This Is What Structural Failures in Transportation Look Like: The Cyclist Death Edition

This horrific story is what I mean by safer roads require structural changes (boldface mine):

Picture a crosswalk with six lanes of traffic flashing toward it at 50 miles an hour and you will begin to see where Frank Towers was struck on his Christmas bike as he pedaled home from work Monday.

It’s a straight-away road in either direction, the cars move fast, it was dark and so were his bike and clothing. There’s no intersection, no traffic light. If he pushed a button near the curb that emits a little beep, yellow lights flashed at drivers about 100 yards away, but very few of them abide by the law and stop at the crosswalk.

Three days after Christmas, on the bike he got as a gift, Towers died at age 19.

The crosswalk where a bike and pedestrian trail crosses Veirs Mill Road in Montgomery County is considered so risky that on Tuesday a county police officer sent a report to the state that more or less said, “I told you so.”

Deaths of people on foot and on bicycles are up this year in Montgomery County and across the country. Montgomery has had 12 pedestrians killed in 2015, and three cyclists, up from nine and one last year. Two of the people killed this year were crossing Veirs Mill less than a mile from the place where Towers died….

One reason, cited in a Government Accountability Report in November, is that until recently U.S. roads have been designed for cars. Drinking and distraction by all parties — drivers, walkers and cyclists — hasn’t helped matters either.

But the crosswalk on Veirs Mill Road is a risky proposition even when none of those factors are in play.

“It’s just amazing to me how there is no respect for people’s rights in the crosswalk. I would say maybe one out of ten cars stops,” said Douglas B. Farquhar, a lawyer who bikes to work from his home near Olney.

Captain Thomas Didone, who heads the county police department’s traffic division, is blunt about it.

“People trying to cross are universally ignored by drivers,” he said. “We have done many, many crosswalk stings at that location and every time we go we write as many tickets as we can handle.”

…But the danger at Veirs Mill — and it got Towers killed Monday — is that some drivers do stop, and often others swerve around them.

Towers was peddling home from work at Dynamite Gymnastics at about 7:30 p.m. He made it safely across the first three eastbound lanes to the median strip. Then a car in the right westbound lane saw him and stopped, a car in the middle lane slowed to stop and Tower rode into the crosswalk.

A Toyota 4Runner going “full speed” in the left lane hit him broadside, Didone said….

Didone did not disguise his exasperation with the crash.

This driver lived on Selfridge [road], which was like two blocks away, so it isn’t like some guy from Topeka, Kansas, was driving through there,” he said.

But while a decision on whether the driver should be charged is pending, Didone sent a report on the incident to the State Highway Administration (SHA) on Tuesday.

“I hate to say that someone has to die for them to wake up, but immediately I sent them a report and essentially said, ‘told you so,’ what are you going to do about it?” he said.

It’s simple: put a red light there. If you’re worried about the light stopping traffic too frequently (though cyclists and pedestrians aren’t the ones killing people), then limit how frequently the signal can turn red (e.g., a two minute waiting time between red lights). Expecting drivers to be attentive and alert at all times never works. Unfortunately, some young man had to die for anything to even be considered.

But ISIS BOOGA BOOGA. Or something.

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6 Responses to This Is What Structural Failures in Transportation Look Like: The Cyclist Death Edition

  1. Felicis says:

    “But while a decision on whether the driver should be charged is pending”

    What is there to decide? Really – this is another aspect of it – if I run a red light and there’s a camera or an officer – rarely is there a question of whether or not I will be charged. Here someone is dead because the driver ignored the law!

  2. someone says:

    I’m not sure what the precise number of cars flowing there is, but perhaps some segregation or tunnels are a better solution? People tend to ignore red lights. Expecting people to do the right thing is not a good solution imho, you should make it impossible to do the wrong thing.

  3. doug says:

    If the crosswalk light was flashing, I would would certainly charge him, were it up to me. If the light wasn’t flashing, charges might be inappropriate. Where I live, entering a crosswalk with a vehicle when a pedestrian is in the crosswalk is just as illegal as running a red light. A majority of drivers here are very good about obeying crosswalk laws, but there are plenty that aren’t.
    I’ve been a driver in exactly the situation of the middle lane driver several times, and it always puts me on edge. I see the pedestrian crossing and stop but know that someone in the outside lane may not catch on to what is happening and may not stop. The only time I’ve ever made anti-skid brakes do their thing I was in the position of the through driver, but I saw that cars in the other two lanes had stopped for no apparent reason and romped on the brakes, just in case.
    My city (Calgary) has built pedestrian overpasses in many places. They are expensive, but they allow traffic to flow unimpeded and pedestrians to cross in safety.

    Cyclists MUST make an effort to make themselves visible. A headlight and tail light are required here if you’re riding when its dark (nearly 16 hours a day, right now). Most people use flashing tail lights, and most headlights can be set to flashing mode. I wear a fluorescent yellow t-shirt with big retro-reflective bands when I cycle on roads any time it isn’t bright clear daylight. Even drivers who are conscientious and considerate of cyclists can have a hard time seeing them in difficult conditions.

    • dr2chase says:

      Massachusetts laws, flashing yellow is just to help you remember to look, there is no change in the law that applies. Ped is only denied crosswalk privilege at red/green signaled intersections.

      I disagree that cyclists “MUST” make an effort to be visible. I do make that effort, but I resent its necessity, and the attitude that we “MUST” leads to victim blaming and letting people off the hook for driving while blind (“I didn’t see him”). Drivers must be prepared for people only deploying the legal minimum visibility aids (and there is no requirement at all on pedestrians), and if they are “surprised” by someone who is “hard to see” that generally means that they’re driving too fast.

  4. Fred Carson says:

    Dangerous Pedestrian Crossing at Veirs Mill Road and Turkey Branch Parkway, Aspen Hill, MD 20853

    On two occasions I was almost clipped by cars that swerved around traffic that had stopped for me while I was entering the crosswalk at Veirs Mill and Turkey Branch. I called Serena Lew of DOT (301) 513-7325 or 7335 about this very dangerous crossing on 9/9/2011 and recommended that they change the signal to blinking yellow at the crossing with solid yellow then solid red coming on when a pedestrian activated the crossing button. When I checked much later, I was told that a DOT study showed that no change was needed. On the next close encounter, I repeated the above and was basically stonewalled, being informed that both studies resulting from my requests showed that no change was needed.

  5. Tom says:

    I am the Person that gave Frank the Bike for Christmas…….worked together at Dynamite Gymnastics. Our Family is devastated by this…..this driver was in the fast lane…..the Middle Stopped and the right was stopping…..The Left never slowed down….Frank was T-boned and dragged, this shouldn’t have happened!! …..He didn’t have lights on the Bike (next thing I was going to do) and he didn’t have a reflective Vest….He had ridden thru there many times in the Last 6 Months……I did warn him about the Crossing 3 days before as I had been nearly rear ended a week before because I stopped…..I am a Volunteer Fireman in Kensington…..42 years. and have seen these before…..This one is Personal! I feel at a minimum this driver should be charged with Involuntary Manslaughter…..but the feeling no charges will be placed…..sick!! In the Meantime Frank is in an Urn on my Daughters Desk…..19 years old whole life in front of him….

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