Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Burlingame PD and cyclists

This has been sitting around in my inbox, and I have the need to post it for posterity. My friend Theo was right hooked by a car on Old Bayshore in Burlingame. Pretty lovely driving - Theo was at the front of a line of four cyclists, yet the driver either missed seeing 25+ feet of cyclists, or he was trying to whizz by them and failed. I sent the following letter to Burlingame PD and the Mayor
Mayor Nagel and Chief Wood -

I am writing in response to a traffic incident - a bicycle vs car collision - yesterday on Old Bayshore Road in Burlingame. While I was not involved in the incident, I am familiar with the details as the injured person - a Mr. Theo Cummings - is a good friend of mine and I often ride my bicycle on Old Bayshore with Mr. Cummings.

The facts are pretty straightforward, a VW Passat - license CA 5ULW165 made a right turn on Malcom Road off Old Bayshore without yielding the right of way to Mr. Cummings and the 3 cyclists following him who were going straight on Old Bayshore. This is commonly known as a "Right Hook" collision.

The response by Burlingame Forces was fine - perhaps over the top - one witness said "I counted 2 cop cars, 1 Fire Commanders car, 2 Fire Engines, and 1 Ambulance." Mr. Cummings was checked out by the Paramedics and will make a full recovery assuming the exam by the Urgent Care doctors was thorough and accurate. For this we can be thankful.

I was shocked however, to find that in an incident which could easily have cost Theo his life, that the Burlingame Police felt no need to cite the driver with even something as simple as "Failure to Yield". Personally, I would think reckless driving would be appropriate - he turned right in front of not one but four cyclists. Drivers with such little skill or care should be cited when they cause accidents - we have a "Points" system in California for a reason. In a time when red light cameras are being tuned to cite drivers who make a "California Stop" when turning right on red, a driver who causes a life threatening collision surely must be cited.

When I tell my friends about my commute route, I mention that I ride through the San Francisco Airport, and they express surprise. I tell them that the Airport is actually quite pleasant to ride through, and that the place I wish would disappear off the map entirely is Burlingame. While I do like visiting your downtown (accessed via the Caltrain), riding on Old Bayshore is quite annoying. Knowing that the Burlingame Police Force is unwilling to cite drivers who cause accidents inside your city, gives one even more pause.

The most insulting part of the entire experience, for my money, is this. A negligent driver had just run over Mr. Cummings, and a member of the Burlingame Police responded as such (I quote Mr. Cummings).

"The cop actually tried to suggest that we ride on back streets..."

Aside from the fact that this is blaming the victim, the accident happened on "Old Bayshore". Not on Highway 101. "Old Bayshore" is the back street. There was no excuse for this collision. It should have resulted in a citation.

Thank You

John Murphy San Francisco

Here is a response from Burlingame PD
Mr. Murphy,

Let me respond to this from the perspective of a cyclist and a police officer. Prior to moving the Coast, I regularly commuted from Fremont to Burlingame. I have continued to ride bikes, but I had to stop commuting as riding over Hwy 92 on a regular basis is too risky. I also understand the frustrations of having my right of way violated by cars and have had several close calls.

I am sorry for the frustration you are experiencing regarding your friend’s injury and the lack of a citation being issued to the other driver. Unfortunately, police officers are not permitted to cite drivers at the scene of an accident unless they have been to an advanced accident investigation course. However, this does not mean the driver who causes a collision gets off without a blemished driving record. When an officer takes an accident report, he or she is almost always able to determine fault. This report is filed with the CHP who in turn delivers the accident findings to the DMV. The DMV then assigns a “point” to the party at fault’s driver’s license.

In reality this practice, from an enforcement perspective, is more efficient than issuing citations. If a citation is issued, the findings of a collision report are not shared with the DMV. The citation becomes the method of delivery to a person’s driving record. Should this citation be contested in court, for a variety of reasons, the point may not be assigned to a person’s driving record. Accident report findings cannot be contested. The DMV relies on the officer’s “opinion” of who is at fault when assigning points.

In regards to the officer’s comment suggesting cyclists should ride their bikes on the back road, I had the opportunity to overhear the officer discuss this at the police station. The officer rides his bicycle to work as well. Due to the number of bicycle collisions he has responded to over the years, and his own personal experience with riding bicycles, he merely meant to pass on advice with safety being first priority. We all know that bicycles have the same rights as cars. Unfortunately, when a bicycle is involved in a collision, the cyclist is almost always injured. Often times these injuries are serious or, as you mentioned, fatal.

Please feel free to call me if you have any questions.

Don Shepley

Acting Patrol Captain

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Caltrain to *remove* bike racks?

That title probably woke up a few of you!

It sure woke me up. On Monday I boarded Caltrain 332 at 22nd Street, along with roughly 25 other cyclists, in the Southern (or "second") bike car. I was the last to board, and watched helplessly as I stood in line for probably a minute after all the other doorways were finished boarding. The Norther ("first") bike car might have had some room in it, I toyed briefly with the idea of riding down the access road to board there, but if it was full I would have been left behind, so I waited impatiently to board where I was.

I stumbled on, with a helpful and antsy conductor holding my hot chocolate for me to get me on and into the vestibule so the doors could close and we could start headed South. I looked at the chaos inside the bike car and leaned back to wait for the dust to settle, and started a conversation with the conductor.

"You know", he said, "they are doing a 'trend analysis on bikes' - starting today. And if they decide that you guys are delaying the trains they are going to remove some of your racks". Racks that we spent a lot of hard work getting into place.

This would be a catastrophe

I've heard plenty from Conductors that was wildly inaccurate or simply telephone game innuendo, but if this were true, it needs to be cut off at the pass. We've hit an equilibrium lately where bumps have not been too bad, removal of racks would be a big problem however.

I do note the following tweet seen just now...

A few things we can do in the meantime....

First - make sure you have a destination tag - if you don't have one you can make one yourself, even one that is official looking! There are some personalized ones that are very creative, even one someone made by carving a piece of wood.

Second - when you board the train, move as far back into the bike car as possible when looking for a place to rack your bike, and wait for people to get on before heading back into the vestibule/stairs to look for a seat. Train station delay is based not on when we get seated, but on when we all get onto the train. Blocking the entrance delays the train. If you check this video ...

The first rider slots her bike into the very first rack inside the door, then steps back into the entrance way to the bike car and blocks additonal riders from entering. In this case, the overall delay wasn't too bad because the following riders did move to the back. But if 3-4 riders jam up the entrance, we sit there, and sit there, and sit there, while the bean counters in San Carlos rub their hands and dream of removing bike racks. Don't be a n00b - move to the back!