Cyclist comes out of nowhere, breaks SUV’s side mirror with his back!

I received an e-mail the other day from one of the fine people who read this blog. It began:

Hi. I’m an annoying commenter, and I got hit by an SUV!

I’m going to assume his getting hit had nothing to do with the fact that he’s been an “annoying commenter” here (though I heartily disagree with the “annoying” part.)

Anyway, our reader was OK, but he has a story to tell.

Let us go now to the intersection of Hilyard and East Broadway. It’s April 4, around lunchtime.

He is heading north on Hilyard. There is a red light. The bike lane on Hilyard ends when it meets Broadway. So what is our cyclist to do if he is planning to head straight through the intersection? He decided to “take the lane.”

I’ll let him pick up the story from here (edited somewhat for length):

Traffic was clear in the rightmost lane, and there weren’t yet any cars coming up to use it, so I rode to the center of the right lane and stopped.  I stood at the light for 20 to 30 seconds, and I believe during that time I heard a vehicle pull up behind me, but I didn’t turn around to look.

When the light turned green, I pedaled away from the intersection heading north, still holding the center [of the] lane.  About 10 to 15 feet into the intersection, I felt a car brush against my pannier, then my side, then a side-view mirror smacked me in the shoulder. I think I yelled “Hey!”

I veered into the crosswalk, checked his license plate and dialed 911 as I reached the sidewalk, only to see that he was pulling over at the train crossing where two [University of Oregon] officers were on-hand for some other reason.

Realizing that it wasn’t an emergency, I said something to the 911 dispatcher like, “I was just hit by a car, but it’s not an emergency, I’m sorry,” and got off the phone.

As I walked the 100 feet to where he pulled over, I could hear him complaining to the [UO] officers that I was in the center of the lane. … We were both angry and had bursts of conversation with one another. …

I’m going to interrupt the story for a minute to add a completely unrelated and probably irrelevant aside. This reminds me that I was recently forwarded a short post someone had spotted on Facebook. It said: “Saw a car hit a cyclist. The cyclist got up dusted himself off, and the driver got out of the car. Then they hugged. I love Eugene.”

Well, that doesn’t happen in every case. But what’s with all these cars hitting cyclists?

OK, back to our regular program:

We all stood around for 10 minutes or so waiting for the EPD officer to show up. … I managed to take a couple of pictures of the driver’s broken mirror.

One of which he kindly forwarded:

We should mention that our cyclist — while getting smacked in the back of the shoulder hard enough to break the mirror — managed to stay upright on his bike.

He goes on to describe the conversation that ensued after the Eugene police officer (#299, B. McDermed) arrived.

I told [McDermed] that I had taken the lane and was hit in the intersection while the driver passed me illegally.  … The driver chimed in, “You’re supposed to be as far to the right as possible!”

I disagreed, and the officer said, “Yes, you’re supposed to stay as far to the right as possible.” I said, “No, as far to the right as is safe,” and he sort of shrugged in half agreement/indifference.

[There was] exchange of insurance information … (and the man who nearly killed me now has my home address. Yay.)

At this point, our cyclist and the driver of the SUV were apparently sent on their separate ways. No citations were issued. Our cyclist said he stopped at an urgent care clinic to be checked out. He then asked that the motorist’s insurance company pay for that visit. After a while, he said …

I got a phone call from the insurance company claims person. She told me that … they were finding him [the motorist] at fault.

A few things:

First: Let me say I am happy this cyclist was able to send me this e-mail himself.

Second: I think part of this has to do with what is a poorly designed intersection — if you happen to be a cyclist, anyway.

Third: I’d venture that most motorists in Eugene would have been fine with the situation. (In fact, I watched a cyclist “take the lane” in this very place just this morning, a car patiently following him until he was in the clear and had moved right.)

And fourth: You never know when you are going to cross paths with someone who thinks it’s OK to brush a cyclist with his SUV because he believes the cyclist is committing a traffic infraction (debatable) or is just rudely in his way. Or maybe it was purely an accident. Granted, we have only one side of the story here.

Anyway, the applicable law — or at least one of them — would be ORS 814.430, which reads, in part:

(1) A person commits the offense of improper use of lanes by a bicycle if the person is operating a bicycle on a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic … and the person does not ride as close as practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway.

… except that a cyclist can move left and “take the lane” …

(c) When reasonably necessary to avoid hazardous conditions including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects … or … [when] a lane … is too narrow for a bicycle and vehicle to travel safely side by side.

This seems like a good place for a resolution. (We bang our gavel several times.) Hear, hear! Attention! Order in the house.

  • Whereas, the bike lane ends when Hilyard arrives at Broadway …
  • And whereas, there is no indication of what route a bicyclist is to follow as said bicyclist crosses the intersection …
  • And whereas, there is a pedestrian-crossing island (aka, “a fixed object”) that juts out into the intersection, narrowing the lane at that point …
  • And whereas, the lane then narrows significantly as you get across Broadway …
  • Be it resolved that I’d give a cyclist the benefit of the doubt for “taking the lane” here.

As I mentioned, I went by there this morning and watched a cyclist — unknown to me — who used this very same technique, at this very same spot.

Here he is heading north on Hilyard, in the bike lane, approaching the light at Broadway:

Then he takes the lane as he pulls up to the red light, behind one other car:

He keeps the lane as he heads through the intersection (in this case, fortunately, the car behind him waits rather than trying to pass and/or run him down):

The cyclist drifts to the right as he clears the intersection, letting the first car pass:

… though, he appears to be signaling to get back in the lane. It’s pretty narrow on that stretch. A little ways further, he then turned right off of Hilyard and onto the little access road that leads to the Riverbank Trail.

I’ve contacted the police to see if they have anything to add here, and to ask if, based on these photos, they would have an opinion about whether this cyclist was afoul of the law. They said they’d look into it. I’ll add an update here if they get back to me.

(UPDATE: I did eventually talk to the police about taking the lane here. See the post.)

Also I think we might have to follow up here sometime with a more general look at this intersection. It might just earn a spot in our “Meanest Streets” series. (UPDATE: It has. See the post.)

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14 thoughts on “Cyclist comes out of nowhere, breaks SUV’s side mirror with his back!

  1. Bacon breath sees no harm in a motorist using a SUV as a weapon to enforce his interpretation of traffic law. Amazing.

    1. The more I thought about this, the more I wondered … yeah, why not a citation? Even if an officer were to argue that the cyclist was illegally in the lane, that doesn’t make it OK to come up from behind and hit him, I hope.

      To be fair, the motorist could have much different story to tell. But if the insurance company looked into it and found him at fault, we have to think our cyclist’s story is solid.

      I have offered this question to the EPD public affairs officer — “Why not a citation?”

      I hope to hear back.

  2. Why not a citation, you ask? Easy. because cops and the establishment at large are mesmerized by the car-culture axiom that motor vehicles always have the right-of-way, and bicycles be damned.

    I was just in a situation yesterday coming south on Charnelton, approaching W 10th Ave. There is a bike lane but I needed to turn left onto 10th in order to get to the library. There was a van coming up behind, but it was two or three car-lengths back. I pulled out of the bike lane (yes, after checking) into the main lane and idled up to the red light and waited (I ALWAYS wait at red lights and despise cyclists who blow through). I heard a timid little beep behind me and ignored it (only the paranoid believe they are always beeping at them). The driver beeped again and I figured I must have been the intended recipient. I turned and inquired “What the hell is your problem,” and the sleaze made an ineffectual gesture and left it at that. I proceeded on my way.

    The problem as I see it is that motorists (and most cyclists) don’t know squat about the rules of the road. Cyclists cower over as far to the right as is POSSIBLE instead of as is safe, and cars will drive over you if they get a chance.

    In the case detailed by Eugene Bicyclist, I would have INSISTED on a police report and a citation or been put in contact with the officer’s superior; failing that, made a complaint to the police oversight board (I know, fat lot of good that would do). If we don’t stand up for ourselves, no one else is going to do it.

    1. “…idled up to the red light and waited (I ALWAYS wait at red lights and despise cyclists who blow through)”

      The motorist was pissed that you didn’t blow a red light on a left hand turn? Wow. I suppose you could go through the intersection if the light hadn’t triggered green after a full cycle of the other lane signals, but I assume that wasn’t the case here.

      1. Editz: They were not annoyed that I failed to blow the light; that was just lagniappe to my comment. The person seemed offended that I was a bicycle presuming to take the lane.

  3. I ride through this intersection on the way home every day and have felt the wind off cars passing too closely many times, but its scary to read that someone was actually hit. The Hilyard/Broadway intersection is very poorly designed since it is a two lane, one-way street and cars come off the red light often trying to pass one another and usually speeding (the road is only 25MPH). If you don’t take the full lane, the cars will pass dangerously close to avoid the car they are racing in the second lane (as was clearly demonstrated).

    You can try to stay on the sidewalk, but 1 block further up at the entrance to the river path, if you want to go straight through you have to cross the train tracks twice (Google maps view http://bit.ly/g86NqM).

  4. I was checking up on the register guard police log google-maps-mashup-thing today (actually looking at Springfield mostly, because I find the police calls in my neighborhood to often be very silly), and when I looked to see if my collision was noted, it wasn’t – but somebody on West 11th got hit about 6 minutes after I did, and there is a police record of it, which means that they got transported for medical care.

    It certainly puts things into perspective.

    I hope they’re ok.

    1. In an unrelated and lighter note, this is why I enjoy the Springfield Police call log:

      1200 block Main Street
      Saturday, April, 16, 2011
      19:06:00
      A caller said a man was chasing a rabbit around the neighborhood, approaching vehicles and pedestrians and making a lot of noise.

      1. Chasing a rabbit and causing a disturbance? :)

        You know, I swear I saw your collision on that R-G/EPD Google map — I looked at it a week or so ago. I’ll see if I can find it again.

        Don’t know anything about the West 11th one.

  5. I also use this intersection on my way home from work on a daily basis. I would second your suggestion to add this to the Meanest Streets list. Ever since ODOT re-engineered this entire new stretch of Hilyard there have been numerous problems related to bicycle safety.

    Vehicles merging from Broadway onto Hilyard have red lights and an implied right turn lane so many drivers pull through against a red light, right into the path of oncoming traffic and cyclists that have taken the lane. Your photo example demonstrates the only legal way to get through the intersection by bike but this interaction is pretty iffy in a very narrow lane on a stretch where people are accustom to traveling in excess of the speed limit.

    Finally the dedicated bike pathways are great, but there is no easy and safe way to transition from the road to the paths to access them, especially once you pass the intersection. I could go on about the intersection for hours. I believe that the city is planning the Alder street bikeway connector to basically encourage cyclists to avoid the whole intersection.

    It would be nice if the city would look at this intersection in detail and see if there are some easy improvements (signage for vehicles clarifying legal movements on red and connecting pathways would be my suggestion).

    Its a matter of time before there is a serious injury at this intersection.

  6. Just noticed today that some signs went up for west bound traffic turning onto hilyard north indicating that they must yield to bikes and peds at a red light. Progress.

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