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Traffic Death a Public Loss

At the dawn of the automobile age, traffic deaths were considered public, rather than private, losses, says Peter D. Norton, author of "Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City." He says accident deaths were memorialized as were the casualties of World War I or the victims of a flood.

Alice%20Swanson.jpg Alice Swanson (Courtesy of Middle East Institute)

That changed during the 1920s, as the automobile industry encouraged the notion that pedestrian and biker deaths were bound to occur when those unfortunates entered space the nation had assigned to automobiles.

Last night's public memorial for Alice Swanson, 22, who was killed while riding her bicycle to work in Washington on Tuesday morning, countered that thinking. The fatal accident became a public loss in a shared space.

There has been no finding of fault in this accident, which police said occurred north of Dupont Circle at the intersection of 20th and R streets NW when a trash truck turned right onto 20th and into the path of Swanson.

R Street is popular with cyclists, because it has a long bike lane, and bicycle safety advocates responded to the accident.

" 'I didn't see them' is too often accepted as an excuse that results in a small fine or no punishment at all," Eric Gilliland, the executive director of the Washington Area Bicyclists Association, said in a statement. "While we cannot comment on the particulars of this case, we expect the Metropolitan Police Department to conduct a thorough examination of this crash and hold the driver fully responsible if he was at fault."

"We can only hope that everyone will learn to slow down, be aware and share the road," he said.

Gilliland and other safety advocates do far more than hope. They work for progress through engineering, education and enforcement, none of which succeeds by itself, and certainly not without the support of a community diminished by all such losses.

By Robert Thomson  |  July 10, 2008; 8:08 AM ET
Categories:  Safety  
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Comments

This story is very tragic, and I send condolences to the family of this young woman.

That said, the bicyclists for years have sought extended bike path routes from Virginia and Montgomery County, but then don't want to use them. They prefer to dart in and out of traffic, run red lights and slide between car lanes. And that is supposed to be okay, because auto drivers are supposed to "share the road." That is nonsense. You can't see them when they are in the blind spot of your car, or they are making unsafe manuevers. Let's slap some license plates on them and get them to obey the rules of the road and tragedies like this might not happen. Dupont Circle is particularly treacherous and the bike messengers are major offenders. Don't just blame those of us who drive cars.

Posted by: Uplandermom | July 10, 2008 12:13 PM | Report abuse

I work near the Mall and I vary my commute based on how I feel: I either ride my bicycle, metro, or ride my motorcycle to work. When on my bicycle I notice -- all too often -- whenever bicycle riders behave erratically and I cringe. I don't know if I ride properly or not, but I ride with my safety in mind. I cross at crosswalks (in crosswalks) with pedestrians, and when I'm on heavily trafficed streets I ride on sidewalks. When on my motorcycle I notice -- every day without fail -- people speeding up to 20-30 MPH over the speed limit; rushing up on red lights and going into crosswalks to try to turn right on red; changing lanes and then signaling *after or during* the fact and not before; general crazy driving. I think everyone out there needs to pay more attention and bike and drive more carefully. Obey traffic laws. Try not to speed. See people and not just objects. When you think that the other "car" is actually another "person" you might not need to strap on your Indy 500 mentality and pass them. I think everyone needs to just take a break and a breath and watch out for one another as well as for ourselves.

Posted by: Various Commute Methods | July 10, 2008 12:23 PM | Report abuse

Ironically, that bike lane on R Street may have been a contributing cause of this accident. Bike lanes are actually a bad idea, as they create a situation where the cyclist tries to turn left from the bike lane instead of the left lane like they should be, or in this case for a vehicle to turn right, into the path of a cyclist who was in the bike lane, but in the trucker's blind spot and thus unseen. When in a bike lane, cyclists tend to think they are using a "separate" facility for cyclists and are less aware of the vehicles in the lane next to them than they would be if they were sharing the lane with these vehicles. Thus, a much higher likelihood exists that the cyclist would be riding where they should never be, in the blind spot of a large vehicle. See the article below, which is an analysis of what has happened in Portland with bike lanes.

http://bikeportland.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/04/advcycschubert.pdf

It's best to keep bikes using the same lanes and FOLLOWING THE SAME RULES OF THE ROAD as the rest of the vehicles on the road. I commute to work by bike daily and as just as pissed off by the other cyclists that don't follow the rules as the cars are.

Al

Posted by: Al | July 10, 2008 12:32 PM | Report abuse

I agree with Uplandermom 100%! It's almost as if the cyclists get a rush out of the risk.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 10, 2008 12:35 PM | Report abuse

I cross at crosswalks (in crosswalks) with pedestrians, and when I'm on heavily trafficed streets I ride on sidewalks.

Posted by: Various Commute Methods | July 10, 2008 12:23 PM

Actually by riding on the sidewalks downtown you are breaking the law, if your on the sidewalks you need to walk your bike.

From DC -

...no person shall ride a bicycle upon a sidewalk within the Centra1 Business District except on those sidewalks expressly designated by Order of the Mayor, nor shall any person ride e bicycle upon a sidewalk in any area outside of the Central Business District if it is expressly prohibited by Order of the Mayor and appropriate signs to such effect are posted.

Posted by: Southeasterner | July 10, 2008 12:43 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps if MPD decided to enforce the vehicle and traffic law, that might help. But that would require they actually, you know, get out of their cars and DO something, besides driving around aimlessly.

Posted by: Welcome to DC! | July 10, 2008 12:43 PM | Report abuse

yes, there are unsafe cyclists who dart in and out...we cyclists get upset by them, too...BUT it is not to be an us vs. them mentality, like uplandermom and her backers are going on about on this page...a horrible tribute to a lost life?...the cyclists are your brothers and sisters, your children, your parents and they have the same right to the road as do cars...until we all support each other's right to the road and ALL follow the rules of the road, tragedies like this will happen. Don't rush in front of a cyclist in a bike lane to make a right turn in front of them. Don't get mad because you might have to slow for a moment so we can safely get around a car that is stopping or parking. This calendar year has seen more than one driver in more than one jurisdiction in this area use their car aggressively against cyclists. It's a tragedy here, not an argument. We need to coexist and be careful of one another, period.

Posted by: mel | July 10, 2008 12:46 PM | Report abuse

I've been riding bicycles for 45 years, including competitively. The idea that all vehicles should "share the road" is easy to say and terribly hard to do. As a driver I'm frequently incensed by pedestrians who amble through crosswalks (with or without the Walk signal) as slowly as possible short of dropping to all fours. But when I'm legally in the crosswalk it's just as infuriating to get honked at by a driver in a hurry.

As for bicycling in the city, the one and only rule is that you have to always ride as if you have no rights at all. Car doors, trucks, jaywalkers -- there's a lot going on and it's simply not enough to think "but I have a right to be here too!" Yes, you have that right (or privilege...whatever), but awareness and defensive riding is essential. At some point physics will determine the outcome, and bicycles don't usually prevail. P.S. If you want to ride like a nitwit bike messenger then go ahead, but you only add an additional measure of self-imposed danger to what is an inherently risky environment. I have no sympathy for show-offs and fools.

Posted by: Saddle Sore | July 10, 2008 1:03 PM | Report abuse

As someone who both drives and rides in the city and the suburbs, I think that all that is necessary is a little bit of common sense from all parties.

Yes, it is LEGAL to ride on the sidewalk north of Mass Ave. in DC (the definition of the CBD - not sure what the southern or eastern boundaries are), but that doesn't mean to ride at 20mph on the sidewalk.

I try to make eye contact when possible with nearby drivers. If I can't see their eyes, they don't see me, period.

Since DC is so serious about keeping cars from crossing into the city from the 'burbs, perhaps they could do a bit more to help out the bicyclists. How is that Metropolitan Branch trail coming along? I look wistfully on the uncompleted segments of it as I ride the Red Line (sans bike - it's rush hour), and see it as either a gravel lot by the railroad tracks, or a homeless camp under New York Avenue...

Maybe they could follow New York's example and take out a lane on a couple of arterials to create a barrier separated bike lane (Dr G, if you're interested, I took pictures in NYC of this, if you're interested - it's on 9th avenue beginning (southbound) at 23rd street.)

Maybe we could get just one SmartBike station at Union Station, or somewhere that's not in NW???

Posted by: Joe in SS | July 10, 2008 1:10 PM | Report abuse

Unfortunatley we don't have all the facts. I'm assuming the driver did not intentionally run over this girl. But, somehow he did. Was he not paying proper attention? Did the bike attempt to pass on the right and the truck was turning? How fast was the bike going? How fast was the truck going?

As a daily cyclist in the city I'm not sure who has the right of way in situations where a car is making a right turn at a stop and I am in the bike lane. I assume that any car waiting in the right lane at an intersection is likely to be making a right turn (regardless of turn signals). I will either move behind this car or move over to pass it on the left. Again, I don't know what my "rights" are in the bike lane but I don't want to end up as a martyr.

Posted by: Lance | July 10, 2008 1:12 PM | Report abuse

Wow, Uplandermom, your comments are as offensive as they are ridiculous.

You "send condolences to the family of this young woman" yet -- before the results of this investigation are even known! -- you insist that if we "slap some license plates on [cyclists] and get them to obey the rules of the road and tragedies like this might not happen," capped off by you insisting that we "Don't just blame those of us who drive cars."

I'm sorry, but exactly how are you extending condolences to Alice Swanson's grief-stricken family when you in essence blame her for her own death -- even though neither you (nor anyone else) can say for certain at this point what happened? Unbelievable.

The rest of your post is a bunch of tired stereotypes of cyclists that incompetent car drivers seem to always drag out every time cyclists dare to point out how dangerous cars and their drivers are. Give me -- and the rest of us cyclists and responsible car drivers -- a break.

I have lived and cycled (always with a helmet, lights, bright clothing, bell, mirror and well-maintained bike, thank you) in the DC-area since 1999, and I have lost count of the times I've seen car and truck drivers run red lights (both while talking on cell phones and not), try to run cyclists off the road, curse at cyclists to get off the road, drive with their lights off, fail to signal turns, and on and on. I invite you to stand at Dupont Circle any day of the week and count whether people who drive cars violate traffic regulations more often than cyclists. Based on my 8+ years of experience biking through the Circle, I am confident it won't be the cyclists.

As for your "They prefer to dart in and out of traffic, run red lights and slide between car lanes," I challenge you to cite a *single* study or any other piece of credible evidence that shows that anything other than a tiny minority of cyclists fail to obey traffic laws. We *have* to obey them, because if we don't, we get killed by people driving multi-ton vehicles, often speeding well over the speed limit, often distracted by talking on cell phones, often turning and/or changing lanes while not signaling, et cetera!

Are there reckless cyclists who violate traffic laws? Of course, just as there are people who drive while not paying full attention to their immediate surroundings, drive on suspended licenses, drive without having their mirrors properly adjusted, drive drunk or high, and so forth. But -- and again, I challenge you to refute this -- (1) the vast majority of cyclists are law abiding and (2) cars are inherently dangerous in ways bikes are not -- that's why we place age restrictions for drivers, require insurance and licensing, put speed limits in place, outlaw driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol and restrict the use of cell phones etc.! It is absurd, flies in the face of facts and logic, and is just plain disgusting in the wake of Alice Swanson's death to suggest that cyclists are the "cause" of getting hit by cars.

Rule one of safe driving is that you control your vehicle at all times. That means you NEVER direct your car into a space unless you are certain it is safe to do so. If you change lanes or turn and hit a cyclists, that's on you, not the person you hit. The fact that you are, evidently, by your own admission such a poor and inattentive driver (or don't know how to adjust your mirrors and/or have such bad eyesight) that you "can't see" cyclists is no excuse for you maiming or killing them.

Rather than requiring licenses for bicyclists -- a silly, unworkable proposal that we all know will never happen -- a better solution is to impose much more severe consequences on drivers who hit cyclists. The stance of our legal system ought to be, "If you want to drive a machine that weighs 100 times as much as a bike and can travel 10 times as fast, fine -- but you had better be alert at all times and keep that vehicle under control or you will face the most severe legal and economic consequences if you hit a cyclist or pedestrian." Such a policy is not "blam[ing] those of us who drive cars," it's demanding responsibility from people who think they have a Constitutional right to operate a dangerous machine in an unsafe manner.

We cyclists will uphold our responsibilities, follow the rules of the road, ride safe, and stay alert, but are not going to be intimidated, we are not going to back down, and we are not going to accept being treated as second-class citizens. The streets are ours as much as motor-vehicle drivers'.

Posted by: Jim Rovell | July 10, 2008 1:20 PM | Report abuse

Uplandermom- Your comments are naive and only serve to fuel the negative press bikers tend to receive. You choose to paint all bikers as "unsafe". Sweeping generalizations don't help your argument. While it's true a small percentage of bikers ride in an unsafe manner, the vast majority obey traffic laws and are considerate of others with whom they SHARE the roads. Inattentive and distracted drivers of cars deserve at least equal blame for unsafe roads. Remember that those of us who ride bikes also sometimes drive cars. It's only "nonsense" to believe that cars and bikes can't share the same space and do it safely. But in the end bikers have a lot more to loose when 3000 pound car operates in an unsafe manner as evidenced by this horrible accident.

Posted by: BearBike | July 10, 2008 1:21 PM | Report abuse

A bike is smaller and more maneuverable than a garbage trucks. It sounds like Swanson rode into the truck.

Posted by: Kate | July 10, 2008 1:23 PM | Report abuse

uplandermom, your claim that those routes are unused is unfair and untrue. We do use them, constantly. They just don't lead directly from the doors of our houses to the doors of our workplaces. I prefer to use the Rock Creek Trail to get to work, but there's about a 1/4 mile for me to get on it from my house, and then about another 1/4 mile to my office once I get off. No one in their right mind or who isn't doing it for a living "prefers" to dart in and out of traffic. You are probably referring to bike messengers rather than commuters or recreational riders. Yes many of them ride erratically- it's not my favorite thing in the world, but it's not fair to lump all cyclists together and then drive your car without regard for all of them accordingly. With the exception of a few cowboys/girls, most of us value our lives enough to ride as safely as we can. I would be appreciative if people would drive as carefully as I ride.

Posted by: joe bike commuter | July 10, 2008 1:23 PM | Report abuse

What needs to be changed is the whole notion that it's acceptable to drive around by car in a city like DC. Quit being such lazy, self-centered 'holes. Walk, cycle or take mass transit instead.

Posted by: googleguy | July 10, 2008 1:30 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Rovell: A most articulate and thought-provoking post. And I agree completely. I hope you capture this and send it to the appropriate council members, though results are likely slow to come -- just educating the council and expressing this thoughtful analysis would help.

I rode a bike to classes when attending GWU twelve years ago. I operated as a car in obeying all traffic stops, and moved out of the way of traffic whenever possible, knowing the cars would want to zoom around me. Still, through no fault of my own, I was hit twice. I have been terrified to return to DC streets on a bike since. This horrible, horrible incident magnifies why. I commend the (law-abiding) cyclists who brave our streets and wish them all well in the face of attitudes such as those expressed here.

Posted by: esmerelda123 | July 10, 2008 1:30 PM | Report abuse

I have never, ever seen a law abiding cyclists, so I have no respect for them as a class. Many of them deserve to be run over. It's natural selection. Give them Darwin Awards.

And there's a lot of talk here about crosswalks. I've never seen a cyclist walk across a crossWALK. Never.

As a pedestrian, I was almost hit by three that blew through a stop sign yesterday. I should have pushed them over.

Posted by: Ted | July 10, 2008 1:32 PM | Report abuse

kate, she "rode into the truck"? really? she shoved herself underneath it and pushed herself under its wheels to be mangled? i'm sorry, but you turn my stomach. and must be an idiot. that doesn't even make sense. what a horrible and incredibly stupid, moronic thing to say.

Posted by: are you kidding me? | July 10, 2008 1:33 PM | Report abuse

There are so many people (Uplandermom, for one) who have chimed in about this tragedy over the last two days who have begun their posts with 'I feel for the family of the victim' and then go on to say 'but I see cyclists every day engaging in unsafe behavior...' that their posts have become cliche.

Can we stop using this person's death as an excuse to make sweeping generalizations about the behavior of all cyclists?

Posted by: cyclist | July 10, 2008 1:37 PM | Report abuse

Kate- The only fact you have correct is that the bike was "smaller" than the garbage truck. No one yet knows the facts of what happened. How about you leave the investigation to the police before jumping conclusions and placing blame?

Posted by: BearBike | July 10, 2008 1:38 PM | Report abuse

Never heard of momentum before? Clearly a DCPS grad.

Posted by: Kate | July 10, 2008 1:38 PM | Report abuse

Amen Ted.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 10, 2008 1:40 PM | Report abuse

oh, i get it, kate. you are an instigator just fanning flames for pure pleasure. wow. maybe someone in your family will meet a tragic end and then you can sit through the kind of malicious-for-the-sake-of-being-malicious comments you are making now. (by the way, "momentum" will not pull a human being on a bicycle UNDERNEATH A GARBAGE TRUCK. even the dcps grad you degrade would know that.)

Posted by: are you kidding me? | July 10, 2008 1:41 PM | Report abuse

Wow, the ignorants are out in force today. Show me the garbage truck that is more maneuverable than a bike. I suppose next you're going to say that the garbage truck had just made a 360 degree turn on the sidewalk coming out of a mailbox.

BearBike, you are a waste of life, goodbye.

Posted by: Kate | July 10, 2008 1:41 PM | Report abuse

One less traffic obstacle.

Posted by: Walt | July 10, 2008 1:43 PM | Report abuse

Clearly, the garbage truck driver had magnetized his truck so that despite the fact that the laws of physics do not apply in DC, he would still be able to prevent any bike from stopping, slowing, not accellerating, or turning out of the way.

Posted by: physics rock | July 10, 2008 1:45 PM | Report abuse

No, clearly this was George Bush's fault. There should be a Congressional investigation.

Posted by: BHO | July 10, 2008 1:47 PM | Report abuse

My condolences to the young woman's family. And best wishes to the driver of the truck, who will have to live with this regardless of who was "at fault". The bottom line is that someone was killed needlessly. I suppose we are lucky it doesn't happen more often. Everyone on the road needs to be very alert at all times.

Posted by: Aardvark | July 10, 2008 1:49 PM | Report abuse

just because you've never seen a law abiding cyclist doesn't mean they don't exist and it certainly doesn't give you a reason to behave in a dangerous manner. If everyone takes responsibility for him or herself instead of complaining about what they saw one person do in one intersection this one time and using that as an excuse to behave poorly, maybe we could accomplish something.

Did ANY of you have parents who said, "don't worry about what person x is doing, worry about yourself?" It was a foundation of my childhood and it's good advice and it keeps me in check whenever I get irritated at people who don't follow rules. I'm not in charge of them.

Any investigation into her death has nothing to do with you Ted, or the three cyclists you think you should knock over. It has to do with her and the DRIVER AND TRUCK THAT KILLED her despite the fact that it was not his intention.

Posted by: well ted | July 10, 2008 1:50 PM | Report abuse

If I were neither a cyclist nor a driver--and I am both--and I read this string of messages, I am certain that I would be more persuaded by Jim Rovell's fact-based, measured post than by the hateful spewage of Uplandermom (wow, I pity your kids!!!), Kate, and Ted. Their hate-filled comments are, what? An invitation to join them on the Dark Side? Having children is usually a humbling experience. Perhaps Uplandermom is so terrified of life that she feels compelled to strike out at *something*--anything, anyone!--to help her feel more safe in her world.
As it is, I second everything Mr. Rovell said and commend him for having the patience to spell it out.

Posted by: cyclist59 | July 10, 2008 1:52 PM | Report abuse

"Well then she was probably going too fast, wasn't she?"

Seriously you have no idea what you're talking about.

Posted by: this takes the cake | July 10, 2008 2:09 PM | Report abuse

It's great how everyone becomes a saint when they die.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 10, 2008 2:10 PM | Report abuse

Don't worry everyone, when our messiah, Barack Hussein Obama is president, there will be no hate, because hate is about yesterday, and our messiah is about tomorrow.

Posted by: chimpy mcchimp | July 10, 2008 2:12 PM | Report abuse

sadistic mental midget? Who said that Kate is a cyclist?

Posted by: Tom | July 10, 2008 2:14 PM | Report abuse

Well then she was probably going too fast, wasn't she?

You don't know that and neither do I.

You should probably stop before you come off looking even more foolish.

Posted by: BearBike | July 10, 2008 2:16 PM | Report abuse

OK, folks, the Darwin award goes to ...... the biker I saw this morning on K Street, during rush hour. He had a baby seat in the back with a real live baby sitting in it, probably about a year old. The baby was wearing a bike helmet; the Dad/biker was not wearing a helmet. So if a large, cumbersome dump truck who can't see the biker turns and runs over this example, both the Dad and baby would be killed.

Has anybody seen those little plastic trailer/wagon deals that are attached to some bikes and are used to haul babies inside them? They have a plastic zi-up cover to keep of the wind. Anyway -- if one of those contraptions is rear-ended the child inside would be crushed like an egg. No protective framework at all around them. Of course, it would be the big, bad motorist's fault. I've seen bikers cycling around town, again during rush hour, with babies inside those things.

Shouldn't there be a law? FWIW, my sympathy goes to the family of Ms. Swanson, and also to the driver of the truck. He'll have to live with this unfortunate accident all his life.

Posted by: Slow day in Cubeville | July 10, 2008 2:23 PM | Report abuse

My understanding of the accident from bystander comments is that the cyclist was in the bike lane on R Street, and the truck made a right turn onto 20th Street across the bike lane. The truck struck the cyclist as she was crossing 20th. It appears that the cyclist was obeying the laws and using the bike lane, and that the truck failed to see her when it made the turn. I frequently see those garbage trucks speeding through Dupont in the morning and making turns at excessive speed, so I would not be surprised that it was turning negligently in this case. A few months ago, I saw a truck strike a pedestrian just north of the circle. I neither drive nor cycle to work, so I have no dog in this fight.

Posted by: Katya11 | July 10, 2008 2:26 PM | Report abuse

No, Slow day in Cubeville, regional traffic should grind to (more of) a halt so that these precious two-wheeled nitwits can get where they want to go safely. Everyone else should park in Pennsylvania and walk.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 10, 2008 2:27 PM | Report abuse

Can't we all agree that everyone who moves in DC, by car, bike or foot, is an arrogant moron? That way we don't have to keep measuring egos. Some of the posts on here have such impenetrable logic that I have to admire it. Kate, for example, who, if she sees an accident involving a jet plane and a bike, would obviously blame the latter.

Brilliant work, really.

Posted by: ep thorn | July 10, 2008 2:27 PM | Report abuse

If Katya11 is correct, the driver is only wrong if he failed to signal.

Posted by: Arlington | July 10, 2008 2:31 PM | Report abuse

ep thorn, if you ride your bike on a runway, why in the same of Barack Hussein Obama would you blame an airplane if you get hurt?

Posted by: Anonymous | July 10, 2008 2:34 PM | Report abuse

This is an opportunity for the leadership of the city -- the Mayor, the Council and DDOT, to implement solutions: pedestrian signals, bike areas in front of traffic at lights, segregated bike lanes, to ensure the safe passage of pedestrians and cyclists.

With $4+ gas etc, we need to shift out thinking about mobility. Now is a good time to do it.

Posted by: DC Guy | July 10, 2008 2:36 PM | Report abuse

As an avid cyclist, jogger, walker and auto driver, I try to assume all four personalities when particpating in one of the above activities regardless of circumstances. In the case of riding a bicycle in the city, the rule must always be anticipation. Always assume the worst is lurking just ahead and don't lose your focus. Unfortunately, when travelling the same route day after day as is the case with one's commute, it's all too easy to get distracted or complacent or wreckless. You really have to concentrate and focus on your commute and forgo ALL distractions like cell phones, iPods, conversations, personal tragedies, etc. If you can't, you will pay and the question of who is at fault will be little consolation. God bless the latest generation of victims who will not possibly be able to deal with the overload of constant distractions that we as a society have burdened them with in the name of progress (really in the name of profit).

Posted by: ScaredByItAll | July 10, 2008 2:39 PM | Report abuse

I've been following reports of this since it happened on Tuesday. The truck was in the traffic lane. The cyclist was in the bike lane, to the truck's right. Both were stopped at a light. The light changed, the cyclist tried to proceed straight, and the truck turned right, into the cyclist.

The problem is that, at the light, the truck driver had no way to see the cyclist to it's right (unless the cyclist pulled out ahead of the the truck to make itself known--a recommended move). The truck *should* have moved into the bike lane and signaled a turn before stopping (a vehicle turning right should turn from the right lane), but that would have taken more forethought that some motorists can muster.

Cyclists: if you want to stay alive through an intersection, move towards or into the through traffic lane when approaching an intersection. This will make you more visible. Sure a motorist may honk at you, but a motorist who is honking at you *sees* you and (probably) won't kill you. Bike lanes are nice, but they offer no help at intersections. I'd prefer that they be replaced with sharrows well before each intersection (sharrows are markers showing suggested bike position on the road).

Be safe out there, make yourself visible at intersections, and let the motorists honk until their hands go numb.

Posted by: Not dead yet | July 10, 2008 2:41 PM | Report abuse

Don't get me wrong, this was a tragic accident. But why does the Earth have to stop because this girl died?

Posted by: glt1979 | July 10, 2008 2:43 PM | Report abuse

This is an opportunity for the leadership of the city -- the Mayor, the Council and DDOT, to implement solutions: pedestrian signals, bike areas in front of traffic at lights, segregated bike lanes, to ensure the safe passage of pedestrians and cyclists.

DC already has all of that - now how do we get the people here to FOLLOW them?!?

Posted by: Anonymous | July 10, 2008 2:44 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: googleguy | what needs to be changed is the whole notion that it's acceptable to drive around by car in a city like DC. Quit being such lazy, self-centered 'holes. Walk, cycle or take mass transit instead.

Wow, speaking of "holes" . . .

I'm a car-less cyclist, walker and public transportation rider, and I couldn't disagree with your rude self more. While I want to see more people using alternatives to driving, there are plenty of perfectly good reasons to drive in DC. Ever try carrying home groceries with kids in tow after a long day at work? Taking your elderly mother to the doctor when she's sick? Carrying lots of equipment for your job? Taking your and three neighbor kids to soccer practice on your bike? Or giving your car-free friends rides when they have objects too big for the bus?

How about working a job that's not easily reached by bike or public transportation, especially on an overnight shift? Not everyone works 9 to 5 and downtown/on the Hill. If you think DC's all bikeable and reachable by Metro, you haven't been to the suburban-style parts of Southeast where you have to wait forever for a bus to even get to the Metro.

Plenty of people would love to bike to work but are afraid of exactly what happened to Alice Swanson. I've been hit by a Metro bus despite riding cautiously, so I'm very sympathetic to that concern.

Instead of trying to recuit people to cycling and public transportation by insulting them, how about respecting them enough to learn more about who they are and why they drive? That would help you better know how to answer their questions and politely suggest alternatives that might work for them. It would also make you a better advocate for changes to enable more people to get on a bike or bus.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 10, 2008 2:44 PM | Report abuse

So, this is what evolution has become, what a waste.

Posted by: Darwin | July 10, 2008 2:44 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Rovell, bravo. Thank you for your comments. I was "buzzed" this morning on my bike commute to work. I followed the car to a stop light, jotted down the license plate number, and filed a police report requesting to prosecute for assault. She almost killed me, maybe because she was late for work? Who knows. The why doesn't really matter. That car weighs 3000 lbs. and I wear a helmet and gloves. Cyclists will always loose in that scenario. Drivers need to be more aware of their surroundings, slow down when driving with/around cyclists, *and* put the cell phones down.

Posted by: JBean | July 10, 2008 2:45 PM | Report abuse

"The truck *should* have moved into the bike lane"?

Then the Bike Nazis would be all outraged about someone being on their precious Fatherland and would be marching in the streets demanding a Final Solution to the Internal Combustion Engine Problem.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 10, 2008 2:47 PM | Report abuse

I commute by metro, bike, and car. Here is my two cents. First, many times, cars make a right turn without using their blinker. When they do this, there is no way for the biker riding on the side of the road to know that the car is about to turn into him/her. If this happens, the car is in the wrong and the bike rider needs lots of good luck. On the other hand, when cars change lanes, or make turns (with their blinker on), it is very difficult to understand that the driver must be on the lookout for a bicyclist (who may be travelling much faster than the backed up traffic). A bicyclist can speed up quite quickly (since he/she is on the side, not fully in the lane), and be in the safe space that the card driver will drive into. In short, this is a tragedy. Commuters needs to slow down, and give safety a chance, whether the commute is by bike or car.

Posted by: bruce | July 10, 2008 2:56 PM | Report abuse

JBean, the police won't go after the crimes that they see, why would they go after the ones you allege?

Posted by: Anonymous | July 10, 2008 2:56 PM | Report abuse

Don't EVER ride your bike on the sidewalk.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 10, 2008 3:01 PM | Report abuse

I'm a cyclist that commutes to work almost every day. I've been in an accident where it was the car's fault and in accidents where it was my fault. I was fortunate to walk away from both.

After those accidents, I definitely started to ride more cautiously. It's our neck on the line here, if I'm run down when I have the right of way there's no moral victory. I ride like I'm invisible but still try to make myself as visible as possible .. don't assume someone sees you, and even if they do, that they will yield.

As for drivers, if everyone drove like it was their son or daughter on the bike, they'd be more cautious. Even if the cyclist didn't obey the law. Give me a break, both cars and bicycles both roll through stop signs. I'm not saying it's right, it's reality.

Everyone was surprised at my work when I went back to commuting by bike after my last accident (the car's fault). But the benefits outweigh the risks. And, driving a car is statistically much more dangerous. Car accidents are the third leading cause of death in America after all. This is the first bicyclist death of 2008 in the district? How many traffic deaths have there been?

Posted by: Bob C | July 10, 2008 3:02 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Rovell, an interesting and thought-provoking post, although I couldn't help but notice that after you challange uplandermom to provide support for her sweeping assertions, you say, "But -- and again, I challenge you to refute this -- (1) the vast majority of cyclists are law abiding" without any support. Do you have any data to support that? What's good for the goose should be good for the gander. If, as I suspect is the case, that statement is based on your own experiences and observations, they differ dramatically from mine. In fact, in my experience (which is all I have to go by), the law-abiding cyclist is the exception, rather than the rule.

Posted by: DCD | July 10, 2008 3:07 PM | Report abuse

IMHO Most cyclists are self-absorbed nuts. That is the only reason to explain the massive number of them that blow through the stop-signs, especially the one at the entrance/exit to the golf course at Haines Point. They come through in groups, acting as though they are one living organism - the first one through covers everyone. They don't stop. They don't slow down. They should be hit.

Posted by: Sick of Cyclists | July 10, 2008 3:08 PM | Report abuse

The notion that the truck should have moved into the bike lane sounds a bit odd to me. My understanding has always been that you can *cross* a bike lane to parallel-park or to turn, but that you cannot drive on the bike lane or stop in it. But I can definitely understand how it is probably considerably harder for a truck driver to see a cyclist stopped (presumably, anyway) on his right than it is for the average car driver. The people who have suggested that there ought to be a "bike box" are dead-on. Take a look at this information from streetfilms.org, a New York-area site, regarding the function and intent of the bike box: http://www.streetfilms.org/archives/how-to-use-a-bike-box/

There is also some interesting stuff on that site regarding the 9th Avenue bike lane in Manhattan (including some problems that have surfaced with truck drivers reversing down the bike lane and parking in it). The 9th Avenue lane looks as safe as any I've ever seen in this country. One of the problems with bike lanes, however, is that they may give some cyclists a false sense of security. That is to say--especially if a lane isn't barrier-separated (like the 9th Avenue lane), the notion that you are "protected" because you're in the bike lane simply isn't true. Whether it SHOULD be true is beside the point--you have to assume that some butthead is going to ignore the bike lane, or isn't going to pay attention, and you have to be prepared to make an evasive maneuver. This isn't a question of "right" or "wrong," it's a question of reality--if a bike and a car collide, usually the biker will lose, regardless of who was in the wrong. I'm not saying this to imply that Ms. Swanson was in the wrong, or that the driver who hit her was in the wrong. I don't know the facts of what happened, but what it boils down to is the same thing that is always true--you can do everything right and still get hurt or killed because someone else does something wrong (sort of like getting rear-ended when you're stopped at a red light and the chick behind you is playing with her cell phone and doesn't notice that it's red).

I do recall a few years back a cyclist was riding against traffic in the bike lane on 9th Street NW and was giving the finger to anyone who wouldn't melt out of his way. I researched the issue at that time and found that under DC law, the bike lane on a one-way street is also one-way unless there is a specific marking showing otherwise (on 9th Street there isn't such a marking).

Finally, regarding Uplandermom's assertion about not being able to see cyclists in the "blind spot": WHAT "blind spot"? If your sideview mirrors are adjusted properly, your "blind spot" should be so minimal that when you go to look in the mirror you'll detect any movement in the "blind spot" out of the corner of your eye when you turn to look. Note that those are "sideview" mirrors. Some people erroneously call them "rearview mirrors." The rearview mirror is the one inside the car attached to the top of the windshield. The outside mirrors are intended to show you what is in the lane next to you so that you can change lanes, parallel park, back up safely when you're parked, see if someone is next to you when you're turning, etc. But a lot of people adjust them horribly incorrectly so that when they look in the sideviews they see the sides of their own car. What good is that? Why do you want to look at the side of your own vehicle? It's not very interesting to see and it gives you no information that is of any use to you in driving your vehicle. You're basically overlapping your inside mirror by adjusting the sideviews to show you what's behind you. That's pointless--the rearview mirror already tells you that.

The correct way to adjust your sideview mirrors is so that they give you the field of vision just BEYOND the side of your vehicle--i.e., so that they show you what is NEXT TO YOU.

Check out this article that describes the proper way to adjust your mirrors and includes a diagram. Someone might say, "What if a cyclist is in the red blind spot area in that diagram?" This is HIGHLY unlikely because the cyclist would have to be so close to your car that he'd be just about touching it. The only time most cyclists would come that close would be if you are already stopped and they are trying to maneuver past you.

http://www.motorists.org/blog/helpful-information/how-to-adjust-your-side-view-mirrors/

Posted by: Rich | July 10, 2008 3:15 PM | Report abuse

Did she have a bicycle license? They're apparently the law in DC.

Posted by: Geen! | July 10, 2008 3:17 PM | Report abuse

I pity the cyclist-haters and suspect that they are absolutely dependent on their autos because, inter alia, they are woefully out of shape. I'll also wager that some, if not most, of them are secretly jealous of the folks who are fit enough to bike, or walk, or jog, or climb mountains, or do any of the things that make life exciting and fresh and free.

Posted by: I do it all | July 10, 2008 3:20 PM | Report abuse

Despite Rich's mirror crusade, don't expect anyone to follow it. Assume you are invisible.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 10, 2008 3:24 PM | Report abuse

I'm a pedestrian and I hate cyclists.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Posted by: Use your feet | July 10, 2008 3:26 PM | Report abuse

There's nothing like the beauty of the colorful peloton of cyclists riding as a flock of birds through the city streets. They command the attention and admiration of those that understand what it's like and perhaps the disdain of those too weak to understand.

Posted by: Bobby | July 10, 2008 3:26 PM | Report abuse

Saddle Sore: Great Post. As a very experienced cyclist myself, I very much live by your golden rule "As for bicycling in the city, the one and only rule is that you have to always ride as if you have no rights at all."

Unfortunately, when cycling there are times when you get too much in the zone or are so fatigued from a long ride. At such times, I can get plain dumb and stupid and suspect other cyclists can all claim having survived such moments.

So, when I am in my car, my corollary rule is that every cyclist I see will probably do the worst possible thing at the worst possible moment.

That said, I am greatly saddened to hear of Ms. Swanson's accident and hope we will all be less concerned about rights (nothing is worth the horror that usually comes from contact between motor vehicle and bicycles)and more concerned about keeping each other alive and uninjured. My deepest sympathies to her family and friends.

Posted by: mi-ti-bear | July 10, 2008 3:26 PM | Report abuse

"Despite Rich's mirror crusade, don't expect anyone to follow it. Assume you are invisible."

You should do that anyway, because even if everyone in the world adjusted his mirrors properly, there's no guarantee that any given person will use his mirrors at any given moment.

It's not "my" "mirror crusade," BTW.

Posted by: Rich | July 10, 2008 3:36 PM | Report abuse

A few laws on the DC books (specifically Title 18 Vehicles and Traffic)

These first two are shirked by everyone on both sides:
1200.3 "Operators of bicycles have the same rights as do operators of other vehicles and in the additional rights granted by this chapter."

1201.1 "Every person who propels a vehicle by human power or who rides a bicycle on a highway shall have the same duties as any other vehicle operator under this title, except as otherwise expressly provided in this chapter, and except for those duties imposed by this title which, by their nature or wording, can have no reasonable application to a bicycle operator."

Now it gets interesting...
1201.2 "(b) Except as provided in paragraph (c) of this subsection and in subsection 2202.9 of this title, any person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall travel as closely as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway, or as closely as practicable to the left-hand curb or edge of the roadway when on a one-way street." HAHAHA!!! Suck it Cyclists and get over to the right - you HAVE to let me pass ... wait, what does paragraph (c) state?

1201.2 (c) "Any person operating a bicycle may move away from the positions described in subsection (b) as necessary under any of the following situations:" (skipping to number) (5) "WHEN NECESSARY FOR THE BICYCLISTS SAFETY" (caps are mine - this is important.) If there is something in the way, open car door, pothole, or there just isn't enough room to pass but cars are doing it anyway, then a cyclist may legally ride with full right-of-way in the middle of the road as slowly as they damn well please. I keep hoping cyclists use this more sparingly, but given the narrow clearance that cars give them and the flat out hostility observed here, I'm not surprised.

Regarding crossWALKS...
1201.9 "There shall be no prohibition against any person riding a bicycle upon a sidewalk within the District, so long as the rider does not create a hazard;"
Sorry all - they can be crossRIDEs as well, with all the rights, priveleges and honors bestowed upon pedestrians, provided the cyclist yields to pedestrians (1201.10 and 1201.11).


1201.3 (c) "If a lane is partially occupied by vehicles that are stopped, standing, or parked in that lane, a person operating a bicycle may ride in that or in the next adjacent lane used by vehicles proceedings in the same direction."
2206.1 "No person shall start a vehicle which is stopped, standing, or parked unless and until the movement can be made with reasonable safety." Bikes can pass cars while they sit and wait. Just because no one was in your blind spot when you came to the intersection does NOT absolve you of the reponsibility of checking again before you turn/start.

Since a bike lane is considered a specific type of restricted lane, then on roadways with "two or more clearly marked lanes for traffic:"
2201.6 (a) "A vehicle shall be driven as nearly as practicable entirely within a single lane and shall not be moved from that lane until the driver has first ascertained that such movement can be made with safety;" This applies to the safety of EVERYONE, not just the driver.

As far as I can tell, legally the truck should have signaled its intent to turn, and have been in the bike lane prior to initiating the turn. However, a truck may not be physically able to turn right from the far right of the roadway. They have those "wide right turn" stickers for a reason. I couldn't find anything on restricted ability to maneuver. Anyone with a different interpretation?

Sorry for the long post.

Posted by: CandyMan | July 10, 2008 3:46 PM | Report abuse

There certainly is a division of opinions regarding bikes and cars! It is worth remembering that bikes were here first and that bikes are non-polluting and don't use gas. Though some who ride bikes may do so in an unsafe and illegal way, many do not.

BTW, bike riders are not supposed to walk their bikes across the street at crosswalks. Who ever said that was ignorant.

It obvious that cars should be extra cautious when around bikes because of their vulnerability. Bikers should also excercise extra care.

I wonder if the young girl had been riding in a car and the truck and turned into or right infront of her if there would have been so many caustic remarks.

When gas hits 8$/gallon I bet there will be alot more bikes on the road - including some of those with the caustic remarks regarding bikes and I can garauntee their attitude will change then!

I do hope the driver of the truck gets more than a slap on the wrist. He had to have seen her before the stop and should have been more alert and cautious. Hopefully that will serve as a wakeup call to inattentive motorist.

Roger

Posted by: Roger Paul | July 10, 2008 4:07 PM | Report abuse

Good details CandyMan. A lot of this stuff varies by state. You didn't quote anything about crosswalks though, just sidewalks. In my experience though, the cyclist problem in crosswalks is that they are acting like cars, pull past the stop line, and then block the entire crosswalk to legal pedestrians.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 10, 2008 4:10 PM | Report abuse

"if the young girl had been riding in a car and the truck and turned into or right infront of her" then the truck would have been making an objectively illegal right turn from the left lane. Only cops and cabbies are allowed to do that in DC.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 10, 2008 4:14 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the comments, Uplandermom! I'm glad to see you've taken the opportunity of this young girl's death to vent about your favorite pet peeve--cyclists who ride in traffic.

You are a morally retarded monster.

Posted by: ibc | July 10, 2008 4:46 PM | Report abuse

I see a lot of comments about unsafe behavior by cyclists. I ride my bike to work quite often. I use hiker/biker trails as much as possible to avoid traffic. I have to say though that riding a bike or even crossing streets as a pedestrian is extremely hazardous in the DC area.

Drivers make right turns on red lights without even slowing down, coast through stop signs and completely ignore cross walks. I have been knocked down by cars that run red lights long after they had changed to red. The mentality of many drivers seems to be that the pedestrian or cyclist is just another obsticle to reaching their destination and their instinct, conciously or unconciously is to try to beat them through the intersection.

I for one am tired of putting my life at risk every time I walk to or from a bus stop or every time I ride my bike. I wish the poice would start enforcing the laws for everyone's safety.

Posted by: Harvey | July 10, 2008 4:49 PM | Report abuse

Dr. Gridlock,

Thank you for these brief comments that attest to the constructed nature of space in the age of the auto. As an avid cyclist for both commuting and recreational purposes, I am frustrated daily by the complete disregard that many Washington, D.C. drivers show walkers and cyclists who are exercising their freedom to travel in a more healthy and less stressful manner.

While many of us would like to take a time machine back to the 1920s and tell Ford and his contemporary urban planners to think again, I realize that we will be frustrating drivers in their tear towards the suburbs for some time.

However, I certainly hope that Alice's horrible tragedy will excite local public policy to create new pedestrian areas such as the now debated ICC trail and to enforce laws through the installation of red light cameras and patrols.

While many of us remain frightened to take to the road without an engine, I hope elected officials will see that effective policy can contribute to a healthier populace with a more democratic construction of space. Ideally, space wouldn't be designated exclusively for a mode of transport utilized by more wealthy, sedentary commuters who often live far from the city.

Posted by: Ethan Tabor | July 10, 2008 4:58 PM | Report abuse

It is interesting that the anti-cycling comments are about how cyclists have no respect for the law, etc, etc, but the pro-cycling comments are about how everyone else is an ignorant monster.

The lack of any A/C on those bikes must be getting to them.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 10, 2008 5:05 PM | Report abuse

Rights: cyclists have the legal right of the roadway same as cars. Period.

Responsibilities: cyclists have the same obiligation to OBEY the traffic codes as motorists. You are not just risking your safety but other cyclists and pedestrians around you. OBEY THE LAW. 90 per cent of you don't. And you know it.

What's needed, and we sure aren't getting it from the useless DC Police Dept (just what do these people do all day?) is ENFORCEMENT of existing traffic codes for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians alike. And EDUCATION as to rights and responsibilities.

DC cyclist and non driver since 1965


Posted by: Peter Kohler | July 10, 2008 5:06 PM | Report abuse

Uplandermom: many of us do not care for paths and trails; they - and sidewalks - are actually more dangerous than the road, because motorists are not expecting fast-moving vehicles to come from sidepaths, sidewalks and trails.

Furthermore, trails and sidepaths do not go everywhere. Would you be satisfied to drive ONLY on I 95, I 270, and the Beltway? And not on any other streets? Could you get where you want to do using only those superhighways? Well, we can't, either, using sidepaths. And frankly, sidewalks are for pedestrians, not bikes - and it's not even legal to ride on the sidewalk downtown.

Furthermore, you can't tar all cyclists with the same brush. Bike messengers are different from commuters are different from recreational cyclists. Some of us actually follow traffic rules, as laid out in "Effective Cycling."

Frankly, you need to step back a bit and think. We are talking here about flesh and blood vs. steel and glass. In a collision between a car and a bike, who loses? The car? Never. Accordingly, you have an extra duty of care to watch for cyclists and accord them the safety margin they require.

Yielding to a bike (even if you think it is behaving badly) will cost you maybe 30 seconds - but save the life or limb of someone's mother, father, husband, wife, or child. Your family is precious to you, right? Well, I'm precious to my husband, and he would never recover if I were killed by an errant motorist.

Posted by: Debbie | July 10, 2008 5:26 PM | Report abuse

Funny, if all cyclists started to both obey the traffic laws, *and* seize the full legal rights we're entitled to, it would be the car chauvinists worst nightmare.

In a related vein, I've decided that from here on out I'm going to drive no faster than the speed limit in DC.

For all the folks accusing cyclists of being scofflaws, you'll be able to recognize me, because I'll be the *only* driver in the city not exceeding that limit.

So much for lawbreaking.

Posted by: ibc | July 10, 2008 5:31 PM | Report abuse

Why should drivers be more concerned about the life of a cyclist than the cyclist is?

Posted by: Anonymous | July 10, 2008 5:34 PM | Report abuse

"Funny, if all cyclists started to both obey the traffic laws, *and* seize the full legal rights we're entitled to, it would be the car chauvinists worst nightmare."
Posted by: ibc | July 10, 2008 5:31 PM

EXACTLY my point as a cyclist and non driver in this city since before most of you were even born! Look at ANY city where cycling is taken seriously like Amsterdam, Copenhagen etc. and you'll see cyclists behaving as responsible road users. Because they are. Here in the US no one, including cyclists, motorists and the authorities take cycling seriously as a bona fide transportation method. It's a toy, a sport. And it's bloody dangerous because of it.

Posted by: Peter Kohler | July 10, 2008 5:40 PM | Report abuse

I don't ride a bicycle, except for the occassional recreational ride because I'm too afraid to ride on the roads, but I fully support cyclists whenever I see them on the streets. I know too many people who rely on bikes as their main source of transportation.

I've never experienced cyclists darting in and out of traffic. Usually they are on the right side of the road in front of me. What do I do when I encounter this? Simple. I slow down and patiently wait until it's safe enough to pass them.

Some drivers complain that cyclists should use trails or sidewalks, but trails and sidewalks are not built or maintained the same as roads. Both usually have people and debris on them such as trash and branches, making it difficult and dangerous to go at high speeds. But keep in mind that there are plenty of cyclists who DO use the trails despite all of this. However, I am aware that trails are not as good of an option sometimes which I why I am patient with cyclists on the roads.

Also, yes, there are cyclists out there who don't obey the law, and I don't doubt that some car drivers have experienced disrespectful cyclists. However, this doesn't mean all cyclists are disrespectful or that they don't deserve to be on the road. I've had more grief from other cars while driving down the road than I'd EVER received from a cyclist. I've even had problems with pedestrians from time to time, including one that spit on my car from a bridge I was driving under the other day. But, whatever, life goes on. I don't sit around stewing about the tons of disrespectful pedestrians that exist just because of a few bad apples. I get over it and move on.

Drivers getting angry at cyclists and cyclists getting angry at drivers doesn't do anything except make people even more angry. We all might as well accept that drivers and cyclists are always going to be sharing the same roads. In fact, with raising gas prices and concerns over the environment, there will be even more bicycles on roads. It's time to stop pointing fingers and learn to work together.

Posted by: DriverSupportsCyclists | July 10, 2008 6:20 PM | Report abuse

Maybe there should be traffic signals and lights for bike traffic. I just spent the july 4th weekend on T street and 16th, there was alot of bike traffic and some bikers were turning corners like crazy, no way to see if other on coming traffic were in their paths. Sorry to read about such a beautiful person life ending in a second... My prays are with the Family... North Dupont you have a beautiful neighbor hood. See you in October ;-) wink...

Posted by: Ken Henry | July 10, 2008 6:57 PM | Report abuse

Some of the comments on here are horrific! What if this was your daughter? Your spouse? Your parent? People should really think before posting comments on here about how they would feel if this was a family member of theirs who was tragically killed. In Europe, people cycle everywhere. It is a totally legitimate form of transportation and many countries there have built an infrastructure around cycling to make it safe and easy for motorists and cyclists. Gas prices are increasing. I love to drive, but even I have to recognize that driving is not going to feasible on a daily basis for much longer in this country. We have to start looking to our neighbors on the other side of the pond to learn from them, to learn how they have transported themselves around their cities and neighborhoods for years.

Posted by: AR | July 10, 2008 7:11 PM | Report abuse

It seems that most comments seem to come down on one or two sides--anti-cyclist or anti-drivers. I tend to join the latter group. While I do agree with some of the anti-cyclists in denouncing the erratic (and dangerous) behavior of some cyclists (mostly bike messengers) who dart through traffic lights and generally disregard traffic rules, most commuter cyclists do not fit into this group. Weather permitting, I like to ride my bike (fully-equipped with rear view mirror and bell) to work; however, DC drivers' arrogance and sense of entitlement have deterred me. I have feared for my life on more than one occasion (rightly so, I now realize) because drivers seem to simply "choose" to ignore me and other law-abiding cyclists.

DC drivers, as said in the article, need to learn to share the road. On countless occasions, I've watched as cars and even buses speed up when a pedestrian or cyclist is in the road -- as if to "teach them a lesson." Demonstrating one's ownership of the road is not worth a life lost. Chill out, DC drivers. Go to traffic school and take out your aggression elsewhere. And shed your sense of entitlement.

Posted by: DCDriversAreHorrible | July 10, 2008 9:02 PM | Report abuse

A beautiful, amazing, sweet, soulful human being--someone's daughter and an incredible friend to countless others, a girl with spirit and brilliance and who was making a real difference in the world through her caring and heart--is dead.

And some of you seem to think that because she was a cyclist she "deserved to be run over" and "should be hit."

I knew Alice. This made me want to cry.

Posted by: bewildered. | July 10, 2008 11:52 PM | Report abuse

I haven't driven for over three years. I either walk, ride my bike or take public transportation everywhere. Although I don't commute I run errands and such sometimes to far flung places such as Silver Spring or Bethesda, from Capitol Hill, many times a week on my bike.

Driving and bicycle riding are a bit like life: the big and strong often unwittingly trample over the weak and less well off not realizing that their forbearance doesn't cost them much but benefits their counterparts greatly. You really only learn this when you have walked, or in this case ridden, in the other person's shoes as it were.

Like driving, when riding a bike only a small error may result in serious consequences; but you have virtually no protection on a bike.

When I'm riding I rely on my faith to get me through. Any other way would make me too timid, the ride too cumbersome. I am in constant prayer--it's the only way to go.

Posted by: faithfulservant3 | July 11, 2008 6:56 AM | Report abuse

On May 6, 2008 I was struck by an SUV while riding my bicycle to a meeting. The accident occurred at a very complicated intersection where Harvard becomes Michigan and 5th Street and Hobart also converge. It was not clear to me who had the right of way and I ventured into the intersection. The impact fractured my pelvis and I'm still recovering today.

My doctor says I should make a full recovery but this is one biker who will no longer commute to work on bike. I have previously lived in Japan and vacationed in Holland so I know what a "bike friendly" environment looks like. Until DC installs traffic signals for bikers, I'll be taking the bus.

Posted by: Brian Muldoon | July 11, 2008 8:12 AM | Report abuse

I think it is absurd that this nation caters to automobile drivers and the automobile industry. Both think they have a right to the roads and neither does. The roads belong firstly to pedestrians. It is ridiculous that I cannot walk in the street because of angry, always furious, car people. Why did we ever cave in and let car people take over the streets? How did we allow ourselves to be brainwashed into thinking it was normal behaviour? Is it really normal to be using 5,000 pounds of machinery to move a 250 pound man or woman to work? Is it really normal to use 5,000 pounds to pick up an 8 ounce sandwich or a 10 ounce shirt? We should all be very angry at the car people and their tyranny. How does each new car in the neighborhood benefit your health or the health of your children or the health of your neighbors? How does each new car on the road make this a better country to live in? The answer is a no-brainer: every new car on the road makes this country more and more unpleasant. The higher gas goes the better our country will become. We will finally get our country and our neighborhoods back.

Posted by: David | July 11, 2008 9:48 AM | Report abuse

It is difficult to imagine just how powerful a car is until you've been hit by one. I know, because I was once hit by a car while I was on my bike (and I was riding on the sidewalk!) I'm lucky I survived without major injuries- fortunately the car was not going fast. But even at its slow speed, I felt how heavy and powerful it was as it hit me and sent me careening headfirst over my mangled bike. It's hard to describe the feeling of being absolutely overwhelmed by its superior weight and strength.

Anyway, car drivers, please remember that you've got the power here, in your 2-ton vehicles. Please be careful. Imagine how awful you would feel if you seriously injured or killed a person on a bike, even if it wasn't your fault at all.

Posted by: acorn | July 11, 2008 10:00 AM | Report abuse

Sounds like David would rather be back in the good old days were crossing the road meant you might get kicked by a horse or step in a giant pile of festering horsesh1t.

Posted by: I love cholera | July 11, 2008 10:02 AM | Report abuse

If my family members rode bikes the way every single cyclist I see around here does, they'd deserve to be run over.

Posted by: Dan | July 11, 2008 10:05 AM | Report abuse

What happened to this young woman breaks my heart. We were all 22 once ourselves, and I think we can all remember the excitement we felt at coming to work here. So many of us, myself included, did not understand the dangers of living in this city.

But here we go again. A young woman dies, and rather than show sadness, some of the self-important people here in DC show their true colors.

Frankly, I'm ashamed to say I'm an area native, and I can't wait live somewhere more civilized. I'm both a cyclist and a driver, and do commute to work from March - November on bike from the Virginia 'burbs. During the other months I take Metro and I drive. While driving a car, I try very hard to wait for people in crosswalks, I don't harass and drive too close to cyclists or pedestrians, and yes, I'm one of those "idiots" people blow their horns who stop for animals. The other day, while turning in front of the bike path at Collingwood to wait for a young mother and her baby carriage, the hatemongering, villainous driver of an SUV in back of me couldn't contain his vitriol and spite. What did he want me to do, run down someone in a crosswalk? Well, the responses from so many of you that indicate loathing and disgust of anybody who is not in car speak volumes for the moral character of Washington area people.

What's he talking about, you ask? Well how about these cut and pastes from the blogs in this column:

It's great how everyone becomes a saint when they die.

Posted by: | July 10, 2008 2:10 PM

Don't worry everyone, when our messiah, Barack Hussein Obama is president, there will be no hate, because hate is about yesterday, and our messiah is about tomorrow.

IMHO Most cyclists are self-absorbed nuts. That is the only reason to explain the massive number of them that blow through the stop-signs, especially the one at the entrance/exit to the golf course at Haines Point. They come through in groups, acting as though they are one living organism - the first one through covers everyone. They don't stop. They don't slow down. They should be hit.

Posted by: Sick of Cyclists | July 10, 2008 3:08 PM

A bike is smaller and more maneuverable than a garbage trucks. It sounds like Swanson rode into the truck.

Posted by: Kate | July 10, 2008 1:23 PM

This goes on and on. In another site, someone merely reacted by entering the word: "SPLAT."

You all should be ashamed of yourselves. You stink, no, you rot, as examples of the human species. I'd rather live surrounded by rattlesnakes than be subjected to the spite of the neanderthalic minions who believe that because they get behind a wheel of a car, they get to harass people who drive slower or more carefully, run over animals, and drive 40 mph through residential neighborhoods in Fairfax.

And by the way, I just know so many of you will prove my point by responding with hate to this column. Go right ahead, so everyone can see the selfrighteous, selfimportant, people that inhabit the nation's capital. I guess, since you're so important and you're late to a meeting, you get to drive 40 mph through my street in Old Town and run through stop signs, right? RIGHT? Enough said!

Posted by: Disgusted with DC | July 11, 2008 10:48 AM | Report abuse

Disgusted with DC, wow, you discovered copy and paste, welcome to the 1980s.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 11, 2008 11:10 AM | Report abuse

We have an aging society. The biggest segment of the population (and thus a huge percentage of drivers) is now entering the Geriatric Zone.

Oil & gas prices will only go up from here.

In the future, the strong and advantaged will be able to make a living without paying $8 per gallon of gasoline (we're over halfway there now). The weak and disadvantaged will be relegated to driving. If you have no other option but to drive (or else you'll starve to death), now is the time to think about making some changes.

Posted by: The Future | July 11, 2008 11:19 AM | Report abuse

Interesting, being critical of the criminal behaviour of cyclists means we drive the way they do with our cars?

Disgusted with DC, Montana is calling you. Please go.

Posted by: Montana is Calling | July 11, 2008 11:21 AM | Report abuse

The Future, thanks for reminding us about our aging society. From now on when I see anyone over 30 on a bike, I will push them into traffic so they won't stay around to suck at the tit of the American taxpayer.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 11, 2008 11:23 AM | Report abuse

"when I see anyone over 30 on a bike,"

That is a moronic statement. I'm referring to the 76 million Americans born between the late 1940s and the early 1960s.

That means millions of people are turning 65 every year. Heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and other chronic health problems associated with living a sedentary life are described as "epedimics" in the USA will indeed cost the taxpayers of this country Billions.

Actually, there will be only two classes of people in twenty years:

- Healthy
- Unhealthy

Socio-economic status will hinge entirely upon health (or lack thereof)

Posted by: The Future | July 11, 2008 11:37 AM | Report abuse

I commute in many ways, including by bike. I was hit by a car last year in nearly this same situation -- traveling on the shoulder a car turned right in front of me without signaling. I now use a whistle to get drivers' attention and have lights front and back.

I admit that I blow the stop signs under the Whitehurst Freeway. I shouldn't, but when traveling by bike it takes a lot more energy to stop and go than when driving a car.

The worst motorist offenders in DC are cabbies. I've nearly been struck several times by cabbies veering across multiple lanes to pick up fares.

Posted by: RT Ross | July 11, 2008 11:41 AM | Report abuse

At 65 Medicare should cut you off except for a free suicide pill.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 11, 2008 11:50 AM | Report abuse

Dear cut and paste and the rest of you: thanks for making my point (see below). It's exactly what I expected and exactly what I got. Have a good afternoon, people.

"Disgusted with DC, wow, you discovered copy and paste, welcome to the 1980s."

Posted by: | July 11, 2008 11:10 AM
Interesting, being critical of the criminal behaviour of cyclists means we drive the way they do with our cars?

Disgusted with DC, Montana is calling you. Please go.

The Future, thanks for reminding us about our aging society. From now on when I see anyone over 30 on a bike, I will push them into traffic so they won't stay around to suck at the tit of the American taxpayer.

Posted by: | July 11, 2008 11:23 AM

Posted by: Disgusted with DC | July 11, 2008 12:31 PM | Report abuse

At 65 Medicare should cut you off except for a free suicide pill.

Tee hee!

Posted by: Anonymous | July 11, 2008 12:36 PM | Report abuse

Not Dead Yet, I appreciate your post. If your description of the incident is correct, then I've been in a similar situation while in a bike lane (but not in DC) at an intersection next to a distracted SUV driver. In my case, I had just passed the driver who nearly struck me a few cars back from the intersection when the light changed. I had slowed, and so the driver pulled up along side me as she got to the intersection, such that when she hit the brakes and started to turn, I was about even with her rear windows (trunk-level windows). To her credit, she had turned on her turn signal, and so I was prepared to stop when she did not yield to me, although given the timing of everything, it was a pretty close call. The driver HAD to have seen me as we passed each other twice, but like so many cars to pass me only to slam on the brakes and turn into a driveway or cross street, she had no concern for my safety.

To Kate, you must not understand Newton's law as well as you think. Sure, a cyclist weighs a lot less than a trash truck, but she will have momentum nonetheless if she is not stopped. Bicycle brakes do not work instantaneously. Obviously, the cyclist was unable to stop in time given the circumstances in this case. Perhaps she didn't even have time to react to the truck and attempt to stop. We don't know.

When I ride my bike in and around DC, I try to obey all traffic laws when I'm on my bike, in my car, and on foot. Many motorists are very considerate. Many seem to have no respect for my life.

I get yelled at a lot for riding in the road up MacArthur Blvd in particular. If the "bike only" path was truly a well-maintained bike-only lane as marked (as opposed to the area's marked multi-use paths), then I would be more inclined to use it. However, it is unsafe for me to travel 20mph or more on that path most of the time, as it is traveled by moms with strollers, walkers, wheelchairs, and dog-walkers (many of whom do not maintain close control of their dogs when a bike passes), etc. If I mowed down a poor iPod-wearing walker who couldn't hear me signal about passing, then I would be an evil, reckless cyclist. This path is also not maintained well enough for the skinny-tire population in many places. I have also had many more near collisions with cars when taking my turn crossing intersections from this bike path. Motorists see me when I'm in the travel lane, because this is where they look for vehicles, and, for the most part, we all take our usual turns at the 4-way stops. This is not true when I'm in the bike path crosswalk.

Despite how courteous I try to be on that road and elsewhere in the area, I am still amazed at how much cyclist hate is out there. Yes, many people cycle more recklessly. Many pedestrians prefer to dart across 6 lanes of traffic instead of walking another 50 yards to the nearest crosswalk. If the pedestrian gets hit, the community is outraged. If a cyclist gets hit (regardless of fault--whether it be a law-abiding one or not), many (as apparent here) say he/she deserved it. WTF? It's tragic, and we should all behave defensively on the road and not be inconsiderate of each other, rage at each other, or use our vehicles as weapons.

Posted by: why all the hate? | July 11, 2008 1:04 PM | Report abuse

I am personally troubled by the fact that the bicyclist movement has turned this poor girl into a martyr/political football.

These guys agree, and make some good points about the highly politicized press conference held at the scene of her death:

http://www.commuteroutrage.com/2008/07/10/what-to-do-about-alice-swanson/

Posted by: Mike | July 11, 2008 1:16 PM | Report abuse

I bike to work, and around the city frequently, and don't have a car now (but grew up in the area, driving, and now use a Zipcar often, so I know what it's like behind the wheel here).

The people who seem to think that no cyclists ever obey any traffic laws are being willfully ignorant, though clearly there are a large, visible number of bike messengers and others who ride around as if there were no cars on the road. When I'm on roads, as opposed to bike paths, I stop at stop signs and red lights, as do most of the cyclists I see daily.

But that said, drivers may not understand that it's often safer for a bike to -- after having stopped at an intersection, looked around at the traffic and ascertained that no one's coming in the opposite direction -- get through the light before it changes just so we can get OUT OF THE WAY of all the cars stopped there. Likewise, more often than not when I wind up "darting between lanes," it's because a car directly in front of me in the lane I'm in has done something unexpected and dangerous (if you're on a bike nearby, not if you're in a car) that means I have to move to the next lane to avoid the car. Some of the behavior that seems to outrage some drivers so much could be avoided if the cars weren't so oblivious to bikes in the first place.

Posted by: MM | July 11, 2008 2:01 PM | Report abuse

If you are not riding a bike, you are clearly a Nazi.

When our messiah Barack Hussein Obama (peace be upon him) is president, everyone will ride bikes. They will be surgically attached to our rectums for quick access.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 11, 2008 2:31 PM | Report abuse

Mike writes: "I am personally troubled by the fact that the bicyclist movement has turned this poor girl into a martyr/political football. ... http://www.commuteroutrage.com/2008/07/10/what-to-do-about-alice-swanson/ "

Wow! You accuse cyclists of turning Alice into a political football in order to justify a web site that actually *does* turn Alice into a political football. That is sooo messed up.

Posted by: Not Dead Yet | July 11, 2008 2:32 PM | Report abuse

I don't believe that you obey traffic laws, but it isn't being "willfully ignorant" to have not seen YOU.

Posted by: CC | July 11, 2008 2:33 PM | Report abuse

Okay, CC, fine: out of all the dozens of cyclists you probably see every day, you've never seen any one of them obey a single traffic law. If you say so...

You probably don't even notice people on bikes if they're NOT blowing through a red light. A bike riding along in traffic is almost certainly not breaking any laws, so unless the only time you see cyclists is at intersections, chances are you've seen them obeying the law pretty frequently.

Posted by: MM | July 11, 2008 4:41 PM | Report abuse

A similiar situation occurred in Richmond VA in the early 80's. A tractor trailer, stopped at a red light, made a right turn. The rear wheels of the trailer struck a cyclist,dragged and then ran over him. The truck driver did not know he was there until the wheels ran over him. A good rule of thumb is to stop well behind those things if they are stopped at ntersections when you approach on a bike. If Cyclist saw what I did see when I arrived at the intersection, I bet they would all be very careful around large vehicles

Posted by: warpop | July 11, 2008 5:07 PM | Report abuse

No single post could reverse years of conditioned and nurtured ignorance. Still, I wish there was some way language could do what it was intended to do, improve communication.

Alice Swanson was a tremendous person, not because she died July 8th, but because of the imprint she left academically and professionally, as evidenced by her employers. http://www.mideasti.org/announcement/the-middle-east-institute-mourns-loss-former-intern-alice-swanson

Undoubtedly her enthusiasm and integrity contributed towards the enlightenment of this generation. She was on the forefront of change in this country and as her peer I have great admiration for her vision.

If it were up to the angry Americans on these posts, nothing but the dollar and overweight customers would drive change. Don't you all know non-motorists hear your rage but refuse to back down? Alice Swanson was brave enough to move forward, and would probably scoff at your self-righteousness. How silly to assume your threats have any impact at all. Take your degenerate hate somewhere else.

Posted by: Concerned DC Resident | July 11, 2008 7:43 PM | Report abuse

Dr. Gridlock: Kudos for offering some historical perspective on our attitudes towards cars and traffic fatalities. As you pointed out, it does feel like we may be seeing a historic shift in attitudes now, locally and nationally. I hope so.

Posted by: Joe | July 11, 2008 8:47 PM | Report abuse

DDOT has been experimenting with a pedestrian signal. Sadly the Director has proposed its elimination out of concern for drivers.

Yes, that is right, because drivers find a signal confusing, DDOT wants to eliminate a safety device which has been flawless where pedestrian safety and driver accidents are concerned. Not one incident in 17 + months.

Tell the Mayor and DDOT to keep the pedestrian signal and place more around the city.

Tragedies like this can be prevented if we change the culture and speak up as a community.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 12, 2008 7:40 AM | Report abuse

Tragedies like this can be prevented if cyclists paid attention to where they were, what they were doing, and what the traffic laws require of them.

Never gonna happen.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 12, 2008 11:52 AM | Report abuse

"Tragedies like this can be prevented if cyclists paid attention to where they were, what they were doing, and what the traffic laws require of them."

Yes? Like in this case, where the cyclist was in the bike lane, had the right-of-way, proceeded only when the light was green and got hit by a truck that apparently didn't bother to look to see if it was clear to make a right turn?

Posted by: Anonymous | July 12, 2008 1:18 PM | Report abuse

I have read many of the posts here, and as a bicyclist, I must point out that all bikers are not alike, just as all drivers are not alike. I do occasionally see a biker weaving in and out of traffic and riding in a risky manner, just as some automobile drivers do. You cannot condemn all bikers for the behavior of a few hot-doggers.

I applaud Eric Gilliland's statement that "I didn't see them" too often gets irresponsible drivers off the hook. There is a mentality among many drivers in this country (reflected by the comments on this board) that the road belongs only to them, and that everyone else - bicyclists, moped and scooter drivers, motorcyclists, and pedestrians in crosswalks - is a nuisance and not entitled to the same level of ownership. This mentality must change. Designating bicycle lanes is a good first step. Holding drivers accountable for accidents such as this is another.

My condolences to Alice Swanson's family and friends. Alice's death is a loss to all of us, whether we realize it or not. Let's hope her death is not in vain.

Posted by: dc denizen | July 14, 2008 8:43 PM | Report abuse

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