Last week's Almanac contained two more tragic stories of cyclist deaths due to apparently careless car driving. Beyond the obvious personal tragedies, they are each troubling for their own reasons.
The first is the report of the sentence given to Beverly Oaks for killing Thomas Colby Maddox. She received 30 days that can be served as work release and an 18-month license suspension where time to date counts. This is for killing a person?
I am not one to suggest draconian punishments, but since the story indicates a clear negligence on the part of the driver, how can we tolerate so little consequence? Lest anyone start thinking that the cyclist probably contributed to it by being in the road, I argue that it is neither evident nor relevant. Bicycles share the same rights and obligations on the roadway as cars. While it is always a good safety strategy to stay out of the way of fast-moving vehicles, an overtaking car is always obligated to operate safely.
Although the reports of Rodney Smith's death do not contain a definitive cause, the facts indicate a concern for this regular cyclist on Sand Hill Road. Based on the location given (eastbound, 1/2 mile west of Interstate 280) there are two potential points where I have often seen car drivers come far too close to the cyclists. Either they drift into the shoulder as they come around the blind top of the hill corner or they try to battle out the lane merges with the 280 on/off ramps. Both are highly dangerous practices committed by people that I will charitably call in a hurry.
I am afraid that these two stories are indicative of complacency toward road safety. This area is known far and wide as one of the best cycling locations to be found and yet we seem to be doing nothing to keep it safe. The Sand Hill Road, Portola Valley loop is heavily ridden by cyclists every day of the year, yet there appears to be no program to aid safety to remind drivers that they need to share the road at all times. The only thing that has that effect -- packs of riders occupying the road -- unfortunately also understandably aggravates drivers.
Perhaps we can use these tragedies to start a dialog about bicycle/car safety and what can be done to share the roads more effectively. Ideas like "Share the Road" signs in the area to remind people of the common bicycle traffic or re-engineering the road markings for greater safety.
For example, on Sand Hill Road the eastbound junction with Interstate 280 is particularly dangerous as it is a naturally high speed connection with no real effort to buffer auto and bicycle traffic. The westbound junction has been reconfigured to make it quite clear that there is bicycle traffic that needs to merge but eastbound is still a mini freeway. Might this approach help eastbound as well?
(This letter was published in the Almanac's June 6, 2007, print edition.)