My last inbound trip on RapidRide Friday was stuck in heavy traffic on 3rd Ave. It turns out the cause was one of our trolley buses stopped on 3rd after hitting the door of a parked car, presumably after the driver opened it without looking to see if the lane was clear. (This is known as a “Door Prize” and is, sadly, quite common)
I made an announcement to inform my passengers of the reason for the delay and used the opportunity to provide advice on how to avoid such a collision: open your car door with your right hand and check the oncoming traffic before opening it. This advice is so simple and easy and yet it commonly goes unheeded. Interestingly enough, the Washington State Driver’s Guide informs prospective drivers “If parked at a curb, look before you open any door in the path of a car, bicycle, or pedestrian”. This information is contained in the “Space for bicycles” section, but easily could be part of a general safety tips section. After all, buses, trucks, and other cars travel next to parked cars – all of which can do a lot of damage. Checking the oncoming traffic won’t just potentially save a cyclist’s life, it may also save your fingers.
Streetfilms has a feature on Leading Pedestrian Intervals (LPI) for crosswalk signals that I’d recommend watching. In short, before a signal for vehicle traffic turns green, LPIs give pedestrians a head start to establish their presence in the crosswalk. While Streetfilms doesn’t cite safety statistics, virtually all pedestrians can imagine how LPIs might improve their odds. We’ve all likely had the experience of getting a “WALK” signal and stepping out into the crosswalk right as Mario Andretti (or at least his evil twin) takes off from his pole position right as the light turns green as if the green signal releases a massive rubber band holding Mario’s car in place.
The city of Seattle has already started experimenting with LPIs in “a few” locations (Sadly, no mention of where). I stumbled across one on 4th Ave S, just north of Costco and can say that it at least *feels* safer. Going forward, I’ll be interested to see more of these, especially in locations with heavy volumes of turning traffic. Perhaps 4th & Olive, or 6th & University near the I-5 onramp? Where would you like to see an LPI?
In the past couple of days I’ve witnessed two right hook maneuvers by car drivers that nearly resulted in crashes. If you’re not familiar with a “right hook” check collision type #6 here. In both of these cases, the driver was simply in a hurry and couldn’t be delayed a few seconds for safety before continuing on their way.
The first right hook occurred while I was driving my bus. In Bellevue, near the intersection of 108th Ave NE and NE 4th St there is a bus zone that downhill or west of 108th on NE 4th. As I was loading a group of passengers an impatient driver of a sporty Volvo sedan pulled out from behind me and zoomed up on my left side. During this time I had finished loading passengers, turned on my left signal and started to move away from the zone. The driver then proceeded to cut me off and turn into a driveway located immediately in front of the bus zone. My experience avoiding right hooks as a cyclist probably saved this individual a lot of hassle getting his car repaired or, more likely, replaced.
The second right hook occurred on my way home from work this one day. Being a bit lazy and afraid of getting wet (It was raining, and yes, I know I’m a wimp) I decided to drive that morning. As I was merging onto 405 another car was exiting 405 at the same time. (This event occurred at the on/off ramp to southbound 405 at NE 8th st) I was following a delivery truck who was carefully merging but apparently not fast enough for this bozo. The car zoomed past us, cut off the truck in front of me, and lost control of his car while trying to make the exit. Thankfully, he just spun out in the grass a bit and ended up sideways on the exit ramp – a perfect lesson without any major damage to his vehicle or injury to anybody at the scene.
Ever since I stared working at Metro, I’ve worked hard to absorb Metro’s brainwashing (er.. uh, I mean training) on not being in a hurry. Constant reminders are posted at the base in bulletins and the ever present “Outhouse Safety journal”. My wife feels that I’ve taken the lessons a little too much to heart – I drive like a grandma when behind the wheel of our personal cars. When asked why I’m driving so slow, I’ll typically respond that I’m in “Autopilot” mode and driving like I do when I’m in a bus. She gently reminds me that while I may need a six second following distance when driving a bus, staying that far back in a car is not necessary or even ideal. Ok, I get it and speed up a little. “How about 4 seconds?” (I smile, her eyes roll)
(Note: I drafted this post a while back while I was driving the 550 in Bellevue. I’ve since switched to trolleys so I’m driving my bus even slower. The top speed of a trolley is about 35mph. I think there is a small stretch of wire on the 36 where you can legally drive that fast so most of the time I’m down near 25-30mph. Thankfully, I’m doing better on driving my personal vehicles a more “normal” speed. Because of this, my wife isn’t demanding to drive as often these days.)
As a bus driver, one of the things I dread is the possibility of seeing somebody injured or killed. I have heard many stories of the trauma associated with witnessing such an event and frankly, I want no part of it. A recent news story, about a teenager on Mercer Island being hit while, of all things, *walking* his bike across the street in a marked crosswalk, reminded me of a common situation I see while driving. It goes like this:
I’m driving my bus on a 4 lane road. I approach a crosswalk with an individual waiting to cross the street. As required by RCW 46.61.235, I stop my bus to allow the pedestrian or cyclist to cross. The nightmare begins when I see a car racing up the left side of my bus, completely unaware of the pedestrian crossing in front of me. That driver has no way of seeing the pedestrian but they DO have the ability to figure out what is going on. “Hmmm… The bus is stopped at a crosswalk, what could possibly be happening here?” I’m pretty aware of this particular hazzard so I’m careful to follow Metro policy and stop far back from the crosswalk to give other drivers visibility. I’ve also taken to either blocking both lanes with my bus or sticking my hand out of the window signaling the car to STOP! So far, it’s worked although sometimes the car has to slam on their brakes since they don’t figure it out until it’s almost too late.
So, when you see the vehicle next to you in traffic slowing when approaching a crosswalk, marked or not, for goodness sake, just STOP! Ok?
Here’s another example that sadly did not turn out well. Be safe out there!