A Common But Preventable Bicycle Accident

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Johann F. Szautner, D.I.,P.E.,P.L.S. ::::

Collision with an automobile is a hazard a bicyclist faces in an urban environment; however, it’s a relatively uncommon occurrence. A majority of bicycle accidents involve a defect or some other hazard in the road or designated bike lane, if one exists. Additionally, many accidents involving a road hazard are located in a construction work zone. With our urban crumbling infrastructure, construction work zones are to be expected in every city, anytime.

Maintenance of a safe road/bicycle rider system in a construction work zone involves behavior of the rider and other vehicles sharing the road, construction activity and traffic control devices and signs, and most importantly, the condition of the road surface itself.

A bicycle is a one-track vehicle with certain balance characteristics built into the rider/cycle system. This system can be unbalanced by any unusual protuberances or abrupt changes in the road surface. These changes can include rough and /or broken pavement sections, edge drop offs and longitudinal grooves from pavement milling. Raised manholes and storm water inlets, as well as pavement changes to gravel or dirt surfaces are often too inconspicuous to be recognized in time to take evasive action.

The best management approach to accident avoidance in a construction work zone requires adoption of a comprehensive safety and loss prevention program. This includes an inspection of the proposed construction work zone, and inventory of all foreseeable pedestrian and vehicular traffic circulation and associated conflict points in relation to the various construction stages. The resulting safety audit and worker, pedestrian and vehicular traffic vulnerability assessment needs to be incorporated in a Temporary Traffic Control Plan. Preparation of a comprehensive safety and loss prevention program is also often required by contract with the owner, especially if the owners are a governmental or institutional entity.

The impetus for writing this article comes from a bicycle accident which occurred in the City of Philadelphia. A general contractor and subcontractor allowed the existence of hazards, which alone and/or in combination posed unreasonable risks of harm. These hazards included the unauthorized partial blocking of a designated bicycle lane without placing warning signs and without providing traffic control, spilling of debris on the surface of the bike lane, and leaving it for an extended period of time, all of which caused a bicyclist to crash and suffer multiple and permanent injuries.

A temporary Traffic Control and Maintenance Plan was provided, but not followed. Contractors, including subcontractors, are accountable for injuries to the traveling public, if the injuries are the result of negligent construction activity on an unprotected public highway. (Johann Szautner, PE can be reached at 215-659-2010 or via email at experts@forensicDJS.com)

 

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