Monday, December 6, 2010

Death at Comanche and I-25

An experienced cyclist, Albuquerque attorney Timothy Vollman, 64, was killed last week when inexplicably, he (according to the police report) "lost control" of his bike and was run over by a garbage truck while starting out from a red light at Comanche and I-25. The bike lane he was riding in was two feet wide (you read that correctly) next to a busy traffic lane with heavy truck traffic in it.Two feet plus a gutter pan with a ridge on the edge of it.

Check out this video on KOB TV for some details.Here is a more recent one.

My hypothesis, since no one seems to know why a competent (see below) cyclist would simply fall under a truck, is that Tim may have been deflected by contact with the gutter pan ledge (see video) or incidental contact with the truck causing an unfortunate "instant turn" or loss of balance while navigating in these tight quarters. Or perhaps he miss-stepped onto a bike pedal and lost his balance. Perhaps he or the truck driver tried to squeeze into too small a place at the same time. Its presently all conjecture. If we ever find out more information, I'll post it here. See comment # 3 for a recent update.

From a BikeABQ e-post from an experienced Albuquerque cyclist who often saw Timothy riding, and who is livid with the cursory investigation: "...Tim Vollman was an experienced commuter who rode often enough for me to recognize him from the trail, not some wobbly-kneed kid or weekend warrior on a Wunderbike. Experienced commuters simply don't fall over of their own accord.."

I've been bike commuting since 1979 and agree--experienced commuters rarely pull an Arte Johnson, i.e., simply fall over. But shit happens. Systems fail and even good people make mistakes. That's why we don't build exceptionally marginal "two foot" bike lanes in Los Alamos as an expedient to limits on right of way or cost considerations. There is not a single plausible reason I can think of to build a bike facility that has zero margin for error built into it. Accident theory researchers like Charles Perrow (Normal Accidents) and Scott Sagan (The Limits of Safety) indicate why carefully designed safety margins need to be built into complicated, tightly coupled high hazard systems (specifically, things like air traffic control, nuke or chemical plants, Strategic Air Command systems, etc.). I think urban traffic fits that description to some degree. Hence things like five foot passing rules, three to five second yellow light cycles, and AASHTO-minimum width bike lanes.

So build it right or don't build it at all. Don't advocate for, or design facilities that guide cyclists and motorists into unsafe situations and think you are doing them any favors. We don't need more ghost bikes.

This is not Comanche and I-25. Used for illustrative purposes only
Most LCIs and knowledgeable people I know will advise cyclists to think first about where one should be riding in order to be riding safely and where one will not be hooked, cut off by traffic, doored, sideswiped, or otherwise endangered. If the bike lane stripe conflicts with safe riding, there is something wrong with the lane, not with you. Consider, with John Allen, where it is safest to ride when establishing your position. Your safety has a higher priority than the stripes.I would prefer to attend your citation hearing and testify as an LCI, should you be cited for being outside an unsafe bike lane, than attend your funeral.
Diane Albert, President of the Bicycling Coalition of New Mexico, has contacted two members of the Albuquerque city  government about the conditions at this location, comparing actual conditions with AASHTO standards.


Steve A said...

It sounds like they have no idea what happened, or else the lawyers have told them to keep their pie holes shut...

Khal said...

A good plaintiff's attorney will call in all the records including the names of witnesses.

John said...

From the police blotter, the news video of the scene showing where the body lay, and an unconfirmed statement from someone in the know, here's what happened. The truck and cyclist were waiting side by side at the light before the accident (blotter). The cyclist arrived second to the light and rode up alongside the truck (unconfirmed statement). The cyclist fell over either where he stood or within a couple of feet (video). His body was behind the cross walk straddling the bike lane line (video).

If this is true, then it wasn't a case of the truck encroaching. The driver may have never even seen the cyclist. Certainly, if Mr. Vollmann had stopped behind the truck in the traffic lane, he would be alive today.

Bicycling Barrister said...

Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins and City Councilor Debbie O'Malley staffers replied to my e-mail request to meet. I'll post results of meeting on the BCNM website or my blog.

luke said...

Any more info on this? @John: why assume that cyclist was that inept or in the wrong? There's a lot biased suppositions there.