(Photos © J. Maus)
Traffic on the Hawthorne Bridge can be bad. And I don’t mean car traffic.
Roger Geller, the city’s bicycle coordinator received an email from someone who witnessed a horrifying, nearly tragic crash on the Hawthorne Bridge during last Wednesday’s evening rush hour. The witness, who asked to remain anonymous, wrote a detailed, eloquent description of the incident as well as his or her thoughts about how to address the underlying issues.
I’ve posted the letter here in its entirety.
“The woman was already riding close to the edge and the guy was now practically touching her. Sure enough, he bumped her and she lost control of her bike.”
I wanted to pass on some suggestions about cycling on the Hawthorne Bridge after I witnessed a horrific accident on the Hawthorne Bridge yesterday. I am still a bit traumatized by what I saw but maybe you’ve heard of these things happening before. For me, it was a shock. But let me first give you some context, which will explain my anger over this. I used to cycle home across the bridge a little after 4:00 PM, when I got off work. It was always a good ride – not many people and relaxing. Then last March, I switched to a new schedule and started to ride home after I got off at 5:00 PM. The difference was like night and day.
Around 5:15 PM –mostly in the summer — the bridge is clogged with people. You can imagine the scene – slow cyclists, fast cyclists, walkers, people with strollers…it’s a zoo. I was stunned by the behavior of some cyclists, weaving in and out of the crowd, not giving any warning, appearing next to you all of a sudden. It was not a relaxing ride anymore. Rather, I had to work hard at staying off to the side, constantly looking to the side, in the front, and the back. In short, it’s one of the most dangerous stretches of a cycling route that I’ve seen. (More background, I’ve been a year-round cycling commuter since 1984 when there were just a handful of us riding to work, so my perspective is maybe longer than other people).
After I started riding home at 5:00, I started to tell my fellow cyclists at work about this situation and said that this was so bad that someday, someone would get either injured or killed. It was bound to happen given the volumes and the behavior I was seeing. Then yesterday, my prediction came true right in front of me. Around 5:15 PM, I was riding east on the bridge. A young woman was in front of me and I was off to the right. I heard a kind of grunt or something unintelligible before a young guy rode past me. I was riding at a medium pace, due to the traffic on the bridge but this guy was riding a lot faster than I was. Because the woman was riding about two feet from the edge of the sidewalk, the guy moved to the middle. Then someone must have appeared in front of the two of them because I saw him start to move closer to the woman, presumably to avoid what was in front of them (rather than backing off and riding behind the woman).
I immediately thought that this was not a good situation. There also was a car almost next to them but thankfully a little behind the two people. The woman was already riding close to the edge and the guy was now practically touching her. Sure enough, he bumped her and she lost control of her bike. In my mind, I can still see her wobbling at the edge of the sidewalk, then fall onto the metal grate and lurch right in front of the car. How the driver managed to brake so quickly is beyond me but somehow, she stopped right before hitting the cyclist. I didn’t know that as I only saw the cyclist go flying in front of the car.
Everyone stopped of course and ran to her aid. She was sprawled across the metal grate, the car a couple of feet from her. I’ll spare you the details but her face was a mess. Let me say though that there’s probably still some blood today where her face hit the grate. A group of people helped her to the sidewalk; someone called 911; and the police and the ambulance came. I stayed to offer my first hand account of the accident, as did others who also witnessed the event. After getting home, I didn’t feel very well, couldn’t eat, and still am upset about what I saw.
I was and am still very angry about this because it was completely avoidable. The guy who hit the woman was riding like an idiot and he deserves whatever punishment or lawsuit that he gets. There was absolutely no need for him to ride the way he did, none whatsoever. At least he stopped and stayed around. But his kind of riding – and he’s not the only one — need to be addressed.
Thus my suggestions:
1. Initiate an education program about riding etiquette and safety during rush hour. It’s not just the bridge but some other streets as well.
2. Explore the installation safety features (signs, stripes ??) or something on the bridge to reinforce the need to ride safely.
3. Create penalties or rule violations so that dangerous cyclists can be ticketed and punished.
“Maybe the city needs to back off on this push to get more cyclists on the road until an extensive education and training program for street riding is initiated.”
And finally, a suggestion that I know won’t have much traction but here goes — maybe the city needs to back off on this push to get more cyclists on the road until an extensive education and training program for street riding is initiated. At this point Roger, I’d say that the cycling capacity of our streets is being exceeded by the collective stupidity of some cyclists. An extreme statement perhaps but after what I saw yesterday (and see every weekday during the summer afternoons), there is some truth to it.
Not sure what you can do but I had to get this off my chest and hope that something positive will come of this.
This is a disturbing incident which could and should signal a tipping point for the way we treat bike traffic.
Ironically, this incident occurred just a couple of weeks after NYC-based StreetFilms sang the praises of the heavy bike traffic we experience on a daily basis here — and chose the Hawthorne Bridge as the iconic example.
There have also been calls for years (most recently in light of the new StreetFilm) to make more room for bikes on some of the grated lanes on the Hawthorne Bridge that are currently used exclusively for accommodating car and bus traffic.
Do you ride in rush hour traffic on the Hawthorne? How do you navigate it? What solutions do you propose?
Elly Blue has been writing about bicycling and carfree issues for BikePortland.org since 2006. Find her at http://takingthelane.com