Monument Avenue Collision

21 Feb

Most of you have probably heard about the collision at Monument Avenue and Mulberry Street yesterday morning.  A woman on a bicycle traveling west on Monument was hit by a car going south across Monument on Mulberry.

As seem to always be the case in such situations, the motorist said she looked but “did not see” the woman on the bicycle.  WTVR  says that the motorist claims that glare from the rising sun prevented her from seeing the cyclist.  While glare can be a problem, the police officer quoted in the WTVR report seems to jump to the conclusion that glare was the cause even though the investigation is only beginning:

“This is not the first accident as a result of sun glare,” said Sgt. David Selander with the Richmond Police.  “I guess the sun is rising perfectly to the East and drivers can’t see very well.”

The most recent reports suggest that the cyclist was not as badly hurt as originally appeared, but not many details have been provided about her condition.

Lessons?

An updated report on RVA News includes statements from John Lugbill and Max Hepp-Buchanan from Sports Backers:

“Our thoughts are with this bicyclist and her friends and family as she recovers,” said Jon Lugbill, Executive Director of the Sports Backers.

“While traffic collisions happen, poor street design has a played role here,” said Max Hepp-Buchanan, Director of Bike Walk RVA for the Sports Backers. “Cars parking too closely to the corners of the intersection have created inadequate sight-lines for anyone trying to make their way across Monument Avenue, regardless of their mode of travel. This condition is not unique to the intersection of Monument and Mulberry – it exists all over the Fan and Museum District. Something needs to be done to fix this situation.”

“The last thing we want is for this to happen again,” said Lugbill. “We can build a better environment for drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists alike. It’s time for real bicycle infrastructure in Richmond that makes riding feel comfortable and that offers people a safe way to navigate the city.”

It’s worth noting that the Floyd Avenue Bicycle Boulevard will likely include curb bump-outs at intersections for precisely this reason.  In some meetings about the project I’ve heard some residents complain that this will reduce the number of parking spaces on Floyd.  The city has said it’s a goal is a zero net loss of parking spaces, but even if a few are lost, is that not an acceptable price to pay for reducing the chances of collisions and injury for everyone?

The Cost of “Efficiency”

As usual, the discussion (especially on RVA News) includes the full range of useful and misguided views about the safety of bicycling and the conduct of bicyclists and motorists.  I will not go through all of them here, but I do think it’s important to keep a balanced perspective about the safety of bicycling in Richmond.

It’s understandable that an incident like this triggers anxiety and sparks a lot of discussion about cyclists’ and motorists’ bad experiences.  It justifiably underscores that Richmond has a ways to go in becoming truly bicycle friendly.  But I worry that it exaggerates the danger.

There is a lot we can do to make bicycling and walking safer in Richmond, and we should; but the discussion makes it seem as though bicycling is uniquely dangerous, and the implicit comparison (and main alternative for most people) is driving a car.  The odd thing is that people being seriously injured or killed in car-car accidents hardly registers because it’s so common — more or less accepted an unavoidable price we pay for getting around.

My point is that in a case like this the main, most productive thing to discuss is not how safe or dangerous bicycling is, but where our collective priorities are with regard to the safety of all road users — and whether we might be willing to compromise a bit of our obsession with speed and time for the sake of saving lives.

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