Liability Kills Innovation and Solutions

We in Cupertino live in the heart of Innovation, Silicon Valley.  Apple has its headquarters and largest R&D facility here.  Yet when you ask the city to implement biking safety enhancements which are not mainstream in California they say they can’t because of potential liability issues.  This kind of attitude stifles any kind of creativity or even the adoption of tried and true ideas developed in Europe and implemented elsewhere but not yet popular here.

Not all cities have this kind of overcautious attitude.  San Francisco realized the importance of bicycle safety, especially since the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition has urged the city to make bicycles more equal to car in safety on their streets.  They have been implementing safer bicycle lanes there for the last few years.  Davis California has been at it even longer and it probably the leader in bicycle safety in California.  Class IV protected bicycle lanes and protected intersections have been implemented on many of their busier streets.  Portland Organ is the capital of the bicycle movement in America and has been very aggressive at implementing safe bicycle lanes and taking many hints from European designs.  New York is starting to design their street towards bicycle safety and use in recent years and has made Time Square bicycle friendly and periodically closes off streets for use by pedestrians and bicycles only.  There are many other examples around the country where cities are trying new ideas to make bicycling more safe and popular.

But Cupertino continues to play it safe from liability.  So it never can be a leader in anything.  It only cautiously follows others who have the common sense and safety priority to lead the way.  When the streets could be made much safer for cyclists and pedestrians the Bicycle Pedestrian Commission plays it safe and does not try its best to make our streets safer until someone they think reputable does it first so fearful is it about liability.  In the mean time the city leaves pedestrian-ways and bicycle routs less safe than they could be had they taken the initiative, thus risking the lives of its citizens and users.

A case in point is McClellan Road which has been known as an unsafe road for decades.  Accidents between bicycles and cars happen every years or so around the three Schools located withing blocks of one another on Bubb Rd. and McClellan Rd.  Last year Ethan Wong was struck and killed by a large truck while bicycling to school on that road.  Had a Class IV protected bicycle lane, physically separating cyclists from cars and designed by the Dutch and Europeans and used for decades because of their proven safety track record, been installed there Ethan would more than likely be alive today.  No blame has ever been assigned to this accident illustrating how murky are the laws and road designs there allowing the bicycle and truck to occupy the same space and collide.  In spite of the accident the City still has not placed such protected bicycle lanes there because of perceived liability concerns even though Class IV bicycle lane have been used in such cities as Davis for some time and have been part of State Law since last year.

So perceived liability concerns for Class IV bicycle lanes are no longer relevant.  However the city wants them to be even more non-existent.  In the mean time student cyclists remain exposed to unnecessary safety risks and hazardous road conditions that lead to this tragic loss of life.  The problem remains unresolved even though a proven solutions that the city has been aware of exists.  To the city’s credit they have painted the bicycle lane green and prohibited large trucks from driving on McClellan Rd. during school traffic hours but student are still exposed to car traffic.

The city needs progressive programs to make our street far safer for both bicycle riders and pedestrians if it ever wants more bicyclists and pedestrians to use our streets.  Not addressing these safety issues with new bold and proven safety measures because of liability concerns kills good ideas and innovations from happening and also can kill and maim residents at any instant as was just illustrated.

For ever fatality there are likely hundreds of injury accidents between vehicles and bicycles, some serious and some not.  But every such accident is a potential fatality and must be treated as such regarding implementing safety measures.  We must not let the fear of liability cloud our judgement on saving lives and protecting the health and welfare of our children and citizens riding and walking our streets.  We must encourage citizens, not discourage them, to bike and walk our streets safely with innovative and proven safety ideas to solve some of our traffic issues and improve the health and well being of our citizens.  It is only right.


About Frank Geefay

Sustainable Bicycle and Smart Growth Advocate
This entry was posted in Considerations, Examples, Ideas and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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