Bicyclist vs. Driver: Who's at Fault?

Redwood City has numerous projects to make roads safer and more commutable for both drivers and bikers, but even these improvements can’t solve some of the tension between the groups.

Despite the clang of construction crews on Veterans Boulevard and the sloshing of paint for new bike lanes on East Bayshore Road, you can still hear bicyclists' complaints about motorists’ ability to share the road, and simultaneously, drivers' rants about how oblivious cyclists are.

“I am tired of [cyclists] cruising through stop signs and red lights like they don't exist!” said Redwood City resident Renee Rodriguez. “Drivers have to adhere to stop signs, pedestrians and follow all rules, so should those on bikes.”

Billy James, a cyclist and crossing guard at , said that cars all over the city are constantly speeding, but particularly parents who are taking their children to school, one of the most dangerous places to be speeding.

“It drives me crazy!” James said.

Back in June, a riding his bike at Farm Hill Boulevard and McGarvey Avenue, but Redwood City police say the cyclist was at fault for making a sudden left turn from the second right lane, cutting in front of the car.

Another scuffle happened in April due to . Three men and the cyclist pulled into a 7-Eleven parking lot to settle their road rage, where the suspects severely beat the 35-year-old Redwood City cyclist.

But if the bickering can cease for just a moment, one look around the city would note the numerous improvements occurring right as they speak.


The city’s current projects

In Redwood City, the most widely used form of transportation is by car, according to city engineer Christian Hammack. The freedom to drive whenever and wherever in a car, especially in more sprawling neighborhoods like Emerald Hills or the Farm Hill neighborhood, is a luxury that many residents won’t relinquish.

But concerns of increasing carbon emissions have urged drivers to log more miles on their bicycles rather than their cars, increasing the number of cyclists on the road.

Traffic engineering in the Bay Area, and even the country, is undergoing a shift in how roads are viewed. Roads are no longer just for cars, but for cyclists as well.

City engineer Kevin Fehr added that rising gas prices have caused drivers to turn toward their bikes for transportation.

Public transportation agencies like Caltrain have worked to accommodate this increase. Caltrain recently completed a $300,00 project in June that will ensure that .

For those not transporting their bikes on the Caltrain, they can check out bikes to ride to their final destination if that location is too far to walk to, according to Redwood City spokesperson Malcolm Smith. This pilot Bike Share program will launch in early 2012, while city staff are still identifying heavily trafficked areas for the bike pods.

The city has also begun implementing new bike lanes in high-traffic areas. As part of a $1.4 million , the city is painting new bike lanes on Veterans Boulevard and East Bayshore Road, a $14,000 project. The city received $950,000 in grants from the Federal Surface Transportation Program and will use “Measure A” transportation funds to finance the rest of the road improvements.

“The general intent was initially to re-surface the roads,” said project engineer Kevin Fehr. “But neither street had bike facilities so we took this opportunity.”

In other areas, the city has acknowledged the need for biking and pedestrian improvements, but did not immediately decide on bike lanes. Redwood City received grants from The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and the City/County Association of Government (C/CAG) of San Mateo County for three future projects:

  • The 2.5 mile stretch on Hudson Street between Woodside Road and Whipple Avenue. Designs haven’t been finalized, and the project is still in conceptual form, according to Fehr.
  • The 1.1 mile stretch on Brewster Avenue from El Camino Real to Alameda de las Pulgas around
  • An improved pathway between Whipple Avenue and Bair Island behind the old cinema

However, widening roads for bike lanes, James said, can actually be detrimental to all commuters. What cities should do, instead, is put their streets on “road diets,” or narrow roads in order to reduce cars’ speeds.

“All it takes is paint,” James said. These road diets lead to “complete streets,” where all types of commuters: drivers, cyclists and pedestrians can share the road, he said.


Missing: Education

But coats of paint might not be the panacea to this pervasive problem around the city. It may have to begin with education to create a mutual understanding between cyclists and motorists.

The Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition (SVBC) has created the program “Share the Road” to promote an awareness of one group toward the other. The group created a 20-30 minute Share the Road Powerpoint presentation that covers safety issues to spur dialogue between the two groups.

The Peninsula Traffic Congestion Alliance also provides pamphlets on the rules of the road for cyclists.

“I’ve seen cyclists riding on the wrong side of the road because they think they’re safer if they can see oncoming cars,” James said. “People need to be educated.”

California Vehicle Code says that bicyclists have a right to ride in the traffic lane unless they’re going slower than the speed of traffic.

“We’re not blocking traffic, we are traffic,” James said.

Far from Perfect

Residents like Nick Kibre, a transportation blogger for Redwood City Patch, said that the city is bike-friendly, but could stand some further improvements.

He pointed to Middlefield Road near the North Fair Oaks area as a particularly difficult road to bike on, and a street whose pavement could use some resurfacing. He added that cars pull in and out of parking to head to businesses.

Peninsula cyclist Andrew Boone wrote an opinion piece about in this particular North Fair Oaks neighborhood.

Two years ago, the city council approved a Complete Streets commission that would formalize the work that active city cyclists like James and others do on a more casual basis every few months. But when cities were slammed with budget cuts, this commission was tabled. Instead, the SVBC formed a working group to provide input on bicycle-related projects to Redwood City staff.

Though these commissions comprise purely of volunteers, they still require a city staff liaison. This eats into city staff time that still translate to costs. Last month, the city even to save a total of $150,000.

Fehr said the city is constantly looking at different locations where to implement improvements. The city selects projects based on feedback from residents, the council and various organizations.

“We’re overloaded with projects we’re doing at the moment,” Fehr said. 

To manage these projects, the city is currently in the hiring process for a Senior Transportation Coordinator, who will receive a handsome six-figure salary (see attached pdf for job description.)

While cities continue their infrastructure upgrades, it’s up to residents to ultimately create more harmony on the road. Sharing the road and being mindful of other commuters is a simple way for the community to help reduce the number of accidents.

David Huntsman August 10, 2011 at 09:34 PM
Sharon, the debate over the merits of helmet use is a distraction to the issue of traffic safety. Surely, you are concerned for your children's safety and no one can argue about your own personal observations. But it is a separate issue, and good purposes get frustrated when it is raised out of context.
David Huntsman August 10, 2011 at 09:49 PM
One of these distractions is in police reports and news reports of motorist v. cyclist accidents. Even in cases where the cyclist's injuries are not head injuries, and the cyclist cannot possibly be at fault (for example, when the cyclist was not even on the road but instead on the shoulder/sidewalk), it is commonly noted whether the cyclist was wearing a helmet. This makes about as much sense as noting whether a pedestrian was wearing a helmet when a motorist jumps the curb and breaks the pedestrian's legs with a car.
Stacie Chan August 12, 2011 at 09:05 PM
Another tidbit of information: I received a call back from the Redwood City Police Department Records Supervisor stating that there were 41 accidents between motorists and cyclists from Aug. 1 2010 to Aug. 1 2011.
Goodgulf August 12, 2011 at 09:07 PM
I wonder what the reporting rate for that actually is?..
David Huntsman August 25, 2011 at 05:20 PM
Redwood City cyclist killed in Menlo Park: http://pacifica.patch.com/articles/cyclist-64-critically-injured


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