Phillip Carlson swerved hard but the car hit him anyway.
Carlson — an avid commuter cyclist and chairman of the Salt Lake Bicycle Collective — had decided to take a recreational ride on Aug. 30, 2011. It was near the end of the ride and, as Carlson was coming down 6200 South near the Old Mill Golf Course, he began to pick up speed. As usual, Carlson was riding on the far right side of the street, in this case as it curved around and away from the foothills.
A culture for cars
Another challenge for cyclists is what many described during interviews as a culture heavily tilted in favor of cars.
Dave Rabiger was riding one day in Salt Lake City on Redwood Road when a car pulled into the shoulder and cut him off. The car eventually moved away, but cut Rabiger off two more times as his continued on his way. Finally, Rabiger and the car pulled over and he asked the driver what was wrong.
“You just need to get off the road,” the driver responded.
Rabiger said he mentioned to the motorist that bikes are as entitled to use streets as cars, but after several minutes of arguing, the driver hit him on the head and sped away.
Phillip Carlson shared a similar frustration. After his accident on 6200 South, he said the sheriff’s deputy who responded seemed to think he shouldn’t have been on the road — even though Carlson was wearing lights, a helmet and was obeying the law. Carlson said it was part of a pervasive attitude that treats streets as a space exclusively for motor vehicles.
“There’s a car culture,” he said. “I think we’re trained to think that roads are for cars and that people see bicycles as potentially toys.”
Syhalla Bales said she hopes for change in the future.
“The responsibility for greater care,” she added, “should be placed on the person with the greater potential for harm.”
Salt Lake City Crashes by neighborhood
Sugar House 104
Bonneville Hills 10
Wasatch Hollow 4
East Central/East Liberty 4
Central City/Liberty-Wells 13
Foothill/Sunnyside 3Sunnyside East 4
East Central 103
Central City 117
Poplar Grove 45
Rose Park 28
Greater Avenues 36
Jordan Meadows 15
Capitol Hill 37
East Bench 5
West Pointe 4
Outside districts 36
Salt Lake City crashes by month
Type of crash
Alcohol (DWI) 8
County/city equipment 4
Moving violation 1
Reportable accident 664
Nonreportable accident 47
Public intoxication 1
Then he saw the car. It was coming from the opposite direction but as Carlson zipped downhill, it swooped around, making a wide U-turn into Carlson’s path.
He hit the brakes. His back tire blew out. He veered closer to the edge. But it didn’t matter: The car and Carlson collided, throwing him to the pavement.
Carlson suffered three neck fractures from the incident. He still has pain and doctors told him he would likely have early arthritis. And his ability to move his neck has diminished.
"I don’t like to say it," Carlson said, "but I was lucky. It could have been worse."
Carlson really was lucky. In the closing months of 2013 alone, The Salt Lake Tribune reported on an array of auto-bike accidents, a handful of them fatal. Many of the cyclists, such as Carlson, were seasoned riders wearing helmets, lights, even reflective clothing. They were doing everything right.
This is a story about why crashes like these happen. And where. It’s a story about forgetting the old tropes of bicycle safety — helmets, lights, reflectors are still important, of course — and focusing on what may matter even more: location, location, location.
The anatomy of a dangerous street »So what makes some streets ripe for collisions, while others remain comparatively safe?
Salt Lake City saw 853 auto-bike collisions between January 2008 and October 2013, according to data obtained via a public records request. Add in the numbers over a slightly shorter period from cities served by Unified Police Department and the number jumps to 1,193. The highest concentration of accidents was in downtown Salt Lake City and adjacent neighborhoods.
But not every street saw the same amount of havoc. In fact, some streets, such as 700 East, saw vastly more accidents than others just a block or two away.
Becka Roolf, Salt Lake City bicycle and pedestrian coordinator, pinpointed one potential problem.
Some Utah streets are particularly wide, which can be a good thing. Wide streets mean more space and "design flexibility," allowing for features such as bike lanes and traffic-calming diagonal parking. Think 300 South in much of downtown.
But wider streets also encourage faster driving, Roolf said. And faster driving spells trouble for cyclists.
According to Roolf, the higher speeds mean more serious accidents with worse injuries. Compounding the problem is the fact that at higher speeds, cars travel greater distances before drivers can react. That means even more trouble for cyclists.
Ryan Beck, lead planner at Envision Utah, made a similar point: "The first thing I look at is the speed of the road. I look at the width of the road. Is there a shoulder?"
Case studies in carnage »Streets such as 700 East and Redwood Road are case studies in the problems wide roads can cause.
On 700 East, a bike lane runs parallel to three lanes of car traffic in each direction and a narrow shoulder. At intersections — where most of the accidents occurred — the bike lane disappears, replaced — or crossed — with a right-turn lane for cars. Speed limits range from 40 mph to 45 mph. Below 2100 South, the bike lane and shoulder disappear entirely, replaced with yet another lane for cars.
Accidents, however, do not disappear along with the bike lane; 13 cyclists were hit on 700 East south of 2100 South before the street curves around and becomes the Van Winkle Expressway.Next Page >
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