Ride as much or as little, or as long
or as short as you feel. But ride.
~ Eddy Merckx
In September 2019 Tom Ockenden was riding with other Western Wheelers, heading north towards the Don Burnett Bridge over 280 from Mary Avenue. Tom got tangled in the narrow gap between the right hand white pole (bollard) and the fence on the right side of the bridge. His helmet hit one of the upright fence supports and twisted his head resulting in the fracture of his second cervical vertebrae in his neck. Tom had to wear a neck brace for three months and was unable to ride for an extended period of time.
Not content to attribute this crash to misfortune, Pete Letchworth examined whether dangerous conditions on the entrance to the bridge contributed to the crash. His first thought was that the white poles blended into the bridge backdrop, so were not sufficiently visible, a simple problem that could have been addressed with a splash of orange paint. But working with Alan Wachtel together they found a section in the CalTrans Highway Design Manual with 11 guidelines governing the use of bollards in such a situation. The bollards on the Don Burnett bridge violated 6 of these guidelines! Chief among them, bollards should be:
• Yielding to minimize injury to bicyclists and pedestrians who may strike them.
• Reflectorized for nighttime visibility and painted ... in a bright color to enhance daytime visibility.
• Spaced to leave a minimum of 5 feet of clearance between obstacles ...
• Positioned so an even number of bicycle travel lanes are created [odd number of bollards] ...
The Don Burnett bridge had two white rigid poles at each end of the bridge, creating three lanes, each less than five feet across!
Pete wrote letters to various Cupertino officials. He followed up with more letters when there was a lack of action related to his earlier correspondence. The issue was belatedly taken up by the Cupertino Bicycle Pedestrian Commission in mid 2020 which approved changing the configuration to a single bollard at the centerline on both sides of the bridge. The work was supposed to be completed by the end of 2020 but was finally completed in February of this year.
Pete next to the highly visible, single bollard
on the Don Burnett Bridge entrance
We can all follow Pete’s lead. If you see a situation that is dangerous for cyclists such as a bridge or road design or any kind of road hazard, report it to the appropriate agency. SVBC maintains a web page with contact info for different regions and agencies that can be used to report the hazard. Persevere to get your issue resolved. The cycling community will benefit from your efforts.
Thankfully, Tom fully recovered from his crash and his cheerful presence is again enjoyed by his fellow cyclists on club rides.