Street Safety in Leech Times – Streetsblog San Francisco

A sign directing cyclists to yield to motorists.

This is apparently the solution recommended at the end of last year for the obviously dangerous intersection in the main photo of Bayshore Blvd at the Northbound 101 off-ramp in Brisbane.

Last fall, activists in Brisbane asked Streetsblog to shine a light on this intersection. Unfortunately, these requests are numerous and it is impossible to cover them all. But when I heard that the solution offered by Brisbane’s ‘Complete Streets Safety Committee’ was not to make it safe for cyclists, but rather to put fenders first for motorists again, I had to write something.

“We want to make the bike path safer, but we don’t want to make it any less safe for motorists,” said Justin Yuen, an engineer who attends committee meetings, during the discussion last fall. “This exit ramp is simply not an area where cars expect to stop, and by requiring motorists to yield to cyclists, it would increase the risk of rear-end collisions.”

“I’ve driven this area several times,” said Mario Garcia, the Brisbane police commander who also attended the meeting. He added that one of his sergeants had even seen a cyclist struggling to cross and that he almost caused a “three- or four-vehicle chain reaction accident”.

The committee also concluded that there was not enough money to separate this lane and make it safe, even though Caltrans is currently spending hundreds of millions to widen the 101.

Maybe it’s because my grandfather was a doctor, but the conversation reminded me of the ancient medical practice of leeching. I don’t want to compare committee members to blood-sucking parasitic worms. I’m talking about how for 2,000 years “doctors” have cured the sick by putting leeches on their bodies to rid them of their bad temper.

The Burns Archive – Burns Archive via Newsweek, 2.4.2011.

And most people thought that was okay.

I wonder what it must have been like for those late 19th century doctors and scientists who actually looked at the data and analyzed the results. What was it like for “radicals” like Louis Pasteur to try to convince people that it was unethical, harmful, and completely crazy to drain people’s blood as a cure for disease?

Nuts.
Nuts.

Likewise, how could anyone think it’s okay to put an unsignaled diagonal merging of bikes on a freeway exit ramp? Commander Garcia explained how the intersection was unsafe as it could cause motorist accidents. What does he think happens to the body of an unprotected cyclist when hit by a fender at 45 mph?

Of course, Caltrans shares most of the blame. As the committee pointed out, Caltrans won’t let them build anything on their property (which is most of this ramp) and the state DOT refuses to change anything itself.

But that’s not letting Brisbane off the hook. How about putting the K-rail along both sides of that bike path where it’s stuck between high-speed traffic lanes? How about adding soundtracks, flashing lights and other tactile reminders for motorists to slow down when they reach the bike crossing? How about reducing the crossing distance and sharpening the angle to slow motorists and improve sightlines? How about a signal for the exit ramp? And if none of that is acceptable then – sorry Brisbane, smash the budget if you have to but build a tunnel or flyover for cyclists and pedestrians as if lives depended on it – because they do make.

The “doctors” who used leeches at least thought they were saving lives. But traffic officials in the United States today know full well that they are building (not fixing) death traps. The crash death rate in the United States is more than double that of countries where city planners value human life over automobile throughput (and fenders).

Graphics reproduced by Streetsblog;  approximate figures.  Source: Ralph Buehler and John Pucher, “The Growing Gap in Pedestrian and Cyclist Fatality Rates Between the United States and the United Kingdom, Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands, 1990-2018,” Transportation Reviews Vol.  41, No. 1, January 2021.
Graphics reproduced by Streetsblog; approximate figures. Source: Ralph Buehler and John Pucher, “The Growing Gap in Pedestrian and Cyclist Fatality Rates Between the United States and the United Kingdom, Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands, 1990-2018,” Transportation Reviews Vol. 41, No. 1, January 2021.

To build or not to repair deadly infrastructure is evil of the first order. And until bureaucrats and politicians start behaving as if people’s lives are at stake, they are complicit in every case of modern bloodshed, via traffic violence, which robs people of the lives of members and their loved ones.

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