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Posted by on Sep 23, 2010 in Safety | 44 comments

I watched a guy get hit yesterday

I observe bicyclists wherever I am. I’m curious to see what they do and how infrastructure influences them and the other drivers. I was in my car on Colonial yesterday when a cyclist I was watching was hit by a car.

I had driven the car to my massage (it’s still too warm out to arrive by bike and not be sweaty), then decided to stop by Home Depot while I was out in that direction. Home Depot is just east of the new Colonial overpass at S.R. 436. As with all new construction projects, FDOT added an undesignated bike lane (it’s striped like a bike lane but has no signs or stencils). It’s full of broken glass already. But that’s another story.

Looking east from Commerce Blvd.

Leaving Home Depot to head west requires a right turn (eastbound) on Colonial, then a U-turn. The overpass has eliminated all crossing movements for more than half a mile from the intersection at 436. There’s a fair amount of bicycle traffic on this corridor. Almost all of them use the sidewalk. As I was heading back West I noticed a bicyclist up ahead using the bike lane, so I watched him.

The bike lane curves right as a new lane is added just before Commerce Blvd. You can see it on the Google satellite, but it is not up to date with the completed construction—it shows as a right turn lane where there is now a thru lane and an undesignated bike lane. When I first watched the cyclist follow the bike lane around the curve, I thought the bike lane was striped improperly. But it isn’t.

Looking west toward Commerce Blvd. X marks the crash.

As he approached Commerce Blvd, there was a car waiting to turn right. Though the bike lane stripe is discontinued past the intersection, the cyclist maintained a straight track across that space. I watched him pass in front of the car and it appeared to pull out behind him. Then the car braked suddenly, I saw a little flash of activity on the other side of it, then I could see that the cyclist was down. It happened so fast!

I turned right and pulled into a driveway, grabbed my phone and ran to the cyclist. The driver of the car was standing over the bicyclist calling 911. The bicyclist was laying on his back, writhing in pain. His body was shaking. I put my hand on his shoulder and tried to console him. There was no blood or open wounds, but he indicated his hip was injured.

I looked around the scene. There was a yellow construction helmet next to his shoulder. His bike had a milk crate strapped to the rack and his belongings had been thrown to the ground 5-or-so feet from where he’d been hit. The bike was beside him, facing the opposite direction he had been traveling. Had I arrived on the scene without observing him beforehand, I would have thought he had been riding the wrong way.

The car had hit his rear wheel and spun him. It’s possible he was high-sided, which can dislocate a hip or break a pelvis.

This wasn’t how I planned to spend my afternoon, but it was interesting

At the suggestion of a bystander, I used the bicyclist’s cell phone to call his wife. Spoke with her for a second, then gave the phone to him to speak with her. The EMTs and Sheriff’s deputy came within a few minutes. They made quick work of carrying him away. I spoke with the deputy, but Orange County doesn’t work traffic crashes. They turn them over to FHP. I said I’d wait, since I felt it was important to have a witness on the crash report. I forgot how long it takes for FHP to show up to a crash.

Within a few minutes, all the crash workers were gone and it was just me and the driver of the car, and his little son, hanging out beside one of Orlando’s most wretched traffic sewers… for the next 2 1/4 hours.

I wonder how long this will be here.

The first thing I noticed was the bicycle. I had seen the EMT guy carry it away and assumed the deputy, or someone, would take it to the hospital with his belongings. But no. They locked it to a guard rail with a flimsy cable (probably belonging to the bicyclist) and left it there.

I turned my attention to the intersection and the traffic dynamics on that stretch of Colonial. This crash was unquestionably the fault of the car driver, but it was easy to see how the road design contributed to it.

A cyclist will be more visible using the left tire track here.

First of all, there is no way for anyone coming from Commerce Blvd or any of the streets attached to it to enter Colonial at a signalized intersection or make a left turn. This driver was aiming for the left turn lane to cross or make a u-turn and drive East. The left turn lane is 4 lanes away. The right-most lane had just developed, so it didn’t have traffic in it. Naturally, a driver planning this maneuver will place more focus on the other 3 lanes of high-speed thru traffic. The undesignated bike lane is to the right of that right-most lane, placing a bicyclist well outside the focus area. To make matters worse, Commerce connects to Colonial at an angle, placing the closest traffic to the left of the driver’s windshield — potentially in a blind spot.

When the driver’s wife came to pick up the little boy, he came out of his car and we chatted while we waited. He’s a nice young man and was pretty shaken by the crash. He had just picked up his son at preschool and was taking him to the park. He described what happened from his perspective. It was exactly what I had suspected. A classic drive-out, exacerbated by the size and configuration of the road. He was focused on the fast traffic in the three main thru lanes. When it looked like he had a gap to go, he did a quick check to his right and then started to go, just as the cyclist rode in front of him.

As we hung out and observed other bicyclists and pedestrians, he got an unexpected lesson in bike safety. He seemed to welcome the new awareness. He said something to the effect of, this was a hard way to learn, but he sure was going to be more aware of bicyclists from now on.

If a bicyclist is already on this side of the street and needs to go East, this is the easiest way to do it.

During our wait, I counted 5 cyclists riding against traffic on the sidewalk, 3 riding with traffic on the sidewalk. I saw only one other cyclist using the bike lane. When he got to where the bike lane curved to the right of the new lane, he left the bike lane and used the middle of the right lane until he was past Commerce and Old Cheney, then he moved back to the left edge of the bike lane. I wondered if he had learned that from an outside source, or had adapted based on experiencing close calls there. I saw lots of bicyclists on the eastbound side of Colonial as well—going in both directions—they all appeared to be using the sidewalk. We also watched one motorist turn left from Old Cheney into the right lane, drive the wrong way and turn left onto Commerce. Perhaps his other car is a bicycle.

They stood next to a roadside memorial waiting for a gap. Crossed to the median and waited again, then hurried across 5 lanes.

The most disturbing thing I observed, is the way this car-centric road design has screwed pedestrians. It’s 1.2 miles between signalized intersections. There is a lot of pedestrian traffic crossing here, yet somehow FDOT expects people to walk 1/2 mile to 436, or 3/4 mile to Forsyth to cross the street… from their bus stop to their neighborhood. Oh and never mind there is a high school a few blocks south of here. It was bad before, but now there are more lanes and high-speed traffic heading to and from the overpass.

I wished I had my camera with the long lens. I took a number of iPhone photos of people froggering across 9 lanes of traffic. They’re all pretty useless images. But the photo to the right was the most poignant thing I saw. When this family started out on the South side of Colonial, they happened to be standing next to a roadside memorial, piled high with flowers. Someone died on that corner.

Roadway cyclists are forced to choose between being pinned in a debris-strewn gutter lane, suffering too-close passing and intersection conflicts, or riding where we are safer and more comfortable and suffering harassment and possible trouble with the police.

FDOT is mandated to accommodate bicyclists and pedestrians in new construction projects. That says nothing about helping them get across the street. It doesn’t even specifically require bike lanes. So they pave ADA-compliant sidewalks and slap down some paint 4 feet from the gutter. They don’t designate the bike lanes, therefore they have no liability or requirement to maintain them (thus the broken glass). Hardly anyone uses these gutter lanes. Who wants to be that close to speeding traffic? I don’t. Traffic averse cyclists stay on the sidewalk. And since it’s an ordeal to cross the street, they ride in either direction. Confident cyclists are forced to choose between being pinned in a debris-strewn gutter lane, suffering too-close passing and intersection conflicts, or riding where we are safer and more comfortable and suffering harassment and possible trouble with the police.

The worst part of the mandate is that it allows window-dressing in place of real accommodation. And it allows us all to push aside the inequities in our transportation system. Bike lanes and sidewalks are fine with the DOT. They don’t slow the cars down. It’s all about the cars. Worse, it’s all about cars driven by people who DON’T live in the area. This design serves people who live somewhere else. It’s a highway to get them through at high speed. Meanwhile, it’s difficult to get to local destinations, even by car. The businesses suffer and eventually close and the area becomes increasingly blighted.

My heart goes out to the people on foot and on bicycles who have to use this corridor regularly. It is truly unfit for human life. My heart also goes out to the bicyclist who was hit yesterday. His name is Bao. I hope his wife had transportation to get to his side at the hospital. I hope he didn’t have any broken bones. And I hope his bike is still there when he goes to retrieve it… and that he’s not too scared to ride it again.

44 Comments

  1. Holy smokes. Such a horrible thing to see.

    It’s sad that anyone on a bike or anyone at all has to suffer injury from a motor vehicle collision and to have to witness such an impact…

    You made a reference about the cyclist who moved out of the danger area, and suggested a few reasons for his safety move. It’s curious that one of the reasons wasn’t that he had taken a cycling safety class. Of course, it’s understandable why not, since nobody needs these courses, because everybody knows how to ride a bike safely. /sarcasm off.

  2. You know more about the outcome of this crash than I do about the one I saw last summer.

    Some friends and I were riding in the annual event called RAIN (Ride Across INdiana). About sixty-five or seventy miles into the day, we stopped at a stop sign to wait for a safe moment to cross a four-lane-plus turn lane road. A motorcyclist slowed for some reason (I’m still fuzzy on why), only to be hit from behind by a motorist. The motorcyclist was launched in the air as the car went under him. His bike–a cruiser-weight thing–was tossed some hundred feet ahead and to one side. The car went under the airborne biker, off the side of the road, through a fence and out in a field before stopping. The driver came out of the car, saying “I never even SAW him!” over and over.

    Oh, yeah. After flying some feet over the car that had hit him, the motorcyclist landed on his head–sans helmet, of course, as it’s Indiana and helmets are not required there. My two riding pals are both medical pros–one is a Chiropractor and the other a dentist, so not trained in emergency/first responder stuff, but still more knowledgeable than I. I chose to help direct traffic away from the injured biker and didn’t get a good look at his injuries.

    EMS was on the scene within a few minutes–behind an ER nurse who happened along and who took charge of first aid care until EMS arrived. The police officers took contact information from us and let us go. We never found anything about the crash in that local paper’s web site, so I don’t know how the guy fared.

    It’s still a harrowing memory.

  3. By the time it took me to read this and the comments, and pull up the crash stats, someone died on US roads. About one every 14 minutes. Every 8 minutes there’s a crash and also every 8 minutes, someone gets injured or killed.

    Cyclists die a pair a day, and only if they’re not misclassified as pedestrians. 14 people walking or cycling are killed by motor vehicles every day.

    I couldn’t tell you how many are injured, NHTSA insists only 30 cyclists were injured but not killed in car vs bike collisions. Florida only had 4 non fatal injuries in 2008.

    And what’s the most pressing concern? Planting flowers in the median? I’m sure getting people from point a to point b as quick as possible is up there too.

    This data is updated to 2008 and is available at http://www-fars.nhtsa.dot.gov/

    • The County didn’t design this roadway, though I’m sure they were involved and it obviously was a priority by the Metroplan Board to build it. The area is in need of redevelopment – it’s blighted and has other needs so the streetscape concepts are not without merit (and they also seek to visually narrow the roadway by placing buildings closer to the roadway). There isn’t a whole lot that can be done to improve the safety of the roadway other than not build it like that in the first place.

      • Honestly, if I were planning the area, I’d make the strip between Colonial and Lake Barton a “no man’s land” and pay to relocate those businesses elsewhere. Santa Rosa and Old Cheney should be the primary commercial strips here, with Colonial relegated to through traffic. A two-way frontage road connecting Santa Rosa to Semoran would eliminate the need to cross Colonial there, and a bike/ped underpass connecting Roush to Delta (and thus Santa Rosa to the east part of Old Cheney) would probably help. But it’s pretty much impossible to design a “streetscape” around a six-lane highway; better to treat it as a boundary, like a lake or airport.

        • If I remember correctly, during the workshops for the redevelopment area the kind of concepts you are talking about regarding Old Cheney were discussed and are part of the plan.

          • So Colonial won’t have a pretty streetscape? How is FDOT going to satisfy the requirement to accommodate motorists wherever possible in every project…oh.

  4. Something else came to mind: they could have greatly reduced conflict points at no cost by using existing roads as “backage roads”: http://www.intrans.iastate.edu/pubs/access/toolkit/20.pdf Old Cheney could handle all eastbound properties between Tucker and Goldenrod, as well as those on the westbound side in the area east of 436. Other streets such as Santa Rosa could handle this elsewhere, eliminating at least 25 driveways dumping out directly on Colonial without any cost by simply using existing back entrances. A single light at Tucker would allow elimination of almost every median opening between 436 and Goldenrod with little added distance (traffic accessing westbound properties east of Tucker could use Old Cheney as a “jughandle” to make a U-turn, for example turning right on Old Cheney, left on Forsyth, and left on Colonial).

    It appears that FDOT didn’t follow their own access management standards (http://www.dot.state.fl.us/planning/systems/sm/accman/): “Good access management practice strives to separate conflict points by providing a reasonable distance between driveways and between median openings.” All they did was convert the center left turn lane to a median with loads of openings and no reduction in driveways.

  5. Keri, thanks for a very interesting and illuminating article. Your experience shows how difficult it is to find out how these accidents happen and why it’s important to do just that. You were in the right place at the right time and saw what happened but it still took you 3 plus hours to really follow up on all aspects.

    This section of Colonial is a disaster for pedestrians and bicyclists, a train wreck that could have been avoided with a modicum of forethought, IF the priorities were shifted. As Keri points out, moving motorized vehicles quickly and efficiently is the only design priority with pedestrian and bicycle accommodations made as afterthoughts.

    The sad thing is that the mindset that produced this monstrosity is still prevalent. We have very far to go to swing the pendulum back.

    Without public concern, action and even outrage, officials will continue to build roads that assign active transportation the lowest priority. If readers feel strongly about this issue, make your concerns known. Become active transportation supporters and advocates. To learn more please contact me. -Bill

    • Bill,
      Please count me in!
      Send some information to me on what I can do to lend my voice and work to this cause.
      Doug

  6. I still don’t understand how there could be such a thing as an “undesignated bike lane”. How is that not just a shoulder? How could you be cited for not using it under Florida’s mandatory bike lane law if it is not marked as such? The whole concept still makes no sense to me.

    • I don’t think you could be cited under the MBL law, but in this thread it was argued that you could be cited under the FTR law: http://commuteorlando.com/forum/index.php?topic=366.0

      It’s definitely not a shoulder, since shoulders aren’t to the left of right turn lanes.

      • I forgot to mention that they’re really just two parts of the same law. The MBL law was a “clarification” that essentially defined the “lane marked for bicycle use” as part of the roadway that you must keep to the right of (except if hazards are present).

    • It’s striped like a bike lane: goes to the left of RTOLs; is dashed at the intersection approaches; usually has curb & gutter. The only thing missing is stencils and signs and a requirement to maintain them. Most of the newer ones seem to meet the minimum width. There are some older ones that don’t.

      As NE2 says below, since it is part of the roadway, it can be enforced under the FTR law. It can’t technically be enforced under the MBL law, except that we can expect it to be. Police don’t care about silly distinctions like “designated” or going the speed of traffic or avoiding a hazardous condition (like getting clobbered by a drive-out). As you’ll discover in an upcoming post I’ve been working on for the last week, some cops only read the part of the law they want to enforce because it supports their bias. Then the cyclist is saddled with the legal and financial burden of defending his right to operate safely on the public roadway. No other driver has to do that.

      • Oh I’m aware of the selective statute awareness concept, I’ve been on the receiving end of that too. Fortunately in my own personal experience so far, the cop was reasonable and willing to look up and discuss statute, and ultimately did not ticket me.

        I just found out that a district attorney(!) a bit north of here actually wrote a memo to a police department stating that Maine law says bicyclists must ride single file and to the extreme right, which is complete BS. But it probably explains the trouble some bicyclists have had in that town this summer, including a women’s group ride which was stopped because they were riding two abreast, despite the fact that Maine has no law against that.

  7. When he got to where the bike lane curved to the right of the new lane, he left the bike lane and used the middle of the right lane until he was past Commerce and Old Cheney, then he moved back to the left edge of the bike lane. I wondered if he had learned that from an outside source, or had adapted based on experiencing close calls there.

    Whenever I approach an intersection, I tend to drift left if it’s clear to make myself more visible. If it’s not clear, I look for an opening and traffic a do a full lane merge. I actually appreciate the fact that most roads around here do not have bike lanes.

    • Traffic-light-controlled sidepaths? Safe, maybe. Inconvenient (given US levels of motor vehicle traffic), definitely. You’d be waiting several minutes at every light.

      And I’ve never understood how the “bike box” in the background at 1:25 (no, not this thing – http://commuteorlando.com/wordpress/2010/08/30/sometimes-i-feel-like-this/ :)) is supposed to be safe. There seems to be an inevitable conflict when a cyclist moves into it right as the light is turning green.

  8. I’ve never had to wait at a light for what I would consider an inconvenient “too long” time. In many cases, the default value is green for cyclists. It is, of course, impossible at a level crossing to give everyone a green light all the time. The closest that I’ve been to that is the “green wave.”

    On “green wave” streets, the lights are timed so that if traffic is cycling at a steady 20 km/hr, everyone will hit a green light at every intersection. Very nice. Particularly at my age, when stopping and starting again can be tiring. That is the fastest and easiest urban cycling that I’ve ever done, shooting straight through the city at a nice steady pace and hitting every light green.

    My experience with bike boxes is that they allow 15-20 cyclists to accumulate in front of cars at a junction. Then when the light changes, there is a nice solid pack all taking the lane with the cars following safely behind.

    • Do you really think they’d make the default green for cyclists (and thus red for other vehicles) here? As I understand it, they’re not even willing to give the Lymmo signal preemption.

      As for the bike box, what if you arrive just before the light changes and there’s nobody yet in the box? In other words, the light turns green just as you’re entering the box, and the cars go without realizing you’re trying to cut them off.

      • Oh, and the only way to prevent a crash like this with a sidepath would be to put a traffic light at every side street with no turn on red. That’s about as likely as tearing down I-4.

        • Somehow cars usually manage to avoid crashing into each other in intersections controlled only by yield signs.

          I’ve got the feeling that you don’t have a lot of experience using proper bicycle infrastructure. Trust me, bicycle mode share didn’t get to 57% in Gronigen without a lot of careful planning.

          • “Trust me, bicycle mode share didn’t get to 57% in Gronigen without a lot of careful planning.”

            Let’s have this conversation when there is a 200% sales tax on automobiles, gas is $7/gal and the driver license test costs several thousand dollars to train for and take and people still fail it the first time because it is so demanding.

            Until then, Kevin, you are wasting bandwidth.

      • If the bike box is unoccupied and the light changes right before I enter it, I may not enter the box. It depends. This situation does not happen very often, but when it does the car driver has usually waved me into the box.

        As to the “it won’t happen here” idea, I’ve heard that before in Florida. I vividly remember hearing “Jim Crow will never be overthrown, and you are a hopeless idealist to think otherwise.”

        Things never change. Until they do.

        • Getting rid of Jim Crow laws was worthy and appropriate. Building parallel infrastructure on thousands of miles of arterial roads and then assigning separate signal phases with priority for the sidepaths is not.

          • Well, as a US taxpayer, I’ve just got to disagree with this. What’s the cost of having over 40,000 people killed in road crashes every year? And over 10 times that number injured?

            Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health estimates that the annual mortality costs of car pollution just in the City of Toronto are $2.2 billion. Multiply that across the USA and you get quite a chunk of change.

            And the costs of multiple wars for oil is?

            The point is, of course, that proper cycle infrastructure promptly pays for itself. Not to mention resulting in much nicer cities to live in.

            The bigger picture is that as we approach peak oil, a crisis is inevitable. What if today there is a revolution in Saudi Arabia? Instant crisis tomorrow.

            When the crisis inevitably comes, are we ready with a plan that governments can implement to transform our cities with proper cycle infrastructure? Or are we going to blow the opportunity?

          • When we reach peak oil and people can’t afford to drive, we won’t need segregated infrastructure. We’ll just use the empty roads.

          • I suggest we ignore Kevin until he says something relevant to this specific crash.

          • Keri wrote: “When we reach peak oil and people can’t afford to drive, we won’t need segregated infrastructure. We’ll just use the empty roads.”

            Bingo. But this point is lost on many.

            Either way you slice the eggplant (the fast-approaching end of PO’s bumpy-plateau phase, or our 20mbd+ energy consumption habit costing more than we can pay, or other nations wanting moron of a dwindling expense resource) the happy motoring adventure will eventually wind down. Even narrow 2-lane roads will be usable as cycling superhighways then :)

  9. Peak oil doesn’t mean no oil. For a long time there will be people rich enough to drive cars. Even in The Netherlands with gasoline at $10 per gallon there are still cars around. It will be the same in the USA. Even at $20 per gallon there will still be cars on the roads.

    The question is: “how do we prevent crashes like the one Keri saw?”

    • Can you explain how a sidepath would prevent a crash like this? I’m asking for a specific design for this specific intersection, not a general video about sidepaths and how lucky the Dutch are to have them.

    • The Netherlands is not experiencing the kind of oil shocks that will come after world oil hits peak. Oil prices in the Netherlands, though high, have been fairly stable.

      After world oil hits peak, we will see steeply rising prices for a short while, followed by no oil. We have to use oil to get oil, so as soon as the amount of oil used to extract and transport the oil equals the amount of oil extracted, there is effectively no more oil. When that happens, there will be no more gasoline cars – at all. SUVs will go when the first oil shock hits, then luxury cars, then trucks, then compacts, then hybrids. The only cars still on the road after the oil era ends will be electric cars – and they won’t last long because many of their components are made using oil. There will be substitutes – rubber tires, etc., but they will be expensive, and we will be in an economic depression that will make the 1930s look like a mild downturn. So there will be no oil and no more cars.

      • And we probably hit peak production in 2008. There will be a few years of plateau, then the oil shocks will hit. Trust me, there will come a time when $20/gallon will seem incredibly cheap.

  10. These roads that have eight lanes are very confusing. It takes a great deal of concentration to enter them from a parking lot or side street. Cars are pulling out from other parking lots and streets further upstream; cars are changing lanes, often pulling into the right lane that looked clear a second ago; cars are all going in the generally the same direction, but are all over the place. Hard enough to enter a lane, almost impossible to cross 8 lanes, such as this driver was trying to do.

    Colonial Drive gets over 80,000 cars a day in this place, so it is not for the inexperienced or the aged driver.

    Add another lane where a cyclist may be riding and yet another one, where a pedestrian may be walking and the tipping point has been reached. The motorist patiently waits and waits for “the platoon” to clear, then is surprised when a cyclist or pedestrian appears. It is mesmerizing.

    I have almost given motorists heart attacks by walking up to their car and getting the driver’s attention while they were concentrating on the traffic they were trying to join. The driver was looking right at me, but didn’t “see” me until I waved in their side window or, walked behind their car or, in one case, knocked on the glass when I couldn’t walk behind the car and was afraid to walk in front until my presence was acknowledged. Me being there, trying to cross in front or behind them, was just too much to cogitate.

  11. Keri,
    Any update on this guy’s condition?

    I saw on the Sentinel Chain Gang blog that another cyclist was hit about two weeks ago and is not in the best of shape. I was surprised that I had not heard any mention of him until now.
    Here is a site that his family is maintaining tracking his progress
    http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/martykatzrecovery

  12. Sorry,
    I overlooked that sentence in the main article.

  13. That is so horrible. I’m a bike rider. And I ride my bike for 6 years in Florida. I had never driven a car. I’m scared of cars. I was hit by car when I was 16 year old pedestrian outside of US. Now I have 5 year old girl and my bike is a 3 foot long tag-along…And I notices a lot of drivers and don’t give a damn when i cross on my light as pedestrian with a little child behind me. They want to turn, they on hurry and me and my poor sweet was almost hit several times. Thanks to my breaks and my cautious to prevent hideous accidents. One time it could be severe. I passed colonial and was riding bike on sidewalk of Bennett Road and in one of intersections car came out on full speed and almost T-bone me. If i would be a little bit more faster me and my girl would be dead.I wish car drivers stop chat on cellphones while they driving vehicles and pay more attention to bike riders and pedestrians, because you can murder someone with out intense and regret all entire life, especially if it’s life of child.

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