Some thoughts about the Allston fatality

I have cycled and motored through the crash location many times, and I’ve seen the photos — the trucker was making a wide right turn, necessarily slowly. The cyclist was traveling downhill, fast according to an eyewitness; likely as fast as motor vehicles go, and probably out of the field of view of the truck’s mirrors before the truck crossed his path. The trucker could be held at fault, but an alert cyclist with good brakes could have avoided the crash. Most motor-vehicle/bicycle crashes occur when paths cross, as they must, and as they did here. The bike lane here, or for that matter, the sidewalk-like bikeways increasingly seen in Cambridge, only lend a false sense of security. Cyclist education is what can prevent more tragedies like this from happening. The City Council wants to solve the problem with infrastructure?

I listened to the news story about the crash and City Council hearing on WBUR-FM this afternoon, with a number of sound bites of cyclists speaking at the hearing. I found one particularly striking: a woman said that she never once more wanted to hear cyclists being held at fault. Sorry, that is off the mark. Assigning blame is useful in law enforcement and in recovering compensation following a crash, but it is a distraction from the need to develop skills, and keep equipment in good condition, to avoid a crash. It appears to me that in this morning’s crash, both the trucker and the cyclist made mistakes, but the cyclist had the better opportunity to prevent the crash.

I strongly recommend the article from Commute Orlando, What cyclists Need to Know About Trucks.

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15 Responses to Some thoughts about the Allston fatality

  1. mtalinm says:

    well well, a voice of reason. prepare to get flamed by the mad-at-the-world crazies.

  2. TurkeyWatch says:

    I think you make a lot of good points, especially about infrastructure not helping in this case and the importance of attention and skills.

    But I’m not sure I agree with “The trucker could be held at fault, but …”. It’s unfortunate that a truck has large blind spots, but I don’t think that relieves its driver of his obligations to drive safely and to follow traffic laws. He has a difficult job driving a large truck on small roads when we can’t see well. But it’s unfair to everyone else on the road to say that his choice of vehicle makes them responsible for staying out of the way. The more accurate statement is “the trucker may be at fault, but the cyclist is still dead.”

  3. Aaaron Pik says:

    John –

    As usual, your thoughtful voice is a welcome respite from the angry reactions so common to this kind of event.

  4. jsallen says:

    In reply to TurkeyWatch:

    Thanks for your response.

    I said that the trucker could be held at fault, rather than assigning fault to him, because I don’t like to pass judgment based on incomplete evidence. The results of the investigation are not in. There could be other factors yet unknown. Just for example, what if the cyclist had a brake cable part; or the trucking company had maladjusted the truck’s mirrors (which would be its fault more than the driver’s) — or it had assigned him to drive long hours and he was tired — etc. I’m not saying that other road users are responsible for staying out of the way of a vehicle that makes an unusual, hazardous and possibly illegal maneuver. I’m saying that, through alertness, good equipment and anticipating the mistakes of others, other road users may have the opportunity to avoid a crash leading to a spoiled trip, or worse, injury or death. That should be enough of a motivation, I’d think!

  5. Doug says:

    I’d like to observe that “cyclist education” is nearly non-existent and completely contradictory. This is mostly true of motor vehicle drivers – ignorance of the law and of safe operation of cars is rife.

    Vehicular cycling really can be safer for those who are strong enough to practice it. For the rest of us, why not add extra protection to make cycling safer?

  6. jsallen says:

    In reply to Doug:

    You are saying that the League of American Bicyclists Smart Cycling Program and the Cycling Savvy program are nearly non-existent? Or that you can’t study up on your own by reading my Bicycling Street Smarts tutorial, or any of a substantial number of other resources in print and online? Aren’t you just turning your back on these resources?

    What do you mean by “completely contradictory?” These programs and others all give similar advice. What do they contradict?

    What do you mean by “protected”? Bicycle sidewalks like the ones Cambridge is building? Go have a look at the blog post I put up a few days ago about the one on Concord Avenue, and tell me what kind of protection you think that it affords. Also please tell me how you think that a “protected” bikeway would have prevented yesterday’s fatal crash. I’ll be happy to respond, to you or anyone, as long as the discussion remains within the bounds of civility!

  7. RandyofAllston says:

    I disagree completely with this article as a long time bike messenger who has nearly daily passed the intersection of the fatality – I always have complained about out of town truck drivers particularly from northern New England – they drive with reckless domination of the road – in this case you claim , without evidence , that the truck driver turned “necessarily slowly” – not so – truckers can turn that right turn quickly – I have never seen a truck take a left lane right hand turn (or a right lane left hand turn) at that high density intersection and would be appalled if they attempted it at 8:30 AM – the driver has every responsibility especially on a down hill to watch for incoming traffic – Chris probably assumed the truck, if anything , was changing lanes or at least would slow down enough to let him pass – Chris probably had little experience with urban driving and brazenly indifferent truck drivers – it reminds me of the fatality of a messenger on Comm. Ave (I believe) many years ago who on his first day collided with a truck. Chris’ helmet did not save him – so we can scrape off all those “no excuses” road markings off now – crossing “two” lanes of traffic the driver should have waited until there was a complete stop of all incoming traffic and should have had a partner who would come out and direct the cab and hold traffic – the truck driver has complete culpability in this case – no we do not have to support careless drivers just to show “we bikers have objectivity” – some accidents bikers have some if not all culpability but not in this case at all – the driver acted in reckless haste and cost a life

  8. jsallen says:

    Responding to RandyofAllston:

    Necessarily slowly: speed is relative. My opinion, again, is that an alert cyclist with good brakes could have avoided that crash. I’ll add: easily could have avoided that crash. A top-heavy semitrailer truck cannot turn quickly, or it would fall over. It happens frequently, especially when a trucker misjudges the curve of a cloverleaf ramp. The truck stopped only a few feet past the intersection.

    I am not making excuses for the trucker. On the other hand, you are attempting to describe his state of mind — “brazenly indifferent” — about which you have no evidence. Why not wait till the evidence is in?

    Yes, more care on the part of truckers would help, yes, the investigation could put all or most of the fault on the trucker, but as a cyclist, what can you do to look out for yourself, in a real world which includes real hazards? That is a different question, and you are more interested in laying blame than answering it.

    I that a bit ironic, because you report that you have survived years of riding in Boston traffic — as I also have, and that you haven’t quit out of fear. You must know how to look out for yourself, or it wouldn’t be so.

    As to your comment about helmets, Chris’s helmet didn’t save him. So, that proves that helmets are worthless and useless? Get real. Seat belts don’t prevent injury or death in every car crash either, so should we stop promoting their use?

    I don’t think that the “no excuses” helmet campaign hits the mark, or is in the best of taste. I do think that focusing on bicyclist and motorist education would be more productive. I’d like to see bicyclist education in student orientation at the colleges and universities, and then we might not be mourning Chris Weigl, or Pho Kyaw, and losing the investment society has made in them, and the contributions they would have made.

  9. A different Doug says:

    While I believe that altering driver and cyclist behavior is the best way to reduce the frequency and severity of accidents (read: slow down, check blind spots, yield etc.), properly designed infrastructure can reduce the potential for vehicular conflicts, ensuring that the fate of road users is not left entirely in the hands of humans (who will never be perfect.)

    An example would be the proposed bike lanes on A Street in South Boston. For a portion of the street there is a 7′ parking lane and a 5′ bike lane. At those widths a cyclists would be directly in the path of an open car door. However, on stretches where the parking lane is 9′ and the bike lane is 6′, cyclists can safely and easily avoid riding in the “door zone.”

    I read your article on Concord Ave and I agree with your evaluation of the protected bike lanes. This shows that not all infrastructure is equal or appropriate for all circumstances, but it is a necessary part of reducing accidents and making all modes of transportation safe to use.

  10. jsallen says:

    I agree about properly-designed infrastructure.

    However, a right-side bike-lane line 9 feet from the curb isn’t quite far enough out. A San Francisco study showed the 85% door stick-out range to be 8 1/2 feet. if the bicyclist’s wheels are on the white line, the handlebars extend inward to 8 feet.

    Adjacent to parking I’d go for a narrower bike lane with the right-side line at least 10 feet from the curb. Beyond this, bicyclist judgment is required. Some parked vehicles are narrower, others wider or have doors that stick out farther. The only way really to be safe from road-edge hazards is to look ahead and merge well before reaching one. Of course, there could be other safety issues with the A Street proposal. I won’t comment on them because i don’t know the specifics of this proposal.

    Thank you for your concurrence about Concord Avenue. I now have edited and posted the video from which I extracted the still photos I posted on the Cambridge Civic Journal site.

    I don’t like the word “protected” In this context. It is either willfully or (in your case, I’m sure) unintentionally incorrect. Placing a bikeway behind a curb as on Concord Avenue doesn’t protect cyclists. Quite the contrary, it forces unsafe maneuvers by both cyclists and motorists. It does nothing to to keep a cyclist from falling into the path of a motor vehicle or to restrain an out-of-control one. A bikeway behind parked cars or a barrier can reduce the rate of the rare parallel-path collisions, but at the cost of increasing the rate of intersection collisions, bicycle-pedestrian collisions and bicycle-bicycle collisions. The word “protected” has a very specific meaning in traffic engineering: it refers to a traffic signal phase where all conflicting streams of traffic must wait — for example, a green left-turn arrow. The incorrect use of the term debases this concept and leads to confusion.

  11. terry says:

    ” Cyclist education is what can prevent more tragedies like this from happening”

    I absolutely agree education can make a difference but who and where is the formal and informal education taking place in the Alston/BU area?

    As you said, I too would like to see BU take the lead with the student population for sure and I know of at least one former BU student who is helping to educate the Alston community (however if you believe in guilt by association, he rides in critical Mass regularly).

    The MassBike sponsored 4 hour Basics of better bicycling workshop I went to last June never mentioned hazards of the DZBL (door zone bike lane).

    If you read the other posts in bostonbiker Brad does a good job of explaining why he thinks the downhill DZBL on that stretch of Comm ave.was a major distraction to Christopher. After reading his post I finally understand something I read from you which stated that it’s hard to ride safely in the door zone faster than 5mph.

    Perhaps the contradictory information the first Doug was referring to is that many college students might be informally learning from association with Critical Mass rides or
    volunteer work at BNB. Both teach “corking” as does BCU.

  12. terry says:

    John, In the interest of full comprehension/education could you post the picture in the report I’m referring to below?
    I posted this elsewhere on bostonbiker and absolutely believe photo’s and diagrams are better for most cyclists to comprehend complexities.

    Could you comment on the phrase in report that says “even the best bike lanes encourage mistakes”


    I wish I could cut and paste to share a photo of what is called the best example of a
    bike lane outside of the door zone. The url is for those interested in seeing the picture: or just read the rational below for learning another way to drive

    The blue bike lane shown in Fig. 2 represents the best of a bad practice. The lane seems to be far enough from the curb, thus it avoids the door zone of parked cars. By running left of the right turn lane in the distance, it puts straight-through (but not turning) cyclists in the correct location. Finally, it has adequate room.
    Fig. 2 — Bike lane [1]

    However, even a “best” bike lane encourages mistakes. The bike lane stripe encourages cyclists to stay to the right and motorists to stay left, even when the rules of the road require otherwise. If a fast cyclist (perhaps descending a hill) catches up to a slow car, there is a tempting clear channel for passing in the motorist’s blind spot. This can lead to a collision if the motorist turns into a driveway or parking spot while the bicycle is passing.

    Separate facilities attract beginners. (This is one of the reasons that “bicycle advocates” push for the facilities.) Beginners often turn left directly from a bike lane without first merging to the left turn lane and without yielding to overtaking traffic (the “shooting gallery” approach). We have also heard of beginners making right turns from this type of bike lane by swerving across right-turning traffic,

    Even knowledgeable cyclists, who know enough to merge to the proper place on the road to make a turn or to avoid hazards, experience trouble from separate bicycle facilities because they encourage motorist resentment. Some motorists become vigilantes, harassing any cyclist not in “his place”. The existence of a designated “bike route” on one road makes it very difficult to convince city officials to make improvements or repairs on a parallel route. Separate facilities make educating cyclists much more difficult.

  13. Pingback: You too can prevent fatal truck-bicycle collisions | Street Smarts

  14. Patrick Holden says:

    RandyofAllston is completely wrong and I feel he isn’t even from Allston and has not ridden a bike as much as he says. The corner that was made could not be made at a high rate of speed by an 18 Wheeler truck with out hitting a car in the opposite lane or crashing into Landry’s bicycle shop.

    I have worked in this corner area for the past 11 years and haven’t seen an 18 wheeler ever take that corner, it’s a very difficult turn for a truck that large. It only could be made by this size truck if it went into the left lane and then came across back into the path of the right lane and bike lane.

    A nice picture of Christopher Weigl was there just the other day. At this point it doesn’t matter who is at fault as Christopher has lost his life.

    I ride this area 3 times a week as my commute and exercise. I am extremely cautious and careful, but a lot of the young kids are not, not saying Chris was not careful, it was a sad accident. The bikers ride the sidewalks here by BU and they cut around the pedestrian’s like they are pylons, it’s disgraceful. And there are a lot of drivers that are absolutely aloof when they are driving. A parked Mercedes today just threw their door open into the bike path just as I reached their vehicle, but I was alert and was able to avoid a collision.

  15. jsallen says:

    Patrick: Thanks for your observations. I agree with most of what you say, though I’m not going to speculate about RandyofAllston’s bicycling experience.

    Please stay out of the door zone, or else ride very slowly.

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