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Fall Transportation Projects Pose Safety Risks For Bicyclists

Millions of Americans enjoy the sport of bicycling, especially during the beautiful fall season. Fewer tourists and ideal temperatures often entice even novice cyclists to come out and ride here in Orange County. However, in several California cities and counties, autumn also means construction crews working on transportation projects, creating hazards on thoroughfares that were previously well maintained, and thereby making road conditions for bicyclists more dangerous during this time of year.

Recently, an accident occurred when four friends were riding along Pacific Coast Highway in the scenic Malibu area. After reaching the top of an incline, they anticipated an easy descent; however, it was only after descending that they realized how dangerous the road was, and, by then, it was too late. Earlier that day, Caltrans workers had begun a re-paving project. The contractor had left the worksite early, and no one had bothered to post signs warning of uneven surfaces and loose gravel. All four bicyclists sustained serious injuries, including concussions, broken bones, punctured lungs, and even paralysis.

On another occasion, 54-year-old Deborah Johnson struck an object in the bicycle lane, causing her to fall. The public works department had recently repaved the road, placing dividers to mark the separation between the road and the bike lane. The dividers, also known as “candlestick” delineators, had separated from the orange, plastic poles, and only the black rubber bases remained on the street. She sustained severe head trauma and died two days later at a nearby hospital.

The Federal Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices, the book used by road managers nationwide, clearly indicates that “posts or raised pavement markers should not be used to separate bicycle lanes from adjacent travel lanes.” In addition, the manual states that using a raised device “creates a collision potential for bicyclists.” The workers who covered the roads with the devices that fall had clearly made conditions more dangerous for bicyclists.

Johnson’s husband filed a wrongful death suit against the city and recently settled for $2.4 million.

In some cases, the failure to implement safety projects results in an accident. Not long ago, an Azusa Pacific University trolley collided with a student while she was riding her bicycle on campus, leaving her with permanent brain injuries. The student was awarded a $1.5 million judgment against the city of Azusa, which had neglected to improve known hazardous road conditions on campus. Students travelling from the east campus to the western side were forced to ride or walk through parking lots that lacked bike paths and crosswalks. Despite being awarded funds to improve public safety, the city chose to spend the money on other projects.

What all of these accidents shared in common was a failure by the agencies responsible for properly maintaining public spaces to ensure that they were indeed safe for the public. It is unfortunate that these accidents–all totally preventable–occurred in the first place.

When cycling, it is always important to be aware of one’s surroundings in order to negotiate dangerous situations if necessary. During the fall months, when many transportation projects often begin in Orange County and elsewhere, take extra precautions, as the road conditions tend to be more dangerous for bicyclists.

James Ballidis is an Orange County bicycle accident attorney who has written extensively on bicycle and pedestrian accidents, including articles on accident victims’ rights and recent projects to improve safety conditions in Orange County. To request a book or an article, or to speak with an Orange County bicycle accident attorney, feel free to call 866-981-5596.