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Taking a bike ride in the Bay Area--or most other places in the United States--can be deadly, thanks to morally bankrupt officials who think preserving parking and breakdown space for cars is more important than people's lives. Rarely has this been as well illustrated as it was in a video shot earlier this month by 80-year-old cyclist Donald Herzog while on a group ride in Novato. The Marin County Bicycle Coalition's Warren Wells shared it via Twitter:

"I've been cycling for 75 years," said Herzog in a phone interview with Streetsblog. "This is the closest I’ve ever come to dying."

Herzog said the driver apparently fell asleep at the wheel. She then crossed the divider, ran across the door-zone-lane bike lane a few feet in front of the cyclists, and slammed into a parked car. The incident, he added, reiterates the need for physically protected bike lanes using concrete or parked cars. "Stripes are no protection at all, even if you’re riding safely, half the people driving are on cell phones or texting or drunk or mentally ill."

The 80-year-old Herzog already had good reason to fear for his safety. He bought a bike camera because a few years ago a driver intentionally knocked him off his bike. "For no reason he came up behind me, came up right behind me," he said. The punishment pass caused Herzog to wipe out, injure his face, and suffer some bad road rash. A few days later he came down with sepsis and had to be hospitalized. "I almost died in the hospital."

Wells says both of Herzog's terrifying experiences underscore how important it is for cities to provide physically protected and separated bike lanes. "This crash happened on Bel Marin Keys Blvd, an industrial park in Marin with 12-foot lanes, a 40-mph speed limit, on-street parking, and paint-only 6-foot bicycle lanes," wrote Wells on social media about the recent crash in Novato. "Despite the ample right of way (70 feet!), nothing more than Class 2 paint-only bike lanes are planned here, through the heart of one of the county's job hubs. Without even removing any of the (too-abundant) parking, the bike lanes could easily be protected."

And yet as traffic engineers and city planners throughout the Bay Area repave streets, they squander opportunities to make those streets safer, even in situations where it wouldn't be controversial to do so. Even as I was working on Streetsblog this morning I heard a loud crunch of metal right outside my window in Oakland's Jack London Square district. The crash involved two motorists and two parked cars. Fortunately, nobody was hurt this time. But I ride and walk that street daily, and had I been out this morning I could easily have been killed or maimed. There was an opportunity to reconfigure the street with protected bike lanes when it was repaved a couple of years ago, but that was wasted when the city just re-striped it exactly as it had been.

Two of the four cars involved in a wreck outside my window literally as I was writing this. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
Two of the four cars involved in a wreck outside my window as I was writing this. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

Pick your city. The story is always the same. Officials make vacuous statements about safety and Vision Zero and then they slap down no more than paint. Occasionally, after years, sometimes decades, of "outreach" and process, once in a rare while, a city will put in a protected bike lane. But then they'll relapse and build entirely new streets without protection.

"Paint doesn't do anything," Wells told Streetsblog. "Every time you see a fender bender or a car-only or two-car crash, it's a potential bike or pedestrian fatality if someone happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Traffic engineers and planners have to be held responsible for repeatedly ignoring this fact and continuing to build dangerous streets that make it too easy to kill and maim. Usually someone has to die in a high-profile tragedy before improvements get made (and then only sometimes).

Herzog, meanwhile, said the police didn't even show up to investigate the Novato crash that almost took his life. "Fire trucks came, paramedics, but no police." As far as he knows, the motorist, who he spoke with briefly, is out there driving today.

Unsurprisingly, his latest brush with death and the sheer not-giving-a-crap of city officials have left Herzog badly shaken. "I’m having a hard time getting back on my bike," he said.

Donald Herzog

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