Amelie Le Moullac: Cyclist's Death Highlights the Need for Segregated Bike Lanes
Last week, 24-year-old Amelie Le Moullac died when she collided with a big rig in SOMA. She isn't the first cyclist to be killed in that neighborhood this year: Dylan Mitchell, 21, was struck and killed by a garbage truck as he pedaled along 16th Street and Van Ness Avenue in May; and Diana Sullivan, 44, was died after a cement truck hit her as she biked along Third and King streets in February.
The biking tragedies underscore a scary reality: not even streets with designated bike lanes are safe for cyclists.
Recently the San Francisco civil grand jury recommended that Mayor Ed Lee and the Board of Supervisors "support SFPD efforts to successfully enforce roadway laws by adopting a San Francisco Bicycle Enforcement Safety Agreement that would pursue the goals of zero bicycle fatalities and a 50% annual reduction in bicycle collisions."
That's certainly a fantastic goal, but is it possible?
The first step to preventing future deaths might be separating big vehicles and bicycles, but another strategy might be changing the trucks themselves. In London, 50 percent of cycling deaths are attributed to large trucks. In New York, 32 percent of cycling fatalities are due to large trucks, yet they only make up 5 percent of registered vehicles. In response to these statistics, the London Cycling Campaign designed and proposed a more bike-friendly truck that brings the drivers closer the ground and has more windows, giving drivers a better view of pedestrians and cyclists.
The San Francisco Bike Coalition has also launched a campaign called Safe SOMA Streets Now that urges the city to do something to improve Folsom Street and the rest of the neighborhood for cyclists. The coalition collected signatures for an open letter to Mayor Ed Lee, asking for both short and long-term changes to help improve safety for cyclists. In the already approved plan, which isn't set to be deployed for another year, Folsom Street would become a two-lane, two-way road with bike lanes and bus bulbs. The SFBC is asking that the mayor fast-track that project, given all the recent deaths.
For now, the organization is focused on SOMA as it contains some of the most dangerous and most-trafficked routes in the city by both cars and bikes. The updated Folsom Street plan will definitely improve safety conditions for cyclists on the road, it won't, however, include segregated bike lanes.
That seems like a missed opportunity to improve safety and make a route more comfortable for cyclists; the SFMTA reported that most cyclists felt unsafe on almost all roads, except those with segregated bike lanes, or areas where bikes are allowed, but cars are not.
Other high-risk streets that could use some improvements include Oak Street and Polk Street. Good news: Oak Street is getting a segregated bike lane. When that barrier, which will be a planter, goes up, Oak street should be the kind of place that anyone can feel safe riding. Separated lanes, like the one that will be on Oak Street, can help prevent the very kind of accidents we've seen this year, where a large truck hits a cyclists.
But these popular lanes haven't been widely deployed because of bureaucratic hurdles: The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and state Departments of Transportation have yet to acknowledge this bike lane configuration in their road design guides.
Fortunately, the Federal Highway Administration may recognize segregated bike lanes as improvements to roadways. That organization is beginning a study to prove the safety of this setup. If the Federal Highway Administration gives segregated bike lanes its blessing guidelines would find their way into the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices, giving traffic engineers an easy and proven template to follow.
As many neighborhoods like SOMA transition from a recent industrial past to the current milieu of commuter, residential, and commercial traffic, our streets will have to change. For many who have to ride down these busy, high-speed roads like Folsom, the change can't come soon enough.
Leif Haven is a writer and cyclist living in the Bay Area. He's can be spotted dragging himself up a hill -- literally and metaphorically.