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Friday, September 24, 2010

Bike Crashes Get Spotty and Inconsistent Coverage in Coloradoan

On Saturday afternoon, Sept. 18 Alex Guerin either hit a car or was hit by a car on Shields St. near Elizabeth.  Here's the report from the Coloradoan on Tuesday, Sept. 21:  
"Alex Guerin is in fair condition after he was hit by a car while he was riding his bike on Shields Street near Elizabeth Street on Saturday afternoon.
According to police, Guerin, 19, was riding his bike while carrying a skateboard when a Honda pulled in front of him. Guerin, who was not wearing a helmet, crashed, police said. The incident remains under investigation."
Then on Friday, Sept. 24 the Coloradoan further reported:

“No charges will be filed in connection with an accident that injured a CSU student who was riding his bicycle Saturday afternoon when he collided with a vehicle pulling out of a drive-way onto Shields Street near Elizabeth Street.

Alex Guerin, 19, who was not wearing a helmet, is unable to remember what happened before he collided with a car driven by Gregory McCauley, 26, of Fort Collins, said Rita Davis, police spokeswoman.  Investigators have determined Guerin should have been able to avoid the collision, she said.”

The initial report of this crash clearly says that Guerin "was hit" by a car.  The follow-up report suggests that Guerin "collided" with a car.  So who hit whom?  

The fact that no citation was issued suggests that this was truly an "accident" that could not have been avoided.  Yet, a car pulling out of a driveway onto Shields sounds like a "failure to yield" infraction to me.

I'll see if I can get a copy of the police report to follow up further. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Sharrows Will Make Cycling Safer in Old Town

Smart Cycling Column by Rick Price
Fort Collins Coloradoan, Monday, Sept. 20, 2010

Bicyclists often ask me what to do when the bike lane ends, such as when riding east on Mountain Avenue or Oak Street into Old Town.
The answer to the question is take the lane. Any of those streets that have on-street parking and no bike lane require you to act as a vehicle (since you are, anyway, by law) and take the center of the lane. You are safer there because you are more visible and should assert the basic principle of first come, first served. The car behind you will have to wait, as it would for another automobile poking along looking for parking.
Many people don't feel comfortable with this solution. I am pleased to announce that relief is on the way, at least on Mountain Avenue.

At its August meeting, the Bicycle Advisory Committee, a sub-committee of the city's Transportation Board, heard a report from transportation planner Scott Weeks that sharrows are being planned for Mountain Avenue from Meldrum Street to Riverside Avenue. This is great news for those of us who pedal to Old Town from the west.
The 2004 Strategic Plan for Old Town noted that "discontinuous east-west bicycle routes in and out of Old Town make it extremely difficult for cyclists from west side neighborhoods to get to downtown for work or entertainment." The plan further commented that lack of signage and visible connections "make bicycle commuting a poor alternative" for those who work downtown.
So what's a sharrow? It is a contraction of "shared lane arrow." It is a large bicycle stencil with arrows or chevrons painted in the center of the lane indicating where bicycles should be for safety purposes when there is no bike lane. It renders clear to motorists that they can expect to find bicycles in the travel lane.
Sharrows are used principally in communities where streets are too narrow for bike lanes. Boulder has sharrows, as do Oregon cities Portland and Eugene. They have become standard markings in many California cities, including Berkeley, Long Beach and San Francisco. Long Beach has even painted a wide green stripe down the travel lane indicating where bicyclists should position themselves. Some members of the Bicycle Advisory Committee encouraged our transportation planners to do something similar.
Sharrows are just another means of asking motorists and cyclists to share the road. They serve an important educational purpose by pointing out that it's OK for bikes to pedal down the middle of the lane where they are more visible, won't be hit by cars backing out of diagonal parking and where they avoid the door zone of cars parallel parked along the road.
Some of us on the Bicycle Advisory Committee would like to see sharrows on all east-west streets into Old Town. We feel they would make Old Town much friendlier for bicyclists and motorists.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Sun-Blind Drivers can Kill

Published in the Fort Collins, Coloradoan "Smart Cycling" column 
Sept. 6, 2010
By Rick Price 
Even though 95% of bike crashes can be avoided, we all know that “stuff happens.”  Like the night I knocked a Colorado State Patrolman on his back in the middle of North Overland Trail at Vine Drive.  I didn’t see him until my forearm hit him in the gut.  He was on his back in the middle of the road in the blink of an eye.    

The investigation, which took a week, determined that I was blinded by the flashing lights of the police cruiser parked in the bike lane.  The officer was standing next to his cruiser with no flashlight and no reflective material on his dark blue uniform.  I was absolved of any wrongdoing in the crash because of the “blinding lights.”

There are a number of lessons here but the biggest one is this:  watch out not to be blinded by bright lights and this time of year be especially careful of sun-blindness when driving your car or bike.

(See the link to the story by Keri Caffrey that accompanies this photo at the bottom of this post.  Do you see the cyclist in the picture?)

Sun-blindness often occurs in Fort Collins within six weeks each side of the equinox (September 20th or 21st) especially within an hour after sunrise and before sunset.  It is a big issue on east-west streets.  And it can kill.  The same conditions exist before and after March 21st but fall is far worse because the weather is still warm and kids, including college students, are bicycling to school in large numbers. 

Amanda Miyoshi was bicycling to Fort Collins High School on Sept. 11, 2007.  As she crossed Horsetooth Road at 7:30 a.m. the young 17 year old driver headed east didn’t see her until it was too late.  Amanda was wearing a helmet yet she suffered a traumatic brain injury from which she is still recovering. The sun rose that day at 6:37 a.m. and was no higher than three and a half-fingers above the horizon, using the boy scout method of calculating the sun’s position by holding your arm out and measuring the number of fingers between the horizon and the sun.

Fourteen year old "SiSi" Mijiddorj was crossing Drake Road and was hit by an east-bound SUV at 6:43 a.m. on Aug. 20, 2009.  The sun had risen less than thirty minutes earlier.  At the time of the crash the sun would have been about two fingers above the horizon.  The SUV driver never saw her.  SiSi died that evening. 

Cyclists and motorists should be very careful on east-west streets this time of year, especially in the morning but also in the evening.  During morning hours motorists should slow down and be aware that cyclists and pedestrians are headed to school.  Cyclists should stop before crossing arterials and walk across them if necessary.  Use sidewalks if you must and be aware that motorists simply may not see you if they are blinded.  Another option is to change your route:  use the trails or use neighborhood streets where trees cast shade and cut back on the possibility of sun-blindness. 

(For a great illustration of how the sun can render a bicyclist invisible check out this blog post by Keri Caffrey:  "The Blinding Sun ") 

Modest Sales Tax Increase will Yield Big Results

Letter to the Editor of the Fort Collins, Coloradoan
Sept. 11, 2010


As an avid cyclist, former business owner and member of the city's Economic Advisory Commission, I value the quality of life that we enjoy  in Fort Collins, and I support the modest tax  increase proposed by City Council on the November
ballot. By my count, I pay more in tips at coffee  shops and restaurants in Old Town than I would pay  with this slight tax increase.

Our sales-tax rate is one of the lowest among Front  Range cities, yet I am delighted with the quality of  life we have created. But don't take my word for it. In 2010, Money Magazine described us as a "terrific  small city" and shows a table with our local tax rate  half that of the other Top 10 small cities on their  list.
What will we get with this sales-tax increase? Fewer  potholes and cleaner bike lanes for safer cycling,  more parks and better trails and, if we're lucky, more  police officers who can figure out how to get  Colorado State University students to stop running  stop signs on their bikes.
Is Fort Collins a great town, or what? Let's keep it  that way. Vote yes on ballot issue 2B.
Rick Price, Ph.D.