By definition, intersections are problematic for traffic. Vehicles, bicycles, scooters and pedestrians all need to cross an intersection to continue on their way. This, of course, leads to collisions, and for San Jose cyclists, these collisions can be deadly.
From 2014 to 2017, 37 cyclists lost their lives in Santa Clara County of which San Jose is the largest city. This ranks fifth in the state of California’s counties. Nationally, intersections account for 39 percent of all cyclist deaths, so if San Jose follows the national trend, then around 10 to 15 cyclists were killed in San Jose’s intersections.
Why so Deadly?
Intersections are heavily regulated by laws, lights, and other measures to create safe traffic patterns, so why do so many deaths occur? Almost all collisions are a result of some human error. While light malfunctions do occur, they are very rare, so when a vehicle and a bike collide, someone messed up. Some of the most common mistakes are:
The Deadly Right Hook
A “right hook” refers to an accident when a vehicle takes a right turn. There are two primary types of right hooks are deadly to cyclists.
One way this happens is when a delivery truck driver passes a cyclist on the left and then turns right. Usually the cyclist has no time to react and goes down. The best way to avoid this is by riding far enough into the lane to make drivers change lanes to pass. If a truck driver wants to turn, then they will be more likely to wait until you pass the intersection before turning.
The other type of right hook happens when a cyclist is passing slower traffic and rides into the blind spot of a turning vehicle. Many times, the larger vehicles (especially the semi-trucks) have to swing out to the left so the tracks of the back tires can clear the curb. Many cyclists see that extra space and shoot for it only to be knocked over and unfortunately are often unable to escape the back tires.
Left turns for cyclists in intersections are deadly in two circumstances: one when the motorist is turning left, another then the cyclist is turning left. A cyclist attempting to go straight through an intersection might find itself in the “left hook zone” which simply means that area that starts from the beginning of the intersection to about halfway though. If the cyclist has attained momentum and enters the zone and a car turns in its path to make a left turn, the cyclist won’t be able to avoid the collision.
The other happens when the cyclist takes a left. He or she may turn left into an oncoming vehicle or be struck from behind while waiting to take a left. In many cases, this is because motorists don’t see the small profile that a bike and its rider project.
Crosswalks pose a problem for pedestrians and cyclists alike. Under California law, to be protected (legally) as a pedestrian, the cyclist must dismount the bike and walk across. Many cyclists don’t do this and they ride though the crosswalk. This isn’t any more dangerous than walking—maybe even safer as the cyclist is in the crosswalk less time—but it is the law. Crosswalk collisions usually occur when the motorist fails to yield to the right-of-way of person using the crosswalk. A pedestrian has the right-of-way in a crosswalk (during the proper crosswalk light cycle). However, this doesn’t mean that a motorist can just plow cyclists over just because he or she didn’t walk their bike across, it just means that a cyclist will not be treated by the law the same as a pedestrian if riding through the intersection.
What Can be Done?
The greatest deterrent to intersection accidents is for drivers and cyclists to be vigilant and focus when going though an intersection. If this happened, intersections accidents would plummet. After that, some cities have instituted measures to combat intersection risks.
Protected Bike Intersections
A protected bike intersection is a design of an intersection that uses a designated bike lane that traverses the intersection rather than the traditional bike lanes that end at the intersection and pick up at the other side. The also have refuge islands that protect the cyclists at the corner of each intersection preventing the dreaded right hook. Click to see a diagram or a video of a protected intersection.
There are around 5 (as of 2018) protected bike intersections in the U.S., one of them in San Francisco at 9th Street and Division Street. One issue with a protected bicycle intersection is the left turn is not protected, and a cyclist has to leave a protected bike lane and enter the street and turn left.
Pocketed Turn Lanes
Pocket lanes are merely dedicated lanes for a right or left turn. These are commonly used in traditional traffic lanes and intersections for vehicles. Motorists know them as a “left turn lane” or a “right turn only lane.”
For bicycles, a pocket lane is a short lane that starts a few car lengths in front of an intersection but doesn’t continue on the other side. A left turn pocket lane sits to the right of a vehicle left turn lane extends about halfway through the intersection and stops, and a right pocket turns creates a separate bike right turn lane that sits against the curb and rounds the corner.
According to Greater Greater Washington, pocket lanes make intersections more efficient for everyone. For starters, they keep people on bikes who are heading straight through an intersection from having to wait behind a queue of left-turning vehicles, whose drivers are in turn waiting for a break in oncoming traffic.
They also keep drivers from having to wait in line behind a cyclist who’s traveling straight. Another benefit is that they give people on bikes their own space that’s to the left of right-turning traffic preventing the right hook.
These solutions are currently being studied and may, if cities deem them cost effective, be a partial solution to the cyclist/vehicle intersection problem.
Injured? Call Bay Area Bicycle Law.
If you are injured in an intersection, after taking care of any immediate medical needs, talk to an attorney regarding compensation for your injuries, even if you feel you are to blame. Don’t rely on your own knowledge, the advice of friend or the insurance agent. Talk to someone who knows. Talk to a San Jose Bicycle Accident Lawyer at Bay Area Bicycle Law.
Start putting someone on your side, call us at (415) 466 8717 or click here to contact us online. If you still wonder if we’re the right firm for you or even if you need an attorney, read this this for help answering these questions.