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Distinct transportation-related safety challenges for U.S. cities

The so-called "right hook" referenced in a recent article on the safety challenges facing bicyclists in American cities is termed "a common and devastating crash." It occurs when a commercial truck makes a sudden right turn in front of a biker riding on the right side of the truck.

That maneuver can catch a bicyclist -- or even a pedestrian out walking -- by surprise.

And when it does, the consequences can be severe -- indeed, often fatal. A biker or pedestrian involved in a right-hook accident can hit the side of a truck and be swept underneath it.

How often does such a horrific accident occur in municipalities in California and across the country?

Although no definitive crash-related numbers are available from a national perspective, data from one state is certainly instructive. In one measuring period confined to New York City, for example, it was revealed that, although trucks comprised less than four of every 100 vehicles on city streets, they were involved in more than 12 percent of all vehicle-related accidents that killed pedestrians.

And some safety advocates believe that dismal truck-versus-pedestrian/biker outcomes might feature with increased regularity in urban environments in the future.

"You have more trucks … at the same time that you have more bicycling and walking," says one safety researcher and transportation engineer.

Obviously, safety-enhancing policies need to be promoted, such as urban infrastructure improvements that allow for a safer flow of traffic and that better consider the needs of walkers and bicyclists.

One relatively quick fix that a city official says might be able "to take something that would be a fatality and turn it into an injury" would be the installation of truck side guards. Those are intended to prevent bikers and walkers from sliding beneath trucks in right-hook accidents.

Every city is singular, of course, but all are common in that their environs are being increasingly marked by a progressively higher level of required space sharing among motorized vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians.

That reality presents both challenges and opportunities for city planners.

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