Friday, October 12, 2007

Avoid The Suicide Slot


On September 7th 2007, cyclist Bryce Lewis collided fatally with a right-turning dump truck in Seattle, Washington.

On October 11th 2007, cyclist Tracey Sparling was struck and killed in Portland, Oregon by a right-turning cement truck.

Two collisions, two young riders dead. Two cycling communities mourning and questioning.

I can wish for a world where trucks don't have blind spots, drivers and riders are always attentive, lane markings save lives, and human beings don't make mistakes. But that is not the world in which I live and ride.

Trucks and cars do have blind spots. Human beings, myself included, are not perfectly attentive. And some bike lanes, some times and some places, send cyclists to exactly the wrong spot on the road.

My friend Alex Wetmore doesn't mince words. He posted this in response to the crash which took the life of Bryce Lewis:

http://blogs.phred.org/blogs/alex_wetmore/archive/2007/09/15/bike-lanes-kill.aspx
Down in Portland my friends Michael and Beth posted their reactions to the death of Tracey Sparling here:

http://www.jamhome.us/2007/10/thoughts-on-riding-safely/


and here:

http://bikelovejones.livejournal.com/56185.html



I can wish for the ability to turn back time, to make something different for Bryce and Tracey and two truck drivers. I can even work, slowly (I wish it wasn't slowly but unfortunately it is) to change lane markings and habits.

Folks like the Effective Cycling people and the League of American Bicyclists point to the need for more education but I think they have a problem with packaging. Both groups have good information but it's locked in big books and multi-day classes. They package their message in long sermons delivered to the choir and then they wonder why their message isn't reaching the wider world.

I think Michael Bluejay has done a better job in presenting vital bicycle safety information in his website, How Not to Get Hit by Cars here:

http://www.bicyclesafe.com/

Michael very compactly describes the ten most common car/bicycle collisions and gives practical advice for avoiding them. He also has a good, sensible reprint and linking policy that lets folks like me do things like use a graphic from his site to illustrate this blog post.

I'm taking Michael's advice and condensing it even further. In my job I wind up having a lot of three-minute conversations with people about bike safety. Yeah, I wish I had more time but when you are handing someone a map at a transit fair or helping them figure out a bike route, often three minutes is all you have. So if they know what a bike lane is, I make sure they also know about the door zone. And lately I've added another term to my discussions:

Suicide Slot

If you look at Michael Bluejay's spot (and I really hope I've convinced you to take the time to look at it), you'll see that several of those ten common crashes involve the cyclist being where the driver isn't looking and/or being in the driver's blind spot. I call this the "suicide slot", being to the right of a right turning car.

Now you may say "suicide slot" is a loaded term, that I'm blaming the victim, that the driver should see the cyclist. Well, we can talk about what drivers should do, but as near as I can tell not everybody does what they "should" do. So even even they "should" look to the right, I'm thinking some won't. And if I'm off to their right anyway, well that strikes me as suicidal. But maybe it is a loaded term. Loaded like a gun. And like a gun, it can kill you.

So I'm trying to plant the meme of the "Suicide Slot" and get more cyclists avoiding the slot. If a bike lane puts me in the suicide slot at an intersection, then I'd argue that the bike lane is wrong. If I am going straight through an intersection, I will be where the other straight heading vehicles are. In the lane, taking my turn.

Finally, I'd like to say that cars are not the enemy. The two biggest enemies to all users of the roadways are inattention and impatience.

Be careful out there. Take the lane when you need to. Take your turn at intersections. And stay out of the suicide slot.
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