Safety Corner - Avoiding Some Hazards

John Allen

Attorney Ron Gluck has an article in this issue of WheelPeople about cyclists and crosswalks. Attorney Gluck accurately describes legal problems that a cyclist has in a crosswalk. This is an ongoing issue, for legal and practical reasons. I’d like to discuss it from a slightly different perspective.

Massachusetts has unique traffic laws. The legal status of bicyclists in crosswalks is not clearly defined here, as Attorney Gluck indicates. In other states, bicyclists have the same rights as pedestrians in a crosswalk. The motorist is legally at fault unless a bicyclist, or pedestrian, enters the street so abruptly that the motorist cannot avoid a collision.

But the bicyclist generally travels faster than a pedestrian, and is less maneuverable.  At a crosswalk on a shared-use path, it is often safe, and more convenient for everyone, for a bicyclist to maintain speed and cross ahead of cross traffic – but only if the bicyclist can see that all lanes are clear. Danger can arise when a vehicle in a near lane conceals one approaching in a more distant lane, or a vehicle turns across the path of the bicyclist. Sometimes a “you go first,” “No, you go first” situation arises that distracts the bicyclist from a vehicle which is approaching in the next lane.

There are special dangers with sidewalks, sidepaths or so-called “cycle tracks” or “protected bike lanes” that run alongside roads. The bicyclist must scan 270 degrees -- in every direction except to the right rear – for potential conflicts.

Photo credit: Keri Caffrey

As Attorney Gluck states, the cyclist who gets off the bicycle and walks is unequivocally a pedestrian, and has a stronger legal case if there is a collision. Who wants to do that, though? Not only is it much slower, a person walking a bicycle broadside to motor traffic is a much larger target than a person walking without a bicycle.

Have a look at a recent article on the Savvy Cyclist blog for more detail about paths and crosswalks --

I will also discuss Attorney Gluck’s last month’s article. Here is the first paragraph:

All too often cyclists are injured or killed by trucks. In many cases, the cyclist had the right of way. The cyclist may have been riding exactly where she should have been riding, to the right of traffic or in a bike lane. The truck driver seemingly should have seen the cyclist as the truck passed her on the way to the intersection. Surely, thought the cyclist, the trucker would then check the side view mirrors before making a right turn at the intersection.  Except he didn’t check.  He somehow had not taken notice of the cyclist as he passed her. He made the turn and gave the cyclist no place to go, no time to stop. The rest of the story is tragic and predictable. 

“Exactly where she should have been riding”? Let me pose an analogy.

Suppose that someone has installed a diving board at the shallow end of a swimming pool, you dive in and break your neck. Were you “exactly where you should have been diving”? And who should be held at fault?

This is precisely the situation with a bike lane to the right of right-turning motor traffic. The government, in its wisdom, has determined that this is the right place for you to ride, for a number of reasons, but I won’t get into that tangled tale here.

Many things which you can do in this world are legal without being right. Attorney Gluck’s job is reactive: to try to get compensation for injured bicyclists, or survivors, following a crash. It certainly helps him make his case if the bicyclist was in the right under the law.

But my job is to be proactive, to prevent crashes, so please don’t ride into the deathtrap to the right of a truck, where several Boston-area bicyclists have been killed and others severely injured over the past few years.

I refer you to the video here for how to avoid that hazard:

What Cyclists Need to Know About Trucks from CyclingSavvy on Vimeo.