Greater Greater Washington

Bicycling


MPD gets law correct in minor SUV-bike collision

DC's police have gotten some deserved criticism for misunderstanding bike laws and misapplying them in a few recent crashes, but that's not always the case. Some officers get it just right. Reader Corey wrote in:


Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.
My friend Abe and I went for a ride yesterday. We were in the bike lane on 4th St SW between M and I, Abe in front and me trailing, when a guy in a crossover SUV tries to make a right turn into the Safeway parking garage straight into the two of us.

Both bikes were a little bent, but we were willing to let bygones be bygones if the guy had been cool about it. Then the guy sees where my shoulder left a dent in his car and our handlebars left marks, gets righteously indignant about the fact that he had his turn signal on (claiming repeatedly that this means it was OK for him to turn into us), so he calls the cops.

When the officer gets there and hears both side of the story, she immediately cites the guy for illegally changing lanes into traffic. I have no idea what made the driver think that calling the cops after hitting two cyclists in a bike lane was a good idea.

In any case, it was really encouraging to have an encounter with MPD in which the officer very clearly understood that the rules of the road still apply when bikes are involved. Urban, multi-modal transportation can only take root in the community when the law is applied fairly and folks know they'll be protected no matter how they choose to get to and fro.

Thanks, officer! Nice work.


Image from the Oregonian.
Added: For those unfamiliar with the law, when there is a bike lane, the rule is that drivers should look to be sure nobody is in the lane, then merge into the lane before turning.

Essentially, drivers should treat the bike lane just like another standard travel lane; if you're turning right and there's another lane to the right, you change lanes into that lane before turning right. A bike lane works the same way, just narrower, when turns are involved.

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

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Nice.

Hope the cyclists are ok.

by Jack Love on Jul 9, 2012 3:49 pm • linkreport

Hard to see how anything that drive did made sense. Did he expect you to look behind you occaisonally to see if people behind you (or next to you) happen to be turning right. Second, your turn signal never absolves anyone from any collision they cause. Right of way doesn't defer to turn signals.

But good on at least one cop who realizes that the "I didn't see you" argument extends beyond to bikes and hopefully pedestrians.

by drumz on Jul 9, 2012 3:55 pm • linkreport

This is probably the most-misunderstood rule among motorists when it comes to bikes. A lot of people don't know that they are supposed to move into the bike lane rather than turning across it. I see it all the time, and had to explain it to my girlfriend just the other week.

I suspect that this rule isn't included in many driver's exams. If it is, folks don't have a lot of practice and probably have forgotten.

A quick look at DC's driving manual mentions the issue but not bike lanes specifically: "Do not make right turns across the path of bicycle traffic. ... Yield to bicyclists traveling between you and the side of the road." And there's no diagram (which would probably help people to understand and remember).

Given the growth in bike lanes, DC should update its manual to specifically mention bike lanes and add a graphic to explain.

by Gavin on Jul 9, 2012 4:01 pm • linkreport

Great to see, but sad that its news when the MPD actually applies the law.

by SJE on Jul 9, 2012 4:02 pm • linkreport

some simple signs with the diagram showing motorists how to turn right when there is a bike lane would help a lot. Something like the simple pictures showing how to merge/that trucks might tip over on the curve/that children may run out into the street unexpectedly/ etc.

I first learned the proper technique from a post on this site that Dave Alpert made and since then I've told several people who didn't know and were worried about hitting bikers when they drove and needed to turn right.

by Tina on Jul 9, 2012 4:18 pm • linkreport

Tina - +1

I am a frequent biker, and that's news to me that the rule was to merge into the lane rather than turn across it (except where signs say "begin right turns here", like you see in curbside HOV lanes in Alexandria). Bollards in some places could also further confuse matters.

Is that the rule in DC, MD & VA, or just in DC?

Signs would definitely be in order. I can't say that I'd blame a driver for (safely) turning across the bike lane, but merging into it is a lot safer.

by Joe in SS on Jul 9, 2012 4:22 pm • linkreport

Also, does CaBi provide any "rules while riding" at the stations? Bikers need to be educated about what to do when a car is turning right too.

Recently I was in the westbound R St NW bike lane and a motorist did exactly what she was supposed to do. As she prepared to make her right turn after stopping the guy in the bike lane in front of me (on a CaBi) suddenly went around her to the right (and continued straight across the intersection) causing her to stop so she wouldn't hit the idiot which in turn put me in a very dicey situation b/c I had to break suddenly. Idiot. Sometimes i feel much more endangered by other bikers' actions than i do by motorists.

by Tina on Jul 9, 2012 4:26 pm • linkreport

@Joe in SS - I was still writing my comment (4:26) when you posted yours so i didn't yours. Nothing in my comment was directed at/in response to you.

by Tina on Jul 9, 2012 4:31 pm • linkreport

A couple of weeks ago I saw a delivery truck pull into the 15th street cycle track at M Street during morning rush and drive a half block down the cycle track before turning right into the alley next to the Washington Post. I assume this is not what is meant by pulling into the bike lane before turning?

by Christine on Jul 9, 2012 4:32 pm • linkreport

@Tina- "Sometimes i feel much more endangered by other bikers' actions than i do by motorists."

+1 million. I'm an avid cyclist and I wholly believe that's the truth. Obviously, cars can pose a serious (in fact lethal) threat, but other cyclists are the more frequent catalysts for dangerous situations. I regularly yell at other cylclists who pass me on the right while I'm stopped (as I should be)at an intersection. Doing that is a total death wish.

Also, fellow cyclists: why would you pass another cyclist instead of stopping at an intersection when the other cyclist is clearly going faster than you and you are sure to suffer the humiliation of being passed by said cyclist only a few seconds after you blew through an intersection? Makes no sense...

by MJ on Jul 9, 2012 4:35 pm • linkreport

Many cyclists however think that they can legally just pass on the right regardless. If the SUV had been in the bike lane with his signal, he'd have the right-of-way.

by @SamuelMoore on Jul 9, 2012 4:37 pm • linkreport

P.S. I just sent a comment to the DC DMV encouraging them to update the Driving Manual to educate people about this, since there is still so much confusion.

Maybe if others
send the agency a note as well, or tweet the idea @dcdmv, we can get this included in the next update of the manual.

by Gavin on Jul 9, 2012 4:43 pm • linkreport

@ Tina:Also, does CaBi provide any "rules while riding" at the stations?

There are stickers with various situations on every single bike. CaBi also does stuff on their website.

But, CaBi is not responsible for that, just as Ford and Toyota are not responsible for the knowledge of their drivers of the law.

by Jasper on Jul 9, 2012 4:49 pm • linkreport

Also, fellow cyclists: why would you pass another cyclist instead of stopping at an intersection when the other cyclist is clearly going faster than you and you are sure to suffer the humiliation of being passed by said cyclist only a few seconds after you blew through an intersection? Makes no sense...

I wonder this every day when I ride to work via PA Ave. I would say it's not quite as humiliation to them as you might think.

by Rob P on Jul 9, 2012 4:51 pm • linkreport

These stories are chilling (at least this one had a good ending). Once a woman in an SUV backed into me, knocking me off my bike. Luckily I was alright and I pulled up alongside her to say that I was okay. But before I could say anything she gets out of the car and looks at the car to inspect the damage. I could not believe my eyes. She was more concerned about the scratches on her back bumper than for my life and body. She tells me that there are scratches on the car. I just left saying "I'm alright, thanks for your concern." I feel that if I was in a car then she would've been more curteous to me, at least asking if I was okay even if it were my fault. And in this case it was completely her fault for backing into me. I'm glad MPD is catching on.

by dc denizen on Jul 9, 2012 4:57 pm • linkreport

@Jasper, I didn't intend to suggest that I tho't CaBi was responsible; but that it would be a good location for information bikers need, in the same way that a good location for posting information motorists need is at the DMV. E.g. the DMV could put up posters on how to drive w/ bikes/bike lanes for people waiting to pay tickets/do other business at the DMV.

Especially since I think, tho I have no data, that many CaBi users may not be as experienced/knowledgeable as those with their own bikes. Tho' I know some very experienced bikers who use CaBi.

by Tina on Jul 9, 2012 5:10 pm • linkreport

There seems to be a collective of people on all kinds of bikes (CaBi and their own) who think that "to the right no matter what" is how you ride on the road. I really wish I knew how to better educate these people because lecturing them on the street just seems rude.

by MLD on Jul 9, 2012 5:36 pm • linkreport

@Jasper: Those recommendations on the CaBi bikes always get me thinking about safety and courtesy. Maybe cars should have something similar. All too often when I drive, courtesy goes out the window.

by Neutrino on Jul 9, 2012 8:25 pm • linkreport

I'm glad that all ended well, but I'm a little surprised that you were able to USE that bike lane on 4th St. SW. A lot of the time, that lane is so full of double-parked idling cars that it's useless!

by aces on Jul 9, 2012 8:34 pm • linkreport

It's kind of sad that our standards have sunk this low. When an MPD officer does her job without screwing up, it's newsworthy.

by Rob on Jul 9, 2012 9:21 pm • linkreport

Also, fellow cyclists: why would you pass another cyclist instead of stopping at an intersection when the other cyclist is clearly going faster than you and you are sure to suffer the humiliation of being passed by said cyclist only a few seconds after you blew through an intersection? Makes no sense...

+1,000,001 The best is a CaBi passing me when I'm stopped at an intersection. That 3rd gear ain't gonna beat me sucka.

by Tim W on Jul 9, 2012 9:28 pm • linkreport

Driver totally wrong but imagine if any jurisdiction set up street with a right hand lane just for cars and said trucks had to drive in the left lane and make right turns from there.
Because that is what we have all over the country where there are bike lanes. Bike lanes are accidents waiting to happen.

by JAY on Jul 9, 2012 10:16 pm • linkreport

We updated the MD driver manual to explicitly mention how to make a right turn with a bike lane, inspired by the famous David Alpert article on the subject.

by Jim Titus on Jul 9, 2012 11:40 pm • linkreport

@Tim W - or the reverse, when someone on a non-CaBi bike assumes they can go in front of me at an intersection just b/c I'm on CaBi. 75% of the time I end up passing them. (and then they cut in front of me at the next light.. again)

Point being, unless you are stuck behind someone, don't assume they are slower than you.

by guest on Jul 10, 2012 2:05 am • linkreport

I wish more bikers understood this law. If I move into the bike lane, with my turn signal on, it does not mean bikes should do any of the following:

1.) Smack my car
2.) get incensed and start glaring and motioning, sometimes rather profanely
3.) try to squeeze by my car on the right, with the hopes of making a big sweeping arc in the crosswalk of the cross street to avoid me hitting them

I wish these 3 things were rare, but they're not.

by Anon1234 on Jul 10, 2012 7:54 am • linkreport

@JAY:
Driver totally wrong but imagine if any jurisdiction set up street with a right hand lane just for cars and said trucks had to drive in the left lane and make right turns from there.
Because that is what we have all over the country where there are bike lanes.

No, that's not how it works. The law is that cars are supposed to merge into the bike lane (checking for and yielding to traffic in the bike lane before merging) and THEN turn. They're not supposed to just turn across the bike lane. That's what the entire article is about.

So in your scenario trucks should usually be in the left lane but if they need to turn right they should merge into the right lane before turning, not turn across the right lane.

@Anon1234
If this is happening repeatedly to you I have to guess the problem is that you are putting on your turn signal, merging immediately, and expecting cyclists to just get out of your way. You have to yield to traffic in the bike lane just as you would to traffic in another car lane before merging.

by MLD on Jul 10, 2012 8:11 am • linkreport

On the MLD and Anon1234 discussion, I wouldn't be surprised if some cyclists behave badly when a driver merges into the lane. Many people don't understand this rule, drivers and cyclists.

Drivers don't merge right, and since most drivers don't, many cyclists think a driver who does is doing the wrong thing, so they might get upset.

Or, if they don't get upset, they might just go around the car to the right, as SamuelMoore noted. I've had that happen a few times when I was driving and merged into the bike lane; someone then just biked around me even farther to the right. That defeats the whole safety purpose which is to clear space to turn right and not right hook anyone!

by David Alpert on Jul 10, 2012 8:22 am • linkreport

Assuming that someone is merging with enough stopping distance for any bike behind them isn't the solution just to be close enough to the curb/parked cars so that the bikes can't go right around you? Or are they really squeezing in?

by drumz on Jul 10, 2012 9:09 am • linkreport

@ Tina:the same way that a good location for posting information motorists need is at the DMV.

Since when is a place where people barely ever go, and are actually discouraged to go a good place for information dissemination?

@ Neutrino:Maybe cars should have something similar.

Yeah! Safety stickers on the wheel! Might be something for Zipcar and Car2go.

by Jasper on Jul 10, 2012 9:18 am • linkreport

@David - exactly. I think one of the biggest problems is that bikers often violate the law (so do drivers), but because in the case of bikes, often neither the driver nor the biker actually knows what the law is, chaos reigns. When drivers are violating the law, everyone knows what the law is and its a more predictable and understandable situation.

by Anon1234 on Jul 10, 2012 10:35 am • linkreport

When is the appropriate time to merge right? When trying to get to a right driving turn lane I try to move over ASAP. With a bike lane is half/quarter block acceptable? Would merging sooner and leaving my signal on make it clearer that I need to turn?

by lemon on Jul 10, 2012 10:39 am • linkreport

@Jasper- everyone has to go to the DMV to get a drivers license, to update the photo, and occasionally to take care of other auto related business. Maybe gas pump ad space is a better location; more frequently visited by drivers, along w/ street signs on streets w/ bike lanes. Whats your suggestion?

by Tina on Jul 10, 2012 10:47 am • linkreport

@Anon1234
If this is happening repeatedly to you I have to guess the problem is that you are putting on your turn signal, merging immediately, and expecting cyclists to just get out of your way. You have to yield to traffic in the bike lane just as you would to traffic in another car lane before merging.

Yep. Can't count the number of times someone in a car has whipped in front of me, hit the brakes, and taken a right. Of course, if you'd slowed down, gotten behind the cyclist, and waited for an opening to take a right, you might have been delayed for 1-5 seconds, and we can never have that.

by oboe on Jul 10, 2012 12:53 pm • linkreport

Thank you for this posting and the clarification of the proper way for a driver to make a right turn when there is a bike lane. I've been driving for over 50 years and have never hit a bike but I have also tried to stay out of bike lanes at all times, even when making a right turn. Now I know the proper way to do it.

Note to cyclists - when I am in the right lane and there is NO BIKE LANE please try to avoid passing me on the right when I am signaling for a right turn.

by sgfranks on Jul 10, 2012 1:36 pm • linkreport

I was hit by a car in January, and Officer Ryan responded--he was great! I was banged up pretty badly and had to go to the emergency room, and the bike was a wreck, but Officer Ryan was very professional and took down all the info, then correctly cited the driver for failing to yield to the traffic in an intersection. It was so reassuring to see that MPD knows their bike laws. Kudos to MPD!

by AustinDC on Jul 10, 2012 4:51 pm • linkreport

I agree with all of you. Drivers do not pay enough attention to cyclists! However, I'm a police officer in the District, and I can't help but mention that there are TONS of cyclists who completely ignore traffic lights and stop signs. I sit at countless intersections in my patrol area, and watch as people ride through red light intersections and blow right through stop signs. This type of behavior is only going to get more people hurt. In the District, bicycles are considered vehicles, and therefore have to abide by the same traffic rules as motor vehicles. I just hope the folks I see ignoring the traffic laws don't get hurt. I've been on enough scenes involving bicycles and motor vehicles, and the bicycle rider always "loses" the battle- and it isn't a pretty sight too see either. I'm just saying......

by Billy on Jul 11, 2012 2:20 pm • linkreport

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