Watch the video above taken from my dashcam yesterday around noon at the corner of F and 2nd Streets in Davis. It’s barely a stone’s throw from the Vanguard’s downtown office. In the just over three years we have been there, I have driven through that intersection and probably a dozen like it in Davis Downtown and seen dozens of near misses.
I’ll be honest, I’m less amazed that I finally saw an accident involving a bike and a car – I’m amazed it has taken this long to witness one. One of the police officials I talked to after I witnessed this agreed.
In this case, there is no doubt the rainy conditions contributed to it. The truck is at fault here. The bicyclist kind of stumbled out of the gate and ended up trailing the car that moved through the intersection just before it, but the bike was clearly in the intersection before the truck started moving.
He’s quite fortunate that he ended up hitting the truck rather than the truck hitting him. It would have been ugly had that occurred, although the truck may have seen him in time.
I flagged down the bicyclist, who appeared to be a UC Davis student, and I told him I had the thing on video. He was unsure whose fault it was. His bike was badly damaged, at least on the wheel, but he was otherwise all right. I wasn’t going to argue with him and I wasn’t sure whose fault it was until I saw it on video.
As I have argued many times before, while Davis is a bike-friendly town, it is not well set up for bicyclists. Downtown, in particular, is a gauntlet. And I feel that way not just driving my car, but walking around downtown.
The problem is that we have set up every intersection as a four-way stop. Think about this – when I got to the intersection here, I am the second car headed southbound on F. I had already waited for two or three other cars in my direction to go through.
There is a car and truck to my left, a car in the northbound direction straight ahead, a truck on the right and probably someone behind him that we can’t see yet. A bicyclist had just come through on the other side of the street, and the bike that’s about to be hit is to my right. At this particular time there do not appear to be pedestrians, but they are the x-factor.
Pedestrians get the right of way on intersections, which means cars pausing to wait for people to cross the street, and often you start turning and someone jumps off the sidewalk almost in front of you.
My point is that it’s chaotic, cars will most of the time defer to pedestrians as they should, but sometimes they get impatient – and understandably so. Sometimes they try to jump their turn or push ahead of pedestrians.
As I said, I’m frankly amazed that we do not have more collisions – and some of that is due to the fact that people are stopped. Still, I will hear a few car-on-car collisions from my office each year.
At some point, though, a car and a bike are going to meet and it’s going to be a fatality and then we will be forced to look at the set up.
The thing about what happened yesterday is that the bicyclist obeyed the traffic laws – he didn’t run the stop sign. He tried to move out with the car alongside him, but he stumbled slightly and the truck never saw that he was coming across the street.
It is not that the truck did anything egregious, he just didn’t make sure the intersection was clear when he started to move.
But here’s the thing, it’s easy to do. You lose track of whose turn it is. I almost did it myself because I was focused on trying to intercept the bicyclist to let him know I had the crash on my dashcam. It’s really easy to miss pedestrians crossing from the left on the far corner. It’s really easy to miss pedestrians as you are focused on turning and whose turn it is with the car.
Now, most of the time, as long as you start slowly, you can stop before something happens. But this is a recipe for disaster. We pride ourselves on being a bike town, but our downtown is not well suited for bicyclists.
I always found it quite interesting during the Fifth Street debate, where those opposed to the redesign would often suggest bicyclists avoid Fifth and come down to Third. The problem is, you are asking bicyclists to navigate four-way stops from C Street through G Street.
Not only does the starting and stopping take a toll on the bicyclists and encourage them to run stop signs, but it’s not like Third Street is safe.
We need to re-think our downtown, not just from a bicycle safety standpoint, but also if we want it to be an entertainment destination regionally.
The parking issue remains a problem during peak times. I met a friend for dinner on Thursday night and he told me that he often ends up circling for ten to fifteen minutes during peak times, trying to find parking.
Driving through downtown is not a pleasant experience, especially during peak times.
I’ve often suggested we create parking on the periphery of the downtown and get people out of their cars. That could be a solution. Blocking off some streets to cars might work. I think they’ve tried one-way traffic which would at least reduce the intersections from four-way (times three with cars, bikes, and pedestrians) to two-way.
We had a parking task force, but we’ve not had similar focus on safety and multi-modal transportation downtown. It’s probably time to look at this issue more seriously.
—David M. Greenwald reporting