safety | 511 Contra Costa - Part 2

Pedestrians: Rights and Responsibilities

This morning, standing in a crosswalk, I stood 15 feet from a tractor trailer as it barreled through a red light.
This afternoon, I found this article about plain-clothed cops busting drivers that fail to yield to pedestrians.
These got me thinking: what are a pedestrian’s rights and responsibilities? What are the actual rules (not just what I wanted to shout at the truck driver)? Let’s take a gander at the definitive source for California’s rules of the road, the California Vehicle Code.

California Vehicle Code

Chapter 5. Pedestrians’ Rights and Duties

California’s vehicle code requires that “safe and convenient pedestrian travel and access, whether by foot, wheelchair, walker, or stroller, be provided to the residents of the state”. As they teach you in pedestrian-advocate school, what’s great for a wheelchair also makes life better for an able-bodies pedestrian.
The driver of a vehicle shall yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection.
What’s an unmarked crosswalk you ask? Let’s say you’re walking down the sidewalk, and the street comes to an intersection. The ten-foot wide piece of road that extends from the sidewalk you’re standing on across the road and to the other side is a legal crosswalk. If the crosswalk is painted, it’s a “marked crosswalk.” If there’s a traffic signal or stop sign, it’s a “controlled intersection.” But whatever the paint or signage, it’s a legal crosswalk, and vehicles are required to yield to pedestrians.
A study by the Berkeley Traffic Safety Center found that 35 percent of drivers surveyed did not believe pedestrians have the right-of-way at marked crosswalks. Just because the law if on your side, look both ways.
(Photo from Atlanta-based Peds.Org)
But if you’re crossing away from a legal crosswalk, yield to drivers, because that’s where they have the right-of-way. Unless there’s street construction or the crosswalk is out of service, in which case pedestrians should walk along the roadway to the left-side, and be careful.
Whenever any vehicle has stopped at a crosswalk to permit a pedestrian to cross the roadway the driver of any other vehicle approaching from the rear shall not overtake and pass the stopped vehicle.
If you see a car stopped for a pedestrian in a sidewalk, you’re legally obligated to also stop. The pedestrian is less likely to see a second car coming behind a stopped car.
A totally or partially blind pedestrian carrying a predominantly white cane (with or without a red tip), or using a guide dog, the pedestrian has the right-of-way. There are steep fines for using white canes in this way if you aren’t actually blind.
Also, no person may stop a vehicle unnecessarily in a manner that causes the vehicle to block a marked or unmarked crosswalk or sidewalk. Don’t block the sidewalk, either – leave enough room for a person in a wheelchair to comfortably pass.

Be safe out there!

Don't become a bicycling statistic

For all Contra Costa County’s progress to make bicycling friendlier, safer, and more fun, the Bay Citizen reminds us that a lot of work is left to be done.

From 2005 through 2009, 23 cyclists died in Contra Costa County… The Tracker reveals that some suburban areas like Contra Costa County are actually more dangerous for cyclists than crowded urban areas like San Francisco.

Meanwhile, in addition to the known health risks of driven commutes, new research suggests the stress of driving long distances every day can lead to stress and even divorce.
How can you keep your healthy, active commute without becoming a dour or deadly statistic? We could all stand to review the rules of the road. From the California Department of Motor Vehicles:

1. Maintain Control of Your Bicycle

There are many things you can do to control your bicycle, even in an emergency. First, ensure your bicycle is the right size and properly adjusted to fit you. A properly fitted bicycle is easier to control, more comfortable, and causes less fatigue. A bicycle shop can help you choose the correct size bicycle. Ensure your bicycle is in good working order by inspecting it regularly.

2. Protect Yourself

Even a simple fall can cause a life threatening head injury. The brain is fragile and often does not heal the way that broken bones can. The damage can stay with you for life. Helmets provide protection. By law, bicycle riders under 18 years of age must wear a bicycle helmet while riding on a public road. Wear your helmet correctly!

3. Be Visible and Alert

Even if you obey all traffic laws, there is always a risk of being hit by a motorist who is not obeying the laws, or who simply does not see you. Ride carefully—Vehicles waiting at stop signs, in driveways, or parking spaces may suddenly pull out in front of you. Watch for vehicles that have just passed you and may turn right, as well as vehicles across the street that may turn left in front of you. Be prepared to stop or take evasive action. Signal before making turns or changing lanes to warn traffic around you. To signal a left turn, look behind you, over your left shoulder, and then extend your left arm out. To signal a right turn, hold your left arm up with your elbow bent (you may also hold your right arm straight and point to the right). You do not have to keep your arm extended while completing the maneuver—Always have at least one hand on the handlebars to maintain control. To signal that you are slowing or stopping, extend your left arm down.
Using lights and reflectors at night is the law. Increase your visibility by wearing light or bright colored clothes, such as yellow or lime green. Red appears black in fading light and is not a good choice for riding in the evening. Mirrors provide opportunities for increased awareness of your surroundings, but use mirrors only as an aid. Always look over your shoulder to make sure the lane is clear before turning or changing lanes. Make sure your brakes are in good working order.

4. Ride With Traffic

Ride in the same direction as the traffic. This will make you more visible to drivers entering roads or changing lanes because they will know where to look for possible conflicts. On a one-way street, you may ride on the left as long as you are riding with traffic.

How Far to the Right?: Ride on the right, but not so far that you might hit the curb. You could lose your balance and fall into traffic. Do not ride too far to the right:

  • When avoiding parked vehicles or road hazards.
  • When a traffic lane is too narrow for a bicycle and vehicle to travel safely side by side.
  • When making a left turn so that vehicles going straight do not collide into you.
  • To avoid conflicts with right-turning vehicles.

When to Take the Traffic Lane: If there is no shoulder or bicycle lane and the traffic lane is narrow, ride closer to the center of the lane. This will prevent motorists from passing you when there is not enough room. You should also use the traffic lane when you are traveling at the same speed as the traffic around you. This will keep you out of motorists’ blind spots and reduce conflicts with right-turning traffic.
Obey Traffic Signs and Signals: Bicyclists must obey STOP signs and red signal lights. It’s a good idea to stop for yellow lights too—rushing through a yellow light may not leave you enough time to make it across the intersection before the light changes.
Left Turns: There are two proper methods for making a left turn on a bicycle:

  1. Using Traffic Lanes: As you approach the intersection, look over your left shoulder for traffic. If clear, signal your turn and move over to the left side of the lane, or into the left or center turn lane. Position yourself so that vehicles going straight cannot pass you on your left while you are making your left hand turn. Yield to oncoming traffic before turning. If you are riding in a bicycle lane, or on a multi-lane road, you need to look and signal each time you change lanes. Never make a left turn from the right side of the road, even if you’re in a bicycle lane.
  2. Using Crosswalks: Approach the intersection staying on the right. Stop and either cross as a pedestrian in the crosswalk, or make a 90 degree left turn and proceed as if you were coming from the right. If there is a signal light, wait for the green or WALK signal before crossing. Yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk.

One more from 511CC: Pick your route carefully.

Not all roads were created equal. Busy, direct streets tend to have more traffic, and everyone must fight for space. Quieter neighborhood streets don’t have as much traffic, but a driver may not expect to see you on your bike. Wide streets encourage faster driving, but narrow streets make it more difficult to share lanes.
Carefully pick your route to ensure you’re biking on streets where you feel safe. 511CC’s Bike Mapper can help you pick a route with the right steepness and official infrastructure (such as signs, painted bike arrows or bike lanes).
What makes you feel safest on your bike?

Safe and Sane Use of Highways

Though the times and cars have changed, the danger is the same. Check out this illustration of the damage a car could do to your fragile body at 20, 40, and 60 miles an hour.
The manual “Safe and Sane Use of Highways”, published in 1934, offers a basic introduction to this and other concepts we take for granted today. Windshield wipers, jay-walking, crosswalks – these were relatively new in the 1930s. So was getting hit by a car traveling 60 mph.
Is it enough to make you slow down when you see people walking around?

Texting while driving – 1.6 million accidents in US a year

We often talk about transit and biking as a fun, environmentally conscious way to reduce stress and the cost of getting around. Safety is a more serious benefit of letting someone else do the driving
In 2009, 33,808 people died on US highways, and that’s down from over 52,000 in 1980. Can you guess how many died while on transit in 2009? 230.
California leads the country as a legislator of public safety. When California banned the use of hand-held phones while driving in July 2008, many argued that it wasn’t the conversation that distracted drivers, it was messing with the phone itself. Three months later, California banned text messaging at the wheel in a campaign to reduce “distracted driving”.
Read through the statistics and testimonials about the fatal consequences of texting at the wheel, and “distracted driving” begins to feel like an inappropriately cheerful euphemism.
Wireless carrier AT&T produced a series of short documentaries on the lives affected by texting while driving.

Distracted driving is reportedly more dangerous than driving while intoxicated. Despite a general public understanding that distracted driving causes accidents, nearly 30% of people have used a cell phone fairly often or regularly in the last 30 days.
Accordingly, if a cellphone-distracted driver causes an accident, police and victims can absolutely subpoena phone and text records, according to the Contra Costa Times.
Studies show that personal accountability is not as effective as legislation and software solutions. Services like tXtBlocker disable phones over 15 mph (except 911), as well as setting up no-call zones and monitoring driving speed.
If transit isn’t an option for you, at least save your text messaging until you get to your destination. There are enough hazards out there already.

GPS Mounting Law

So what’s the truth behind the GPS law anyway?
Most people nowadays will have absolutely nothing to do with paper maps. What’s that? You say you’ve got a folded up map of the CA coast in your glove box? Well somebody probably spilled coffee or ketchup on it at some point and now it is illegible, because I know you’re using your GPS. How can you not–it’s just so easy.
In any case, sometimes new laws for the roads pass by us unheeded because, 1. they don’t show up on our Facebook pages, and 2. nobody really pays too much attention otherwise. Take for instance the old law against GPS windshield mounting. Before January 1, 2009, GPS windshield mounting was actually illegal in California with violators paying over $100 when caught. There was a law for that? Yup.
But seeing that people still used their portable GPS anyway, lawmakers made a smart move to lift the band, and after January 1, 2009, allowed GPS units to be mounted on specific areas of the windshield. Namely, within “a 7-inch square area in the lower corner of the windshield farthest removed from the driver (the passenger side) or in a 5-inch square area in the lower corner of the windshield nearest to the driver (the lower left corner of the windshield).”
So basically, the only place  you can stick your GPS is in the lower left-hand corner of your windshield (because it wouldn’t really make logical sense to put it on the passenger side, would it?). Putting the GPS in the front/center of the windshield is therefore still illegal in California and hence not recommended.
So now that you know the specifics behind the law, what can you do about it?
Air Vent Mount: Just what it sounds like. A clip-on for your GPS that attaches to the air vent. More of a solid installation, but maybe not so great on a hot day when you’re blasting the AC.
Bean Bag Mount: The bean bag adds weight and prevents the GPS mount from moving or falling on your dash. Perhaps not so good for rough, bumpy terrains.
Cup Holder Mount: Another self-explanatory name. (But where will you put your coffee!?)
Perhaps the best way to go about it is to memorize maps and routes like your grandparents used to do. But if that’s not an option, then just go with the bottom left hand corner of the windshield, and remember, when using your GPS the safest option is to just listen to the voice commands. They’re default for a reason–to help you stay safe. Keep your eyes on the road.
Photo Credit: LincolnBlues

511CC wins Safe Routes to School Mini Grant

saferoutes511CC wins Safe Routes to School Mini Grant.  The National Center for Safe Routes to School announced today that 511 Contra Costa was one of 25 national applicants to receive a $1000.00 mini grant for Spring 2010. The National Center received 247 Safe Routes to School applications from across 44 states and the District of Columbia.
511 Contra Costa will be working with Dallas Ranch Middle School in Antioch, California to craft a social marketing campaign to educate fellow students about the pedestrian and bicycle safety and health benefits as part of its “Walk and Roll 2 School”  program. Selected proposals distinguished themselves through originality of efforts to help lead local community efforts to promote safe walking and bicycling to school.
National Center for Safe Routes to School Press Release