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Aftermath of a Bicycle/Car Accident on Lincoln Ave

Original post made by Bob Wenzlau, Palo Alto High School, on Apr 23, 2012

This morning I generated my own news - striking an opening car door while biking on Lincoln in a construction zone on my way to work, and flying to the street over the bars. No hospital required, but bruised and cut. Perhaps this note is an unnecessary distraction, but I hope it can help avoid this for others.

How did it happen? At the morning school commute, I was followed by a large truck on Lincoln that caused me to ride closer to parked cars than normal. Then a separate contractor car door swung open, I hit the door, and went flying into the street to an uncomfortable and bruising landing. (Lucky I had the helmet)

How can this be avoided? The contractor, probably correctly, sees no duty of his project as it relates to public streets though this occurred 5 feet from the project site. Through my lens, I see it differently. When a project fills the street with delivery and contractor parking, there is a duty to provide some advisory for pedestrian/bikers. This is even more important on a corridor to a school site.

Perhaps the best recommendation to parents these days is to avoid Lincoln on bikes between Waverley and Emerson -- use Kingsley instead for biking. Wait for the construction project to be completed. Wait for the street to be patched.

In the long term, I would hope that the City to direct contractors on major projects that occur near schools to consider a bike/pedestrian safety plan. My accident could be avoided with coning around activity at the site. I would have preferred this bit of red tape to the medical tape now wrapped on my arm.

Comments (17)

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Posted by dooring
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 23, 2012 at 1:15 pm

Opening a vehicle door without checking for traffic behind you (cars or bicycles) is illegal. If you were injured and called the police, they would likely have cited him.

You could have avoided this problem by riding 5 feet away from parked cars regardless of following traffic. Since this truck was already following you, he was unlikely to run you over (unless you flew under his wheels after getting knocked over by a car door). If you're riding a safe distance from parked cars, following traffic can change lanes to pass you if they want.

The 5 foot rule applies to most roads without marked bike lanes or wide shoulders. Cars should change lanes to pass. Sneaking up behind a bicyclist and blasting your horn is illegal and should be reported to the police.

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Posted by Bob Wenzlau
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 23, 2012 at 2:16 pm

Thanks for the note back.

When I ride 5 feet in the street I have endured lots of road rage incidents. Even though it is a "right", it appears to generate frustration in drivers. I have two modes of response - honking at me if I assert the 5-foot rule, or more aggressively passing me where they then dive in. Lincoln, like many Palo Alto streets, has become a freeway offramp and shortcut, so the folks on the street are still in a highway mode.

I guess I will rethink my gracious behavior and ride farther in the street, but it carries a different and separate risk.

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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Apr 23, 2012 at 2:28 pm

Bob- I'm really sorry that this happened, but I'm also glad your weren't seriously injured.

I've noticed this problem all over local towns. It's also a problem to drive by these construction sites & it truly is as if the workers & foreman really don't care how they impact others on the street. I had a near-miss in Crescent Park twice w/in the space of one house being worked on. In both cases, the workers were at fault, not me.

More & more, this area has become more dangerous to everyone due to lousy drivers, dangerous cyclists & ill-mannered pedestrians. More accidents like yours, not less, are sadly becoming the norm.

Have your seen this video from the news segment People Behaving Badly?
Web Link

Lest we think it's just in EPA - today, on Stanford campus, a HUGE tour bus was stopped in a crosswalk at lunch, in front of a building which has a cafe. None of us drivers could safely see pedestrians from one end of the crosswalk until we, too, were in the middle of the crosswalk. No, the bus wasn't having a mechanical problem - I saw it pull away a few minutes later.

Best wishes in staying safe!!

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Posted by Occasional Cyclist
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 23, 2012 at 3:18 pm

Thanks for your comment and I am so pleased you are not more seriously hurt. I know this is not exactly your scenario, but I put it into the discussion nonetheless.

I see the problem this way. When I am on my bike and there is a parked car which may have someone who is about to open a door in my path, I ring my bicycle bell rapidly to make sure they know I am approaching. I do not move further into the center of the road unless I first look over my shoulder to check there is no traffic about to overtake me, the same way I would check my mirror and use a signal if I was in a car and stop to wait til it was safe to change lanes.

Sometimes it is important to remember to ride your bike as you would drive your car. You must let other traffic know what you are about to do.

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Posted by Pedestrian
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 23, 2012 at 3:27 pm

Are bicycles required to have a bell? They used to. As a pedestrian I've been overtaken by a silent bicycle with no warning, no bell, no shoutout, nothing. Scare me unnecessarily.

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Posted by dooring
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 23, 2012 at 3:39 pm

Ringing a bell at parked cars is generally useless. In most cases, there will be a row of parked cars with most of them having tinted windows. You really cannot tell if one of them is about to open their door. Better to ride 5 feet away from all of them. Even if you do ring your bell, modern cars are so well sound-insulated that the driver is unlikely to hear you until it is too late.

You should not be moving left to go around parked cars. If there are any parked cars in the street block ahead, you should choose a line that allows you to clear all of them by 5 feet without you moving in and out between parked cars. Sometimes you will be more than 5 feet from the curb; that is fine. Following car drivers know what you are doing. Weaving in and out makes you invisible to distracted drivers and a sitting duck.

Yes, following marked bike lanes is easier than picking your own line, but not all streets have bike lanes. Also, there are going to be times when cars or other obstacles block the bike lane and you need to choose a better line anyway.

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Posted by Bob Wenzlau
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 23, 2012 at 4:09 pm

The conversation is helping my recuperation - thanks.

The accident happened so quickly so there was no time for a bell. The car door opened so and my front bike hub caught the edge of the door, and I was flying.

Examining the damage to the guy's car, one can get a sense of the force involved. I count myself lucky that I did not get more cut up by this, nor that the pedal (rather than front hub) got mixed up.

Link to Photo of Car: Web Link

Bells are good. I use a brass bell, and try to alert pedestrians in underpasses as I might need to get their attention. In general I am sorry to startle folks with the bell, and some pedestrians are walking in a deep state of music (ear buds plugged in) so it takes some heavy bell ringing to get a reaction.

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Posted by Katie
a resident of Addison School
on Apr 23, 2012 at 6:21 pm

My son rides his bike to Paly down Lincoln every day, and just today said he was nearly hit by a car going down Bryant, because he had such a difficult time seeing around all the parked cars and trucks from the construction projects on the corner. He stopped to look, but had to go at least half way onto Bryant in order to see around the cars/trucks.

I have no answers, but am sorry that this problem is causing so much many dangerous situations.

I'm glad the gentleman in the original post was not badly injured, but there is a real problem that needs to be addressed with the transportation and planning department.

And, I believe there is a meeting tomorrow night at Addison Elementary School regarding community input on the proposed "safe routes" planned for the streets near Addison.

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Posted by Outside Observer
a resident of another community
on Apr 23, 2012 at 8:12 pm

The laws of physics trump the laws of man.

If you don't want to be killed on a bicycle, don't use one. What could be simpler?

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Posted by reckless drivers
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 23, 2012 at 9:37 pm

Is the reckless driver in the previous comment saying that pedestrians should be banned from our city? More pedestrians are killed by cars than bicyclists. Or should we ask the cops to crack down harder on reckless drivers?

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Posted by Paly '82
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 23, 2012 at 11:06 pm

I am sorry to read of this unfortunate incident, which also happened to my mom when she was a youth, wearing no helmet. Because of it, I have always been careful to watch for bikes when I am about to open my car door.

When I biked to Paly I'd always look to see if a driver was sitting in the driver's seat due to my mom's story. With window tinting these days, perhaps not so easy to see, but still worthwhile to check.

I think riding a bike down a narrow street is just asking for road rage. I used to ride my bike on the sidewalk on Middlefield.

Are bikes supposed to ride in the street if there is no bike lane? Bikes may have the right of way in the law books, but a car can squash a bicyclist. Does the dead bicyclist care if he was right?
I highly doubt police would ticket a biker on a sidewalk who is riding slowly.

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Posted by reckless drivers
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 23, 2012 at 11:23 pm

All these "ride your bike on the sidewalk" comments demonstrate the real problem. Why are some car drivers so selfish and reckless? You don't own the road and you shouldn't drive like you do.

More pedestrians in crosswalks are hit by cars than bicyclists. Do you want to ban pedestrians from using crosswalks, too? Do they infringe too much on your self entitlement?

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Posted by Paly '82
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 24, 2012 at 11:00 pm

@reckless drivers: Today when I was driving on Middlefield, a bicyclist was riding on the street. Middlefield has narrow lanes. As I tried to pass him, he veered out almost into my car, going around the car which was waiting to leave the Safeway parking lot. I had to veer into the left lane because he was veering and I didn't want to hit him. Had there been a car in the left lane, he would have caused an accident and merrily rode away, unscathed. Bicyclists don't belong on narrow streets such as Middlefield and they are the reckless ones with a disregard to their lives.

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Posted by Paly '82
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 25, 2012 at 8:51 am

Possible felony charges for SF bicyclist who rode into woman and killed her Web Link

The problem wasn't that Bucchere ran a red light - prosecutors think the light was yellow when he rode into the intersection heading south.

But before that, a motorist reported seeing Bucchere fly through several red lights and stop signs along Divisadero Street leading up to the intersection, said police Capt. Denis O'Leary, head of the hit-and-run detail that investigated the collision.

Also, a tracker on Bucchere's bike allegedly showed he was riding faster than 35 mph in a 25-mph zone.

Finally, a video taken from a surveillance camera at 17th and Market streets reportedly showed a hunched-over Bucchere speeding through the intersection, making little or no attempt to stop before hitting Hui on the far side.

"It really shows his recklessness," O'Leary said.

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Posted by Bob Wenzlau
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 25, 2012 at 9:46 am

There will always be scofflaws - bicyclist or driver - and the effort should be to work for a safer norm, not to chat about the outliers - car or bike. Why shift to non-productive grounds with diatribes about this crazy cyclist or that crazy driver? There will always be these folks, and I know many in the bike community find that biking scofflaws harm the biking cause. These scofflaws will hopefully be marginalized, or natural selection will take her unfortunate course.

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Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere
a resident of Barron Park
on May 5, 2012 at 3:34 pm

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

The legal and safe place to ride a bike is on the road, not the sidewalk. In CA law, bicycles are vehicles, and their riders have all the rights and responsibilities as any vehicle operator. They are permitted on any road way except where explicitly prohibited (as on most of the freeways around here).

Decades ago Palo Alto sought to increase bike safety by requiring bikes to ride on sidewalks. However, studies have shown that collisions are higher for cyclists riding on sidewalks, because drivers turning into and out of driveways and intersections are not expecting fast-moving cyclists on the sidewalks, and even if they are looking for them, they can be difficult to see due to parked cars and landscaping. Sidewalk riding also creates conflicts with pedestrians. As a result, Palo Alto changed its policy and no longer requires nor encourages sidewalk riding, though it is permitted in most places, knowing that parents often prefer to ride with their small children there (hopefully watching for turning drivers).

The safest thing to do is to ride in the right lane, as you would if operating any slow vehicle. You should stay as close to the right as is safe, though as others noted you should ride outside of the door zone and maintain a straight line. Also avoid gutters and dangerous cracks or debris of the roadside. If the lane is too narrow for a car to safely pass in the lane, it is dangerous to ride so far to the right as to give drivers a signal that you want them to pass. Instead, it is safer to check for traffic, signal your intention, then explicitly take the lane, riding down the center of it, giving a clear signal that if a driver wants to pass, they will need to change lanes or wait for a clear opportunity. You can always pull over where it safe to do so, just as you would if driving slowly and impeding ~5 cars.

Though you have the right to ride on Middlefield, El Camino, Alma, etc, and there are legitimate reasons to do so, like accessing their businesses or homes, these are dangerous and stressful and I usually seek more sedate routes. Check for maps online for safer routes to ride (e.g. Web Link, Web Link). They are often just as convenient, like Bryant's Ellen Fletcher Bike Boulevard, Park Blvd, the pathway west of CalTrain, etc.

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Posted by Sally
a resident of Midtown
on May 5, 2012 at 3:51 pm

All bike riders, on public streets, are requird, by law, to obey the rules of the street. This includes stopping, completely, at stop signs and stop lights. But the bike riders almost never do this!

Bike riders like to live by a double standard, then complain about car drivers. When I notice that the bikers are willing to obey the laws, I will become more sympathetic to them.

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

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