Rare pedestrian deaths exploited by bicycle foes

Rare pedestrian deaths exploited by bicycle foes

Enough already.

It is alleged that bicyclist Chris Bucchere sped downhill toward the intersection of Market and Castro streets on March 29, plowed through the crosswalk and smacked straight into 71-year-old Sutchi Hui, who hit his head. Hui later died at the hospital.

By any standard, if Bucchere did indeed do this, as his purported postings on Internet sites indicate, the behavior was reckless and dangerous. If he did, in fact, burn through a red light, then he should be criminally prosecuted for the death of the pedestrian.

But consider what else has happened in the past few weeks.

Someone shot a 17-year-old boy multiple times as he got off a bus in Visitacion Valley. Another young man was found shot and killed underneath the Bay Bridge. An alleged drunken driver smashed up several parked cars before flipping his SUV on the Muni tracks.

None of these incidents received the same level of press coverage that Bucchere's case has. The only case that comes close is that of Binh Thai Luc, who allegedly killed five people in a home near City College of San Francisco.

On one level, we understand why the story of a bicyclist killing someone in the heart of one of The City's most famous neighborhoods -- and then posting comments about it in an online forum -- makes for such good copy. It's just so exotic.

But another word for exotic is rare. Bicyclists just don't hit people very often; according to The City's Department of Public Health, cars hit people 811 times in 2010, while bicyclists hit people just 18 times. And when they do, they don't have the momentum to do the same level of damage.

Still, we get it. It's a fascinating story, precisely because it doesn't happen very often.

But there's also a slightly less savory quality to the case of Chris Bucchere. There is an audience out there -- mostly older, mostly cranky -- that loves to marinate in the notion that drivers in The City are victimized by political correctness run amok. [...]

Where are these `legal' drivers, anyway?

Happy Distracted Driving Awareness Month, everybody.

Here's an Internet trope that frequently pops up whenever bicycles are mentioned in the news. Stop me if you've heard this one before.

I'm a pedestrian, a cyclist, and I drive a car. Bikes might be only 1% of the traffic, but they're responsible for 99% of the traffic violations I see every day. Car drivers are licensed, responsible, and obey the law. Maybe one in 50 drivers break the law.

What kind of fairy tale land do these people live in where the vast majority of motorists obey the law? Here's what I see every single day I'm on the road.

During lunch today, I biked around the block at my office. I counted 12 cars leave the office parking lot -- every one of them ran a stop sign and every one of them rolled through a red light and every one of them failed to signal their turn. Two of them nearly mowed down a crowd of pedestrians walking to lunch and violated their right of way. (An aside -- besides stopping short to avoid getting hit by the speeding cars, I betcha this right-of-way violation was not noticed by the walkers. If I had pulled the same move on my bike, however, and startled them as I whizzed closely by, they almost certainly would have gotten a little upset at scofflaw cyclists endangering their lives. We call this "modal bias.")

For those keeping count, that's at least 38 moving violations by 12 drivers in the span of about 90 seconds. Instead of the one in fifty proportion of scofflaws to legal drivers I've seen in online claims, these guys are batting 1.000. [...]

So tell me -- where is this land of make believe where drivers don't constantly endanger the lives of everybody around them?

Please understand I don't get particularly uptight about the scofflaw behavior itself. If I did, I'd probably be unable to function, and I imagine it's part of the reason most of us ignore the lawbreaking. It's the rank hypocrisy that people believe they're much more law abiding inside of a car that drives me a little nuts sometimes. [...] When's the last time Matier & Ross published anonymous tips about a random car fatality in San Francisco?

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41 Responses:

  1. filbert says:

    the examiner apparently has discovered that catering to aged, sputum garbled complainers is not the healthiest way to take their business forward. though this editorial appeared the day after they splashed an inflammatory anti-bike headline across their front page.

  2. The second article has some good points.

    One of the reasons unsafe biking stands out to me when I'm driving is that it seems so insane to do it. If another driver does something stupid on city streets and things go south, the result is a fender-bender. If a cyclist does the same, it's a femur-bender. So a reckless cyclist looks to me like a complete idiot, which angers me somewhat more than a mere asshole.

    Predictability is another factor. I can assume another car is going to basically stay in a traffic lane. They may make a rolling stop or they may cut across my path to make a left hand turn or attempt any of three or four other inconsiderate or scofflaw maneuvers, but they probably aren't going to make a left turn via curb lane, crosswalk, and oncoming cross traffic lane. Cyclist's unpredictable ways grab my attention and confuse and enrage me.

    Finally, fixies. Fixies send a very clear message, and that message is "I do not intend to stop at intersections." I consider this an antisocial message.

    • I think trusting cars to stay in their own lane depends on where you're driving. Back when I lived in NY (the state, not the city) I generally trusted that everybody would stay in their lane and stop (rolling or otherwise) at all stop signs and red lights. Since moving to California, I've had to revisit that trust.

      • MattyJ says:

        Depends on *what* you're driving, too. I dive a motorcycle in the city and I can attest that cars do not stay in their lane, they don't look over their shoulder or in their mirrors before they change lanes. It's endemic, but I have a sixth sense about it now.

        A fender bender to a car equates to me getting run over.

        Everyone drives like an idiot. It just pays to be more defensive about it. But if I have to start looking left and right when I'm in the middle of the street, in a crosswalk, obeying my walk signal, and I still have to worry about jerkwads running the red, I'll just start taking the bus more.

    • Jed Davis says:

      A fixed-gear bicycle is theoretically capable of stopping about as well as any other bicycle with the same front end, because most of the braking power is in the front brake for reasons of physics that other people have explained better than I would if I tried.

      A fixed-gear bicycle without brakes is a declaration of lack of intent to stop. See also “track bike”, as in racetrack.

      • chris t says:

        Considering that most casual cyclists just use the rear brake, a fixed-gear with no brakes stops just as well as most other bikes on the street. When I lived in NoCal, I and my brakeless fixed-gear stopped at all the signs (with some police encouragement.) In LA I've gotten a little less law-abiding, but I'll stop if there are people around.

      • Stopping isn't the issue. Starting is.

    • NelC says:

      A cyclist crossed an intersection against the lights in front of me the other day. I spent the next fifteen or so minutes with half of my brain dazed that someone could have done something so fuckin' stupid. If he'd done it just a couple of seconds later he would have been mangled under my wheels, or sprawled over my bonnet.

      The fifteen minutes after that I spent angry at him. But the SSRIs soon quelled that. Instead of swearing revenge against all cyclists everywhere, I resolved to count the number of cyclists I saw the next day while driving not doing anything so egregiously stupid; I got up to about twelve before I got bored, and felt I'd made the point to myself.

    • nooj says:

      > Cyclist's unpredictable ways grab my attention and confuse and enrage me.

      Growing up, we cyclists spent a decade learning the typical behavior of cars. Car drivers should stop complaining about being forced, forced! to learn the typical behavior of cyclists.

  3. J. Peterson says:

    We own a car that just completed its third trip to the body shop. Each trip has been thanks to distracted drivers (two were phones, the other looking for something he dropped). In one case the accident would have been pretty serious if the texting driver hadn't had a passenger screaming at him to stop.

    As far as I'm concerned, Thrun can't get his robo-cars out fast enough. I look forward to the day when "manually driving a car on public road" is a moving violation.

  4. MattyJ says:

    "Still, we get it. It's a fascinating story, precisely because it doesn't happen very often."

    The very definition of news. I love it (note, I do not love it) when writers and journalists complain about one thing by trying to make a point about something completely unrelated.

    The news media should not report extraordinary bike accidents because MURDER.

  5. Nick Lamb says:

    "What kind of fairy tale land do these people live in where the vast majority of motorists obey the law?"

    Maybe Britain? Every week I walk from the railway station to the office. Every week there is lots of traffic trying to squeeze through a narrow one way section into a busy street. Every week I step off the kerb in front of the traffic (vans, taxis, cars, no buses because the bus route is the busy street they're trying to enter) and they stop just as the traffic regulations require for the painted markings on the road (a "Zebra crossing" like the one on the Beatles album cover). Of course I wouldn't step out in front of a cyclist, because as we've established they don't stop. But it's OK, they wouldn't be on the road, they'd be on the pavement where it's illegal for them to be anyway.

    For every motorist I see making the illegal right turn on my walk to the shops, or jumping the lights at the junction where I live, I see a dozen cyclists with no lights, on the pavement, racing along without a care in the world. They don't need lights you see, because they're not "going far", just like they don't need working brakes ("sorry, no brakes" yells a middle aged man as he crashes through a group of pedestrians rounding a corner). It's just a bike, and so it doesn't really matter, does it? There's a bicycle shop nearby, they'll fix your brakes for less than the price of a Coke. For them maintaining a bicycle is a sober responsibility. But it seems most of their fellow citizens don't agree.

    However although I've never been seriously injured by a bicycle I do have the X rays and the paperwork from my (inevitably unsolveable because bicycles don't have number plates) crime report after a cyclist decided that "Hey, use the road" was an affront to his right to ride wherever he pleased and got off his bike, calmly walked back to where I was stood and punched me in the face. I'd like to write that off as an anomaly, but when I told the first friend I bumped into why my face was messed up she just nodded "Yeah, same thing happened to my boyfriend, I know a few other people too".

    • Lun Esex says:

      In California (and many other U.S. states) it is legal to make a turn on a red light into an adjoining street when doing so does not cross any other lanes of traffic. i.e. a right turn on two way streets, or a left turn from the far left lane of a one way street into the leftmost lane of a one way street whose traffic moves from right to left in front of you. You are ostensibly supposed to come to a full and complete stop at the red light first, and look for and give way to any other vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists, etc. These things are frequently not done, and vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists, etc. get illegally cut off all the time.

      The U.S. equivalent to the U.K. zebra crossing is the crosswalk, or just a stop sign. There are also some newer zebra crossings (usually with yellow stripes instead of white), especially in front of schools, but they're still somewhat rare. At a crosswalk, stop sign, or zebra crossing in the U.S. motorists are legally required to give way to any pedestrian who has stepped off the curb (kerb). Most do not. Instead most only give way if a pedestrian is actually far enough out into the street that they would actually hit them if they were to proceed through the crosswalk/stop sign/zebra crossing. Most U.S. (replace with "urban" or "Californian," if you like) motorists only understand the "come to a full and complete stop at a stop sign" part of the laws, and never really grasped the "yield right of way" part, so if they think they'll be able to zip across before any pedestrian gets to where their vehicle is going to be, they do it.

      These are both examples of every day occurrences of motorists breaking the law in the U.S. There are many, MANY more (illegal U turns over double yellow center dividers everywhere, and in front of schools; turns, merges, and lane changes without indicators; speeding through yellow lights that turn red before reaching the other side of the intersection; etc. etc.)

      If making any turns on a red light were illegal everywhere, and U.S. motorists were more stridently educated and fined for not appropriately giving right of way to pedestrians, it'd go a long way towards reducing the casual law breaking that goes on constantly on U.S. streets. Changing these things universally would be almost as hard as changing the laws on gun ownership in the U.S., though.

      One thing that's fairly rare to see in San Francisco is an adult cyclist riding on the sidewalk (pavement) for any significant length of time. Most of the sidewalks are too narrow and filled with dips or rises for driveways (driveways and parking areas are almost never at the same level as the adjacent street, thanks to the hills), and a vast number of corners are still in the process of being retrofitted with accessibility ramps (with the same raised rubber dots on them that I first ever saw in the U.K.). Sidewalks in SF are extremely dangerous places for cyclists to ride.

      Also, I know It's A Thing for cyclists to yell "sorry, no brakes" as an excuse for rude behavior in the U.K., but I can't say I've ever heard a cyclist in the U.S. say that. Someone will surely come along with counter examples, but it's just Not A Thing so much here. Most likely because A) Americans aren't so likely to say "sorry," in the first place, and B) saying you have no brakes is an admission of deficiency in vehicle maintenance or value (for non-fixed gear bikes) or skill (for "we don't need no brakes" fixie riders), either of which is Not A Thing Which Is Done.

    • Sploggle says:

      In Britain, I see just about every driver speeding, I certainly see them ignoring Highway Code guidance on stopping distance, II see them using mobiles, not indicating, not stopping completely at stop signs... Where I live cyclists generally don't ride on the pavement and usually stop at red lights. Last time I was in London, I expected to see the flagrant disregard by cyclists that gets talked about online, but it seemed much the same.

      I've never seen a case of a violent cycling - I've seen first hand several cases of drivers physically attacking other road users, with their cars or with their fists.

      tldr: My confirmation bias says the opposite of yours.

  6. Gordon Edgar says:

    Eh. Aside from maybe Rob Anderson, I don't believe there are any bicycle "foes."

  7. kkrv says:

    I drive as I please on both motorcycle and bicycle. Death wish. But goddamn do cyclists on sidewalks piss me off. Get off the damn side *WALK* or I will drop kick you. I am not dodging out of your way.

  8. Jay says:

    I think it depends on where you live. Where I am now, cyclists are way more irresponsible than drivers, consistently. Traffic isn't insane here, and most drivers generally obey the law except for using their turn signals...which was not legally required until a few years ago, so they aren't used to the requirement. At the very least where I live now I can trust that a car will stop at a stop sign or a red light. Not so with bikes. As a cyclist and motorcyclist I'm very aware of other bikes on the road, and I am shocked as shit whenever I see another cyclist obeying traffic laws. Roughly 50% of them don't even ride on the right side of the road. 95% of them don't stop at lights or stop signs unless it's physically impossible for them to get through traffic. I don't think that means bikes are a menace, but I sort of hate these people for giving cyclists a bad name. I know the real problem is education though.

    If riding a bicycle required a license, or if the education programs and tests for getting a driver's license included education about rules of the road for bicycles, we'd end up with roughly the same number of people riding bikes like asshats as we have driving cars like asshats, which depending on where you live could be a significant improvement. A nice side effect of the latter would be that motorists would theoretically finally know that bicycles have a legal right to be on the road.

  9. Unlike the above folks pulling percentages out of their anal pores, I actually looked some up. And I found something interesting. Well, a little interesting. 3% of SF trip miles are by bike. 5% of SF traffic collisions involve a bike.

    • Well, that makes sense that the percent of collisions involving a certain mode of transit would be higher, as most traffic collisions would involve more than one party, thus if you add up the numbers you should get well over 100%. As an example a collision involving a bus, a car, and a bicycle is all one accident, but it counts as each an accident involving a bus, an accident involving a car, and an accident involving a bicycle. If that is the only accident, all three modes of transportation are involved in 100% of collisions. Thus the numbers by themselves aren't too useful, you'd need to compare them to the other modes of transportation, but even then they're skewed, as since cars make up so much of the traffic most accidents are likely car on car, while I'd imagine bicycle on bicycle accidents are extremely rare.

      Also, how many people are reporting pedestrian on pedestrian collisions? :-)

      • Heh. I will start reporting those!

        While transportation wonks really like the collisions per mile metric, I think a better one would take into account the kinetic energy each type of transit contributes to the collision. Good old 1/2 m v^2. Cars score about a hundred times higher than bikes on this one.

        • Nick Lamb says:

          Hmm, that seems like it biases things a little against (modern, mass production) cars because unlike a bicycle there's a lot of thought in the car design about minimising injury and death for low speed collisions with pedestrians in order to achieve decent scores in things like Euro NCAP.

          As a result the damage done is not as proportional to kinetic energy of impact as you might expect. With black boxes still rare in cars and unheard of on bicycles you're not likely to have reliable estimates for v, which makes the kinetic energy calculation a bit dubious anyway.

        • Tkil says:

          Depending on how fast the vehicles are going, and whether or not you include the mass of the cyclist in your calculations, I fear that 100x is being very unfair.

          I'm about 105 kilos, and am on a bike that's another 15-20 kilos, so call it 130kg mass. On the flats, I'm regularly doing 25-30kph or 8m/s; that gives me a kinetic energy of (1/2) * (130kg) * (8 m/s)^2 or 4160J.

          Compare to driving the family vehicles: about 1600kg plus 100kg of me gets us to 1700kg, which is only 12x the mass of me+bike. In urban situations, i'm rarely going over 40kph or about 12m/s, giving me (1/2) * (1700kg) * (12m/s)^2 which is 122kJ.

          So more like 30x than 100x. Higher than I had expected! Thanks for making me work through that.

          (And, obviously, highway speeds are something totally different: 10m/s is probably my flat-out max for any kind of distance, while 75mph is 110ft/s or about 70m/s, which makes that 1700kg vehicle+passenger yield more than 4MJ, or about two sticks of dynamite...)

          Although I'll note that at least one of the collisions you reference downthread has the cyclist t-boning an SUV; in that case, it's almost entirely the cyclist's energy that is causing the damage.

          (I did spend a fair bit of time thinking about this 20+ years ago, when I occasionally bicycled while intoxicated. I would never drive a car or truck while drunk, but I relied on the belief that the damage I could possibly do is much smaller than that done by a car or truck. Interesting to see that it's not as far off as I had hoped...)

          • pavel_lishin says:

            I stopped biking while drunk after - on a ride of less than a mile back home - I almost ran into a guy who rapidly started backing out of a parking spot. I ended up flipping over the handlebars, and landed on my elbows. I attribute the lack of broken bones to my drunken floppiness, though I did have some wicked road rash for awhile.

            Trying to pick stones out of your forearm with double-vision kind of discouraged me from trying that again.

          • tkil says:

            (And, obviously, highway speeds are something totally different: 10m/s is probably my flat-out max for any kind of distance, while 75mph is 110ft/s or about 70m/s, which makes that 1700kg vehicle+passenger yield more than 4MJ, or about two sticks of dynamite...)

            Er, conversion failure. 110ft/s is more like 30m/s, so the total energy is "only" 1MJ or so.

  10. Jonn says:

    I'm a pedestrian, a cyclist, and I drive a car. Bikes might be only 1% of the traffic, but they're responsible for 99% of the traffic violations I see every day. Car drivers are licensed, responsible, and obey the law. Maybe one in 50 drivers break the law.

    I don't have a horse in this race, but I'm automatically suspicious of any rumor or meme involving statistics that just happens to be a nice, copy-friendly number like "99%" or "1 in 50". Not to mention the teeny tiny little fact that for bikes to be the 1%, so to speak, that would require dozens more traffic violations than cars per biker, enough to be statistically and socially significant. It's one of those things that's clearly nonsense if you think about it for five seconds.

  11. Ash says:

    My 2c. How many bike riders have we all seen in the past year using their cell phone whilst riding?

  12. Marcello says:

    About cyclists on sidewalks...

    Here in Milano (northern Italy) the previous mayor in a last ditch attempt to please the "green bikers" part of the population decided that the city needed more bike lanes. so she went ahead to create 25kilometers of bike lanes.

    Here are a few examples:

    • filbert says:

      that's pretty standard american engineering you've got there in milano!

      even in the san francisco area where people try pretty hard to not be idiots integrating bicycles into traffic, you can find things like this. on the bay trail out in richmond, there's one place where the bike lane takes cyclists off a relatively safe street to plunge down a confined, drugdealing alleyway walled between two housing projects. another on brickyard cove takes the bike lane off a quiet, wide road and puts it onto a sidewalk with stupid little mini stop signs every 50 yards.

  13. Andrew says:

    Whoa. What the hell happened to the Examiner?

    Reason, logic, and sense--especially in an official editorial? Are the frogs falling from the sky yet?

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