The Bar-On Brief: Bike accidents and the the age-old question: Who is to blame?

By Shauli Bar-On, Columnist

The Bar-On Brief: a weekly column
The Bar-On Brief: a weekly column

For as long as I’ve been at HHS, and probably significantly before then, there has been talk of the lack of safety for bike riders.The age-old question, the one that comes about when any problem arises, has naturally formed: “Who is to blame?”

The community says it’s the city of Sunnyvale.

But the reality is the city and community are both, dare I say it, at fault. Neither is perfect.Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 1.22.52 PM


First, let’s discuss the improvements the city can effectuate:

Sunnyvale residents have been pressuring the city to enact changes to increase bikers’ safety. They are calling for the city to follow Cupertino’s plan in painting all bike lanes bright green. Colored bike lanes are significantly more visible to drivers who will then drive more cautiously around them.

Community member Steve Norton sent a letter to the City Council in February urging them to implement  similar green bike lanes in Sunnyvale. He sent a copy of his letter to members of the Homestead Parent Forum Yahoo group, Sunnyvale Middle School community email group, the Cumberland Community email group and the NextDoor App.  

“Green paint is a start and it is doing something about the issue. It is a start, not the end, but a start,” Norton wrote.

Before the city paints the bike lanes around HHS, there needs to be a bike lane on every major road across the whole district.

As of now, there is a stretch of over two miles on Mary Ave. that does not provide space for cyclists.

Students from Cumberland and Cherry Chase Elementary Schools’ neighborhoods travel a large portion of their trip to Homestead without a designated bike lane. The bike lane only begins at the Mary and Fremont intersection.
There have been plans to build a bike lane on all of Mary Ave. since 2013, but these plans have yet to be executed.

Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 1.24.44 PMFurthermore, only half a mile of Hollenbeck Ave, another major road that HHS students from the Nimitz Elementary School neighborhood take, reserves space for bike lanes.

The city should reform schools in addition to the roads: middle schools, elementary schools even, can have more presentations about bike safety and pedestrian rules. Police officers and paramedics can speak in school assemblies about the importance of obeying traffic laws, much like their colleagues do in cyber security presentations.


I do, of course, give credit to the city for the countless positive safety precautions already in place.

There are numerous crossing guards at several major intersections around elementary and middle schools. The city ensured streetlights rather than stop or yield signs were placed in intersections where accidents commonly occured.

According to the Statewide Integrated Traffic Record System, Sunnyvale’s bicycle collision rate is the fourth lowest in Santa Clara County.

Sunnyvale earned a bronze-level Bicycle Friendly Award from the League of American Bicyclists, a Santa Clara County report confirms.

In order to achieve gold-level status, the community needs to work with the city.

While the government is responsible for the safety of its citizens through the enforcement of laws and regulations, the rest of the community has a major role in biker safety as well.

There can be an infinite number of presentations, a 100-foot bike lane and several traffic rules installed, but it all comes down to what steps the community takes independent from city reform.

It’s not uncommon for bikers to ignore stop signs, bike through crosswalks with red lights or violate other traffic laws. Other than increasing the fines, the government can’t do much about that.

According to the City of Sunnyvale’s three-year study from 2009-2012, 23 percent of bike accidents were primarily caused due to “wrong side of road” biking. Of these incidents, 94 percent were the biker’s fault.

Another 10 percent of accidents were caused primarily from traffic sign and signal violation. In 67 percent of these cases, the biker was found at fault.

Moreover, 47 percent of bikers were not wearing a helmet at the time of their accident. Of these bikers, 34 percent of those under 18 were not wearing one either, the study said. It’s the law to wear a helmet under the age of 18.Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 1.21.49 PM

Drivers can be more careful as well. Thirty-seven percent of accidents are due to improper turning and/or right of way violations where drivers tend to be more at fault than bikers.

I use the phrase “at fault” because that is the term used by the study. By no means am I suggesting bikers deserve to be injured because of disobeying traffic laws, nor am I arguing drivers intentionally collide with bikers.

It’s easy to blame one another for the bike accidents in our community, but that will get us nowhere. The reality is we must work together to get that accident rate down to zero percent.

That’s why I hope the mayor outlines his plan for city reform, one that is much needed and has been called for repeatedly, and for community reform.

Whether we agree or disagree with his city plans, we need to step up and make some plans of our own to fashion the change we want in biker safety.

And with that, I rest my case.