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I got to this sad story via a link from Weather Underground. Bike on.

Pretty much what I suspected, that turn sucks in a truck (Ive had to do it) you HAVE to turn wide or drive over the sidewalk with your back wheels (in fact you will tear down the stop sign on the corner if you dont). As with most places in the city pedestrians are everywhere and the driver was focused on making sure that he didnt hit any of them (pedestrians will wander everwhere outside the crosswalk lines too) and as he was looking forward a bike overtook him rapidly on the right (done this a bunch of times on a bike myself) and he missed her. The fact that she hit the truck behind the cab and went under the rear wheels indicates that he had started his turn and she failed to yeid.

Look it sucks, but as a truck driver and a bicyclist there is no way to see him at fault enough to charge him here, sorry.

"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"

For clarity the phrase "close as practicable" is the key here.

Watch a metro bus, or a garbage truck or a box truck turn sometime.....you have 8 feet from the front to rear wheels in a car so you can turn right from the curb, a truck has a 18-24' wheelbase. In order to make the turn without driving over the sidewalk, your REAR wheels have to be fully in the intersection before you turn AND you have to be off the curb by 6-8' to make it happen. Hence the "This vehicle makes wide right turns" signs on buses and trucks. This is why the law states "close as practicable" as opposed to next to the right curb, large vehicles can not turn when next to the curb.

Don't believe me? Shoot me an email and we can meet in my company's parking lot and you can try it out for yourself

Even if the driver had his vehicle as "close as practicable" to the right curb, he still had an obligation to make sure the right lane - the bike lane - was clear before crossing it. He didn't do this.

Also, if the only way to make a right turn at that intersection is to do so unsafely then you shouldn't make a right turn at that intersection.

1. My guess is (based on what you've stated from the police report) is that it was clear when he started to turn and she ran up the inside.

2. Under the "no turns if unsafe" the behavior of everyone in this city (peds, cars, & bicyclists) makes every turn unsafe.

I don't understand this. Does he have a right side mirror? One would think he's obligated to check it--particularly if there's a bike lane that he's aware of. It's his job to check, and if there's a cyclist there he has to yield. I agree with your reading of the rules--it can't possibly be her fault. I would look at the carting company's ties to the district government. Seriously. If it was a car, who do you think would be at fault? I'm not sure it's criminal--the mere laws of physics dictate disaster even for ordinary negligence--but the fault issue is crystal clear, at least to me.

I ride by that memorial almost every day and it serves not only as a reminder to both two and four wheeled cyclists that they should be extra careful. I am surprised, frankly, that the District never put signs there such as "CHECK BIKE LANE BEFORE TURNING". That is a nasty intersection, and after labor day it's only going to get worse.

Suggestion: Try a FOIA request to DPW to determine who filed the complaint.

Rather than bellyache about the memorial being removed how about being thankful it was allowed to stay for a year?

Under the "no turns if unsafe" the behavior of everyone in this city (peds, cars, & bicyclists) makes every turn unsafe.

True. though cyclists and pedestrians aren't killing people when they fuck up.

Guess it's the principal of the thing, though.

A neighbor broke his collarbone when a motorist turned left across his path into a parking lot. the driver wasn't cited; the cyclist was cited for failure to control speed.

It's a rare accident that couldn't have been avoided if one party didn't do something different -- almost anything. So it's easy to say that if the cyclist had been going slower, the accident would never have happened. The flaw in the MPD reasoning is that you can't be required to anticipate the illegal actions of others -- a "reasonable and prudent" speed doesn't mean you have to be able to stop at any time. It means you have to be able to stop when you have an obligation to stop.

I'll offer a slightly different analysis from Wash. The trucker was making a legal turn -- as Think points out, he was making it from the part of the pavement where it was "practicable" to do so. However, he didn't have right-of-way. He had to yield to other vehicles, and he didn't.

What I'm really curious about is what "intersection improvements" WABA and the city have in mind. The only improvement I can see would be to bring the intersection into conformity with federal standards -- end the bike lane well before the intersection, and stop encouraging cyclists to ride to the right through the intersection. However, DDOT won't do anything that mixes cyclists with other traffic.


You are at an intersection, you are watching peds for a break in flow to make a right turn, you see a break, you glance in your right mirror (one second), look forward (2 seconds) confirm the break in foot traffic, and start the turn....pretty standard right?

A bike going 12mph moves 60 some feet in that distance, enough to go from outside the range of vision of the miror to under the wheel. Remember a truck only has side mirrors, and not a center rear view mirror--so you range of visiblity is very limited. If I could post a non-ascii picture Id show you the cones of vision...
here is a good video of the size of a trucks blind spots (now this is for a semi, not a garbage truck, but the vision cones are pretty simmilar) Also note the size of the mirrors the driver has to see from


the FMCSA also has a good website devoted to the topic as well


Contrarian wrote:
"A neighbor broke his collarbone when a motorist turned left across his path into a parking lot. the driver wasn't cited; the cyclist was cited for failure to control speed."

That police response is inexcusable, basically blaming the bicyclist for a right hook. What jurisdiction was it?

Sometimes going faster can actually reduce right hooks, since it makes it harder for the driver to pass you and you can shift over to take the lane in front of the driver before the turn.

More from Contrarian:
"The only improvement I can see would be to bring the intersection into conformity with federal standards -- end the bike lane well before the intersection, and stop encouraging cyclists to ride to the right through the intersection. "

Yes! I hate it when urban bike lanes go right up to the intersection. I've been involved in redesigning striping of Woodmont AVe. in Bethesda and we're making sure the line ends before the intersection (at Hampden).

end the bike lane well before the intersection, and stop encouraging cyclists to ride to the right through the intersection. However, DDOT won't do anything that mixes cyclists with other traffic.

Now you've done it! Can it be long before 'w' makes his appearance? Run!

Whenever a driver turns across a bike lane, he has to look to see that no one is in it. I do this automatically. However I'll concede that drivers in the city have a a huge number of things to track and watch out for -- drivers (lawful or crazy), pedestrians (predictable and not), lane closures and obstructions, atypical traffic features (most DC circles), service road cut-overs, lane obstructions, big potholes, road signs, and so on. Definitely the truck driver broke the law and should be cited for failing to yield, but I do have some understanding of why he missed the bicyclist. That's why it's so important to ride defensively.

But to the poster who said the driver shouldn't be "charged": The driver absolutely should get a citation. You don't let an offense go just because the driver didn't notice somebody in his blind spot. It should be automatic unless the other vehicle operator did something illegal. Next time I'm backing out of a parking spot and an SUV next to me blocks my view, if I'm hit it, then it's the other driver's fault? Hardly.

However, to levy more punishment on the driver in the Swanson case than a citation, I think you'd have to show more negligence.

There is no way a bicyclist should be considered at fault for riding straight at or below the speed limit in a striped bike lane, barring other circumstances. The behavior is not always smart, but it's legal.

I am very sympathetic to the truck driver for what was, surely, a mistake. However, a mere citation for the accidental death of Alice Swanson, and Swanson's citation for speeding, is completely ridiculous. It denies the courts the chance to properly evaluate the facts, and for the policy issues to be properly aired.

As for commenters regarding the removal of the ghost bike: I can understand that this sort of thing should not be allowed to stay forever. However, while the city has not even released its report into the incident, this smells like trying to sweep things under the rug.

WTOP reported that businesses in the area of the ghost bike requested the bike be removed. Honestly, that bike was not preventing any customers from accessing a business. I think it's more that some idiot nearby doesn't like bikers at all, and wanted something taken down that represents a reminder for others to sympathize.

@Jason Rather than bellyache about the memorial being removed how about being thankful it was allowed to stay for a year I don't believe it is an either or situation. I choose to be thankful it was allowed and to bellyache about the manner in which it was removed.

@think, thinking about this more (at your suggestion). It seems the proper way to make this turn - if in fact a truck can't be in the bike lane in the intersection and safely make the turn - is to start in the bike lane further back. It's technically illegal to sit in the intersection. From 2405.1

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;

So he should have been behind the stop line in the bike lane (or in it as much as possible) and only pulled out when it was safe to make the complete turn.

@Contrarian. GGW has the safety improvements at their site, namely:

* Extend the bike lane with dashed lines all the way through the intersection as a visual reminder to drivers that, if turning right, they'd be potentially crossing cyclists' paths.
* Add a bike box, so that bicycles can pull ahead of the cars when waiting. That would ensure the cars can see the bikes, and won't turn into them.
* Make the light at 20th and R no right turn on red.
* Add a sign saying "Yield to Bikes."

Finally, 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.

Wash, simply making the bike lane line dashed instead of solid will not solve the problem that large trucks have turning. [Don't you ever see those diagrams on the backs of trucks saying "This vehicle makes wide turns"?]

Also, having a bike box ahead of the regular travel lane won't keep cyclists safe if they are attempting to get to the bike box while the light changes and traffic starts to move and turn. I am not against giving cyclists priority, but we shouldn't build facilities that lure unwary cyclists into danger.

If anything, bike lanes should disappear before intersections and cyclists should be encouraged [through signs and paint on the road and/or education] to merge with other traffic when approaching intersections. This way, cyclists protect themselves from right hooks instead of having to rely on the alertness of others.

Not passing on the right is an important concept whether bike lanes exist or not and cyclists just shouldn't do it.

Unfortunately, this doesn't stop drivers from speeding up to pass and right hook cyclists, but if cyclists are aware that any vehicle to their left MIGHT turn right at any time there is an intersection or driveway, cyclists could protect themselves better.

@ WashCycle-
My point is not that he needs to start the turn farther back, but that his rear wheels need to be about 6-8' off the curb to make the turn....watch a school or metro bus make a right turn sometime and you'll see what Im trying to say. (or check out the link to the safe zone video I posted)

Since this tragic accident I'm very careful never to get up alongside large vehicles. If one stops ahead of me then I stop too and wait.

As for the bike lanes. Bike Lanes = Kill Korridors. I'm taking the lane, thank you very much. I'll leave the segregation strip for all the drivers who believe their need to double park is sacrosanct.

I think a year for a ghost bike memorial is long enough. Though it's crappy if some business owner just cut it off themselves.

Perhaps on the anniversary there could be a small memorial and a speech or two on what has been done in the year past to improve things and what still needs to be done. Then the bike could be removed and, maybe, replaced by a small marker of some sort (even spray painted).

#1 -- be careful. You get right hooked, left hooked, and the driver most likely won't even get a citation. You are just road kill.

#2 -- how ia this memorial hurting anyone? Too sad that it's coming down.

Listen children, the Alice Swanson tragedy has one lesson. Don't pass trucks, buses or any vehicle larger than a Hummer on the right when moving through an intersection. The "protections" of the bike lane disappears in the intersection. You must either slow down and wait for clear evidence of the trucks intention or "take the lane" behind the massive vehicle.

There is no legislation or traffic regulation that is going to make you visible.

@Nancy, those are WABA's recommended changes, but I think bike boxes are a great way to help keep cyclists safe.

@think, I know that wasn't your point. My point is that the driver broke the law by stopping in the intersection, which is illegal.

Wash, not to belabor the point, but how do you get TO the bike box safely? I assume cyclists would be passing stopped traffic [including trucks and buses] on the right, but they have no idea how long that traffic will be stopped.

I also don't see how bike boxes "keep cyclists safe." Yes, it is safer to be in the bike box area rather than at the curb at an intersection [where the bike lane puts you], but that's a kludge for bad bike lane design.


Unless you are certain that the light will stay red and all the cars will not move, there is nothing wrong with passing on the right at a light.

If the light changes and the cars start to move, then you are in danger of being in a blind spot if you are overtaking a large vehicle.

The best (most safe) solution when approaching large vehicles (ie. trucks and buses) is to take your place in the lane behind them. Just like you would do if you were in a car.

I do this every day behind massive tour buses on Independence Avenue. Never had a close call.

Tom, I ride the way you do. I know how to keep myself safe. What I'm asking Washcycle to explain is why _he_ thinks bike boxes keep cyclists safe, even though they will lure inexperienced cyclists into passing vehicles on the right when it could be dangerous to do so.

Several posters have raised the prospect of civil action against the truck driver. It is virtually impossible that the Swanson family would be able to collect anything.

The legal precedent is not very favorable to cyclists, or accident victims in general. As discussed earlier here (http://www.thewashcycle.com/2008/09/dc-contributory.html) DC law says that an injured party cannot recover if he in any way contributed to the accident. The courts have repeated found -- in Washington v. Garcias and WMATA v. Young -- that cyclists have a special duty of "self-preservation" which requires them to anticipate the actions of others, even illegal actions. In WMATA v. Young, the court wrote that Young, "negligently rode up alongside a bus that was going to make an improper right turn from the left lane." Note that this "self-preservation" duty was created out of whole cloth by the court. It actually runs counter to the letter of DC law, which says that cyclists have the same rights and duties as operators of other vehicles. Note also that both Washington v. Garcias and WMATA v. Young involve large vehicles illegally turning in front of cyclists -- a garbage truck and a Metro bus, respectively. It's hard to imagine an accident that a cyclist couldn't have avoided if he had anticipated it, so under this reasoning any accident involving a cyclist is at least partly the fault of the cyclist. And in DC, if you're partly at fault you get nothing.

So, to recap, we have:

* A judicial system that is biased against cyclists, and has enshrined its bias in case-law that is unsupported by statute.

* A police department that exihibits anti-cyclist bias in enforcement (although you could argue they are merely conforming with the court decisions).

* A legal doctrine that favors accident causers over accident victims.

* A DDOT that by policy creates bicycle facilities that are unsafe and contrary to federal guidelines.

Clearly there is a lot of advocacy work to be done here. The big lesson: no one is looking out for your safety but you. Ride accordingly.

Good luck, Nancy. I'm sorry to intrude.

Nancy, you are correct. To get to a bike box safely one rides past traffic in the bike lane and then moves over into the bike box. Here is an obnoxious video that shows how.

Bike boxes allow cyclists to get in front of cars where they're easier to see and less likely to be hit by turning vehicles. In act, many jaybikers run lights as a way of creating a defacto bike box situation. I don't think the issue with bike boxes is passing on the right - as bike lanes already encourage that - but swerving in front of cars. And I think that's the issue you're talking about. Namely, it is dangerous if you move into the bike box just as the light turns green.

How do you deal with that? First of all, many times you approach a light right after it turns red and can be pretty sure that it will stay red for a while. Ideally a special warning light would go with a bike box to warn you in other situations. This is how they work in Europe. Even without the warning light, we often have countdown clocks that a cyclist can see (I can't be the only cyclist who uses these to determine how fast to approach a light). But the countdown lights aren't necessarily visible to a cyclist. We could add a bike countdown light above the bike lane.

Even without warning lights one study showed slightly improved results. "All things considered, the innovative treatment worked reasonably well....No conflicts took place while using the bike box in the normal sense. In summary, the bike box is a promising tool to help bicyclists and motorists avoid conflicts in certain kinds of intersection movements. More boxes need to be installed and evaluated to further understand their effectiveness in different settings."

Another study is underway.

Thanks, Wash. I think that's a cute video, actually. However, I think bike boxes aren't appropriate in all situations, and I'm afraid that the local DOT will install them injudiciously, the same way they install bike lanes [in the door zone, and to the right of right turn lanes, for example].

Getting safely to the bike box is still an issue, and this was not addressed in the cute video.

Bike boxes aren't necessary if cyclists just take the lane they need to be in [and as long as local laws don't force cyclists to be in the wrong place]. Bike boxes are still a kludge.

I've never used a bike box, but here's how I think about it. You (or maybe just me) ride up to the intersection in the bike lane same as always. Once up there, you can move over into the bike box if the pedestrian sign says walk, otherwise, you're still in front of the cars behind you.

It's not that much of a departure from what goes on now. A lot of cyclists from my unreliable observation ride (illegally) past the stop line and into the crosswalk - sometimes even moving in front of cars, using it as a de facto bike box. This gives cyclists a chance to do the same think legally.

I hear what your saying about taking the lane, but I also worry that complete reliance on vehicular cycling is a recipe for perpetual 2% load share.

I am a cyclist and I have to say that the person in the wrong is not the truck driver, it was the cyclist. She had a responsibility to notice a truck in an intersection and try to determine what it was going to do...

Another good question is why he made a point to leave the bike lane empty? The only reason to leave the bike lane empty is because you think someone might use it, which means you ought to realize that there might be someone in it when you move over into it.

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