Friday, May 13, 2011

Crash on Silverton Road Shows Distance from Goal

A couple of days ago Statesman Executive Editor Bill Church asked if Salem would become more bike friendly.

Today's paper gives a clear answer.

Notice that there's no bike lane in the photo. Because Silverton Road has inadequate bike facilities, it's not surprising that people will bike on the sidewalk. (And even with a bike lane, auto speed and traffic volume make bike travel on arterial roads uncomfortable for most people - Lancaster Drive and those who bike on the sidewalk there demonstrate this.)

But then Oregon law and law enforcement has a catch-22 that sometimes acts to punish people for biking on the sidewalk when there is no good alternative.

According to Ray Thomas' legal guide Pedal Power, Oregon law (ORS 814.410) defines
Unsafe operation of bicycle on sidewalk; penalty.
(1) A person commits the offense of unsafe operation of a bicycle on a sidewalk if the person does any of the following:
(a) Operates the bicycle so as to suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and move into the path of a vehicle that is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard....[or]
(d) Operates the bicycle at a speed greater than an ordinary walk when approaching or entering a crosswalk, approaching or crossing a driveway or crossing a curb cut or pedestrian ramp and a motor vehicle is approaching the crosswalk, driveway, curb cut or pedestrian ramp.
According to the article, the person on bike "was cited for unsafe operation of a bicycle on a sidewalk." We don't know exactly what happened and speculation should not get too far out in front of the facts.

But it's important to remember that in some parts of town people bike on the sidewalk because the road is a bad place to bike.

The crash also highlights uncomfortable questions about class, status, and ethnicity.

At the very least, in the absence of adequate bike facilities, it is profoundly unfair that a person on bike who is dragged 150 feet and likely injured should also be cited. The big truck has all the advantages.

In any event, until the Salem area invests in a good network of bike facilities that gives people compelling and safe alternatives to biking on the sidewalk, people will bike on the sidewalk and we will have preventable crashes like this.

Whether they are on bad roadway facilities or are forced onto the sidewalk, people on bike too often feel second-class.


Mr.Thomas said...

I'm willing to speculate here. Considering the photo given and looking at the area intersection in Google Maps, it appears that the cyclist was heading Westbound in the Eastbound side sidewalk. He likely was hit by the truck driving through a driveway apron above a walking speed as the truck pulled out. According to 814.410(1)d. the cyclist is at fault because he is on a bicycle. Had he been on a scooter, skateboard, roller blades or running, he would not be at fault.

Melinda Filbert said...

This makes me wonder about the stretch of sidewalk we all use on Wallace to get to the pedestrian bridge going in to town. You can, of course, use the bike lane when traveling in the opposite direction, going further west. Unfortunately, this stretch of sidewalk contains a driveway for several popular businesses. It is by no means safe since you are on a sidewalk traveling in the opposite direction of the flow of traffic (even if you are traveling at a walking pace). This incident really shows that we need a safe and legal way to go from Wallace to the pedestrian bridge when going towards the city. If the Taggart intersection is upgraded it still doesn’t address this major issue unless they plan to make a nice bike lane along Taggart, Bartell Dr. NW and connect it to Glen Creek with the idea that you will then go through the park and up to the bridge.

It makes me sad that we have such poor bike infrastructure (compared to Corvallis and Eugene) that there are people who feel the need to travel on sidewalks or simply walk their bikes for fear of collisions with cars. Of course, my thoughts are that if you do get in an accident with a car in this country you’re likely to be blamed for the accident unless the car driver is intoxicated or actually leaps onto a sidewalk. I was also quite shocked in the number of people who believe that it is illegal to bicycle on any Salem sidewalk aside from the downtown area.

B+ said...

There are a few places around town where the provision for safe cycling in the street goes to zero, and the sidewalk becomes the only alternative. I try to avoid them, but if one is cycling for actual transportation, such situations are not always avoidable. Imagine if there were parts of town where the motor vehicles simply had to go up on the sidewalk in order to get through... and the city let this happen for years on end, and the police cited the pedestrians killed on those sidewalks for being in the way!

Many cyclists around town need bicycles for their primary transportation, for a variety of reasons. Agreed; some are poorly-skilled or arrogant (probably about the same percentage as the drivers I witness around Salem), but most I've observed are just trying to get from A to B. To be drug by a large vehicle and then get cited presumes the police had a very clear-cut case for judging the cyclist to be in the wrong. I would like to hear more about the facts used for this decision, rather than rely on speculation. On the face of it, it sounds a bit like blaming the victim in an auto-centric world. I'm willing to be wrong on that one, though.

The tone of reader responses over at the Statesman-Journal suggests a fair amount of ignorance on the part of drivers (in addition to the usual ugliness of comment sections). As the number of cyclists goes up, education about the law will need to increase. Perhaps the Statesman-Journal would be a partner in this.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

I've got a couple of places where I have to ride "wrong-way" on the sidewalk for a part of a block in order to make a connection across a busy arterial.

Hate it, hate it, hate it!

People on bike really don't belong on the sidewalks; the walks should belong to people on foot. At the same time, we simply have got to create a system of bikeways that makes it wholly rational and comfortable to choose them emphatically as the preferred option!

Wallace is a key stretch, just as you say, Melinda! As for education, one resource for people who bike or would like to bike is are the smart cycling clinics. The next one will be the first Saturday in June. Unfortunately, there's still not much in the way of education for law enforcement or motorists.

If you haven't already, make sure you let your City Councilor know that improved facilities for bikes are important to you!

(And thanks for being thoughtful readers and commenters!)

Austin said...

I ride down Silverton road everyday to get to Chemeketa Community College. I know people think I'm crazy for doing it. I am 1 of 3 people I have ever seen in the road, the second person is my girlfriend who rides with me. Everyone else I ever see on Silverton is always on the side walk. Which is hard to understand, since those sidewalks are horrible and not maintained at all. On trash day, the cans take up the whole narrow sidewalk. I even saw a man move his mailbox on to the sidewalk for some reason. It over hangs the curb, and sometimes I'm afraid of running into it. The mailbox is in a pail filled with cement to keep it upright. He is on the corner of Silverton and Ducan I think. I'm afraid of clipping that mail box. If I were to not use Silverton Rd I would have to go more then 2 miles out of the way. I would have to go down Portland Road which I don't believe is any safer at all, since it has just as high (if not higher) amounts of traffic, on roads that are less clean, and going under the rail road bridge (either on sidewalk or on road) are just unsafe in my mind. I would then have to go on Ward Dr NE to make it the rest of the way, which means more high traffic, at the I5 over pass where bike lanes don't connect. Ward also has weird turns right off of Portland Rd. Bicycles aren't as visible to cars there. If I don't take Ward Dr, before crossing I5 I can take Hawthorne Ave NE. For the most part, it's not a bad road for riding until you reach  the curve right off of Portland Road, where cars drive at high speeds and there is no shoulder. I've had close calls with school buses trying to right hook me on Hawthorne. If you don't mind all of that, you still wind up having to ride on Silverton for a stretch, but it's the part with the bike lane.

For me, it's easier to just ride on Silverton. I make sure that I'm seen by drivers. I ride at a quick pace, since 20mph is pretty easy on that road. I have a nice reflective vest that I wear for visibility. Lots of lights, reflective tape, and a camera in my front vest pocket for quick violator photos or even bad road conditions.

It would be awesome if improvements were made on Silverton. Bike lane would be nice but I understand the amount of work involved that might not make that a possibility. Perhaps a speed hump or two. Maybe just a speed decrease by 5 miles and enforcements. Sharrows would probably be the quickest and most affordable way to go, so they didn't have to do any real road work. The city could realize that Silverton is a perfect place to show case bike improvements. It's the main road of the Fair Grounds. People come from all over Oregon and see it ever year. What would be better then the picture of bikes encircling the fair instead of lines of stopped cars? They could do a lot of good things to that road to help bicyclists feel safer riding where they are supposed to, in the road, and to make drivers in the area aware that that's where bikes belong.

Austin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.