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Asking for Traffic Safety – Shefman Law on KUT

“There’s nobody advocating for that infrastructure to be created,” says Lenore Shefman, a personal injury lawyer who represents pedestrians and cyclists who have been hit by cars. The voice is less because quite frankly, people have less time to knock on doors at the legislature or city council.”

Shefman says people sometimes for get that.

“You do the best with what you have and if you need to be to work at five o’clock and you have to get your child to the babysitter and there is not crosswalk for two miles then you wait for a break in an you run for it,” Shefman says. “And that unfortunately is something that people who don’t have to face that dilemma just really can’t compute.”

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City of Austin and Bike Lanes — Particularly Mesa Drive

bikelane-300x225-300x225In 2007, the City of Austin Bike Plan (click to download document) began with these words, “The aim of the Austin Bicycle Plan is to increase bicycle use and safety.” Per the adopted Austin Bicycle Plan, “On-street automobile parking and bicycle lanes are incompatible because the parked cars essentially prevent use of the lane. Parking should not be allowed in bicycle lanes.” Through the Bicycle Program and other programs, the City of Austin strives to increase bicycle use and safety to protect cyclists from the impact of automobiles.

In 2009, the bike plan began with a forward letter from then Mayor Will Wynn. The document reveals what was to be done when improving infrastructure for the goal of becoming the most bicycle-friendly major city in Texas and a world class bicycle-friendly city. Page forty-five of this master plan shows the studies and feedback provided as well as illustrates the stake the City had in increasing contiguous routes not just for commuters but for recreational and athletic users of bike lanes.

In 2014, the plan grew seemingly even stronger. “A change in focus” leads the charge on the city website for the master bike plan.. The change is touted as going from “To Create and Promote the best environment for the friendly coexistence of bicycle riders and other transportation users in Austin” to “To maximize the contribution of bicycling to Austin’s quality of life”.

Due to lack of preparation and planning by the City of Austin, last night’s meeting devolved into a group of people arguing their opinions in anger, or into what I think of as the “angry face phenomenon.”

In a book I once read this illustration was provided:

Jarvis Masters, who is a prisoner on death row, wrote a book, called Finding Freedom. In a chapter called “Angry Faces,” Jarvis has his TV on in his cell but he doesn’t have the sound on because he’s using the light of the TV to read. And every once in a while, he looks up at the screen, then yells to people down the cell block to ask what’s happening.

The first time, someone yells back, “It’s the Ku Klux Klan, Jarvis, and they’re all yelling and complaining about how it’s the blacks and the Jews who are responsible for all these problems.” About half an hour later, he yells again, “Hey, what’s happening now?” And a voice calls back, “That’s the Greenpeace folks. They’re demonstrating about the fact that the rivers are being polluted and the trees are being cut down and the animals are being hurt and our Earth is being destroyed.” Some time later, he calls out again. “Now what’s going on?” And someone says, “Oh, Jarvis, that’s the U.S. Senate and that guy who’s up there now talking, he’s blaming the other guys, the other side, the other political party, for all the financial difficulty this country is in.”

Jarvis starts laughing and he calls down, “I’ve learned something here tonight. Sometimes they’re wearing Klan outfits, sometimes they’re wearing Greenpeace outfits, sometimes they’re wearing suits and ties, but they all have the same angry faces.” Pema Chodron, (1997) When Things Fall Apart.

Last night’s meeting literally fell apart. People who don’t regularly advocate came to the meeting hoping to have a voice, but the City was unorganized and threatened by its own meeting or lack of procedure or perhaps unprepared for the passion in the voices that were there. There was a lack of moderation, a quelling of speech, and palpable fear from prepared speakers wanting to present factual information. No facts were ever presented save for a few slides I had prepared that were shouted about by those assuming the direction of the slide.

What happened last night was a gathering, a coming together of a group of caring people, of community members, all of whom share a similar goal. The resounding need in the room, both spoken and unspoken, by everyone who attended was this: “Help calm this street, it is moving too fast, it is dangerous for those trying to leave their driveways, it is dangerous for children riding their bikes though the route is designated as a safe route to schools, and homeowners want on street parking. Help keep us safe, help us keep ourselves and our families and our neighbors safe.”

Various arguments were made that began with, “I have a circular driveway and a long driveway” I need on-street parking. “I want my grandmother to be able to park in front of my house on the street when she comes to visit,” this last seeming to assume that there is no room in the driveway when in fact the street-to-door length in this area is actually greater than driveway-to-door in most instances. People wanting bike lanes were arguing for their life and the lives of those they love who use the bike lanes and fear being pushed into faster-moving traffic.

The City has neither posted nor provided actual studies of what is wrong with the current situation or how to fix it; instead, they created a forum in which many disparate opinions were shared in the absence of facts, in which neighbors shouted down neighbors in an emotional effort to be heard. . The City of Austin so far has only presented goals involving striping and nothing that demonstrably would improve calming conditions which is what everyone is seeking. There is no scenario, though, where facts have been provided that show that removing bike lanes creates safer streets for our most vulnerable road users.

The Austin Vulnerable Road User Ordinance code provides that cars must maintain a distance of three feet from people on bikes and other vulnerable road users and six feet if the motorist is a large truck.

Not one person or City staffer addressed how any of the proposals would work with this law. A discussion that I tried to initiate, but the city shut down due to last-minute time constraints and a fear of my prepared slides.

I came to the meeting to show the various hazards presented by the proposed options. I was met at the beginning of the meeting by City of Austin representative and proposal leader, Laura Dierenfeld, the Active Transportation Program Manager. She stated that she did not want me to show slides because it was using “technology”. She stressed that she did not want me to make any presentation despite the fact that I live off of Mesa and have a child and a home in the area. In other words, free speech was not being afforded. Laura and Nathan Wilkes of the same department dealt with this by disclaiming at the beginning of the meeting “a person wants to show a powerpoint and we want to let you know we do not approve”. They decided to limit each person’s time to speak to three minutes. So, a line was formed and folks that had something to say lined up, took the microphone and spoke until they were told their time was up.

Opinion followed opinion. Again, similar cries for safer streets. Except for the one guy who argued, he needed a wide shoulder in front of his house with a circular and long driveway because traffic is too heavy, even though he does not concern himself with traffic because “I drive a big truck with a big bumper and I make my way”. Dangerous much?

An engineer from the City attended but was not asked to address any of the issues brought to the table. Council Member Sherri Gallo could not be bothered to attend, according to a representative from her office, due to more important issues in “another neighborhood.”

Nobody addressed the lack of studies on what can be done with a forty foot street for traffic calming, maintaining marked and contiguous bike lanes and creating some relief for those in need of parking. I note that there has been no demonstrated need for parking, only a loud cry from a very few for want of parking.

The only “study” was the parked car count conducted only four times during different times of day. Attendees at the meeting reported completely different independent observations just this past week.

Basically what this comes down to is there is not enough information, no formal studies, and a blatant attempt to prevent free flow of actual facts. Apparently a community meeting is only for opinion, what could go wrong there?

I left last night’s meeting wondering what unintended consequences will follow from what I perceive to be a lack of integrity on the part of the City, which seems to prioritize a knee-jerk reaction to a few homeowners over a thoughtful solution which would protect thousands of people who ride bikes along this corridor daily.

The majority of voices heard asked resoundingly for street humps, or turnabouts, or even narrower car lanes to reduce the traffic pace and create a calmer environment. These concerns remain without acknowledgement or answer from the City of Austin.

What I do know is that there was an amazing turn-out of concerned citizens; some who live in our neighborhood and some who use the bike lanes regularly and whose voices are those the City of Austin Bike Plan is allegedly addressing.

Regardless of the decision the City of Austin reaches in this situation, it will walk away, wash its hands of any liability for future consequences, no matter how foreseeable, and any and all unintended consequences. Under no circumstances should any changes be made without the appropriate studies of what each the proposals presented may produce in terms of traffic and the risks associated or how these proposals work with existing goals, policy, and plans.

Facts to be considered relating to ten foot shoulders with no designated bike lane:

  • The average truck width is six and a half feet.
  • The average door opens three feet.
  • The average space a person riding a bike needs to pass a vehicle safely is three feet if it is a small vehicle and six feet if it is a larger vehicle.
  • Cars or trucks parked on a shoulder rarely park directly against the curb, that may leave less than two feet of space for a person on a bike to pass.
  • If a person is exiting the vehicle there is the door zone of three feet and the human factor zone to be considered of several feet for ingress or egress of the vehicle.
  • Ten feet of shared space for parked cars is dangerous and we have seen the results on Shoal Creek.
  • Shoal Creek has this configuration of on street parking with shared bike path. There are regular battles of wills and might from autos to people riding bikes.

Benefits of bike lanes…well, there are too many to enumerate, so please reference what People for Bikes has to say on the matter.

A simple online search will demonstrate the multiple options not even being suggested by the City of Austin to create safer cycling and traffic calming on Mesa.

Let’s get serious about safety. Frankly, no one’s opinion matters as much as learned answers following deliberate efforts to find safe solutions.

More Detailed Police Reports for Bicycle Crashes Could Improve Safety for All

In the blog post below, we mentioned the case of Frankie Frankovis and her fight to get a police report after she was involved in a collision with a jaywalker. We are happy to report that the loophole in Austin law that required a collision to involve a motor vehicle before it could properly be considered a “crash” has now been closed.

As of tomorrow, May 1, 2015, crashes between people on bikes and non-motor vehicles have been reclassified and will now require a police report. Specifically, this includes collisions involving people on bikes that occur in a public place when at least one person sustains an injury and “the incident occurred as a result of a potential criminal act, violation of the Transportation Code, violation of a City Ordinance, or the actions of another party.”

Find out more at Austin On A Bike & Austin Chronicle.

We are excited about this change and hope Austin as well as other cities will continue to take measures to provide for more accurate reporting when accidents occur.

________________________________

Deformation of bicycle after accident on the streetWhen you’re involved in a crash, the police are usually called. As part of their duties, they write a police report detailing exactly what happened during the crash. This police report is vital for future insurance claims and potential lawsuits. It is equally important that responding officers do an Actual investigation of the site of the crash and document those findings so that at a later time evidence is preserved as to time, speed, distance and other objective data necessary for both criminal and civil cases.

all too often when a crash involves a bicycle, the police report lacks vital details. Studies show that most current crash reports involving bicycles are handwritten or drawn by the police officer, and most police departments don’t have specific diagrams or codes to use when a person on a bicycle is involved. Many times these drawings are not even detailed enough to show which side of a bike was hit. The framework that applies when two cars crash is simply not accurate enough to properly detail an accident when a bicycle is involved in the crash.

Sadly, sometimes police policies and/or state legislation is also simply not up-to-date on this matter, such as was recently the case in Austin when Frankie Frankovis had to fight to even get a police report when she was involved in a collision with a jaywalker. This was because the police did not consider it a “crash” since it involved a person on a bike and a person walking or running, rather than a person on a bike and a motor vehicle.

Modern technology can help make crash reporting by police officers easier and more detailed than has ever been possible in the past. For example, officers could use electronic tablets and categorize crashes with codes specific to people riding bicycles. Using this type of crash reporting makes it much easier to ascertain important details after the fact that might otherwise be lost, such as whether the person on the bike was riding within a bike lane, or sharrow lane or if the bike lane was clear of debris, or if cars were parked in the lane when the person on the bike was hit..

If all cities and states would call on the police to improve the reporting process, not only would the individuals involved in the crash be helped, but the information could also be put into a national database to help study bicycle crashes. This information could be invaluable when devising future safety measures and legislation by helping people to better understand how and why most of these types of accidents occur.

On a more local level, this type of detailed information could help cities note how and why crashes are happening and if they are happening more often at specific sites. All of the information gathered can be used toward the important goal of improving safety for everyone-people on bikes, people walking, people in cars, and other motor vehicles.

We will rant in our next blog about the importance of the vulnerable road user ordinance and statutes that aim to protect people on bikes, on foot, mobility impaired, construction workers, people on horseback and other vulnerable road users. The law as written is violated by necessity everyday when bike lanes are placed next to bus lanes without proper distances for the bus operator or truck to provide the required space to vulnerable road users, and how we imagine these laws can be improved. If you have your own ideas, please comment below or send them to us at lenore@cyclistlaw.com.

Bicycle Ban on Texas Toll Roads Before the TXDOT Commission Today

Today with Preston Tyree, Bicycle Sport Shop owner Hill Abel, Eileen Schaubert-cycling extraordinare, organizer, cycling instructor and all around amazing woman, Tom Wald of Bike Austin and Robin Stallings and Leslie Lucaino of Bike Texas, among others gathered at the TXDOT Commission hearing to attempt to stop an all out ban on toll roads in Texas. The proposed ban before going into effect was allowed public input and commentary and people came from as far as Dallas and Tyler.

This is from the Bike Texas Website relating to Bike Texas’ concerns about the ban and is a good summary of why allowing cyclists on shoulders of toll roads is the right thing to do: “Some of our concerns about a comprehensive bicycle ban from toll roads are: Riding a bike on the shoulder of a highway is the last place most people would want to be, but there is often no alternative accommodation; Some toll roads do not have service roads attached and may be the only access to a location; Many Texas toll roads have low traffic volumes and few conflict points, and thus are safer than their alternatives; Many Texas toll roads are in rural areas without the traffic volumes associated with urban toll roads. Such a sweeping policy from TxDOT sets a dangerous precedent for the future and does not allow any latitude in accounting for differences in regions, traffic volumes, and alternative accommodations across Texas. – See more at: http://www.biketexas.org/news/action-alerts/1526-action-alert-contact-txdot-to-prevent-a-bike-ban#sthash.12vmYx57.dpuf”

Our points to the commission were primarily that since we allow Texans to text and drive despite the over 3,000 deaths on Texas roadways due to texting and driving we should allow Texas cyclists to decide when it is safe and where it is safe to ride.

The commission seemed to have made up their mind before the commission even convened. The interesting thing about this mornings “Agenda” with the Commish is they did not seem to hide the result oriented hearing on every item on the agenda which was obviously a pre-determined outcome. Serious Texas Politics happening at TXDOT.

The ban will affect all toll roads, Austin, Tyler, Dallas, San Antonio, Houston, this is wherever TXDOT controls toll roads.

Austin’s Vulnerable Road User Law and How It Protects Motorcyclists, Bicyclists, Pedestrians, Scooters and Horseback Riders

Austin has adopted the three foot passing rule as between autos and bikes and a six foot passing rule as between trucks and bikes. The Austin law defines those protected as “vulnerable road users” as follows:

“(1) a pedestrian, including a runner, physically disabled person, child, skater,
highway construction and maintenance worker, tow truck operator, utility worker, other
worker with legitimate business in or near the road or right-of-way, or stranded motorist
or passenger;
(2) a person on horseback;
(3) a person operating equipment other than a motor vehicle, including, but
not limited to, a bicycle, hand cycle, horse-driven conveyance, or unprotected farm
equipment; or
(4) a person operating a motorcycle, moped, motor-driven cycle, or motor assisted scooter.”

The law also states as follows:

“(b) An operator of a motor vehicle passing a vulnerable road user operating on a
highway or street shall:
(1) vacate the lane in which the vulnerable road user is located if the highway
has two or more marked lanes running in the same direction; or
(2) pass the vulnerable road user at a safe distance.”

The law then defines safe distance as:

“(c) For the purpose of Subsection (b)(2), when road conditions allow, safe distance
is at least:
(1) three feet if the operator’s vehicle is a passenger car or light truck; or
(2) six feet if the operator’s vehicle is a truck, other than a light truck, or a
commercial motor vehicle as defined by Texas Transportation Code Section 522.003.”

The law makes provisions for vulnerable road user right-of-ways where oncoming traffic is making left hand turns:

“(d) An operator of a motor vehicle that is making a left turn at an intersection,
including an intersection with an alley or private road or driveway, shall yield the right-of-way to a vulnerable road user who is approaching from the opposite direction and is in
the intersection, or is in such proximity to the intersection as to be an immediate hazard.”

The autos and trucks that speed up to pass you, they are breaking the law. This is what the law says about this manuever:

“(e) An operator of a motor vehicle may not overtake a vulnerable road user
traveling in the same direction and subsequently make a right-hand turn in front of the
vulnerable road user unless the operator is safely clear of the vulnerable road user, taking
into account the speed at which the vulnerable road user is traveling and the braking
requirements of the motor vehicle making the right-hand turn.”

There is even an anti-harassment provision written into the law:

“(f) An operator of a motor vehicle may not maneuver the vehicle in a manner that:
(1) is intended to cause intimidation or harassment to a vulnerable road user; or
(2) threatens a vulnerable road user.”

The law places the due care responsibility on the auto or truck UNLESS the vulnerable road user is in violation of the law:

“(g) An operator of a motor vehicle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with

anyvulnerable road user on a roadway or inan intersection of roadways.
(h) It is an affirmative defense to prosecution under this section that at the time of
the offense the vulnerable road user was acting in violation of the law.”

This information is directly quoted from § 12-1-35 VULNERABLE ROAD USERS Austin Ordinance.

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