What to do after a Bicycle/Car Crash

First published in the Coloradoan July 22, 2014

I often hear from cyclists who were the victims of a crash. And sometimes I hear from people who were in a crash and didn’t notify the police. Don’t let this happen to you. If you are ever in a crash with an automobile, call the police.

There are several possible scenarios to here. One is that you are in a crash and are badly injured. In this scenario we hope that someone will call the authorities and that you will get emergency medical care immediately. You’ll have to rely on those investigating the crash and on witnesses.

Even if you are not injured insist on calling the police to the scene to report your crash. Latent injuries can haunt you and a police report is critical both for legal and insurance purposes. I am aware of an instance on Shields Street in Fort Collins in which a cyclist crashed after being run off the road by a pickup pulling a long trailer. The driver of the pickup stopped, they called the police and the officer asked the cyclist if she “wanted” to file a police report. That is a question an officer should not ask but if he or she does, the answer to is always “yes.” 

If you are a witness to a bike/car crash stop and make your name and contact information available to those involved in the crash. This is especially important if a cyclist is seriously injured or incapacitated. You may be the critical link to the investigation of such a crash. Write down the license number, make, model and color of the car and get the name of any motorist involved if possible. If the motorist is cooperative get their driver’s license number and the name of the insurance company. Make note, also, of the date, time and place of the crash. Wait for the police officer and be sure to give him or her your contact information.

A cyclist in shock will often insist that they are fine, that they don’t need an ambulance or the police. Help them to calm down and help them by getting the names of anyone involved in the crash. They will thank you for this later.

If time allows, both witnesses and victims should jot down details of the crash. Did someone run a stop sign?

I can remember a friend who reported that after she was rear-ended by a motorist the motorist exited the car while still talking on her cell phone. So make note of details like this.

Our legal system, like much of society, still carries a bias against cyclists. So it is important so make sure that the facts of the crash are accurately recorded. The investigating officer provides the initial step in the legal system and can influence future legal and insurance proceedings by issuing traffic tickets on the spot. Those tickets are hard to dispute. That is all the more reason to be sure a complete police report is filed. 

For more on this topic read bicycle attorney Bob Mionske’s blog, bicyclelaw.com.

Learn to Ride Through Complex Intersections

First published in the Coloradoan July 8, 2014

I did my League Cycling Instructor, or LCI training with Preston Tyree, the now retired Education Director at the League of American Bicyclists. Over an 18-month period I participated in three LCI instructor workshops with Preston, each lasting a long weekend. I was the local coordinator for two seminars in Fort Collins and Preston had asked me to find a moderately busy intersection where we could run some drills. We used College Avenue and Mulberry Street to practice lane control and right and left turns.

In each seminar we spent over an hour at that intersection. There were sixteen students so we split into four groups. Each student went through the intersection sixteen times. Preston explained, “I’m going to give you a year’s worth of intersection experience in the next hour.” That exercise was only a part of the 30 hours of instruction we experienced that weekend but it was fundamental to shaping our understanding of vehicular cycling. We really learned what it means to “share the road. 

I’ve written here time and again that there are times when you want to be in the middle of the lane, times when you want to be on the right to allow motorists to pass you and there may even be occasions when you want to be in the left tire track of automobiles.

Recently I’ve had questions about handling a tricky intersection at Boardwalk Drive and Harmony Road. Westbound cyclyists must merge left into the travel lane as the bike lane disappears while the westbound car lane becomes a right turn lane. The bike lane picks up again after allowing right turning motorists to get into the right turn lane. In short, cyclists have to fend for themselves for about 200 feet here.

One cyclist asked me if he had to merge into the through travel lane with 50 mile per hour traffic to negotiate that intersection. Here is what I responded: “I ride that intersection by riding the white line in the bike lane beginning at least 300 feet before the merge. As the bike lane begins to disappear I scan to see if the travel lane is free, I signal, scan again and move into the travel lane. Right turning traffic here slows to make the right turn and because I’ve been on the white line of the bike lane I expect they will see me and yield to my merge. I never demand the lane but I make sure I have plenty of space to merge. I control that right turn lane by riding in the middle of it so nobody tries to pass me in the lane. As the bike lane re-emerges, I move into the bike lane letting motorists behind me know that they are free to pass on the right.   This works fine for me.”

 A traffic skills 101 class will help you learn to handle complex intersections like this. Contact Tgreegor@fcgov.com for more information about the class offered by FCBikes.  Online visit bikeed.org or bikeleague.org. On Facebook join CFI, Fort Collins Coalition for Infrastructure.

When Bike Lanes are for Cars

First published in the Coloradoan June 24, 20

There is a bike lane on Stuart Street near Riffenburgh School east of Lemay Avenue. A car passed me as I pedaled in that lane and stopped just in front of me at an intersection with no stop sign. Only then did the driver activate the right turn signal. Normally I would exit the bike lane and get behind the car to avoid the car turning right into me. But the driver hadn’t given me time to merge into the lane so I stopped next to the car, made eye contact with the driver and passed it on the right.

A second instance on the same street occurred at a stop sign. The motorist passed me and stopped with the right turn blinker on. They passed me with only about fifty feet before their turn so I came right up on them. A motorist by law is required to give me at least one hundred feet of space in a situation like this. Rather than pass me they should have gotten into the bike lane behind me and waited for me to stop and clear the intersection before turning right. 

My destination was the Harmony Center of Poudre Valley Hospital, now UC Health. My route took me south on the Power Trail to Horsetooth Road and right on Timberline Road to the Harmony Road intersection where I would make a left turn and exit onto the sidewalk to enter UC Health. There are lots of bike lanes on this route but there are also instances where the bike lane disappears or where I had to exit the bike lane to make a turn.

On Horsetooth Road the bike lane ends about three hundred feet from Timberline Road. I didn’t want to share the narrow lane here with a car so I moved into the center of the lane. I ended up first at the intersection. A car came up behind me so I signaled as I waited for the light to change. The driver behind me was fully aware of my intent and waited patiently.

Two hundred feet before the Timberline and Harmony intersection I merged into the two adjacent lanes one at a time, signaling first, then I merged into the right-most left turn lane. I was surrounded by cars but because I was in the center of the lane it was clear to everyone that my intention was to turn.

To summarize, motorists may enter a bike lane when turning right, using the bike lane as a right turn lane. Motorists should not use bike lanes as travel lanes to sneak up to an intersection past a line of cars, however.

Bicycles should leave the bike lane under the following conditions: 1) when passing another bicycle, pedestrian, or car parked in the bike lane; 2) when maneuvering for a left turn at an intersection or into a driveway; 3) when there is a hazard like glass or other debris in the bike lane; and 4) when approaching an intersection where overtaking vehicles may intend to turn right.

Safety Ideas for Novice Cyclists as the Bike Library Opens for the Summer

First Published in the Coloradoan June 10, 2014

The Fort Collins Bike Library is open for business so we should remind visitors and residents who are not experienced cyclists some of the basics of safe cycling. These suggestions come from the curriculum of the League of American Bicyclists and from my forty years leading bicycle tours overseas. 

On a bike tour it is important that customers have both a safe and a fun trip. The same is true with visitors to Fort Collins who use bikes from our bike library for short and long rides.

Novices should understand that half of all bike crashes involve the cyclist alone. These crashes occur due to inattention or often because the cyclist is trying to do two things at once – put sun screen on, send a text message, or put his or her gloves on while pedaling down the road.

I was driving our support van on a country lane in Italy one day when I saw a group of our cyclists standing in the road watching a video replay. It was such a scenic ride that one member of the group had begun filming the ride with his hand-held video camera when he fell. The group of six cyclists was laughing uproariously while watching and listening to the resulting video which showed trees, bikes and legs flying all over. But the audio portion was just as hilarious, as you might imagine.

The lesson here is to stop if you need to do anything besides focusing on your riding.

Another key lesson is to communicate with your fellow riders. About one third of bike crashes are caused by another cyclist, a pedestrian or an animal seeming to come out of nowhere. I remember a tour in Southern France when a rider looked over at a beautiful castle, pointed, and said to her cycling companion, who was behind her, “look at that!” What she didn’t say was, “let’s stop and take a picture,” as she stopped. Her companion did as he was told and looked at the castle. But he failed to stop. They both went down and cut their tour short with a broken clavicle.

So when riding, even with just one other cyclist, ride a straight line, keep your distance and signal your intent to turn or stop so everyone knows what your plans are. On our tours we suggest using both visible and audible signals. A left hand down, palm open is the sign to stop while saying “stopping.” And pointing right or left while saying, “turning,” helps avoid crashes. Use signals before your turn, not while turning as good control of the bicycle in a turn requires two hands.

While sidewalks may seem safe, a third of bike-car crashes in Fort Collins occur when cyclists pedal unexpectedly off the sidewalk into the street.   So either avoid riding sidewalks or become a pedestrian when exiting a sidewalk into the street.

Finally, I suggest you use a helmet. 4% of crashes really are unavoidable “accidents” and a helmet is cheap insurance against a traumatic brain injury.  

Ten Tips for a Safer Cycling Culture

First published in the Coloradoan May 27, 2014 

Nationally motorists and bicycle riders share almost equal blame for crashes involving bicycles. Drivers of bicycles and automobiles can prevent most crashes by following five basic rules.

Although it sounds counterintuitive, bicyclists cause few crashes by running stop signs or stop lights. None-the-less, cyclists annoy motorists when they do this. So my first suggestion is for cyclists not to run lights or stop signs. This will help create a friendlier bicycling climate for everyone.

Four other rules for cyclists are: 1) avoid riding on the sidewalk if possible, but if you do ride the sidewalk, stop and dismount before exiting the sidewalk to cross or enter a street; 2) don’t make a left turn from a bike lane across other lanes of traffic without first merging into the adjacent lanes as if you were driving a car; 3) do share a narrow lane with automobiles by riding in the center of that lane, not far to the right or left; 4) never ride the wrong way down the street against traffic, it’s both illegal and dangerous.

For motorists the first rule is to slow down and watch for bikes. Respect the speed limit since, though sad but true, some bicycle riders don’t always know the rules of the road and can be unpredictable.

Four other rules for motorists are: 1) don’t use a cell phone while driving; 2) always signal your turns at least 100 feet before turning; 3) when passing a cyclist and making a right turn give the cyclist at least 100 feet of clearance before turning (otherwise, wait behind the cyclist before turning); 4) when making a left turn across traffic in a bike town watch for bikes in the far lane especially if you are on a street with bike lanes.

Violation of most of these rules account for the majority of bike/car crashes in Fort Collins. According to the just-released “State of Bicycling in Fort Collins” draft report (City of Fort Collins, April 2014) 32% of the crashes over the period 2000 through 2013 occurred when cyclists rode off the sidewalk into the street taking the motorist by surprise.

The second most common cause of crashes in Fort Collins is the so-called “left hook,” where motorists, making a left turn, don’t see the cyclist. The best defense against this type of crash is for cyclists to wear bright clothing, use lights at night and be aware of this danger and prepare for it by learning defensive moves.

The third and fourth causes of crashes involve motorists backing or driving out of driveways or motorists passing cyclists and turning right in front of them. Cyclists can help motorists avoid both of these by wearing bright clothing and “controlling” the lane by riding in the center of narrow lanes, less than fourteen feet wide, where they are the most visible.   A cyclist controlling the lane offers a clear statement to other road users as to his or her intentions. An experienced cyclist will “release” the lane to faster traffic when it is safe to do so.

Riding Neighborhood Streets: Streets, Roads or Stroads?

First Published in the Coloradoan May 13, 2014

An exercise I do with middle school students is to give them a copy of the Fort Collins bike map and ask them to highlight the route they take, or would take, from home to school if they rode their bike.  Those who have ridden a few times usually have a good route.  Most students, though, highlight the route mom or dad drives to school, usually on an arterial with bike lanes.

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Look at our bike map and you see a wonderful grid, one mile square, of straight, wide streets with bike lanes.  It looks like paradise.  Until you examine stress levels for bicyclists on those streets.  On Drake and Horsetooth Roads, for example, there are major gaps in the bike lanes so cyclists must merge with traffic for several blocks.  Lemay and Shields Streets are narrow at times or have no bike lanes for stretches.  Then there are Harmony and Timberline Roads: nice and wide with bike lanes but traffic is fast and there are many lanes turning across those bike lanes.  These roads are anything but stress free for bicyclists.

Look again at the bike map and what you see, in large part, south of Prospect Road is a square mile grid of country roads that have become city streets.  Charles Marohn, writing in the Strong Towns Blog in March of 2013 describes these as “stroads,” a combination of city streets and former country roads.  Today they’ve become hybrids, catering mainly to automobiles.  They don’t function as vibrant city streets with a mix of pedestrians, cyclists, and automobiles.  Instead their job is that of the old country road, to move people in cars from place to place as quickly as possible.

The problem with “stroads” is that they are barriers to anyone not driving a car.  They are difficult to cross and they aren’t very pleasant to bicycle.  Compare a “stroad,” with Laurel or Remington Streets or with west Mountain Avenue and you understand the difference.

I challenge my middle school students to find routes that avoid “stroads,” and use friendlier neighborhood streets.  From Rocky Mountain High School to Fort Collins High School, for example, look at Swallow and Centennial Roads.  This latter takes you to the underpass under the Power Trail and on to Fort Collins High.  Or pedal from Old Town to the Main Post Office using Stover Street, Swallow and Stanford Roads.  Both of these routes have difficult crossings at Lemay Avenue or on Prospect Street but you can use a crosswalk if you are not comfortable merging with traffic.

As our population increases and as Max spurs transit oriented development we are becoming a small city, not a large town any more.  I encourage you to explore your own stress-free routes on neighborhood streets.  You will still need to know what to do when the bike lane ends, however.  So join me May 15 or 16 at 1:30 p.m. at Mugs on Laurel and Howes Streets as we ride Laurel Street, Mason and College Avenue while I will demonstrate the basics of vehicular cycling.