Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Right Hook: Another Near Miss at Diamond and Sandia

Posted this earlier at my place of employment.

Right Hook Setup
This morning as I was driving to work on Diamond Drive southbound with a dead motorcycle battery sitting next to me in a bucket,  I noted and passed a fast commuter cyclist riding south in the bike lane between North Road and Sandia.  As traffic approached the Orange/Sandia intersection, it had slowed to a near stop as traffic queued at a red light and had just resumed moving.

The cyclist was rapidly overtaking motor traffic as he approached the intersection. This puts the cyclist into a potentially hazardous situation in the event that a motorist makes a right turn, thus cutting in front of the cyclist with the side of the car. If the cyclist hits the side of the car, its referred to in cyclist-speak as a “right hook”. I think the cyclist did slow slightly as I saw him backpedaling as he approached the intersection.

Sure enough a white SUV turned right, narrowly missing the cyclist. I pulled up behind the driver on one of the side streets. The motorist was visibly shaken,  having realized too late what happened; sure enough the cyclist was in the motorist’s blind spot. We had a short discussion about the pitfalls of having a thru bike lane to the right of a “travel lane” acting as a turn lane, which schematically amounts to a right turn lane in the middle of a three lane arterial.  

Some lessons.
1.       To traffic engineers: cyclists are already small vehicles and harder to spot—keep them visible. The right hook, caused by a motorist overtaking a cyclist on the cyclist’s left and then turning right, is so common a crash as to have its own nickname. The setup is ripe for mistakes because the cyclist can be in the motorist’s blind spot, the motorist has overtaken but is slowing to turn, the cyclist is catching up. In situations where there are numerous side streets and curbcuts, perhaps a better design is a wide lane with sharrows.

2.       To motorists. When there is a bike lane on your right in a right turn situation, its important to be aware of any cyclist you are overtaking or have overtaken.  Ensure you have room to turn or that you yield right of way. Legally, one cannot leave a lane unless it is safe to do so. A crash is pretty good evidence that it wasn’t safe.

3.       To cyclists: You must have excellent situational awareness when and where you are in a bike lane to the right of potentially turning motorists. You can slow down and observe caution, or can signal and merge into traffic when it is safe to do so, especially if you are going as fast as the gentleman was this morning. One thing you should not do is get trapped unaware. I don’t know if the cyclist in question “saw it coming” and evaded the trap, or was just lucky. A couple years ago, one of our LANL colleagues was trapped near there and ended up in an ambulance with very serious injuries.

I’m more than happy to do the annual lunchtime discussion of cycling situational awareness, if folks are interested. Motorists and motorcyclists more than welcome, too.


Steve A said...
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Khal said...
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