San Francisco ambitiously seeks to expand bicycling to 20 percent of all trips by 2020. Yet, real concerns over safety remain the single greatest obstacle to expanding bicycling in the city. The recent collision between an unlicensed (and potentially distracted) driver and bicycle safety instructor Bert Hill illustrates the precarious state of bicycle safety in San Francisco.
On May 31st, Bert Hill was riding on Bosworth Street in San Francisco, a street that already features sharrows. Hill, a well-known bicycle safety expert in San Francisco, has worked extensively with the city to improve bicycle safety, playing a key role in a recent instructional video for Muni drivers on how to safely interact with people on bikes. This expertise, however, did not save Hill from a reckless driver who rear-ended him.
Given the circumstances of the crash, it’s likely that the driver was not paying attention. Luckily, the driver was not traveling at an excessive speed, and Hill managed to only suffer a concussion and contusions.
This incident serves as a chilling reminder of the dangers of bicycling on busy shared streets. If a bicycle safety instructor isn’t safe in a shared lane, the question becomes: who is? When there is a substantial speed differential between drivers and bicyclists, shared lanes are fundamentally dangerous because there is always a chance that a driver may not be paying attention even if one bikes safely. This reality underscores the need for greater separation via bike lanes, or more preferably, cycle tracks on busy streets. It also discredits vehicular cycling advocates, who argue that bicycling is safe as long as bicyclists ride as if they were driving a car.
Sharrows do have their place. They are an appropriate treatment on slower speed streets like Berkeley’s bicycle boulevards, and are an acceptable interim solution or last resort measure in conjunction with other traffic calming measures if space does not permit more robust improvements. But when it comes to evaluating sharrows in lieu of road diets that feature bike lanes or cycle tracks, there really is no comparison: separation and slower speeds means safety.
We wish Bert Hill a speedy recovery and hope this crash serves as a reminder to everyone, especially drivers, to be safe. All it takes is one momentary distraction—be careful out there!