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City ordinance blames bicyclist for collision

The State News: City ordinance blames bicyclist for collision

By Brittany Shammas

After she was struck by a car while riding her bicycle across Harrison Road, Liz McDaniel was left with a sprained arm, two missing front teeth, a broken bike and the blame for the accident.

“You know how when you hear your life flashes before your eyes — It sounds cheesy, but it’s true,” McDaniel said. “It was a slow-motion minute: this car coming toward me and I can’t do anything.”

The journalism freshman now has two “flipper” teeth as temporary stand-ins until she can get a set of titanium implant teeth. Her arm is out of its splint. But what she said she doesn’t understand, and what others don’t understand, is how police consider the accident her fault.

Because she was riding rather than walking her bike in the crosswalk on Harrison Road when she was struck by the vehicle, the driver was not at fault, McDaniel said police told her.

A city ordinance prohibits bicyclists from biking faster than walking speed, East Lansing police Capt. Tom Johnstone said. Although enforcement of the ordinance is laxed— officers typically don’t hand out tickets to people who bike across crosswalks at above walking speeds — it is intended to keep pedestrians safe, he said.

McDaniel said she and many of the people to whom she has told her story were unaware of the ordinance. Kinesiology junior Katie Wilson said she did not know of the rule and disagreed with it.

“If that is a rule and you can’t ride your bike across the street, then they should have bike lanes on every road instead of every other so there are still other options for bikers to cross the street,” she said.

But officers write tickets using their own discretion, and none were written within the last year, East Lansing police Chief Tom Wibert said.

“Really, it’s not a common ticket at all,” he said, adding it likely would be enforced only in the case of an accident.

A university ordinance takes regulation of bicycles on crosswalks further, requiring bicyclists to walk across the crosswalk, said MSU police Sgt. Randy Holton, who oversees the department’s traffic and alcohol unit. Holton said although he could not give a “black and white” answer, the crosswalk is considered an extension to the sidewalk. A university ordinance bans bicycles from sidewalks. Bike paths or the right side of the street are intended for bicycles, he said.

“Sidewalks are made for people to walk on them,” Holton said. “Crosswalks are called crosswalks because people walk on them.”

Taylor said she couldn’t give an estimate as to the number of bike-car collisions that occurred in crosswalks, but accidents reported to police include everything from collisions between bikes and cars, bikes and pedestrians, bikes and bikes and bikes and objects, such as curbs and trees. Whether a collision occurs on a crosswalk is not recorded, she said.

The purpose of the ordinance is to keep pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers safe by separating them, Holton said.

“The goal is not like we want to go out and write a bunch of tickets,” he said. “We’re looking at safety. Safety is our No. 1 concern.”

McDaniel said she is “lucky to be alive” and can’t wait to get on her bike again — this time, with a helmet.

Originally Published: 09/23/09 9:42pm