Map by Hillary Borrud. Click here to view this map in a new tab.
Sources: Bend Police Department, Deschutes County 911 Service District and Oregon Department of Transportation
Despite pleas to “share the road' on bumper stickers and from bike advocates, conflict between drivers and bicyclists remains common on the streets of Bend.
People reported more than 200 crashes between bikes and cars in the city from July 2012 through June 2014, according to The Bulletin’s analysis of data from the Bend Police Department, Deschutes County 911 Service District and the Oregon Department of Transportation.
It’s been three years since a bicyclist died in a crash: 16-year-old Forrest Cepeda, who was riding his bike with a friend along Southeast Reed Market Road when driver Erik Conn lost control of his truck and ran over the Bend teen.
However, 121 people were injured in crashes that involved bicycles and cars from 2008 through 2013, according to data from ODOT. In addition to Cepeda, three other people were killed in bike crashes during that period. The actual number of people injured was likely larger, because the transportation agency does not receive information about every incident reported to 911 dispatchers, Peter Murphy, an ODOT spokesman, said Thursday.
No area of Bend was immune to bike-car conflicts, but the incidents occurred most commonly along major thoroughfares and in the city center. A map shows clusters of collisions along intersections on Third Street, Greenwood Avenue and Newport Avenue.
“You don’t see it on a long section of road. It’s typically those exchange points, either an intersection or entrance to a popular parking lot for retail,' said Lucas Freeman, a Bike Around Bend blogger and founding member of Bend Bikes, a community group working to improve bicycling conditions in Bend. “Those are the dangerous points where, if the car is at fault, a collision would take place.'
There were a few reports of bicyclists running into vehicles — and one case in which a cyclist allegedly hit a golf cart — but most reports to Bend Police, Deschutes County 911 dispatchers and ODOT involved cars crashing into bicyclists, or it was unclear from the data which party was at fault.
“I think there’s certainly plenty of blame to go around,' Freeman said Friday. “It’s just people being people, making mistakes, whether they’re in a car or whether they’re on a bike. From the perspective of cyclists, it’s scarier — you are on the short end of the stick.'
Robin Lewis, a transportation engineer in the city’s Growth Management Department, said last week that when the city studied crash data from 2006 through 2010, bike-car crashes generally fell into a few categories. Roughly half of daytime crashes involved bicyclists riding the wrong way, against traffic.
“If you’re in a motor vehicle and you’re stopped at a stop sign, you’re not looking in that wrong direction for a conflict,' Lewis said.
The other half of daytime crashes involved bicyclists “getting right-turn hooked,' Lewis said. This occurs when the bicyclist and car are headed in the same direction, and the driver does not see the bicyclist. As a result, the driver either hits the bicyclist, or the bicyclist runs into the car.
“The conflict is built into the system,' Lewis said. “The bike lane is straight, and the motor vehicle is going right.'
Brian Potwin, of Bend’s nonprofit transportation organization Commute Options said Thursday that other infractions include motorists’ failure to obey traffic control devices and bicyclists not having lights or reflective devices.
“It’s a two-way street … a variety of different human interactions that cause these crashes,' Potwin said.
The city has started to experiment with new street designs such as a special, more visible area for bicyclists to wait at a red light — there is one downtown at Wall Street and Franklin Avenue — but city engineers and planners are also waiting for other cities to test some of those ideas.
“There’s a couple things Portland has looked into, so we’re watching them,' Lewis said.
She is working with a consultant to identify street designs that could reduce bike-car conflicts, and those ideas could form the basis for a new budget dedicated to these types of projects.
Lewis said crashes were less frequent at night during the period studied by the city, but nearly all of them involved bicyclists without the front headlight and rear reflector required by state law for riding after dark.
That information prompted the city to create a “see and be seen program' that involved handing out posters and coasters with information about lighting requirements, “particularly (at) bars,' Lewis said. The city also received a $25,000 grant from Deschutes Brewery earlier this year to purchase lights and reflective gear, which the city and Commute Options installed for free on people’s bikes at five locations around Bend as part of their “Light Up the Night' campaign this spring. Between all five events, around 200 lights were given out to bicyclists. Lewis said the city and Commute Options have more lights and reflective gear they plan to hand out at events this fall.
After The Bulletin requested data on bicycle crashes, Bend Police Sgt. Clint Burleigh asked the department’s crime data analyst to look into which areas of the city have the most problems. Burleigh said Wednesday the department’s internal analysis identified problem areas similar to the clusters shown in the data analyzed by The Bulletin.
“Third (Street) and Greenwood (Avenue) is probably one of our worst intersections in town for all crashes,' Burleigh said. “Those are areas where we need to do focused enforcement to get people to obey the law.'
Burleigh said police officers have worked with Potwin to understand Oregon’s bicycle laws, and “our guys have been very diligent about stopping bicycles, writing citations or talking to them' for violations such as riding the wrong way in bike lanes.
The city also has had a bicyclist diversion class since 2011, which allows first-time offenders to avoid paying fines and have their citations dismissed if they successfully complete the $50 class. Otherwise, bicyclists can face fines as high as $260 for running a red light or stop sign, Burleigh said.
As the city continues to work on the Bend Bike Walk project, improvements to make areas of the city more bike and pedestrian friendly, Freeman said the steps it has already taken reflect a growing recognition of what’s needed to protect vulnerable road users.
“In a perfect world, we would have completely separate infrastructure,' Freeman said. “I think cyclists have to be hypervigilant — when you are at those exchanges where auto traffic can go multiple ways, you have to be paying attention. Be aware that sometimes motorists just don’t see you.'
Potwin said that drivers and bicyclists can avoid crashes by thinking of their roadway interactions in terms of a human give and take.
“From our perspective and on the educational side, it’s more about the technique that you use, the skill set and following and obeying traffic laws,' he said. “If I were to give anybody any tips, get up a little earlier, leave a little earlier and pick a good route.'