Mother offers safety message after son’s bike accident
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.