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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.