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Wednesday, 22 February 2006
Running the gauntlet
Topic: urban issues
A few days ago, young Shawn Beach, a Brighton resident who commuted by bicycle to a job near Pittsford Plaza, was struck and killed by a motor vehicle at the entrance ramp to I-590 North on Monroe Avenue. As reported in the D&C, a sheriff’s office spokesperson said the obvious: it was “an unfortunate accident.”

And it almost goes without saying: All of us mourn this loss of life. Our hearts go out to Shawn Beach's family and friends and coworkers - and also to the motorist who unintentionally played a tragic role and now must live with that.

It’s hard to tell what factors came into play. Beach was reportedly wearing dark clothing, and the collision took place at 6:25 pm, one of the worst times of the day for visibility. No charges are expected.

The case prompts some reminders. While sharing the road as provided by law, bicyclists and motorists have certain responsibilities. Bikers must wear bright, reflective clothing and use proper lights. Drivers need to operate their potentially lethal machines with due regard for others.

But one actor here is evading responsibility. It’s the transportation system that creates inherently hazardous conditions – for the dubious goal of shaving a minute or two off someone’s commute or shopping trip.

I know the stretch of Monroe that took down Shawn Beach – and I know that bicyclists have to watch their backs there. Indeed, going through there this like pedaling a quarter-mile gauntlet.

Put yourself in the saddle:

Say you’re biking west on Monroe between Clover St. and Twelve Corners. You’re required by law and prudence to keep as far to the right as possible. But as you approach the I-590 on-ramp from the east, you find you can’t do this. To stay on the avenue, you must cross a right-turn-only lane that feeds high-speed traffic onto the on-ramp.

(There are many other local examples of this kind of thing. One I love to hate is in downtown, where Monroe Avenue crosses over the Inner Loop just south of the Strong Musueum. At rush hour, especially, a bicyclist understands how high this complex intersection/crossover sits on the sliding scale of unintelligent design. Particularly impressive are the TWO right turn lanes that cyclists must negotiate.)

So how do you cope with Monroe at I-590?

Well, you can dismount and walk your bike across the pedestrian crosswalk – in other words, adopt a “back of the bus” status as user of the public highways. (Not that this will totally protect you.) Or you can check your rear-view mirror for a break in the traffic flow, and then zip leftward across the right-turn-only lane to the travel lane up ahead.

In either scenario, you’re at the mercy of the motor traffic. And believe me, people tear through the Monroe-Clover area like crazy. Whether they’re going to stay on Monroe Avenue or turn onto I-590, their eyes are on one prize: spending the shortest possible time between points A and B.

Not to put the sole blame on motorists as a class. (Disclosure and confession: I don’t own a car, but I do have a driver’s license and drive occasionally.) They’ve had their enablers, a.k.a. transportation planners, agency officials, and oil/auto/construction corporate types – the panoply of horsepower fetishists that together have made the public highways a killing zone. And this is more than unfortunate, or even a crying shame. It’s an ongoing moral crime.

Remember that, too, as you remember the life and death of Shawn Beach.

Posted by jackbradiganspula at 11:15 EST
Updated: Friday, 3 March 2006 17:01 EST
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