My bike accident: The city’s fault?


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That was my first thought, sprawled on the pavement in the middle of a northbound lane on Van Ness Avenue: is this the city’s fault? Shouldn’t there be a goddamn bike lane here by now? And is the belated CEQA study that's stalling the city Bike Plan the real antagonist here?

Here’s what happened: I was leaving a public meeting at 25 Van Ness and heading toward City Hall, just a few blocks north. The most expeditious route is to stay on Van Ness, which is horribly unfriendly to bikes, full of fast cars and funky pavement – but I was only going a couple blocks. I was riding in the far right line, but had to move out into the second lane to get around a bus stop. That left me straddling the white line between the two lanes. The pavement here, I’ll remind you, is full of potholes and cracks that like to grab the skinny, slick tires on my Univega. I swerved right, around one of these cracks, just as a car decided to accelerate past me in that right lane. The side of the car hit the side of me and we dragged along together for several yards until it passed me and I collapsed on the pavement. Fortunately, traffic behind us stopped, as did the driver of the car that hit me.

Despite exploding immediately into tears, which I’m prone to do when bitchslapped by death...

I scraped knuckles and knees, but me and the Univega are otherwise okay.

I feel like it wasn’t my fault. Nor does the driver seem entirely at fault. We both did something unpredictable at exactly the same time.

So, would it have happened if there was a bike lane? And is there a bike lane planned which can’t be installed until the injunction on the city’s Bike Plan is lifted? Right now, the city can’t even put in a new bike rack, let alone a whole lane, until an Environmental Impact Review is completed for the bike plan – and it’s taking a long time. In the meantime, dangerous streets and intersections remain dangerous…

Which gets me back to the problem of Van Ness. I called the San Francisco Bike Coalition for some insight, and was told by Andy Thornley that there’s no plan for a bike lane on Van Ness because Polk Street is a better option for the established bike network, and it’s only one block over.

But, Thornley pointed out, Polk is one way, southbound, through that whole corridor, and to use it to get from Market Street to City Hall would require riding on the sidewalk -- which is totally illegal. You can ignore both options and go farther than you need to and take Franklin or Larkin, but the irony of my situation is that I was actually heading to the Farmer’s Market in Civic Center Plaza, to get some cilantro for dinner. My efficient little mind was thinking that going by City Hall would put me in the Civic Center Plaza sooner, and therefore safely out of traffic.

But I didn’t make it that far. Thornley pointed out that Bus Rapid Transit is being studied for Van Ness, and suggested I call the San Francisco Transportation Authority to see if bikes were being factored in to the new designs for the street. He also mentioned that both the Transportation Authority and the Metropolitan Transportation Agency are located on Van Ness. “You should be able to take a bike from Nat Ford’s office to the Mayor’s office without threatening your life,” he said. “If I was going from the MTA [at 1 South Van Ness] to the Transportation Authority [at 100 Van Ness] I’d take that section of Van Ness. Have they looked at how to make that trip safer?”

They’ve talked about it, but it hasn’t been studied with any depth, according to a spokesperson from the Transportation Authority. There are gaps that come up – she mentioned others on 19th Avenue, where 20th is the preferred bike street, and on Geary where bus rapid transit is having issues reconciling with bike lanes on cross streets. These are the places where the streets, the cars, and the buses all add up to not quite enough room for bikes.

What do you think? How do you get around safely in this area? An accident can happen anywhere, but this is an area that’s thick with civic-oriented buildings, where a lot of business and city officials probably scamper between buildings – shouldn’t we make the most room possible for people and bikes?


Since there was no bike lane contemplated for Van Ness Ave., can we stipulate that the injunction against the Bicycle Plan had nothing to do with this accident? Ms. Witherell seems convinced that somehow she was a victim of something---the injunction, dangerous streets, faulty paving, etc. But the reality is that cycling has inherent dangers that the city can't really protect her from. Even when the Bicycle Plan is completely implemented and the network of bike lanes is entirely linked all over the city, cyclists will continue to suffer injuries from various causes beyond the control of our civic authorities. Does anyone in the cycling community really think this is not the case?

Posted by Rob Anderson on Aug. 08, 2008 @ 6:39 am

I must agree with Mr. Monk. A comment from Rob Anderson on bike safety is...ironic, let us say, as hs is the one man most responsible for the foul state of San Francisco streets from a bicycling point of view.

Amanda, if you are thinking in terms of lawsuit, he's a mighty fine co-defendant...

Posted by Michael Treece on Aug. 11, 2008 @ 5:30 am

Was that comment above really from the obnoxious speck of camel dung who is largely responsible for the delay in implementing the bike plan; the incredible waste of money this has caused - who knows - maybe Buster's Place might still be open; there might even have been fewer fatalities or injuries if this dick had kept it zippered.
One of the problems with freedom is that even cretins qualify.

Posted by Patrick Monk.RN on Aug. 09, 2008 @ 6:51 pm

Rob is wrong on the issues but those most responsible for our lack of progress are: 1) The Planning Department office of Major Environmental Analysis which gave the green light to the general rule exclusion, 2) The City Attorney who gave legal cover for the gre, 3) The MTA Bicycle Program which decided to lump in all bicycle planning into one omnibus document--easier to derail, 4) The Board of Supervisors who passed it, 5) The Mayor who signed it into law, and 6) the SFBC which provided political pressure on all of the above to do the wrong thing.

This outcome is the result of the nexus of administrative and advocacy comedies of errors which gave Anderson a toehold in court.

Nobody should ever challenge the right of any American to seek redress in court when the government breaks the law, even if it breaks the law in a way that benefits us.

Cyclists need to demand an assessment post mortem on what went wrong so that these errors might not repeated in the future. What we do not need to be doing is blaming Anderson for the failures of government and advocates.

Anderson is right cycling is dangerous. The City has a responsibility under the law to keep us safe through its police power. We need to demand that the City do its job and ensure that the right to pass through roadways on a bicycle as guaranteed by state law is enforced.


Posted by marc on Aug. 11, 2008 @ 8:59 am

It seems like you merged left to get around a bus, and then a car zipped to your right to pass on your right? Like you write, it may be a little bit iffy, but the motorist is the one how needs to exercise care. He should not have been passing to your right.

Since, as you note, people are scampering between buildings here, that's another reason for motorists to take it easy. You got hit because somebody else was in in hurry and put his own convenience ahead of your safety.

Glad you're relatively okay.

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