Wednesday, November 23, 2011

bollards, oh bollocks!

bollard:  (n) a pole or structure erected to direct traffic or obstruct access to certain road users (cars).

bollocks:  (n) literal meaning:  testicles.  common use:  an expletive uttered after a misfortune.

One of my coaching clients recently crashed his bike and suffered some pretty serious injuries.  He was commuting to work on the SF Bay Trail as part of a group ride.  The route was detoured to a narrow section of trail with a bollard at the entrance.  He didn't see the bollard and hit it.

This crash has prompted heated discussion on the local bicycle advocacy email list.  The debate had focused on the illegality of the bollards and how dangerous that type of structure could be for trail users.  The debate transitioned into a discussion of the intended use of that trail with respect to large fast-paced group rides.

I don't typically participate in debate on email groups or on-line forums.  We all know how they end up.  But I felt strongly that there was another message that should be considered and perhaps some learning to be done.  Yeah, I was the person who mentioned that the speed limit at that high-use section of trail was only 5mph and that a change in rider/group behavior might have prevented the crash.  And the personal attacks flew -- good stuff.

I know that section of trail very well.  For 12 years I lived just a mile from there.  The intersection in question is very busy -- with lots of kids, joggers, older adults, and folks visiting the dog park.  The speed limit there is reduced for that very reason.  I also led a fast-paced, early-morning group ride on the SF Bail Trail for a number of years, until the numbers grew so large that I felt it was no longer safe for us to share the trail with other trail users.

For more than a year, I commuted by bicycle from San Mateo to San Francisco -- long before commuting became popular and a group activity.  I also commuted for a year from San Mateo to Los Altos Hills.  I understand commuting.  I get it.  Your goal is to get from point A to point B with as few transitions (red lights, stop signs, turns) as possible.  You might go slow or fast, flat or hilly, short or long, but in the end, your goal is to get there.

So, back to last week's crash.  While I agree that bollards create unnecessary hazards for road users and that there are other alternatives, I would also challenge riders to think about how their behavior could prevent something like this in the future.  Is a multi-use path the best place for a large, fast-paced group ride (even in the early morning hours)?  Are there alternative routes that still offer a good, solid commute but would be more appropriate for a large group?  Can we remind participants to call out hazards, leave more space between riders, and slow down a bit as the group encounters bollards, and then soft pedal to re-group after the entire group has passed through?

Many of the folks who participate in this particular ride are relatively new to cycling, commuting, and/or group riding.  They trust the de facto leaders of the group (whether it's a cycling club, an employer, or just a group of friends).  They trust that those leaders will lead them on routes that are safe and hazard-free.  They trust that other riders in the group will communicate obstacles/hazards, changes in pace, and changes in direction.  They trust that we're all in this sport together and that we'll look out for each other.  After all, isn't that one of the reasons we choose to ride with others?

3 comments:

djconnel said...

Lorri, you should really ride with the group before you judge it. Your assessments are terribly inaccurate.

These bollards are in direct violation of the guidelines in chapter 1000 of the California Highway Design Manual 1000-15, and the additional guidelines referenced by that document, the MUTCD and California Supplement, Section 9C.101.

Ed McLaughlin, long-time president of Chico Velo, was paralyzed by bollards during a ride. I'd ridden with him, and he was an excellent and safe rider. These things are nasty and dangerous and need to be removed. They make as much sense on a mixed-use path as they would between auto lanes on a mixed-use roadway. I don't want to see any more people end up in wheelchairs because they were caught by surprise by one of these things.

With regard to the SF2G group, it's typically groups of 5-10 riders riding at a safe but brisk pace to get to work in a reasonable time. We pass through bollards all the time without incident because we know where they are. In this case, it was a detour onto a bridge we hadn't been on before, and the bollard was unmarked and around a blind corner. Any pedestrians on the path would have been visible, but the bollard was too short to be readily seen. Riding through these things is like riding through a mine field.

velogirl said...

Hey Dan! Thanks for your comment. This post isn't a judgement of the SF2G ride (and I didn't post the name of the ride for that very reason). It's more a challenge for us to try to think responsibly as ride leaders.

I accepted your invite on the SF2G list. I would love to ride with you and the group sometime. I also suggest this could be a call-to-action to educate the property owners of hazardous conditions (be it bollards or other obstacles).

Winnicycle said...

Thank you so much for your leadership on this vital subject! We all love being cyclists, but too many seem indignant at any suggestion that we share road & trail space; that we, too, must take responsibility for our decisions & actions when we ride.

Accidents like the one you describe are so sad, so distressing. The more we can work with other groups to make things safer for all of us, the better we will be able to make important progress.

Winnie