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Old 03-01-07, 09:50 PM   #1
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AC: Are intersections truly dangerous for bike paths?

So many posters have complained that bike paths and intersections tend to be a deadly mixture, but honestly I am not finding this to be true. In concept it may be true, but in practice motorists seem more aware of bikes on the bike path than they are of bikes anywhere else on the road.

Whenever I come to an intersection they have already seen me approach and are waving me through as I arrive. I can never stop. They won't let me. I feel guilty about it sometimes.

Whenever I try to make a left from the street to get on the bike path they'll stop and wave me through as well. They all seem to know that's where the bike path is, that's where the bikes are, and they seem really happy to help me get there.

This happens in Ojai and in Santa Barbara, and believe me the Ojai bike path has so much more potential for trouble. But trouble just doesn't materialize. That's not to say all are perfect. They recenly built a doozy that I'm sure won't work out so well.

So I kinda wonder now what all the fuss is about. Is it always so bad? Does anybody who actually uses a bike path see the same thing? If not, why do you suppose this is?
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Old 03-01-07, 10:14 PM   #2
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I see this is some areas, but not in others. In particular, The W&OD trail runs 44 miles (I believe) from just outside of Washington DC out west into horse country. Real close in, most people will look out for people crossing the trail, but most are just looking out, not yielding the right of way. A little further out, people will drive you nuts because they will stop even though you have the stop sign and they don't. Once you get out in the country, most drivers seem barely aware of you so you better be watching out for yourself. There were two deaths out there last summer, both with the bike riders blowing stop signs crossing roads that generally have little regular traffic.

Now where I am, there are no trails and only a couple of bike lane areas in town. You're pretty much on your own but if you ride like you belong in traffic, and with traffic, you have few problems. We have a couple of major roads that connect one end of the county to the other, that have MUPs along one side. Crossing intersections along there is tricky. There are a few where people tend to watch, but for the most part they come on out, only looking for cars, and being waved through is rare. I think it's compounded by the fact that there's only trail on one side, so if you are coming from the driver's right, they are never going to see you. As mentioned in another thread, the right on red turners often barely pause, if they think they can make it, they are coming out, and they aren't looking for bike traffic from the right.
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Old 03-01-07, 10:31 PM   #3
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I have to say our local MUP's work suprisingly well. I am always pleasantly suprised at how often I am recognized by drivers. I do slow down more often and typically ride slower there than I would on the road, but I also ride an old MTB for my commuter and only commute 5 miles. If I was on a roadie with a longer commute I might stay in the road more, but the MUP's around here work fine for me.

BTW, your bike lanes I assume are a striped off part of the actual road correct?
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Old 03-01-07, 10:37 PM   #4
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It really depends on the intersection design and how much bicycle use there is.

In San Diego, the SR-56 bike path parallels the SR-56 freeway and eastbound offramps on the south side of the freeway. At the intersections it is effectively a sidepath and eastbound traffic on the offramp intending to turn right (south) at the end of the ramp cross the crosswalk where the path crosses the road. Right-turning drivers on the offramp tend to be looking left as they are turning right. They can have a green at the same time as the cyclist. It's almost designed to cause right hooks.

The problem is that in many situations it is difficult, sometimes prohibitively expensive, to do it right.

But in terms of AC, the main thing is to be really careful at these intersection. For example, safety usually requires you to go slower than if you were crossing the same street from another street.

Last edited by Helmet Head; 03-01-07 at 10:50 PM.
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Old 03-01-07, 11:25 PM   #5
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not if you treat them like any other intersection.

look and yield if necessary. if you've got a stop sign, stop.
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Old 03-02-07, 04:00 AM   #6
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I’ll second that it really depends on the area, in some places I’ll experience what the op does and in others I am tempted to pick up the broken stop for pedestrian sign and start whacking cars with it (read that as openly hostel to people in crosswalks.)

My personal theory it really depends on how empathetic the drivers are to MUP users. In areas where a lot of cyclists live (not necessarily out using the MUP) tend to be the more courteous and areas that are over auto centric tend to be the worst. This theory is loosely based on the fact that everyone has a friend so one cyclists can have several empathetic neighbors as well.

As a sidebar I will note that I have seen census maps of the density of bicycle ownership for the state and it seems to closely follow mass transit availability and use. If the car is perceived as the only option of getting around then everything else seems to takes a back seat, it’s sad but seems to be true.
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Old 03-02-07, 06:50 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by sbhikes
So many posters have complained that bike paths and intersections tend to be a deadly mixture, but honestly I am not finding this to be true.
Bike lane intersection designs vary greatly, so it's hard to generalize. But I haven't found bike path intersections to be noticeably more dangerous than other intersections. And this is true even of some bike path intersections that I consider to be horribly designed.

Quote:
Originally Posted by sbhikes
In concept it may be true, but in practice motorists seem more aware of bikes on the bike path than they are of bikes anywhere else on the road.
This is exactly what I have noticed, as well. Motorists seem to recognize a potential hazard and use extra caution, thereby making some very poorly designed intersections actually fairly safe. On the other hand, while I have noticed that motorists seem to take extra caution, many bicyclists do not.

Intersections on one particular local bike path with which I am quite familar vary from ones I consider safer than the average intersection to one, in particular, which is one of the most poorly designed and potentially dangerous intersections I have ever seen (if I'm not mistaken, the really badly designed one is soon to be rebuilt). I am actually somewhat amazed that I have never seen an accident at that intersection.
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Old 03-02-07, 06:51 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sbhikes
So many posters have complained that bike paths and intersections tend to be a deadly mixture, but honestly I am not finding this to be true...

So I kinda wonder now what all the fuss is about. Is it always so bad? Does anybody who actually uses a bike path see the same thing? If not, why do you suppose this is?
Better start another Forester debunking thread. This alleged deadly mixture is another oft repeated Forester chestnut based on Forester Brand statistical analysis of cherry picked data. Believed without question, and, repeated religiously, by the Forester acolytes.
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Old 03-02-07, 06:56 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bekologist
not if you treat them like any other intersection.

look and yield if necessary. if you've got a stop sign, stop.
Exactly - sometimes we cyclists are as bad as any driver when it comes to being impatient. Sometimes I think Rule #1 in not only cycling, but perhaps life in general, should be: WHEN IN DOUBT, SLOW THE FLOCK DOWN!
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Old 03-02-07, 08:46 AM   #10
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Two-way bike paths that are set up like sidewalks are more dangerous than normal intersections because half of the bike traffic is coming from a direction that motorists aren't looking for traffic. Drivers who are turning right from a red signal or stop sign are constantly running into contra-flow sidewalk cyclists here in Cary. The right-side same-as-other-traffic-direction sidewalk cyclists don't have nearly as high a collision rate.

Mid-block intersections with greenways that are routed in their own right-of-way are usually as safe as any other isolated intersection, assuming the cyclist stops and yields. The only substantial difficulty is when the intersection is not signalized and there is very busy traffic on the roadway.

Sidewalk-type bike paths are where most cyclists object to safety and convenience being lower than using the roadway due to intersection conflicts. I've seen many local sidewalk bike path projects in Raleigh and Cary that have enough intersection and junction conflicts that I would never use them. As a student I used to bike commute on Avent Ferry road near NC State University, which features a designated sidewalk bike path where I had many near-collisions with drivers pulling in and out of driveways to apartments. But some greenways in their own right of way, with minimal junction conflicts, can provide a good route with the occasional intersection designed just like a normal road intersection.

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Old 03-02-07, 09:02 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by deputyjones
BTW, your bike lanes I assume are a striped off part of the actual road correct?
Yes our bike lanes are a striped part of the road. But I'm talking about fully separated bike paths that are not necessarily even parallel to another road.

The one I ride on daily, when it intersects with a road, it intersects as a four-way stop, with the bike path crossing the road. Not like a sidewalk.

In Ojai it does cross like a sidewalk, and does seem on the surface to be quite troublesome, however I have found it isn't very troublesome in practice. The people who live there are well aware the bike path is there so they leave room and keep an eye out for you, and usually wave you through with a smile. They'll even back up to give you room if needed.

I think because bike paths work better than they should that might explain why I see so many different ages and abilities riding there, everything from children to old folks to racing teams. Yes. Racing teams. I think it's another falacy that all bike paths are choked with non-cyclist users.

And ILTB, I guess in a way this is another Forester Debunking thread because we hear so often as if it were gospel truth that bike paths are worse than the road, but if I just open my eyes and look at actual reality, this "truth" doesn't appear to be so universally true. And I was hoping by tacking on AC to the front of my subject that I could learn if actual reality is similar elsewhere and not engage in another theoritical argument about bike paths.
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Old 03-02-07, 09:37 AM   #12
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OK, gotcha. Then that is also what I am referring to as a MUP. Basically a wide sidewalk.

sggoodri: I wouldn't dispute that intersections can be more dangerous with this type riding, but IMHO it is a manageable risk with a part of that risk/reward equation being that it is safer between intersections. At least I feel that is the case where I ride.

On one part of my journey to work the MUP crosses the road at a major intersection. So using AC I go from a bike path rider to VC and jump into the right lane before this happens so I can make it back to the path after the intersection.
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Old 03-02-07, 09:57 AM   #13
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How ADAPTIVE of you, deputy!
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Old 03-02-07, 10:58 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sbhikes
So many posters have complained that bike paths and intersections tend to be a deadly mixture, but honestly I am not finding this to be true. In concept it may be true, but in practice motorists seem more aware of bikes on the bike path than they are of bikes anywhere else on the road.

Whenever I come to an intersection they have already seen me approach and are waving me through as I arrive. I can never stop. They won't let me. I feel guilty about it sometimes.

Whenever I try to make a left from the street to get on the bike path they'll stop and wave me through as well. They all seem to know that's where the bike path is, that's where the bikes are, and they seem really happy to help me get there.

This happens in Ojai and in Santa Barbara, and believe me the Ojai bike path has so much more potential for trouble. But trouble just doesn't materialize. That's not to say all are perfect. They recenly built a doozy that I'm sure won't work out so well.

So I kinda wonder now what all the fuss is about. Is it always so bad? Does anybody who actually uses a bike path see the same thing? If not, why do you suppose this is?

I think it depends on how well the intersection is designed, how many bikes use the path and whether people are notified of the bike path, from the road.
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Old 03-02-07, 12:00 PM   #15
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I've ridden on bike paths like the one described in the OP and the biggest problem on those is what I call the Chip and Dale response- "After you." "No, no, after you..." (edit: where we are in danger of harm through courtesy)

But the bike path I ride almost daily has only 6 intersections on the whole 9 miles that I ride it into Boston but each intersection presents it's own set of problems. The bike path was built in the 70's and not clearly thought through in design. The cyclist must therefore make up for the design flaws with their own vigilence.

The #1 issue is right turning traffic. The roads that run parallel and perpendicular to the path are all major commuting arterials for traffic headed to and from Boston to the western suburbs. Any driver who complains about cyclists running red lights need only sit at any of these intersections and watch as car after car rolls through without stopping to make a right turn on red to get a cyclist's perspective. Even when a jogger or cyclist is clearly about to cross or even in the middle of crossing they will still go on the red. Some of the intersections have pedestrian cross signals but they take forever to run through the cycle before they finally give favor to those crossing.

I know that the cars may tend to ignore my presence, that the lights are not to be trusted to stop the traffic and I need to look right at the driver's face to try to ascertain whether they do in fact see me and often to even signal the driver that I am about to cross the street. I wear bright reflective clothing and am, paradoxically, what I would call "cautiously assertive" but with a big dose of patience. Intersections are never a place to try to zip through in an attempt to save time.

Last edited by buzzman; 03-02-07 at 02:22 PM.
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Old 03-02-07, 02:01 PM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wogsterca
I think it depends on how well the intersection is designed, how many bikes use the path and whether people are notified of the bike path, from the road.
This is an AC thread, not a theoritical thread. So why I appreciate your suggestion, tell me what it's Actually Like for you.
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Old 03-02-07, 02:05 PM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by buzzman
The cyclist must therefore make up for the design flaws with their own vigilence.
So why is this an acceptable given for riding in traffic but a minus for riding on a bike path?

In my mind you simply can't ride a bike totally oblivious to your environment. It requires vigilance all the time, for many different things. These things can be right turning traffic anywhere or it can be dogs and baby strollers on a MUP, or it can be frogs after a rain (I don't like to run over frogs.)
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Old 03-02-07, 02:11 PM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sbhikes
This is an AC thread, not a theoritical thread. So why I appreciate your suggestion, tell me what it's Actually Like for you.
Gawd Diane, do you have any idea how much you turn me on when you go getting all assertive on someone?
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Old 03-02-07, 02:16 PM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sbhikes
Quote:
Originally Posted by buzzman
The cyclist must therefore make up for the design flaws with their own vigilence.
So why is this an acceptable given for riding in traffic but a minus for riding on a bike path?
Are you asking this of me specifically? Because I did not mean to imply or say it was "acceptable" on the road or "a minus" for a bike path.

I think it's just the way it is.

And, in a sense, to follow what I think we're talking about as "Adaptive Cycling" I "accept" it in both circumstances. By accept it I don't mean that I wouldn't advocate for better road or path design when it comes to intersections but I took your OP to mean, "how do we adapt?" Not how does it shape our perception in terms of advocacy or what we deem acceptable politically.
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Old 03-02-07, 03:39 PM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bekologist
not if you treat them like any other intersection.

look and yield if necessary. if you've got a stop sign, stop.
I started by trying to think of all the bike path/road crossings that were really bad that I could remember.

With every one of them a big part of the problem was that they were not like 'any other intersseection".

Some were where a path crosses a road after several miles of uninterupped path. When that happens with roads there is usually a warning sign. Not so on all bike paths.

One other that comes to mind is the entrance to Lake Balboa in the Sepulveda Flood control basin. With just a little inattention cyclists can be unaware they have cross traffic, same but more so for cars. (like a right hook, but with just enough time to finish the turn for the cars).

Or some sections of the Orange line. Where you cross a dozen truck access points where there will 'never' be any cross traffic, then get one where you will have cross traffic.

Or when the bike path crosses an access road to the drydock area of the marina. There is a huge circut box in hte middle of the road, perfect to blocl visability.

But In general I'd say road crossings really are not much of a problem. Almost all of the same problems would happen on lightly traveled roads.
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Old 03-02-07, 03:41 PM   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sbhikes
This is an AC thread, not a theoritical thread. So why I appreciate your suggestion, tell me what it's Actually Like for you.
Well, the only bike paths I ride on, are through a park, it runs from Finch Avenue (Kinda), to North of Steeles, just East of Dufferin, the Park is called G Ross Lord.

Now, on the south (Finch) end, there is a street (Wilmington), but it's about 20m from the Reservour entrance, it's unofficially a bike route, but bike lanes have not been installed, nor has signage, and the traffic light is not one that can be tripped by a bicycle. Going North, you can swing wide on a left turn, going into the right lane, and catch the Entrance to the park. Coming South the only way to do it, is to ride the 20m on the sidewalk, and use the traffic light crosswalk. Finch is a major arterial, with a posted speed limit of 60km/h although speeds in excess of 80km/h are not uncommon.

There is a nice wide paved "street" into G Ross Lord Reservour, which leads to a dirt path, along the Finch Hydro corridor, it is this transition point, where I had my worst bike crash ever, see my blog for details. The dirt path runs straight East, to a wood chip path, that crosses the corridor, you then cross the road leading into a cemetary, almost no traffic, you then go through a gap in a fence, that leads to a part of a street, along the street, which always has cars parked on both sides, but very little traffic, as it is a dead end. The entrance to the park, is along the street.

Paths in the park are paved, and meat pylons are quite common, there are a series of wood decked bridges over a creek, these are curved, and there is a bit of a trick to them, as long as they are dry, they are okay.

At the North end of the park, is Steeles Avenue, the path ends here, but there is a connecting path north of Steeles, this is another arterial similar to Finch, lots of high speed auto traffic. I usually turn around at this point, because the North side path doesn't go anywhere. There is a large tree, with a bench under it, and it's a nice resting point, before heading back.

I could say more, but I need to go, I can post more later.
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Old 03-02-07, 03:48 PM   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by deputyjones
I wouldn't dispute that intersections can be more dangerous with this type riding, but IMHO it is a manageable risk with a part of that risk/reward equation being that it is safer between intersections. At least I feel that is the case where I ride.
On my commute at NCSU my coasting speed downhill on the roadway was about 30 mph, but I had to slow to under 10 mph when using the sidepath due to all the apartment driveway traffic and pedestrians. Even then, I still had near collisions. Riding uphill on the sidepath put me traveling contra-flow, so I had even more right-turn hazards. Riding on the roadway with narrow lanes I got occasional horn honks and some closer than comfortable passes. However, I decided that I preferred that to the sidepath, particularly after including problems with broken pavement on the sidepath. By contrast, in 14'-16' outside lanes I don't get close passes or horn honks, and I don't have to slow down to a crawl at intersections. I find these conditions much more pleasant. YMMV.

I've seen some sidepaths in other states along expressways with very few intersections and few pedestrians. If those were the type of path that Raleigh had been building, I probably wouldn't have such negative expectations of sidepaths. But most of my real-world experience with sidepaths is urban sidewalks with lots of driveways and bike-specific signage. The trouble locally is that the government here will typically build either a WOL or a designated sidepath, but not both, so the cyclists who want better conditions for road sharing have to compete for mind-share with those promoting sidewalk cycling.
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Old 03-02-07, 03:58 PM   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sbhikes
So many posters have complained that bike paths and intersections tend to be a deadly mixture, but honestly I am not finding this to be true. In concept it may be true, but in practice motorists seem more aware of bikes on the bike path than they are of bikes anywhere else on the road.

Whenever I come to an intersection they have already seen me approach and are waving me through as I arrive. I can never stop. They won't let me. I feel guilty about it sometimes.

Whenever I try to make a left from the street to get on the bike path they'll stop and wave me through as well. They all seem to know that's where the bike path is, that's where the bikes are, and they seem really happy to help me get there
They see you are on a tricycle so the naturally assume you are an invalid of some sort and take pity on you. From a distance they think you are riding a battery powered personal transportation device. If you were on an upright bike they would run you down in a heartbeat. Or, if the do conclude that you are astride a pedal-tricycle, the know full well that your speed will be pitifully slow so they want to encourage you to get off the road as soon as humanly possible.
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Old 03-02-07, 06:11 PM   #24
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Deadly mixture? It depends a lot on how the path and intersection are designed.

Proper design would call for stop signs or traffic lights on the road which has the least traffic, which means that in many situations, the street or road would have a stop sign and the bike path would NOT.

However, in all cases I have seen where there are at-grade intersections, cyclists have to stop. In many cases, asking cyclists to stop when the crossing road sees one car per day is a good way to "teach" them disrespect for stop signs. In other cases, the crossing road is a major street and crossing it is a major challenge, even for good adult cyclists. Imagine bringing your child to "practice" cycling on such a "safe" path! (example of that, the former railroad in Trois-Rivières, with 4 or 5 such dangerous crossings in 5 km).
The best we can hope for is – sometimes – a traffic light activated by a push button, meaning cyclists cannot aim for a green light; they have to stop and sometimes even dismount to reach the button.


If you want to talk about "deadly" features of many (most?) multi-use trails, I'll give you two: bollards and chicanes. There should never be anything in the path itself, and railings on the side should either raise gradually from the ground or start further away from the path, so that people can't bump in them.
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Old 03-02-07, 06:46 PM   #25
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Originally Posted by Keith99
I started by trying to think of all the bike path/road crossings that were really bad that I could remember.

With every one of them a big part of the problem was that they were not like 'any other intersseection".

Some were where a path crosses a road after several miles of uninterupped path. When that happens with roads there is usually a warning sign. Not so on all bike paths.

One other that comes to mind is the entrance to Lake Balboa in the Sepulveda Flood control basin. With just a little inattention cyclists can be unaware they have cross traffic, same but more so for cars. (like a right hook, but with just enough time to finish the turn for the cars).

Or some sections of the Orange line. Where you cross a dozen truck access points where there will 'never' be any cross traffic, then get one where you will have cross traffic.

Or when the bike path crosses an access road to the drydock area of the marina. There is a huge circut box in hte middle of the road, perfect to blocl visability.

But In general I'd say road crossings really are not much of a problem. Almost all of the same problems would happen on lightly traveled roads.

Sorry Keith, I don't agree. Every cross road, alley, path and driveway is an intersection. Yes they have their own unique challenges, but in the end simply paying attention and slowing down or stopping as necessary will enable you to avoid trouble. Of course the root problem is that we don't want to be inconvenienced by slowing or stopping and don't always pay attention.
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