Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Cyclist ticketed for riding in Chatham shoulder in serious left-hook crash

On December 19th the Chatam Patch reported a bicyclist suffering serious injuries in a crash involving a left turning motor vehicle while the cyclist was riding in the shoulder.  It is bad enough that the cyclist, Jose Batista of Cranford, was seriously injured in the crash but according to the Patch report, the Chatam Police intend on issuing a summons to Mr. Batista for "failure to exercise due care when passing a standing or slow-moving vehicle proceeding in the same direction."

In this case it would appear that Mr. Batista was riding his bicycle heading east in the shoulder while passing backed up motor traffic in the travel lanes to his left.  At the entrance to the CVS Pharmacy a driver heading east left a gap open so that Patrick McVeigh of Chatham, the driver of the vehicle involved in the crash who was heading west, could turn left and enter the CVS parking lot.  As the vehicle driven by Mr. McVeigh crossed the path of Mr. Batista, Mr. Batista then crashed into the rear of Mr. McVeigh's vehicle.

The first curb cut on the right is likely site of the Batista crash. View Larger Map

This case brings up a number of problems with shoulder cycling in New Jersey that continue to put cyclists at risk of injury, as well as prosecution from the law.  As reported by WalkBikeJersey earlier this year, The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled on a lawsuit that involved a cyclist tragically killed while traveling in the shoulder.  That case had the court rule on the legality of shoulder cycling and the court declared:
Bicyclists do not have special privileges on a roadway’s shoulder. Indeed, a bicycle rider is directed to ride on the furthest right hand side of the roadway, not on the roadway’s shoulder. The Motor Vehicle Code does not designate the roadway’s shoulder as a bicycle lane. 
If one were to only consider the court's interpretation of Title 39 it would seem that Mr. Batista was in clear violation of the law.  However a commenter on the Chatham Patch story notes that, just a half mile to the west of the assumed crash site Main Street, also known as NJ 124, has a marked bike lane in the town of Madison. 2008 Google Streetsview imagery would seem to confirm this.  The commenter also notes that at the municipal boarder of Madison and Chatham Borough, which is the intersection of Division Ave/Brookdale Road and Main St, there are no MUTCD compliant "Bike Lane Ends" signs.  This too is confirmed on Google Streetsview.

This "Bike Lane" symbol is located in the town of Madison and is less than 2500 feet from the likely crash site.
View Larger Map

Unfortunately for Mr. Batista, he likely assumed that either he was allowed by law to ride his bike in the roadway shoulder and/or that the shoulder was still a designated bicycle lane in the Borough of Chatham as it is in Madison. Also, the ambiguity of the signage and the roadway markings (the marked bike lanes in Madison are stripped more like shoulders and do not follow bike lane standards) and the lack of proper bike lane signage did not help clarify things for him.

The reality remains that shoulder cycling has been declared illegal and will remain so until this issue is addressed in the New Jersey Legislature.  Still, where shoulders have been designated as bike lanes, all effort must be made to mark them properly in accordance with accepted national standards.  It is simply not fair and even dangerous for cyclists to do it any other way.  Riding a bicycle on New Jersey's roadways is difficult enough.


Ezra said...

It's pretty amazing that after suffering injuries riding his bike, they try to ticket him. In New Jersey, often times you don't have much of an option but to ride in the shoulder.

I ride my bike to work, and the entire way there, there are no bike lanes. Riding directly in the main lane on a busy road is not only quite dangerous, but it is also clearly unwanted by drivers. Sometimes you must ride in the main lane, but any cyclist will tell you they feel safer riding in the shoulder(sercret: it's because it is safer), even if it is not specifically designated as a bicycle lane.

This needs to change. I think if every bike rider in New Jersey stopped using the shoulders to ride in, that it might begin to change quickly, inconveniencing drivers and increasing accidents.

john c said...

I remain puzzled that the Chatham police claim that the bicyclist and vehicle were travelling in the same direction. Further, the driver was clearly at fault, he cut off the bicyclist. Drivers turning left often possess a kind of "tunnel vision" in which they cease looking around, and this causes accidents.

S.Knight said...

John C:

I think there has been some confusion in various reports on this incident. This article appears to clarify it a bit. The bicyclist was NOT traveling in the same direction as the car that collided with him; the cyclist was going eastbound while the other car was turning left from a westbound direction. The cyclist was apparently cited because he was traveling in the same direction as the car that stopped to allow the westbound car to turn into the CVS lot.

Max Power said...

It is entirely possible that Mr. Batista was passing unsafely (e.g. proceeding fast to the right the stopped traffic, since Main Street is downhill eastbound here). However, he was in no condition to give a statement, so it was premature for the PD to determine fault and issue a ticket.
Commenters on the patch article state that McVeigh was most of the way into the parking lot, which would mitigate his responsibility to yield to oncoming traffic. If that position of McVeigh's vehicle is correct, and given that Batista hit McVeigh's car behind the back door; Batista must have been completely oblivious to the car, or suicidal. A vehicle most of the way into the parking lot would mean that there would be space between the stopped traffic and the back of the turning car. (It's not a tractor trailer) Again, Mr. Batista's statement would be a critical here.
All of that is a matter for the courts now.
To prevent this from happening again, Chatham Borough needs to improve its signage. It looks like they have a Traffic Safety Committee that meets on Jan 8 at 6:45.

Max Power said...

As a side note, most of the Madison "bike lanes" are terrible. That marked shoulder on Main is about as good as they get.
On the parallel King's Road, the shoulder is also stenciled with a bike symbol, but is about 2 feet wide near the border with Chatham. (Sadly no Google street view). When I ride Rosedale Ave in the fall, locals assume that stencil means "dump leaves here" and drivers assume that since there's a bike lane, there's no reason for a cyclist to be in the travel lane.
Commuting in Madison is possible *despite* the infrastructure, not because of it.

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Anonymous said...

The legal interpretation here is incorrect.

Batista wasn't ticketed for "riding in the shoulder". He was ticketed for "careless passing". Batista would (likely) have gotten the ticket even if he had been riding in the roadway.

In the case where the cyclist died, there was no determination that they weren't allowed to ride on the shoulder. The only determination was that cyclists could not expect the state to maintain them to be suitable for cycling (which is something very different).

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