Stopping tragic 'right hooks' that kill and injure cyclists

March 21, 2011

The failure of city and state transportation officials and Baltimore police to provide motorists with guidance on how to safely make right turns when bicyclists are present has been a key reason why bicyclist John Yates was killed and Hopkins student Nathan Krasnopoler remains in a coma ("Student in coma after bicycle accident" Feb. 28).

Both bicyclists followed Maryland's instructions to ride right and were hit by right-turning vehicles that failed to yield. Both tragedies were compounded by failures of city police to cite the respective drivers. In the case of John Yates, the police misapplied Maryland's motorcycle laws, which prohibit lane sharing, to bicycles, saying that the bicyclist was illegally riding in Maryland Avenue's parking lane.

Since Mr. Krasnopoler was riding safely in University Parkway's bike lane, the police had to find some other reason for saying the motorist wasn't at fault. Consequently, the police said that Mr. Krasnopoler ran into the front of the car that passed him and turned right. But how is a bicyclist traveling in a downhill bike lane around 25mph supposed to know that after passing him, the motorist will slow down and abruptly turn right across his lane into the Broadview Apartments private driveway? Other than disobeying the law and not using the bike lane, I don't see how Mr. Krasnopoler could have avoided the crash.

But the motorist could have easily slowed down, safely merged into the downhill bike lane behind the cyclist, and waited for the cyclist to clear her driveway before turning right. And even if she choose not to do so, after passing the cyclist the motorist could have stopped and yielded before crossing the bike lane to turn right into her driveway — as Maryland's three foot law requires. And the police compounded the tragedy and lost a teachable moment by failing to ticket the driver.

Bicyclists want to be courteous and share the road. But most importantly, we want to be able to arrive without injury. Being polite and riding far right and using the bike lane to make it easier for motorists to pass has cost one bicyclist his life and put another in a coma. Without the police and media willing to provide guidance to stop these tragic "right hooks" from happening again, bicyclists need to put safety first, even if it slows down motorists.

This means not riding in the door zone and avoiding bike lanes in areas where right turns are authorized — especially if riding fast. Perhaps the day will come when Baltimore City adds motorist education, police training and impartial law enforcement to its bicycle program. That will enable bicyclists to ride far right and use bike lanes without injury.

Jeffrey H. Marks, Baltimore

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