Reportedly, Dupont Circle business owners asked that it be removed for reasons on which I'm unclear, and DDPW decided to comply. WABA had received some of these requests, but felt the bike belonged to Ms. Swanson's friends and family and they wanted to wait for promised intersection improvements to be completed first. DDPW made no effort to inform local family members or WABA of their intentions. It was others in the DC government who contacted WABA.
“When we were informed of the
decision to remove the bike, we requested some additional time to
contact the family to see what their wishes were,” said Eric Gilliland, WABA’s executive director.
WABA then spent some time trying to track the bike down. They were told it was at La Tomate, but actually found it at Cosi. Both of these businesses denied being ones who complained about the bike - though I'm not sure anyone would be willing to admit to WABA that they wanted the bike removed.
Since then, and since this photo was taken, a new memorial consisting of flowers and a sign reading "Why has the Mayor taken the bike" gone up - you can see that at DCist.
Even though ghost bikes normally stay up "in perpetuity" it's not unreasonable to think that at some point the memorial would be removed, and it seemed WABA was planning for that. It's hard to understand why this had to be done right now, why it couldn't wait for the safety improvements or why none of Alice Swanson's family or friends were contacted. If the Mayor really felt this bike needed to go, he missed a chance to show up, speak about bike safety and hand the bike over to family himself. Cutting off the bike and dumping it at Cosi is not the closure anyone is looking for.
The District continues to mishandle this situation. Though the police report was completed last December, an official copy has not been made available to the family. Only a redacted copy, which I've also seen, has been given to them. And that report, while well researched, has some terrible conclusions.
It does a good job of establishing the facts of the situation based on several eye witness reports and an on-scene reconstruction. Here are the facts as I can best discern them:
The truck driver was stopped in a line of cars on R St. NW. with his turn signal on preparing to make a right turn onto 20th St NW. When the light turned green traffic moved forward and pedestrians began to cross in the crosswalk. The truck driver pulled forward into the intersection and stopped to wait for the crosswalk to clear but, and they go to great lengths to point this out, he kept the truck completely within the "vehicular travel lane" and though he moved close to the bike lane, never "encroached" on it.
At this point Alice Swanson came to the intersection in the bike lane. Just as she reached the intersection, the truck began it's right turn. She didn't have enough time to stop, but did try to turn - the collision happened outside the bike lane and close to the crosswalk which is why many people though she'd been riding on the sidewalk. The bicycle hit the side of the truck near the passenger door and she was thrown into the path of the right front tire.
The driver claims to have never seen Ms. Swanson. He never claims to have looked for her. He was very involved in watching pedestrians and waiting for a gap to open that he could drive through. As part of the reconstruction they point out that he could have seen her with the existing mirrors if only for a split second, but that was with the truck in the collision position, not the waiting position (which is when he should have been looking for her).
Making a right turn from the left lane - which is what he did - is illegal. Section 2203.3 reads "Both the approach for a right turn and a right turn shall be made as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge or the roadway." This is not what he did. He made his turn - from his own assertion - from the right, vehicular lane, but the reason bike lanes have dotted lines near intersections is so that drivers know they can cross over to make a right turn. Bike lanes are for bicyclists AND right-turning vehicles. What he did was merge into the bike lane, as part of making a right turn, without looking to see if it was safe and without yielding to Alice Swanson, who had the right-of-way. Update:[It's also illegal, though everyone does it, to stop in the intersection mid-turn. Section 2405.1 reads "No person shall stop, stand, or park a vehicle in any of the following places, except when necessary to avoid conflict with other traffic, in compliance with law, or at the direction of a police officer or traffic control device: (a) Within an intersection;" Where he should have been was as far right as practicable (completely or partially in the bike lane). One more knowledgeable about truck operation than me points out in the comments that trucks make wide right turns so the driver may have been in the left lane AND as far right as practicable. But they would've been able to partially block the bike lane if they were far enough back or far enough into the turn.]
Alice Swanson passed a right turning vehicle on the right-hand side. The report doesn't mention if another car was behind the truck or not. If there were, maybe she couldn't see the turn signal until she was already too close; but she had reason to believe that the truck was not turning right - namely that it was not in the right place to turn right. While passing a right turning vehicle on the right hand side is ill-advised, it's not illegal (because it's only possible if the right turning vehicle is in the wrong lane). Turning right from the left hand lane, or merging without yielding the right-of-way are illegal.
Still the investigating officer determined that the driver of the truck did not operate the vehicle in violation of any code or any traffic violation enumerated in Title 18 (even though I thinks it glaringly obvious that he did).
One section they do mention is section 1201.1 "Every person who propels a vehicle by human power or 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" except they leave out the exceptions in italics. Fine. That is the law. How did she not follow this? They imply she violated 1201.8 "No person shall operate a bicycle ... at a speed which is greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions then existing."
That's right, the MPD investigating officer thinks Alice Swanson - who was biking a half mile to work in flip flops and light clothing on a 10 speed Huffy Free Spirit that is no longer manufactured - died because she was biking too fast. Read that again, they think she died because she was biking too fast.
The standard for speed they quoted is vague and there is absolutely no evidence that she was violating the speed limit. They have one witness who claimed that she was pedaling very fast with her head down. Pedaling fast is not the same as riding fast. Another witness, by the way, saw her looking straight ahead. It's possible they saw her at different times. Yet another witness said they thought she realized she would crash before the impact but was unable to avoid it. The investigator interprets this as though she "perceived the hazard but, due to her speed, was unable to reduce her speed and stop in time." There are two parts to this equation though, namely speed and distance. One could just as easily say she "perceived the hazard but, due to the short distance, was unable to reduce her speed and stop in time." Nowhere does the report try to determine how fast she was actually going.
The driver actually broke the law, but that wasn't noted. Alice Swanson didn't break a single law, but was reprimanded for not executing the same duties as any other vehicle operator.
The main cause of the crash is stated above. The driver never saw Alice Swanson even though she was where she was supposed to be. Alice Swanson had the right of way and the driver failed to yield. With today's technology (cameras are very cheap) there is no reason why trucks should have blind spots so large that they can't see a cyclist in the bike lane. A few dead cyclists can not be just the price of removing trash from the city.
And now the Mayor tore down her memorial and dumped it at a coffee shop. Classy.
Update: WABA reports meeting with representatives from the Mayor’s office, DPW and DDOT this morning. They urged the Mayor’s office to reach out to the family. They are sending the family a letter expressing their sadness at the removal of the ghost bike and the fact that an official police report has not been released to them. Everyone agreed to work on rapid implementation of safety measures at the intersection (right turn yield to bike signs, bike box, colored bike lane) and to work with the family on a more permanent memorial to Alice at the intersection.