why not reduce the odds of gettin hit by a driver who can't see you?


 +   10 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Feb 23, 2019 at 4:59 pm

Another thing: modern cars interface many routine controls, including builtin "hands-off" cellphone connections, thru a center-mounted touch screen. It's cheaper to make than all those old fashioned knobs and levers we learn by feel, but it guarantees that the driver is often distracted from what's in front of the car. Throw in an obtuse user interface design and ... like, you're trying to turn up the heat, but you instead set the radio to a grunge rock station at high volume, then you accidentally speed dial your boss while you're trying to fix that. Less likely you'll notice an insouciant jaywalker at that moment. And it's still cold in your car.

This is how the robots will win.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Walker, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Feb 23, 2019 at 7:31 pm

Here is the thing - the reflective vests or bands are cheap .. look on Amazon. It will get delivered right to your door. If you are a regular walker at night (dog walks?) put on the reflective vest/band right before you start walking.

If you are not a regular walker and happen to be on the road after dark, turn on your cell phone light .. eh, big deal, the battery will drain faster.

Not saying let the drivers off the hook - they are equally responsible. However, in a battle between the human and the machine .. the machine is likely to cause major damage to the human .. be safe , be reasonable, be aware !


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Feb 23, 2019 at 9:12 pm

Just as I feared, we can't have a decent discussion here without laying blame and causing/being offended.

Saying that, there are a lot of good points being raised too.

The sneakers I wear when walking actually have a reflective strip on them, I didn't know that when I bought them.

Many jackets, backpacks, etc. have reflective strips as do some bike helmets. There are a lot of safety items around. I have a small flashlight attached to a key chain which is what I use when walking at night.

A driver can be distracted by many things (other than cell phones) e.g. a baby crying in the car, kids fighting, a bird/squirrel running across the street, in fact so many things that it makes sense to me to make sure that if I am about to cross the street the only way I can be sure of being safe is to take an extra few seconds to wait until I see that an approaching vehicle is going to stop. My safety is worth the extra time.


 +   9 people like this
Posted by FINALLY SOMEONE MENTIONED IT!, a resident of Mayfield,
on Feb 24, 2019 at 12:14 am

This is so true!!! How many times i was frustrated, cursing under my breath at pedestrians who totally blended with the darkness, and casually crossing streets without even bothering to look out for cars ...


 +   18 people like this
Posted by Euro born, a resident of Charleston Gardens,
on Feb 24, 2019 at 12:19 am

I grew up in Europe ... before we crossed a road, we always stopped, looked twice in each direction for the possible car, and ONLY when all was clear, ONLY THEN we crossed.
Here -- i am stunned daily. Pedestrians just go, without even turning their heads or stopping ...


 +   5 people like this
Posted by rsmithjr, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on Feb 24, 2019 at 8:20 am

rsmithjr is a registered user.

Bicycle riders do not obey the rules of the road very well. Certainly some do, but on the average, it is deplorable, and also dangerous.

The most egregious thing is that the simply keep going no matter what. Preserve momentum is the rule.

A stop sign seems to be something that only cars must obey.

This behaviour occurs even when there are many cars. If the bike approaches a four-way stop and there are cars on the other three ways, they will generally run the stop sign without even the appearance of thinking about it.

Bicycles also will not stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk. I have seen older people have to jump out of the way of speeding bicycles.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Feb 25, 2019 at 1:10 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

Good article, and I could add my own experiences and stories online also, but I will refrain. They would only be repeats of what others have spoken out about...spot on...so far. I have experienced those same nighttime nightmares...from walkers and cyclists alike (and from daytime cyclists also, who feel they are to be honored and revered as a special class who are saving the planet by riding their bikes). Well good for them, and let them carry that thought to their graves while they are gliding through intersections and not abiding by the rules of the road. They might think they are dead right, but how much does that matter when they're dead?...and they are dead wrong?


 +   2 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park,
on Feb 27, 2019 at 11:55 am

>> Let's blame car drivers, not the pedestrians wearing black clothes!!??

This statement seems to dismiss the notion of contributory negligence. Pedestrians
and bicyclists both need to make themselves visible as the law requires.

>> We all see bikers that routinely glide through stop signs, without even looking for oncoming traffic.

Do we. I think in my lifetime I have maybe seen one or two, certainly one a few months
ago when a schoolkid drive through a red light his way into the middle of onciming
traffice, and was immediately stopped by a police officer for the stupid thing he did.
He swerved right in front of me forcing me to brake and throwing everything in my car
towards the front in order to avoid hitting him.

This complaint about bicyclists always bothers me. When a bicyclist goes through
an intersection, in my experience, they do not "GLIDE" they approach the intersection
aware of what is going on in the intersection ( often in a way that drivers are not ) and
what they really do is try the best they can to avoid coming to a complete stop and
having to put their foot down on the roadbed - for reasons we can all understand.

Honestly, I see way, way more cars GLIDING through intersections than I do bicyclists.
I don't really agree with the above statement, but a lot of people on Palo Alto Online
make it regularly. What I notice in the news are a lot more stories about motor vehicles
and trucks hitting people than I do them hitting bicyclists, and people do not "GLIDE"
through intersections either.

Drive in Palo Alto on Channing from Newell to the Edgewood Shopping center and
the "gliding" is more common than the stopping at stop signs ... unless the crossing
guard is not duty.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Annette, a resident of College Terrace,
on Feb 28, 2019 at 11:26 am

Annette is a registered user.

@CrescentParkAnon: you wrote "what they really do is try the best they can to avoid coming to a complete stop and having to put their foot down on the roadbed - for reasons we can all understand."

What in the world do you mean? If there's a STOP SIGN or red light why would a bicyclist try to avoid coming to a complete stop? Does the answer have something to do with the clip-in shoes that some bicyclists wear? It has long been my understanding that bicyclists are required to abide by the rules of the road, including stopping fully at stop signs. Automobile drivers cannot possibly anticipate with 100% accuracy when a cyclist is not going to stop at a stop sign.

Have I misinterpreted what you meant by trying to avoid coming to a complete stop?


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Annette, a resident of College Terrace,
on Feb 28, 2019 at 11:26 am

Annette is a registered user.

@CrescentParkAnon: you wrote "what they really do is try the best they can to avoid coming to a complete stop and having to put their foot down on the roadbed - for reasons we can all understand."

What in the world do you mean? If there's a STOP SIGN or red light why would a bicyclist try to avoid coming to a complete stop? Does the answer have something to do with the clip-in shoes that some bicyclists wear? It has long been my understanding that bicyclists are required to abide by the rules of the road, including stopping fully at stop signs. Automobile drivers cannot possibly anticipate with 100% accuracy when a cyclist is not going to stop at a stop sign.

Have I misinterpreted what you meant by trying to avoid coming to a complete stop?


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Annette, a resident of College Terrace,
on Feb 28, 2019 at 11:26 am

Annette is a registered user.

@CrescentParkAnon: you wrote "what they really do is try the best they can to avoid coming to a complete stop and having to put their foot down on the roadbed - for reasons we can all understand."

What in the world do you mean? If there's a STOP SIGN or red light why would a bicyclist try to avoid coming to a complete stop? Does the answer have something to do with the clip-in shoes that some bicyclists wear? It has long been my understanding that bicyclists are required to abide by the rules of the road, including stopping fully at stop signs. Automobile drivers cannot possibly anticipate with 100% accuracy when a cyclist is not going to stop at a stop sign.

Have I misinterpreted what you meant by trying to avoid coming to a complete stop?


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Feb 28, 2019 at 11:34 am

I have just been watching a Waymo car drive around as I was walking on Ross and nearby streets. The car was doing what many cars will be doing at sometime in the future, obeying all the rules and interacting with other road users. There was an operator in the car, but soon we will have empty cars driving around.

Do we really want to step out in front of a driverless car, or be on a bike hoping that the driverless car anticipates that we are not going to stop.

Will driverless cars be able to wave a bike on? Will a driverless car expect a bike to stop at a stop sign?


 +  Like this comment
Posted by bike at home, a resident of Greenmeadow,
on Feb 28, 2019 at 1:29 pm

"Have I misinterpreted what you meant by trying to avoid coming to a complete stop?"

Bicyclists, while actually touting how superior they are because they exercise, are usually too lazy to stop because they have to put a foot down, then start pedaling again without momentum.

It's soooo hard, they say...


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by C b, a resident of Stanford,
on Mar 3, 2019 at 1:59 am

Reasons people wear dark clothing at times:

1) it is the standard non-uniform uniform of essentially every service job in Palo Alto (take a look at the wait staff, busers, bartenders, janitorial workers, and also the dearly missed Steve Frickin' Jobs, and you will be seeing some dark hues in attire. Always. It's not a choice.

2) dark clothes look nice, wash well, and already match what you own already.

3). Eliding bicyclists with pedestrians is silly. They are legally and practically very different from one another.

Alternatives to driving when you can't see the road safely:

1). Not driving

2). Being driven by a professional driver via the gig economy and its well-known corporations, one of which, as its founder reminded us, rhymes with "boober."

3). Walking

4). Biking. Don't forget your reflective vest!


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Vera, a resident of another community,
on Mar 9, 2019 at 12:15 pm

Stop driving when your eyesight deteriorates in middle age. Young people can distinguish people at night wearing dark clothes, actually. Nothing would improve transit more than having fewer drivers on the road. The last time I checked, driving supposedly was a privilege and not a right.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by DIana Diamond, a resident of Midtown,
on Mar 9, 2019 at 3:03 pm

DIana Diamond is a registered user.

TO VERA -

"Stop driving when you are middle age ... young people can distinguish better ... nothing would improve transit more than having fewer cars on the road..."

You've got to be kidding! Middle age is around 50 so you want tog et rid of drivers over 50 -- that's more than half of drivers with licenses. Where are you coming from? Please explain.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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