Home » Headline, Island News

Mother offers safety message after son’s bike accident

Submitted by on 1, April 12, 2011 – 12:02 am12 Comments
Susan Bell’s son was struck by a car on February 26 as he cycled through this intersection. She is telling her story in an effort to make Alameda’s streets safer.

Late on the afternoon of February 26, Susan Bell got the call that most parents never want to get: Her son had been in a bicycle accident while riding to Alameda Towne Centre with friends and was rushed to the hospital.

“All he remembers was a red flash. And then he was knocked out,” said Bell.

Her son’s friends said he flew into the air after being hit almost head-on by a car traveling west on Shore Line Drive, after he left the sidewalk to cross Sunset Road against traffic. He suffered a separated shoulder and got 19 stitches in his arm, injuries that would cost him his spot as starting first baseman of Encinal High School’s junior varsity baseball team. The front forks of his BMX steel-frame bike were twisted so badly that the bike was totaled.

“It’s just a total blessing he is not dead,” Bell confided in an interview at a local coffee shop. None of the boys were wearing helmets as they rode, she said.

Bell is going public with her story in the hope that she can spare other parents the terrifying phone call she got that February afternoon. She wants drivers and cyclists to be more aware of each other, and to travel more safely on Alameda’s streets.

“I think people were shocked when they heard my kid got hit. They don’t think about it when they’re in a hurry themselves,” said Bell. Bell believes the car that hit her son may have been traveling faster than was safe due to the congestion and limited visibility on a busy, beach-side thoroughfare that is often crowded with pedestrians, cyclists and parked cars, and one that has few traffic controls.

She said the officer who handled her son’s accident was visibly shaken by it, though the cyclists at Alameda Bicycle, where she brought her son’s bike for assessment, said they have seen several accidents like his. Records provided by the Alameda Police Department show 46 bicycle collisions in Alameda in 2008, 57 in 2009 and 53 in 2010.

The intersection of Grand Street and Otis Drive was one of the top accident spots, with four accidents over the three-year period on or near that intersection. Central Avenue and Oak Street and Lincoln Avenue and Park Street also saw four accidents apiece during those three years, data from the Alameda Police Department show.

Five intersections – Webster Street and Central Avenue; Central Avenue at Eighth Street; Buena Vista Avenue at Park Street; Pacific Avenue at Marshall Avenue (near The Academy of Alameda Middle School); and Island Drive at Garden Road (near the Harbor Bay Shopping Center) saw three accidents apiece between 2008 and 2010, the accident data show.

Shore Line Drive saw three accidents over three years, with two at or near the intersection with Kitty Hawk and one at the corner of Shore Line and Grand, accident data show.

Bicycle accidents, 2008-2010 (map)

Local cycling experts say they see both drivers and cyclists who aren’t following – and may not even be aware of – the rules governing cyclists’ use of the road and sidewalks. Still, they say that it’s up to cyclists to drive defensively, and to be predictable and visible to drivers.

“If there’s an accident, we’re the ones who are going to pay the price,” Alameda Bicycle owner Gene Oh said. “By not obeying the rules, it reinforces for people who drive that (cyclists) shouldn’t be respected, because they don’t follow the rules.”

The East Bay Bicycle Coalition’s education director, Bonnie Wehmann, said cyclists have the same rights and responsibilities on the road as cars. She said cyclists can ride on the road whether there’s a bike lane or not, but that they also must follow the rules, including stopping for stop signs and red lights and driving in the right-most lane that gets them where they are trying to go. Oh said cyclists must also use hand signals as they ride on the road.

Oh said he sees more adults getting into accidents than kids, though Wehmann said a big issue with kids is one she calls the “driveway ride-out,” when children ride out of a driveway without looking for oncoming traffic.

Tim Reynolds, who lives off Shore Line Drive and whose son was riding with Bell’s when the accident occurred, said it’s sometimes difficult for drivers to see what’s coming as they leave side streets there, especially when all the parking spots on Shore Line are filled.

“You have to pull into the oncoming lane (of traffic). I’ve had some really close calls there,” Reynolds said. “It’s totally not safe.”

Wehmann said cyclists of any age are allowed to ride on the sidewalks in Alameda unless they are marked otherwise (the main shopping area of Park Street is one example of a place where sidewalk riding is forbidden). But said said cyclists should also behave like pedestrians when entering crosswalks, getting off their bikes and walking them through.

Wehmann said cyclists should wear bright colors so they can be easily seen, and Oh said riders should ride with the flow of traffic instead of against it, something he said can be disorienting for drivers. He said cyclists should also scan for drivers entering and exiting parked cars in order to avoid being doored.

Both Oh and Wehmann said cyclists should seek to minimize conflict between themselves and drivers.

“A lot of cyclists feel kind of entitled. They’re doing something good for the environment, so they feel entitled, almost like they’re making a stand or statement,” Oh said. “That goes a long way negatively, and it does more harm than good.”

Bell has a safety message too: She wants to remind young cyclists to wear helmets. And she wants parents to know the consequences of not doing so.

“Parents, these things can happen,” she said.

BikeAlameda and the East Bay Bicycle Coalition are offering a pair of free, one-day bicycle safety courses for adults and youths ages 14 and older. The courses will be held on April 30 and May 28 at the First Congregational Church of Alameda, 1912 Central Avenue. Pre-registration is required and may be done online.

Bike safety tips

*Drive defensively by doing things like scanning parked cars for people entering and exiting.

*Be predictable – follow all the rules of the road, including riding with traffic, using hand signals and stopping at stop signs and red lights.

*Be visible – for example, wear bright-colored or reflective clothing so you can be seen.

*Cycling on sidewalks is okay unless otherwise designated; walk bikes through crosswalks.

*Be respectful of others on the road.


  • Jimmy says:

    What was he doing riding his bicycle on the sidewalk?

  • Jimmy says:

    Follow up to my last post- I just read in Alameda’s “Bike Master Plan” that riding on the sidewalk is not illegal, except in certain areas. It goes on to say:

    “However, sidewalk bicycle riding is not recommended for most riders, due to concerns about potential conflicts with pedestrians and with vehicles at intersections and driveways.”

    I’m strictly a pedestrian and I have absolutely no sympathy for bicyclists who ride on the sidewalk. If you’re over twelve years old, get off the sidewalk and into the street.

  • ddw says:

    Thank you Susan Bell.

    This is an issue that needs to be addressed!

    I’ve almost hit several and have almost been hit by cyclists who think it’s either ok to swerve in front of me without looking or to ride directly in the middle of the lane. Others, especially kids, ride through stop signs and red lights without looking.

    As for adults cyclists, Mr. Oh is correct when he said:

    “A lot of cyclists feel kind of entitled. They’re doing something good for the environment, so they feel entitled, almost like they’re making a stand or statement,” Oh said. “That goes a long way negatively, and it does more harm than good.”

    Not everyone does or can ride a bike, cyclists need to be aware that I can’t move my car as quickly as they can a bike to avoid a collision!

    • Jon Spangler says:

      Cyclists need to ride at least 3-4 feet away from parked cars to avoid the “door zone.” That is why we often “belong” in the middle of a curb lane which is too narrow to share with automobiles once a cyclist is sufficiently far from the reach of suddenly-opening car doors. (And car doors are much wider than you might think. measure yours sometime.)

      The next time you see a cyclist near or in the middle of a lane, be grateful that they are not endangering themselves and you by riding too close to a parked car: they would be knocked out into the lane by a door opening, and possibly right into your path. And remember that they need to be at least 3-4 feet from any parked car.

      FREE BIKE CLASSES on SATURDAYS, April 30 and May 28

      1:00 – 4:30 p.m.: FREE bicycle safety class offered by Bikealameda with East Bay Bicycle Coalition. Learn how to ride safely in traffic, avoid accidents, and fix a flat. No bike required, open to students ages 14-adult. FREE, but pre-registration required: http://www.ebbc.org/?q=safety. Certified instructors, bike parking available. First Congregational Church of Alameda, 1912 Central Avenue (at Chestnut), in basement social hall. (Info: (Joyce@BikeAlameda.org, http://www.bikealameda.org/event/safetyclasses/

  • hobnob says:

    Here’s what I say to all cyclists. You’re doing battle with yourself and your 10 lb bike against a 3 ton motorized piece of metal, who can you bet will win 100% of the time in this standoff?

    It’s not shocking to me at all that this accident happened where it happened. Shoreline has a lot of parking – people sometimes illegally park right up or past the curb so it blocks the view… even cars don’t see cars coming when they are trying to come out of the side streets… so a biker trying to merge onto Shoreline without looking or checking first will be even worse.

    I’m surprised that there is a lot of accidents on Grand and Shoreline as it’s a 3 way stop and every car has to come to a full stop, I’ve even biked on grand and shoreline… but I do a complete stop as if I was a car first and usually cars will let me go on through.

    Children seem to think they are immortal. Just yesterday we were driving down shoreline and making that right turn onto Eighth street… thank god we were going 20 mph or slower b/c just as we turned that corner, one of the 3 teenagers riding on the street decided to swerve on his bike into the left most lane for some inexplicable reason… we slowed down to not hit him… his friends were riding on the right side as they should. All not wearing helmets.

    In my mind I was thinking “what in the world are you thinking of swerving into the left lane without even looking behind you… maybe he was on his cell phone, can’t remember” and you’re riding around 5 mph… the road is not to be taken lightly when there are cars on it. That’s why there are rules for cyclists too.

    Everyone needs to take responsibility of themselves on the road, that includes cyclists and pedestrians… don’t think you own the road and we’ll all get along.

    • hobnob says:

      This includes drivers… I’m not saying they are not in the wrong either… a lot of drivers on Shoreline do NOT yield to pedestrians at all. They don’t pay attention at night either so be extra careful.

  • Denise Lai says:

    None of our streets and bicycle lanes are safe enough; bicyclists are at unnecessary risk given the proclivity of residents to open their car doors without looking for traffic coming from behind, drive as though they are the center of the universe unaware of others with whom they share the road…combine this with the limited visibility–from the enormous number of parked cars on most streets–entering intersections and pulling out of driveways. Alamedans drive like they are in a suburb with wide streets and great visibility, yet we live in a city of 70,000 people with streets lined with as many cars as San Francisco has per block! A paradigm shift is needed in our thinking: we want the values and quality of life of Hometown USA yet we must behave in a manner while driving and cycling that belies that notion and better suits a highly urban city.

    Children cyclists are at greater risk. They would be better seen if they installed a triangle flag on a long staff on their bicycle.

  • Chrissy says:

    Being a cyclist and driver–always between both worlds. As a driver I have actually had a cyclist slam into the back of my car. I had stopped for a stop sign. As a cyclist, it is extremely helpful when the drivers use the TURN SIGNAL and let other people know what they are doing. The same goes for cyclists using hand signals–almost never see that. As for riding on the sidewalk–some streets are too dangerous to ride on the street–but always the pedestrian has the right of way on the sidewalk. Many cyclists forget that.

  • Li_ says:

    Couple more things for bikers to think about:
    Racers or bikers who hunch over their handlebars can’t be seen over the roof of parked cars soon enough for the driver at an intersection to react and stop. Unlike a car, which is out in the middle of it’s lane, the biker is close to the parked cars and virtually invisible even with a colored jacket until he reaches the hood of the parked car. Sit up straight well before the intersection. Wear a flashy helmet.
    Parents, protect your children when you ride together. Get off your bike and cross the intersection together in a group. There is no way for a driver to know that you have a string of kids coming along several feet behind you. Kids on bikes are well below the hood of a parked car and so is the buggy or trailer you have attached to the back of your bike holding your precious progeny. Maybe the kids should ride in front of you where you can see them and then wait for you at the corner. Please wear bright colors, helmets, put antenna with metallic stuff on their bikes anything to add height and help keep them safe.
    Last, the driver is always shorter than the car and his vision is more restricted than the biker’s. Plan for it and provide for yourself accordingly. Most drivers are trying to avoid accidents, but we need the bikers (and pedestrians) to help so we’ll all be safe.

    Thanks for your help.

  • telebob says:

    There’s a cycling/pedestrian path right there on the south side of Shoreline. It runs the entire length. The kids should have been on it.

    I live right on Shoreline and I see the craziest stuff – roller bladers in the road with head sets, no lights cyclers at night, skate boards, joggers – all out there in traffic. Some people are just itching for a Darwin Award.

    I recently had a cyclist blow through the stop at Grand and Shoreline and try to draft me as I was going eastbound. Imagine if I had to throw on the brakes..

  • Robert says:

    Amazing how many children I see without helmets. Will police come out and handle this situation if one calls? Children can’t pick their parents, so someone has to watch out for little ones if their parents won’t do it.

  • Keith Nealy says:

    I’d like to highlight the importance of wearing bright clothing at night. Pedestrians too! Wear something white.

    I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been surprised to find someone crossing the street on a dark and rainy night wearing all black! Totally oblivious of traffic. Not even looking.

Leave a comment!

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. You can also subscribe to these comments via RSS.

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This is a Gravatar-enabled weblog. To get your own globally-recognized-avatar, please register at Gravatar.