Don’t Blame the Person Driving, Blame the Person Who Designs Bad Infrastructure

Today I had one of those unpleasant bike/pickup truck interactions.  No contact, merely a bit of unproductive shouting-as-education.  But I feel there is a lesson in sharing.  A lesson not for the person driving the truck but for those who design our traffic infrastructure.

I was heading north on the Green Circle path along the east bank of the Wisconsin River approaching Clark Street from the south.  My intent was to cross at the signal at Clark and continue along the Green Circle path in Pfiffner Park.  It was 4:30 PM on a clear sunny afternoon.

Location where Green Circle along Water St crosses Clark St (Google Maps)

To make this crossing at the signal, the law requires a person on a bicycle to use the same right-of-way rules as foot traffic, riding in the marked crosswalk and obeying the Walk signal to govern when to proceed.  To the uninformed, this might seem to be riding “against traffic”.  But riding in the crosswalk in this fashion is legal (see Wisconsin State Statutes 347.23, 24, 25, 37, and 38).  Not only that, the Green Circle signage specifically directs people on bicycles (and on foot) to use the built infrastructure in this fashion.

The cross traffic from the west on Clark is just coming off the Clark Street bridge.  There are 3 lanes for this eastbound traffic at this intersection, including a right turn lane to turn south onto Water St.

Generally, this entire intersection has a feel of being designed entirely for the convenience of motor vehicles with a poor level of service for foot and bicycle traffic.  I always dread this crossing (for many reasons – maybe I’ll list those in a future post someday), but this seems the best of the various poor north-south alternatives while traversing the downtown Stevens Point area near the river.

I arrived at this intersection while the green light was in my direction of travel, but I had a Don’t Walk signal displayed.  I take particular caution at this intersection due to its complexity, so I chose to wait for another signal cycle to get a Walk signal (so as to be sure I wouldn’t get caught halfway in some signal change).  I waited in position to cross through the remainder of that green, the ensuing red light, and the subsequent left-turn arrow for northbound cars on Water turning to go west on Clark (crossing my eventual path).

Finally, I got the Walk signal and started into the crosswalk at my first legal opportunity to do so.  I was stopped for well over a minute waiting to cross.

In the seconds before I started to cross, a truck eastbound on Clark came over the bridge into the right turn lane intending to turn south onto Water.  The driver had the red light but intended to make a right-on-red.  I presume he never saw me ready to proceed into the crosswalk.  I further presume this is because he never looked in my direction at all due to his focus in the opposite direction to see if traffic southbound on Water was clear.

Moments after I started riding into the crosswalk, I saw the truck start to initiate its right turn, moving towards me.  I shouted “Hey” (more effective than my ring-a-ding bell at that moment) and the truck immediately stopped.

Then, the person driving the pickup truck immediately began shouting at me out his window that I can’t just proceed in front of him like that.  Sigh.  I continued riding while shouting back that I had the Walk signal and pointing at the signal directly in front of me still displaying Walk.  He shouted something more – obviously unpersuaded – and we both continued in our separate directions.

I obviously had the right-of-way and I obviously didn’t come out of nowhere at great speed.  But that driver probably believes that I recklessly crossed his path without giving him any opportunity to see me.  So much for education.

But I can’t really blame the driver of that pickup truck.  He is simply functioning within infrastructure built for his convenience, and he takes advantage of that without concern about details such as carefully looking in all directions to see if he actually has the right-of-way.  He takes such advantage because nothing in the infrastructure suggests he should act otherwise.

It is the designers of the roadway who are responsible for creating infrastructure that is (or fails to be) safe for all road users.  They are the ones I blame for this near-miss incident.  They are the ones who built this complex intersection with lots of asphalt to cross which only feels safe to those in motor vehicles.

Although I’d love to see a major redesign of this intersection, there seem to be some simple low-cost options which would contribute to making this Green Circle crosswalk path safer for foot traffic and bicycle riders:

  • How about installing some signage alerting traffic to expect unusually heavy foot and bicycle traffic at this location?
  • How about changing the northbound left-turn-signal cadence at this intersection so that the Walk signal can come on immediately after the cross traffic gets the red light (so that it is more predictable to cross traffic when someone might enter the crosswalk)?
  • How about prohibiting right turns on red at this complex Green Circle Trail crossing to protect vulnerable users of this crosswalk?

Since this intersection lies on WI Hwy 66, I’m not sure if it is the city of Stevens Point or the WI Department of Transportation that has jurisdiction over this location.  But at some level, I don’t really care.  What I really want is for those who design our transportation infrastructure to thoughtfully consider all modes of travel in their designs.

When roads are designed well for all modes of travel, they become safer for all road users, including those driving pickup trucks.  And I truly feel that even the person who shouted at me from his pickup truck today would appreciate such good design.

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