City Liable For Cyclist's Death Due to Poor Road Design

Road diets, whereby the number of traffic lanes are reduced to better accommodate cyclists, can be controversial. But what of the opposite—adding lanes to better accommodate motorists? A cyclist died after such an "improvement." A lawsuit followed.

2 minute read

December 9, 2015, 12:00 PM PST

By Irvin Dawid


Ghost bike in New York

Nick Gray / flickr

"In June 2012, Dr. Gerald Brett Weiss, a nationally known neurosurgeon, was killed when he was hit from behind while riding his bicycle in the community of Indian Wells [Riverside County], CA," writes Robbie Webber, senior associate at the State Smart Transportation Initiative. "In mid-November of this year his family won a $5.6 million judgment [sic] against Indian Wells, claiming that the city was negligent in not providing sufficient width for bike lanes or lighting that would have prevented the crash."

Never mind that the motorist that killed Dr. Weiss was allegedly drunk, as the city argued. "Experts in court deemed there wasn't enough room in the lane for both the car and the bike, so regardless of alcohol intoxication, the crash was bound to have happened," reports Natalie Brunell for KESQ News. [Video here.]

The roadway had been "expanded from two lanes to three in each direction in 2005, the city did not include a wide outside lane in the design," writes Webber. "In addition, the road previously had bike lanes and was signed as a bike route before the redesign.

Webber's final words are to city transportation planners and engineers:

Governments may want to consider the implications of roadway designs that do not provide safe conditions for all users."

In fact, that's one reason for "complete streets" legislation: to ensure that streets are "designed and operated to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities," according to Smart Growth America.

It's vital to distinguish the "outside," meaning closest to the curb, lane from the inner lanes in terms of lane width. As posted here earlier, it's often preferable to have 10-foot travel lanes over 12-foot inner lanes.

The State Smart Transportation Initiative, housed at the University of Wisconsin, promotes transportation practices that advance environmental sustainability and equitable economic development.

Hat tip to Metro Transportation Library.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015 in The State Smart Transportation Initiative

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