Bike Intelligencer » Rider Down All bike, all the time Mon, 20 Jul 2015 21:20:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Mickey Gendler Adds Another Victory for Cyclists Thu, 25 Nov 2010 18:45:10 +0000
On Thanksgiving Eve, Seattle attorney and paralyzed cyclist Mickey Gendler won again in court — in a case that could have ramifications for others seeking justice in transportation-related accidents.

The Washington State Court of Appeals unanimously upheld a Thurston County judge’s ruling giving Gendler, injured in a 2007 mishap when his bike wheel wedged in a too-wide gap on Montlake Bridge steel grating, access to information on previous bicycle accidents there.

Gendler, 58, who in a separate suit won an $8 million settlement from the state over the accident, sought the records to show that the state had known of the danger since 1999, when it was created during a seismic retrofit of the bridge. Even before the retrofit was finished, a cyclist suffered a similar — although not as injurious — accident in the same gap.

The state argued it was prevented from turning over accident records by federal law financing gathering and analysis of accident data but barring the information from being used in lawsuits against the state.

The Appeals Court disagreed:

The WSP [Washington State Patrol] claims that federal law, 23 U.S.C. § 409 (2005), prohibits it from disclosing the records to Michael Gendler unless he agrees not to use the information in litigation against the State. Because RCW [state law] 46.52.060 imposes a duty on the WSP to create and provide such public records, and because the federal privilege applies only to the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) not the WSP, we affirm. We also award Gendler his attorney fees and costs for this appeal.

As attorney Mike Schechter puts it in the Local Open Government blog, the ruling means “that the State Patrol cannot hide behind a memorandum of understanding (“MOU”) with the State Department of Transportation (“WSDOT”) and WSDOT’s federal privilege under 23 U.S.C. §409, barring use of collision data in lawsuits.”

Beyond Gendler’s case, the ruling has ramifications for any citizen seeking to show that faulty construction or maintenance of roadways contributed to an accident. In that sense, Gendler’s victory is a win for us all.

As Schechter further notes:

The federal privilege is intended to allow WSDOT to compile and analyze accident data to better implement highway safety measures funded by the federal government without concern that such analysis would be used to support lawsuits against the State.

While we understand the thinking behind such a provision — the state’s “analysis,” after all, could certainly be faulty or biased — we are pleased that the court drew its distinction. Raw data, collected with taxpayer funds by public agencies, should be available to the citizens who footed the bill in the first place. And on principle in a democracy, government information should be transparent in all forms.

Another reason to give thanks on this holiday of 2010.

]]> 1
The Lauren Ward Mystery: Was cyclist struck by protrusion from truck bed? Tue, 23 Nov 2010 01:57:55 +0000

UPDATE: On January 18, the California Highway Patrol investigated what it characterized as “new information” on Lauren Ward’s death. The CHP, which in December officially determined that Ward made an “unsafe turn” into the flatbed truck, indicated that the new information did not necessarily signal that its original determination would be invalidated. Following the original determination that Ward was at fault, her family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the big-rig company.

More than two weeks after the death of cyclist Lauren Perdriau Ward, who was crushed by the wheels of a 26-wheel big rig on a popular cycling route near Palo Alto CA, her case still remains fogged by mystery.

Normally in a vehicle-and-bicycle mishap, it’s fairly easy to re-enact the accident scenario. There may be debate over who was at fault, but reconstructing the collision itself usually is straightforward.

Lauren Ward

In the case of Ward, an experienced 47-year-old cyclist, trained nurse and a “go-getter” mother of two, even the basics remain unclear. Lack of witness input, the hazardous nature of the intersection, the logistics of a big rig negotiating to approach a freeway on-ramp and the star-crossed driving record of a truck operator who has been involved in three fatal accidents over the past 7 years — all have served to complicate the post-accident investigation and leave cyclists scratching their heads about how the incident actually happened.

In addition, police are withholding their reports on grounds that publication could influence potential witnesses. So far, they say, no one who actually saw the accident has come forward.

This is particularly puzzling, given the mid-afternoon, sunny-day conditions and busy nature of the intersection. Last week Bike Intelligencer visited the scene at the same time of day, with similar weather conditions.

Site Well-Marked

The site was easy to find. Flowers marked the spot and painted police outlines of the accident were still visible on the pavement.

Lauren Ward memorial at Alpine Road.

The “AOI” — area of impact — was on a slight incline in the west-bound lanes of Alpine Road following a stop sign just before an underpass for Interstate 280, a major freeway between San Jose and San Francisco. The big rig reportedly was headed for the northbound southbound on-ramp for 280, just past the underpass.

Road markings on Alpine Road.

That course would have put the rig on an angular path from left to right across the outside lane of Alpine Road. In most traffic situations, that would put Ward to the right of the truck, the outermost area of clearance. But Ward, like many cyclists familiar with the intersection, apparently preferred to be on the left of traffic headed for the on-ramp to avoid conflicts with crossing vehicles.

Part of the problem is that the intersection contains no clear line of passage for cyclists. Observing it for more than half an hour, we saw cyclists adopting at least three different strategies for negotiating traffic. One was to ride between the two lanes of traffic to avoid cars angling to the freeway on-ramp. Another was to ride on the far right, next to the curb, and merge left while avoiding cars bound for the ramp. A third was to get up and ride or walk a sidewalk, then cross the on-ramp itself to re-enter Alpine Road.

None looked particularly safe. Even dismounting the bike left cyclists vulnerable and running for their lives to avoid speeding traffic entering the on-ramp.

Why No Witnesses?

What struck us and two other cyclists reviewing the accident scene is that no one has stepped forward with information about the accident. It’s impossible to imagine, on the front end of a Thursday-afternoon rush hour, no other drivers being around. The junction is a deafening jumble of cars and trucks traversing Alpine and the various on and exit ramps of 280.

It may be that in the din and congestion of a busy intersection, no one actually noticed Ward and her pink Trek being pulled beneath the truck. What seems more likely is that witnesses for one reason or another are not coming forward. Police presumably continue to hold out hope someone will have a change of heart.

Police reports may contain information about precisely where Ward struck or was struck by the big rig — a flatbed tractor-trailer carrying heavy equipment on a rear trailer. Under normal circumstances, however, the impact should not have happened.

Ward should have been easily noticeable on the left of the rig — whether the two started from the stop sign at the same time or, more likely, Ward was ahead. If the two were at the stop sign simultaneously, Ward would have easily pedaled ahead of the heavy rig and been in front, to the left. If the rig for some reason were ahead of Ward, e.g., she came to the stop sign after the rig began pulling away, she would have been easily seen in the driver’s mirrors.

The blind spot truck drivers worry about is on the right, said Eric Slind, a Teamster driver for more than three decades.

“The driver was probably looking more to his right to make sure he wasn’t cutting off anyone,” Slind said.

But that wouldn’t explain why, moving left to right, he would present an obstacle to Ward.

A tie-down block or other apparatus extending from the truck bed may have clipped Ward as the truck passed her, Slind speculated.

A photo published in local newspapers (see link below) shows what “looks like a large hi-lifter with a bucket, something used for working on high power lines or tree topping,” Slind commented. “It appears to be over 8 feet wide and would hang over the edge of the trailer, and the securing mechanism would protrude even further.”

It’s also possible that Ward for some reason lost control of her bike and crashed into the truck. Finally, a careless vehicle may have tried to pass Ward on her own left, “pinching” or even knocking her into the big rig’s path. The last scenario might explain why no witness, fearing culpability, has come forward.

A history of accidents

Absent police data on the accident, reports have focused on the problematic record of the big-rig driver — about whom at the very least it can be said he has a propensity for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Gabriel Manzur Vera, 44, a driver for nearly two decades for the demolition firm Randazzo Enterprises, struck and killed a 25-year-old Santa Cruz cyclist in a classic “right hook” three years ago. He was not charged in the incident but his employer later settled a wrongful death lawsuit by the family for a reported $1.5 million.

In 2003, Vera’s rig was struck head-on by a car that crossed the center line. Vera was not cited in that incident. Vera was involved in three other accidents between 2003 and 2007, and cited for speeding in 1998 and driving a commercial vehicle in a fire area in 2008.

Proper driver screening would have prevented Vera from being behind the wheel, said John Feder, a San Francisco attorney hired by the family.

Although Vera was not found at fault in previous fatalities, Slind said he is surprised Vera’s company’s insurer would allow him to keep driving.

“Normally the insurer would look at the driver’s record and a whole lot of red flags would go up,” Slind said.

The police investigation is expected to continue for two to three months. In the meantime, Silicon Valley cyclists can only speculate on how Lauren Ward got beneath the wheels of a 26-wheel big rig on a beautiful fall day along Alpine Road.

For further reading:

San Jose Mercury News photo of big rig

Lauren Ward a “go-getter”

Lauren Ward’s letter to the editor pleading for “more respect and understanding” between cyclists and drivers forum discussion on the accident

Lack of witnesses hinders the investigation

Gabriel Manzur Vera’s driving record

]]> 4
The Mickey Gendler Story: A paralyzed cyclist’s indomitable spirit Fri, 12 Nov 2010 19:16:50 +0000
Any experienced cyclist knows we’re just a split-second encounter away from tragedy. Most of the time, we manage to avert it. We dodge the car, avoid the pothole. We get up after the spill and bandage the road rash to ride another day.

Three years ago, on Oct. 28, 2007, a tragedy of a more irreversible nature befell Mickey Gendler. The prominent Seattle environmental attorney was riding over the Montlake steel bridge when his front tire caught in a gap in the metal grating. Gendler went over the bars, cracked his helmet in two, and was instantly paralyzed from the shoulders down.

As fate would have it, the very next day Gendler won big in court. A city hearing examiner, persuaded by Gendler’s incisive logic, ruled that a huge parking garage planned by the Woodland Park Zoo in Phinney Ridge was illegal, bringing to a close a bitter three-year citizen battle.

The accolades poured in, but the celebration had a somber undercurrent. Mickey could smile and talk but — confined to a bed at Harborview Medical Center — do little more. His injury was at the C3-C4 vertebrae, making him a quadriplegic or in the current lexicon a person with tetraplegia. On the positive side, his spinal cord, although severely injured, was not severed, holding out the possibility of recovery that to this day keeps Gendler motivated in physical therapy.

Thrown from your bike one day, a lawsuit winner the next. You don’t have to be a lawyer or cyclist to know that is how a flip of fate’s lever works.

Except that it wasn’t just fate that paralyzed Mickey Gendler.

Seattle Times article a breakthrough

The gap in the bridge grating had been a hazard to cyclists known to transportation authorities for years — almost from the day it was created by a Department of Transportation “seismic retrofit” in 1999.

The flaw came to light after The Seattle Times ran an article on Gendler’s mishap and other cyclists came forward with stories of similar accidents caused by the same gap. That led Gendler to seek accident records from the state, which balked due to a federal law funding states to do data collision analysis but exempting the analyses from public disclosure. Gendler argued he did not want the analyses, just the data. The Thurston County judge in his suit sided with Gendler and his lawyers, Keith Kessler and Charlie Wiggins.

It turned out that even before the bridge modification was completed, a cyclist suffered a similar accident and reported it to the state Department of Transportation. But nothing was done. The cyclist did not suffer injuries as severe as Gendler’s, and DOT authorities considered the risk low because cyclists typically used the sidewalk to cross the bridge. (Cyclists have the legal right to ride the grating, however — a point Gendler also clarified in court.)

It took nearly three years of legal persistence for Mickey Gendler to prove his point — and win greater protection for all cyclists in the process. The state settled, awarding Gendler $8 million for an entirely preventable cycling accident. That’s a lot of money and will pay for the care required for Gendler, 58, to get through his days — for the foreseeable future, at least.

There’s just one problem: Mickey can no longer ride his bike.

No ordinary cyclist

Calling Mickey Gendler a cyclist is like calling a marathoner a jogger.

Among notches in his belt is one of the most challenging amateur road rides in the nation — the Markleeville Death Ride in the northern California Sierra, an endurance feat covering 129 miles with 15,000 feet of elevation gain. Few cyclists can do the Death Ride at all. Mickey’s done it twice — including July, 2007, just three months before his injury.

He rode STP — the near-200-mile Seattle-to-Portland ride — three consecutive times from 1989 to 1991. All one-dayers. He’s done RAMROD, the punishing Ride Around Mt. Rainier in One Day — five times.

Then there are his assorted European monster rides, up the Alps and Pyrenees along routes familiar to the world’s top cycling pros in the Tour de France and other Grand Tours. One memorable route took him up 13,000 feet of elevation gain over 66 miles. Gendler owned two elite custom bikes — one from renowned Seattle bike builder Glenn Erickson and the other a $5,000 titanium Serotta, which he was riding at the time of his accident.

Gendler’s cycling exploits in part explain why he was confident about riding over metal grating. He’s done it hundreds of times — more on the Fremont Bridge than Montlake, but he knows how to negotiate grating even in rainy weather. Grating “is nerve-wracking at first because of the way it looks, but it’s no different from riding on the road,” he said. At least, under normal circumstances it isn’t.

So ingrained in cycling is Gendler’s consciousness that he even thinks of his legal cases in biking terms. When we discussed one of his court victories, Gendler recalled Lance Armstrong’s stirring comeback in the 2003 Tour de France — “the one he almost lost.”

Commentators wrote off Armstrong, suffering from dehydration and losing time, after rival Jan Ullrich pulled away from him early on the brutal Col du Tourmalet, a penultimate climb in a decisive stage. Armstrong came back to win and was later asked when he knew Ullrich was in trouble.

“When he attacked on Tourmalet,” Armstrong answered. The subtext: Lance knew Jan was desperate. If Ullrich had been confident, he would have waited till later in the stage to put the screws to Armstrong. Instead, Ullrich hoped his early move would break Lance’s spirit and lay him under.

Gendler kept the Armstrong strategy in mind time and again in pivotal cases where his side seemed doomed to failure. It’s not a bad philosophy for life, for that matter.

What $8 million buys

Under terms of the settlement, the state admits no guilt. That’s what $8 million buys you these days.

The other thing $8 million buys is the assurance that Gendler’s accident won’t happen again — not on the Montlake Bridge, and hopefully not anywhere. Although it took nearly two years, the state finally filled the “Gendler gap” on the Montlake Bridge with epoxy. One can assumed that DOT now has a “Gendler specification” in place for inspecting and maintaining grating that protects against the kind of accident he suffered.

What $8 million does not buy, of course, is the ability to ride a bike again. Gendler has made impressive progress since his accident, to the point where he can walk short distances with a walker. But most of the time he is confined to his wheelchair, and life’s simplest procedures are a laborious exercise.

Gendler has a puckish sense of humor that along with a natural buoyancy has kept him from being bitter about the accident, and he has been chronicling his recovery for family and friends in a series of remarkably moving and inspirational email installments. As tragic as his mishap was, a lot of positive has come out of it because of who Mickey Gendler is and what he represents.

So the next time you feel the wind in your face, the next time you climb a challenging hill … the next time you ride your bike just for the sake of going out for a ride, think about Mickey Gendler and be thankful. Because even though he can no longer ride, it’s the cycling spirit in riders like Mickey that has made, and will continue to make, the world more hospitable to — and safer for — bicycles.

Further reading ————————

Seattle Times coverage of settlement. article on settlement.

Seattle Weekly blog post.

“Breakthrough” article from Seattle Times.

]]> 2
Rider Down: Grim Justice Tue, 14 Sep 2010 18:40:28 +0000 Lots of drunks run over and kill cyclists, and most of the time they get off with an apology and/or a figurative legal slap on the wrist.

This one killed a friend who was also a cyclist, and decided to dispense his own brand of justice.

]]> 3
Rider Down: How to kill a cyclist and not be charged … Mon, 30 Aug 2010 15:34:33 +0000
Good idea: Offer a reward for info about a hit-and-run bicycle death.

Bad idea: Suggest that drivers who kill cyclists will not be charged as long as they stop to report the incident.

From The Oklahoman, today’s winner of cycling-insensitive prose.

The day after Spencer’s [hit-and-run] death, [another] bicyclist Clyde Riggs was struck and killed by a car while riding in the 5100 block of E Britton Road. That motorist stopped, and no charges were filed.

Entire story here.

]]> 4
Riders Down: Is Slopestyle Becoming Too Dangerous? Mon, 16 Aug 2010 19:05:40 +0000
Injuries are part of sport. When it comes to mountain biking, injuries are an unavoidable part of sport.

But the continued escalation of slopestyle challenges and gravity of injuries raises the question: Has the sport gone too far?

The bunching together of serious injuries at Crankworx competitions in Colorado and Whistler this year have served to highlight the issue. While the aerial acts continue to amaze and astound, the carnage factor is giving pause.

In Colorado, everybody’s favorite stuntster Cam McCaul took a terrible fall, shorting a front flip and breaking his femur. Cam was his usual gonzo self throughout the episode, telling concerned friends and bystanders that it was simply time to get the thing set so he could start healing and get back on the bike. But a broken femur is serious business, and none of the riders we’ve seen with this injury have come back without a far healthier respect for the damage a crash can do.

Still, Cam can thank his lucky stars he didn’t break a two C-vertebrae like downhiller Dan Atherton, who landed a jump wrong while doing practice runs in his own back yard.

At Whistler Crankworx, leading names fell like flies. Slopestyle competition favorite and hometown hero Brandon Semenuk, fresh off his third straight win at Colorado, suffered neck and collarbone injuries, fellow B.C.-er Darren Berrecloth hurt his arm and wrist on his final 360 and France’s Yannick Granieri had to be hospitalized after landing badly. To show how tough the competition was, Yannick still finished 6th and Semenuk 8th in the overall judging. Go big or go home indeed.

It’s always going to be a tough call as to when a course is just too vertical to be safe. Partly to accommodate more extreme tricks, slopestyle courses always feature variations from year to year, stepping up the drop distances, the berm angles, the jump ramps. There may also be an issue with judging. When the riders who go the biggest get hurt as a result, the ones who get rewarded with the wins are the riders who best manage to balance difficulty with getting to the finish line in one piece. That isn’t necessarily the right way to move the sport forward either.

Ultimately it’s not the public who arbitrates this issue. The public wants the scariest, gnarliest and raddest stunts possible. Instead, it’s the riders who will have to make the call. Sort of like in the Tour de France, when the difficulty factor overrides the fairness of the course and safaety of the cyclists and a rider like Fabian Cancellara or Lance Armstrong says hey, time out — that’s what will have to happen if and when course design and judging philosophy exceeds the bounds of rational wisdom.

We’d be interested in hearing from the riders on this point, as well as their fans. Whether they do it publicly or not, though, there needs to be a conversation about the dynamics of slopestyle with regard to the safety of the sport.

Is slopestyle becoming too dangerous? Click here to take survey.

]]> 3
More Questions in Death of Cyclist Jan Lipson Thu, 22 Jul 2010 20:20:08 +0000 Re Jan Lipson’s mysterious death on Highway 9 near Redwood Gulch, our comments queue makes for interesting reading. And in case there’s any doubt about whether a car driver would do a callous hit-and-run in this instance, we’ve been there and it happened. Back in the early ’80s we were cut off on a curve while riding east down Woodside Road (Highway 84). The driver left us for dead.

Or you can Google it.

]]> 0
Unexplained Rider Down: What killed Jan Lipson? Tue, 20 Jul 2010 19:03:01 +0000 A 59-year-old cyclist died — according to the San Jose Mercury News — “after losing control of his bicycle and colliding into a tree on Highway 9.”

We wonder if the adjective “apparently” might be judiciously added here.

The truth is that, without eyewitness accounts, it’s impossible to say so glibly and quickly what might have happened here. Mechanical problems (bike frame failure, flat tire, equipment lockup)? Swerving to avoid an errant motorist? Pavement issues (pothole, oil)?

Why bother to ask? Because the victim was an experienced cyclist described as a “brilliant” and inventive high-energy physicist. At the time of his death, Lipson was chairman and chief technical officer of C8 MediSensors in San Jose (which a Google search reveals to be something of a mystery itself).

Normally in a transportation fatality, a situation like this would be ripe for forensics investigation. Since it’s a lone cyclist, however, we wonder if there will be any investigation at all.

UPDATE: “As of Monday, authorities did not know what caused Lipson to lose control of his road bicycle. Lipson was wearing a helmet at the time of the crash, according to CHP Officer Brandie Dressel.”

]]> 5
Death on the Tour Divide: Investigation in order? Fri, 25 Jun 2010 20:15:22 +0000 It seems the unlikeliest place of all for a car-bike accident: A days-long, 2,745-mile mountain bike race along the Great Divide on trails, fire roads and rugged back country.

But that’s what happened, and a husband and father is dead.

Dave Blumenthal

Dave Blumenthal of Montpelier VT died June 24th of injuries suffered when he collided with a pickup truck on a remote dirt road. Police say the driver was not at fault, but police usually say that. It remains, and may always remain, a mystery as to how the noise and commotion of an approaching pickup truck would not be enough to warn an experienced cyclist of danger. We would encourage race organizers or a cycling advocacy organization to investigate the circumstances further if warranted — it’s difficult from press accounts to mentally reconstruct this accident.

In the meantime, our thoughts are with Blumenthal’s family. More from the Tour of the Great Divide Web site, and a moving account of Dave’s final days on his own blog.

]]> 6
Tracking Down the Road-Rage Woodside Pickup Fri, 25 Jun 2010 14:50:20 +0000 My worst bicycle accident (I’ve had a few) came in 1979, riding down Woodside Road (Highway 84) from Skyline Boulevard. A pickup driving up the winding, swervy road cut me off on one of the hairpins. I managed to avert a head-on by rolling myself over his left fender and hood. He took off but the next driver up stopped to help and said the guy had actually passed him on the uphill, going too fast and driving “like a maniac.”

Model similar to suspect pickup.

I was lucky to be alive, miraculously escaping with broken ribs and stitches on my forehead. I wrote an article about the accident for the Palo Alto Weekly, including a description of the pickup, but surprise of surprises: Nothing ever came of it.

All of this is by way of saying, we’re living in a new era. And now when you have a maniac in a pickup, there are ways to follow up. Case in point is this thread on the Road Bike Review forum, where a bad actor in a white pickup may finally get his due.

]]> 1