Thursday, May 22, 2008

Cyclists: Our own worst enemy

Today I came upon a bike accident that had just happened. I was traveling south on Broadway downtown and found this scene at Couch street. I asked other cyclists standing there and they said it was a crash of two bikes. Here's how I reconstruct the event from what people said. One was zooming along Broadway, as one does, Broadway being a main arterial. The other apparently tried to dart across Broadway at a gap in the cars, but neglected to wait for a gap in the bikes.

I have had this same problem. You're waiting and waiting, you're focusing on the cars, you finally get your chance, and your gap is filled with bikes. By the time the slow-mo bikes go by, you've got another wave of cars to wait for. This happens to me all the time when I'm headed home from my hidey-hole across the river and I'm on Thompson trying to cross Vancouver and Williams. Both of those streets have heavily used bike lanes and a ton of cars.

The other factor besides the weird timing is that you sort of use one kind of eyes to watch for cars and then you have to shift your eyes into a different gear to watch for bikes -- ever notice that? which is precisely why car drivers have trouble seeing bikes at all.

The number of cyclists in Portland is increasing so exponentially that soon there'll be enough of us to kill each other, independently of the car drivers.

Back to the accident on Broadway -- one cyclist, who was out of view behind the ambulance, was said to be in better shape than the other one, who was sitting on the pavement looking totally smackered talking to medics before finally being taken away in the ambulance. These are the only photos I had the gall to take. No mangled people, no bodies, no blood -- sorry. No can do.
If anyone reading this saw it happen, feel free to post a comment with a more eye-witness account of the accident.



At 10:41 PM, Blogger Dale said...

Yikes. Yes, you do use different eyes. Were you the one who linked to the moonwalking bear ad?

At 5:59 PM, Anonymous toni said...

Fascinating. Just did the moonwalking bear test again. I commented before that once you see it you can't not see it. Well, wrong. Despite being there before and having theories about how it works, I again didn't see it at all the first time. So knowing what to look for doesn't seem to be the answer and expecting car drivers to be educated into seeing bikes may be optimistic. Looks like the only answer might be to look as much like a car as possible. Every time.

At 8:55 AM, Blogger Jeff said...

I took a motorcycle safety class years ago, and the instructor commented that it's hard for people to judge the speed of an oncoming motorcycle due to their width. Cars are wide and get perceptibly wider as they get closer to you...easy for your eyes to pick up on.

This accident is unfortunate, but really...what a wonderful problem to have...too many bicycles!

At 3:24 PM, Anonymous Matthew Denton said...

It happened about 20 feet in front of me:

The worst bicycle accident I've ever seen didn't directly involve a car, it involved two bicycles. (I blame cars anyways, but only because there are big and you couldn't see over/through them.) I crossed over the Broadway bridge into downtown during the morning rush hour, and I was second in line, (of at least 3 cyclists.) There was plenty of car traffic on Broadway. As I was crossing Davis the light at Burnside had just turned green and so the line of bicycles is speeding up, and the line of cars has backed up across Couch, but isn't blocking the intersection at Couch, (unlike normal.) In particular, the car in the right most lane just before the intersection has his backup lights on. And I thought that was weird, so I slowed down, and just as I would have entered the intersection if I hadn't slowed down, a guy in a wheelchair finishes crossing Broadway... I didn't see this guy until he was actually was in the bicycle lane, but I stopped in time to avoid hitting him. (And: no offense to him, he had the right of way.) The person in front of me (who didn't slow down) made it around that guy. At the same time, someone is riding west on Couch, and (I assume) sees that the intersection isn't blocked, (and that the wheelchair user, who wasn't very fast would have it blocked for a while,) and can't see the bicycles in the bike lane over the cars, and so they crossed Broadway. And so the person in front of me plows into the Couch rider at 20 mph. The person in front of me probably broke their collarbone and ended up in an ambulance. The Couch rider didn't get in an ambulance, although only walked 30 feet and eventually got a ride from the police, (I don't know to the hospital or not.)


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