Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Bike Safety


How should streetcars and bikes interact?

Streetcar service could finally begin this year in Washington, DC. Trial runs are already taking place. And the debate about how people on bikes will navigate the tracks is already raging.

Photo by DDOT DC on Flickr.

Last week, the District Department of Transportation quietly proposed streetcar regulations that would ban bicycling within a streetcar guideway except to cross the street. Most immediately, that would prohibit bicycles on H Street NE, one of the city's premier nightlife hotspots for young people, many of whom arrive on bikesin part because the area has been underserved by transit until now. There are no fewer than 7 Capital Bikeshare stations along the corridor.

But a bike ban on streetcar corridors could have far broader implications when DC builds out its full streetcar network, which DDOT dreams of building out the network to eight lines over 37 miles throughout the city.

DDOT clarified on its Facebook page that it was proposing to prohibit bikes "in the area of the concrete surrounding the rails (effectively the lane the streetcar is running in)… Not the entire street right-of-way." That means, DDOT says, that cyclists can ride in the left lanewhich would undoubtedly lead to conflicts with cars accustomed to seeing cyclists hugging the right edge. If DDOT is serious about that, perhaps they could paint sharrows to inform drivers that bikes have a right to be in the left lane.

Either way, a bike ban is not the best way to deal with what is, by all accounts, a thorny situation.

The Washington Area Bicyclist Association acknowledges that "streetcar tracks can pose a legitimate hazard to bicyclists" but insists that "banning bikes is not an acceptable solution."

It's a "solution" that came up earlier this year in Tucson and in 2012 in Toronto, where a cyclist died when his wheel got stuck in the tracks of a streetcar system that doesn't even run anymore. Lots of cities have struggled to find ways to make the interaction between bicycles and streetcars less perilous.

As someone who has wiped out on streetcar tracks, I can attest that a solution is needed, or else H Street runs the risk of becoming a death trap for people on two wheels, sacrificing one form of sustainable transportation for the sake of another. Luckily, there are lots of options.

First of all, there's no reason for cyclists to eat pavement because of abandoned streetcar tracks. Even if it's expensive to remove the tracks, as cities usually claim, there's no reason they can't fill them in with cement.

Jonathan Maus at BikePortland, in search of a good solution for his city, found a German product called veloSTRAIL, a plastic insert for rail tracks designed to depress under a streetcar wheel but not a bike, but it's designed for a different kind of rail than what they have in Portland.

Streetsblog's own Steven Vance found an even simpler solution years ago. He advocates for rubber flanges in streetcar tracks that are depressed by the weight of a streetcar wheel but not a bike. The only place he knows of where it's used in the U.S. is on the extremely low-traffic Cherry Avenue Bridge track in Chicago that sees no more than a few trains a month. Here's a video that gives a pretty good idea of what it's like to ride on these tracks:

WABA has talked to DDOT about the rubber idea, but it hasn't really taken hold yet. Where streetcar lines haven't been built yet, WABA demands that they be accompanied by separated bike lanes.

DDOT did build contraflow bike lanes on G and I Streets NE to divert cyclists away from H Street, but as WABA's Greg Billing notes, "all the stores and restaurants are on H Street," so at some point cyclists will leave those facilities and have to figure out a way to navigate H Street. Billing notes that riding on the sidewalk is a "very contentious issue in the community," but given the astronomical number of crashes that have already happened since the tracks went in, it might be cyclists' best option. After all, riding in the street could send cyclists to the hospital not only with their injuries, Billing said, but with a ticketand insurance might not cover their medical bills if they were breaking the law by riding in the street.

Seattle has also seen a rash of crashes due to streetcar tracks. Although a lawsuit brought by six injured cyclists was ultimately thrown out, it did result in better designs for new lines. The First Hill Streetcar will run in the center lane where there is not a dedicated bike lane, and separate bike lanes will be installed along about a mile of the route. The city also striped a new bike lane along the existing streetcar line. You can see how the city marked a safe 90-degree crossing for cyclists in this Streetfilm.

Other places are trying out far more innovative ideas. In the Netherlands, separate bike lanes are the norm, keeping bicycles out of streetcar tracks, and bike lanes are engineered to always cross the tracks at a right angle. Alta Planning + Design has compiled other best practices and recommendations for bikes and streetcar tracks, mostly focusing on separated bike lanes and center-running streetcar tracks.

Sounds like a good idea for DC's seven unbuilt streetcar lines.

Cross-posted from Streetsblog USA.


We need empathy and understanding, around bicycling, gentrification, and much more

Like many parts of our nation where many different people coexist, there are divides in the Washington region. Like many places that are changing, groups of people can direct resentment or intolerance at each other.

Bicycle and car photo from

In many neighborhoods, new, more affluent residents are moving in, disrupting an existing social fabric that endured when many turned their backs on such communities. Likewise, the social order of our streets, where cars had almost exclusive use of the street save for delineated side sections for pedestrians, is giving way to a new one where multiple kinds of vehicles share space.

In both cases, new social norms are still catching up to our changing city. But it's easy for all of us to see another group, all visibly different in some way from ourselves, and lump them together. That goes for cyclists looking at drivers, drivers looking at cyclists, longtime older residents versus newer younger residents, or many others.

In a new column, Courtland Milloy says that "the bicyclists" in the area have "nerve" for, among other things, "fight[ing] to have bike lanes routed throughout the city, some in front of churches where elderly parishioners used to park their cars." And he specifically mentions me for pointing out a "Trampe" bicycle escalator as one tool which might be useful on 15th Street.

The Trampe is so far from an actual, serious, actionable proposal that it's not worth debating, but Milloy is also alluding to the fight over the M Street cycletrack and Metropolitan AME church. That was a prime example of groups of people not speaking to one another or building bridges.

Some church members felt that cyclists were interlopers trying to remake the fabric of a city that is only desirable because of the churches' hard toil when others were abandoning central DC. At the same time, some newer residents too readily dismiss churches' needs and concerns by pointing to laws concerning parking which don't match a more unwritten social understanding that had been established for many years.

Church leaders told city officials that a bike lane was a nonstarter and rebuffed bicycle advocates' requests to meet and talk. Some bicycle riders belittled churchgoers for living outside the city. And so on.

It's easy to denigrate others, but harder to understand why they feel aggrieved.

There's plenty of injustice, and it's right to be outraged

Milloy points out:

I recall in the not-so-distant past when the city's bikers weren't newly arrived, mostly white millennials but black juveniles whom D.C. police frequently stoppedat least in neighborhoods that were being gentrified. Stopped for riding on sidewalks. Stopped for riding in parking lots. Now that kids like them are being moved to the outskirts of the city, if not out altogether, the District government is bending over backward to make Washington a more "biker-friendly" city.
Milloy highlights two failures of society here. First, police disproportionately stop young black males on the street. That means that that black youth who, for example, smoke marijuana are far more likely to be arrested than white youth. Black youth who break rules in school are far more likely to end up having the criminal justice system deal with the issue and possible punishment, while white youth far more often get a stern talking-to and a promise from parents to make sure it never happens again.

This sort of disparity is absolutely unconscionable. Mounds of books, articles, blog posts, and more have and will be written about this issue. We must not tolerate it.

This has little to do with bicycling. Bicyclists in DC are in fact probably very likely to support reforms to these injustices.

Second, it is entirely true that affluent groups of people tend to get more of what they want. They push for city services with more success. They lobby for zoning and historic preservation restrictions to protect elements of their neighborhoods and push change to other communities without this power.

Bicycling has long been an activity for two groups: those who can't afford cars and those who can, but choose to ride anyway. Now that the latter is growing quickly, there is new political support for bicycle infrastructure.

But you'd scarcely find a single member of that second group who feels that the lanes should just go in expensive neighborhoods. Bike lanes do not discriminate among who can ride a bicycle in them.

Cyclists, like many others, want to be safe first

Cyclists are precisely the group who want to see more bike lanes in Ward 8. Cyclists aren't looking to win some sort of battle about the soul of the city. They're looking to get where they want to go more easily and safely.

Yesterday was also the sixth anniversary of Alice Swanson's death. She was crushed under a garbage truck at Connecticut and R. Let's not forget the real human toll that traffic crashes can cause. And let's also not forget that people in poorer neighborhoods die or suffer in many ways as well, and often their families lack a voice to speak about their injustice.

Bicycling generates an odd juxtaposition where the typically most privileged members of our societymostly young, often white, primarily male, highly-educatedget to know what it is like to be a minority and feel threatened. Nikki Lee wrote that "cycling is awfully similar to being a woman," because random interactions are usually safe but every so often could be dangerous or fatal; small obstacles can be far larger just for you; and if something happens to you, society will probably blame you, the victim.

It also gives these privileged people (myself included) a chance to be reduced to a single adjective. To have peopleeven respected ones like NPR's Scott Simonassume something about you because of a superficial characteristic they can see.

There are jerks among every group. Some are riding bicycles. Some are driving. Some are white, black, old, young, gay, straight, trans, tall, short, athletic, bookish, long-haired, or like Milloy, sporting mustaches.

It's difficult to see past surface categories and understand people as people rather than as symbols of some group.

How about some bike lanes in Ward 8?

Milloy also says that "So far, more than 72 miles of bike lanes have been carved out of city streets. There are virtually none in Ward 8, by the way, which has the lowest income and highest number of children of any ward in the city."

There should be bike lanes in Ward 8. Unfortunately, DDOT planners have often tried to suggest bike lanes in projects, like the Great Streets program a few years ago, and hear angry residents say things like, "You just come in here with ideas and don't listen to us," and, "We don't want any bike lanes in our neighborhood."

The Washington Area Bicyclist Association has been working to address this with its outreach east of the Anacostia River. Black Women Bike has been trying to dispel racial and gender stereotypes. But a few programs won't dispel misconceptions overnight. We need far more dialogue and interaction, on bicycling, on gentrification, and on much more.

I would like to work toward building these bridges across the divides in our city and region. I would love to work with Courtland Milloy to achieve that, and emailed him to reach out last night. Former DC council candidate John Settles has been talking about convening conversations among disparate people in DC.

I hope that if we can find the right venue for conversations, the readers of Greater Greater Washington, and of Milloy's column, will participate, not to point fingers at another side or deride their misconceptions, but actually to learn from each other and let understanding win over hatred.


Bike sharing means more head injuries, study says? Actually, it's the opposite

The headline on an NPR blog post Friday blared, "Brain Injuries Rose In Cities After Bike-Sharing Rolled Out." It sounded horrible! A tiny graph showed a pretty clear trend, suggesting hard data behind this conclusion. As it turns out, while the authors of the study and news stories sensationalize the issue, the data show the exact opposite.

(Misleading) graph from NPR.

The paper's lead author even said that this supports the conclusion she expected all along. Only it doesn't. Instead, the data seem to show that in cities which launched bike sharing systems, bike-related traumatic injuries decreased, including head injuries.

What's wrong with the analysis

The researchers (Janessa Graves, Barry Pless, Lynne Moore, Avery Nathens, Garth Hunte, and Frederick Rivara) obtained data from trauma center records in cities that implemented public bike sharing programs (PBSPs) and control cities that did not.

The best analysis would compare the number of bike-related head injuries to the total amount of bicycling. That's because if more people bike but bicycling gets safer, you might see more injuries even if every individual cyclist's risk goes down.

If they didn't have that information, it would still be useful to just look at the total numbers of bike-related injuries or bike-related head injuries. Instead, the authors made the odd decision to look at the percentage of bike-related injuries that are head injuries.

This percentage can increase for two reasons:

  1. There are more head injuries
  2. There are fewer non-head injuries (and thus the head injuries make up a larger share)
Clearly, (1) is bad. But (2) is not.

In the paper, the authors get around this limitation by being careful to state their results in an exact fashion:

In this international study, implementation of a PBSP was associated with 14% greater risk of head injury among patients admitted to trauma centers for bicycle-related injuries.
As often happens, news stories shortened this to the very different headline, "Brain Injuries Rose In Cities After Bike-Sharing Rolled Out." But it's not just the media. The authors have also been less careful in public statements since writing the article.

NPR quoted lead author Graves saying, "Public bike-share initiatives are great wellness initiatives. But without providing helmets, we were concerned that we would see an increase in head injuries. And we did."

Only that's not what they really would see if they looked at the data more clearly.

What the numbers seem to really say

I couldn't perform an in-depth analysis similar to the study's because I don't have their dataset. However, the paper includes a table (Table 2) which lists the total numbers of head and non-head injuries in PBSP cities and control cities before and after the bike sharing program began.

That makes it possible to graph just the raw numbers of injuries for these time periods. (I adjusted the numbers for the fact that the paper's pre-implementation period spans two years and the post-implementation period only spans one.)

The overall trend is clear. For the control cities, there isn't much change in total injuries (an increase of 2%) or head injuries (4% decrease). But for the PBSP cities, head injuries decreased by 14% and total injuries decreased by 28%.

Weaknesses in the data

There are plenty of caveats to both the original study and my analysis, many based on limitations in the data.

Since the data on injuries come from emergency room records, the study only captures injuries that involve visits to the ER. The decision to go to an ER could be totally nonrandom for a whole range of injuries, and we could imagine that a large bike share program might affect whether people go or not.

Moreover, the introduction of a bike sharing program is not a discrete event. The authors had to pick a date for each city, and it's unclear how sensitive the analysis is to pushing the dates a bit in either direction. Plus, some of their dates may simply be incorrect. At least in DC, as Darren Buck pointed out, the paper lists bike sharing as starting in May 2010, when it really launched in late September 2010.

Finally, the dataset just doesn't contain a ton of cases. The authors end up with two years pre-implementation and one year post-implementation for each PBSP city, and the same length of time for control cities. They only have 5 PBSP cities and 5 control cities.

Since bike-related injuries are not incredibly common and this isn't a very long time period, it's going to be hard to identify gradual trends in the data. Bike advocates tend to focus on the need to change culture over the long term, with bike sharing as one element of that. One year after the introduction of bike sharing simply may not be long enough to see much of an effect.

Finally, the dataset suffers from the problem that it's not actually experimental data. The authors make a nice effort to deal with this by finding a matched control city for each PBSP city, but there are plenty of other differences between the paired cities other than the presence of bike sharing.

For example, the PBSP cities already had a lower incidence of total bike-related injuries before they implemented bike sharing, so it's hard to argue that they're identical to the control cities. The drop in injuries could be due to some other change in PBSP cities at the same time (DC built its first cycletracks in the same year it launched Capital Bikeshare, for example).

We have no way of knowing with this sort of analysis. And since I don't have the full dataset, I can't drill down to individual cities. But the overall trend is pretty dramatic: control cities had virtually unchanged injury rates, while PBSP cities had large drops in total bike-related injuries as well as smaller drops in head injury rates.


Graves has said that the authors started the study expecting to find that because bikeshare riders often don't use helmets as often as other cyclists, bikesharing systems put people at greater risk of head injuries. If we take their data at face value, instead we have evidence that bikesharing may instead decrease serious bike-related injuries, including head injuries.

That would be a big deal, because many people expected that perhaps injuries would increase, but the numbers of cyclists would increase faster, meaning bicycling got safer. The paper's data might not be correct, but if it is, then it's even better news for bike sharing: cycling went up, injuries per cyclist went down, but on top of that, total injuries went down, too.

Even if it's too soon to draw that conclusion given all the caveats listed above, it's clear that the study's authors have not shown a strong and direct relationship between new bike sharing systems and increases in bike-related head injuries. It's too bad that they have trumpeted an incorrect interpretation of their data, and that press reports have spread a false and sensationalized conclusion far and wide.


8 takeaways from the Bike League's study of cyclist fatalities

When someone is killed while riding a bike in the United States, the most follow-up you'll usually see is a newspaper article or two. There's rarely a trial or a detailed examination of what went wrong.

Trish Cunningham, 50, killed in Annapolis in 2013. Photo from League of American Bicyclists.

The federal government tracks bike fatalities, but only to a limited extent. We don't have great data about the wider story: who's harmed and what factors are leading to these preventable deaths.

The League of American Bicycists wanted to go deeper. Between February 2011 to February 2013, the organization sifted through hundreds of cases from across the country. Using newspaper and television reports and blogs, they were able to get a closer look at 628 individual cases and tease out some patterns.

The cases they examined don't account for every bike fatality during the study period (more like a third of them), but they are instructive. The League also supplemented its research with data from the NHTSA's Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS).

Below are some of the takeaways from the Bike League's summary of its findings (PDF):

1. Most fatalities occur on urban arterial roads

Fatalities were concentrated on high-speed "arterials" designed to speed motor vehicle traffic through urban areas. The second most frequent road category for cycling fatalities was local streets in urban areas.

Data from NHTSA.

2. The most common type of crash was being struck from behind

In 40 percent of the cases, the victim was struck from behind. The second-most common category was T-bone crashes, which accounted for 10 percent of fatal crashes. Head-on collisions (8 percent) and right-hook crashes, where the driver makes a right turn into a traveling straight (6 percent), were relatively less common.

Data from the League of American Bicyclists.

3. In urban areas, cyclists were more likely to be killed at intersections

Cyclists traveling in rural areas were 3.7 times more likely to be struck and killed at a location that was not an intersection than urban cyclists.

4. Most victims were wearing a helmet

In the 150 cases where helmet use was cited in a crash account, 57 percent of the victims were wearing a helmet.

5. Penalties varied based on the age and gender of the victim

Using news reports, it was only possible to track sentencing in a limited number of cases. Nevertheless, the Bike League found that harsher sentences were handed down to motorists who killed female cyclists, and to motorists who killed cyclists between the ages of 20 and 30.

6. If more people bike in your state, you're less likely to be killed

The national fatality rate was 8.6 deaths per 10,000 regular commuters, between 2008 and 2012. In every stateexcept Floridahigher than average bike commuting rates translated to lower fatality risk.

7. Media reports about bike crashes are flawed

Working from press accounts to compile data on bike crashes can be tricky, because as the League notes, stories tend to be told from the survivor's perspective. Basic facts like who had the right of way are often overlooked, and crashes are often presented in a manner that exculpates the motorist.

8. States aren't tracking cycling fatalities very uniformly, if at all, which limits progress

Of the top 10 states for cycling, eight were tracking cycling collisions, but they weren't all tracking crash type or motorist and cyclist information, and they weren't collecting information uniformly across states. Without this type of data, the Bike League says, it's difficult to determine whether road safety is improving and whether certain policies are improving outcomes.

Cross-posted from Streetsblog.


Driver assaults bicyclist, police ticket bicyclist: The video

Evan Wilder has posted the video of his experience with driver road rage, where the police wrote him a ticket, rather than the driver who swerved to a stop right in front of him, then threw his bike into the back of the truck.

Sarah Hughes from DCist points out that, according to the transcript, the driver seems to have thought Evan should have been in the adjacent bike lane. That is a contraflow lane, which lets people ride westbound from the Metropolitan Branch Trail to the rest of R Street along a one block section which is one-way. (To get to a parallel westbound street requires going up and down a hill.)

Motorist: What the f**k are you doing touching my car? The bike lane's over there.
Cyclist: The bike lane….
Motorist: The bike lane is over there, dude
Cyclist: This IS the bike lane
Motorist: THAT is the bike lane.
Cyclist: Look at this.
Motorist: That's the bike lane, dude.
Cyclist: See this arrow
Motorist: I don't know about that but you ain't gotta touch my car.
C See that arrow? It points that way.
Motorist: I don't even know about all of that shit. I don't drive a bike. Don't put your hands on my f**king car.
The driver seems to have believed that Wilder should have been in the bike lane, and therefore that justified passing him too closely, stopping right in front of him, yelling at him, and then throwing his bike into the truck.

In DC at least, people on bicycles are allowed to ride in any lane (outside of freeways) where cars are allowed, as well as in bike lanes. It's best to use the bike lane when it's available, but there are a lot of reasons not to use one even when it's not a contraflow lane in the wrong direction.

If you're driving, it's never okay to try to muscle a cyclist aside or drive in a way that's aggressive toward the cyclist, even if the other person is wrong. (And the same goes for any other road user.) Particularly since sometimes, as in this case, it might turn out you are wrong instead.

Unfortunately, it's too easy to ascribe hostile and nefarious motives to others on the road. Just look at this comment on yesterday's Dr. Gridlock chat (hat tip, again, to Sarah Hughes):

I commute down Connecticut Ave via car to work and back and have noticed that cyclists are increasingly hostile to cars, confrontational and dangers to themselves. They now ride two abreast, one in each traffic lane, taking two of the four lanes available. The only reason they do this is to be hostile to drivers and express aggression. ...

More and more of them are wearing cameras on their helmets. ... Am I to be harassed by angry cyclists daring me to do something that they can record on their cameras?

Some people do ride recklessly (and some people drive recklessly). But nobody is putting a camera on his or her bike to "dare" drivers to do something; they do it because they've experienced, as in this case, many other people misunderstanding the rules of the road, taking offense at the cyclist's behavior (even if it's totally legal), getting angry, driving aggressively, and causing a crash... and then police ticketing the cyclist.


Maybe this can stop U-turns on Pennsylvania Avenue

Past efforts to stop dangerous and illegal U-turns across the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes have not had much success, but DC officials are ready to try a new approach with a product, known as a "Park-It," that usually serves as a wheel stop in parking spaces. Will this do the trick?

Rendering of Park-Its on Pennsylvania Avenue. Image from DDOT.

Last fall, crews from the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) installed a product called a Zebra, from the Spanish company Zicla, along one block of Pennsylvania Avenue as a test. They studied the number of illegal U-turns before and after the Zebras went in.

While this study was not particularly scientific, there were fewer U-turns within the test block. However, U-turns in the surrounding blocks increased. This suggests drivers just waited to make their illegal turns after passing the barriers, but it did prove that these types of barriers are relatively effective in cutting down on U-turns.

Park-Its will make more of a barrier than the Zebras

Park-Its are 6 feet long and slightly lower than the Zebras. According to a letter from DDOT to the US Commission on Fine Arts (CFA), one Park-It will go in each of the spaces between stripes along the buffer area on both sides of the bike lanes, with a maximum of 8 feet in between. On the sections where there is no crosshatched, painted buffer, such as between 13th and 14th Streets, the Park-Its will go even closer together.

The Park-It will use the same black and white color palette which CFA asked for with the Zebras. These Park-Its are already also in place along the edge of the new 1st Street NE cycletrack.

The First Street cycletrack. Photo from WABA.

This will be a drastic improvement from the Zebras, which were spaced much farther apart than the manufacturer recommends. This happened partly because the contractor striped the buffers differently from what was in the original plans, and the bike planners were unknowingly using inaccurate plans to design the Zebra test.

Zebras installed on one side of Pennsylvania Avenue. Photo by the author.

Unlike with the Zebras, this is not a pilot program. Park-Its will go along the entire length of Pennsylvania Avenue from 15th Street to Constitution Avenue. They will not go on the last half block to 3rd Street, because there is parking in the center lane.

Why DDOT is dropping the Zebras

DDOT officials chose not to expand the Zebras for a couple of reasons. First, people reported that drivers found it easy to drive over the Zebras. Second, the test raised concerns about the long-term maintenance and durability of the Zebras. The winter was not kind to the Zebras, with multiple scarred and broken Zebras scattered across the block from impacts with vehicles and snowplows.

A Park-It costs only about half as much as a Zebra, so replacement and maintenance will be more cost-effective. There are also multiple suppliers. The recycled rubber used in Park-Its has some "give" and should resist impacts better than the hard plastic material of the Zebra. Lastly, in order for the Zebras to be effective, there would need to be many more of them.

DDOT crews will install the Park-Its this summer. Afterward, the bike planners will monitor the area to count illegal U-turns and keep an eye on the Park-Its' durability.

Photo by League of American Bicyclists on Flickr.

New traffic signals will come one day

The DDOT letter to the CFA also says they will install bicycle signals on the current traffic lights. Right now, signs point to green arrows on the signals, and tell cyclists to go when those arrows are green. Bicycle-specific signal heads would make it possible to independently let bicycles and vehicles go through an intersection.

DDOT may allow drivers to turn left at more intersections where they currently can't, and/or let cyclists ride through the intersection at a time when drivers cannot. This could reduce drivers' desire to make illegal U-turns in the middle of the block.

DDOT officials have given no timeframe for the signal changes. However, they wanted to give CFA a complete overview of all planned changes at one time.

CFA's agenda for this Thursday lists this project on the "consent calendar," meaning that CFA staff don't think it even needs to be discussed at the hearing and the board can potentially approve it along with other consent items without any debate.

Will this increase safety along Pennsylvania Avenue corridor? Hopefully. If this doesn't work, perhaps nothing will. Since Pennsylvania Avenue hosts an inaugural parade every four years, it's not possible to build anything more permanent in the street. But this barrier is the strongest step DDOT has taken thus far to curb U-turns, and cyclists are sure to welcome it.


Driver assaults bicyclist, police ticket bicyclist

Cyclist and photojournalist Evan Wilder encountered a road raging driver on R Street. He says the driver tried to force him off the road, caused a collision, then threw his bike into the truck. A police officer later wrote Wilder a ticket while he was in the hospital. Here is his story:

Image from video by Evan Wilder.

A driver came alongside me on a narrow, sharrow painted part of the R Street bike route just before the entrance to the Metropolitan Branch Trail.

He should not have tried to pass me, since there was no way to pass and give me the required 3 feet minimum. What he was doing was intentional because he kept pace with me then moved to his right in order to broadside me.

I braked hard in order to avoid a collision, but the driver had stopped at stop sign as he swerved right, so I ran into the back of his truck.

He then got out and berated me, yelling and screaming that I shouldn't mess with his truck and that I should be in the bike lane. When I said I would call the police he picked up my bike and threw it into his truck. The bike bounced out and landed on the other side of the truck in the road.

MPD officers arrived and I told them what happened. EMS took me to the ER, and while I was waiting, the MPD officer gave me a $100 Notice of Infraction for "following too closely." The driver got nothing.

The officer wrote the following on the police report:
D1 states he was traveling east bound on his bicycle when D2 drove past him on the left. D1 states D2 passed him too closely. D1 further states that D2 stopped at the stop sign in front of him and he was unable to stop his bike in time. D1 struck the back of D2 with his bike causing a scratch to the right side of D2's tailgate.

D2 states he was stopped at the stop sign when he heard D1 strike the rear of his vehicle.

[Witness] W1 states D2 was stopped at the stop sign and D1 struck his right rear bumper. W1 also states D2 was walking perfectly fine after the accident.

W2 states he came out side of his house after the accident and seen D1's bike behind D2's truck as in a rear end.

D1 was issued an NOI [Notice Of Infraction] for following too closely.

D1 had no complaint of injury but was transported to Howard University Hospital by Medic 17 for further evaluation.

The driver passing Wilder.

This narrative resembles Wilder's, but in a way that is clearly more sympathetic to the driver's point of view. What seems most conspicuous is that it makes no mention of the driver throwing Wilder's bike into his truck. It seems very strange not to include that, since it is certainly also an illegal action. And did the officer ask the witnesses about this?

Wilder says he indeed told the officer, both at the scene and later at the hospital. And he says that both witnesses indeed saw the bike-throwing incident; they came outside after the crash because the driver was yelling so loudly. He writes, "When I asked about it and how that wasn't an offense, he said that it was a separate incident from me being ticketed for striking his car, and that was it."

It certainly seems relevant to the question of whether the driver was in a road rage state of mind before the crash. If you're just sitting stopped at a light and a cyclist for some reason hits your car and makes a small scratch, you usually wouldn't respond in this way.

As it happens, Wilder has a camera on his bike, which captured video of the whole incident. He's not yet ready to release the video, but I've seen it and it seems to corroborate the fact that the driver suddenly cut off Wilder just before stopping. It also certainly shows the driver yelling, throwing the bicycle, and so on. Wilder is initially (and understandably) fairly angry as well, but then starts more calmly talking about calling the police while the driver rages on.

Certainly Wilder was asserting his right to space on the street. Some cyclists would have just slowed way down to give this driver a wide berth. But sharrows on this block mean emphasize that the cyclist has as much right to be in any road space as a driver. Passing a cyclist too closely (a violation of the law) and then swerving in front of the cyclist to stop at a stop sign is fairly clearly an aggressive move that's likely to cause a crash. Not to mention throwing the bike into a truck.

View from the bike as it's flying into the truck.

Cyclists have had constant problems with police officers doing scant investigation, assuming a cyclist is at fault, and going all the way to the hospital to give the cyclist the ticket. It's not one jurisdiction or one police force; this happened just last Monday in Rosslyn with the US Park Police.

We know from Zach T.'s story that many police officers strongly believe that a cyclist is just about always at fault for any crash. We don't know if this officer is one of those people or not, but given Wilder's video, it's clear that either the officer was biased, or else the type of investigation he conducted is simply not adequate to find the truth.

Update, May 20: Here's the video.

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