Update: La Quinta bike rider dies after crashing into truck parked in bike lane

A bike rider has died due to an ambiguous state law.

According to The Desert Sun, a bike rider was killed in a crash with a truck parked in a La Quinta bike lane this morning.

The victim, who has not been publicly identified, was riding north in the bike lane on Avenida Bermudas around 8 am when he rear-ended the truck.

He was taken to a hospital in Indio, where he was pronounced dead.

The Desert Sun places the location as the 54-000 block of Avenida Bermudas, while other sources place it a half mile south near Calle Chillon. The latter location seems more likely, since the paper says a road diet narrowed the roadway to two lanes and a single northbound bike lane in the area of the crash last December; the northern location still shows two lanes in each direction, along with a parking lane in both directions.

According to the paper, the driver has not been ticketed or charged.

The gardening truck was parked in the bike lane, but no one was cited, according to the sheriff’s department. The crash is still under investigation.

California law states vehicles may park in a bike lane if there aren’t any “no parking” signs present and it isn’t impacting the normal movement of a bicyclist, according to the California Office of Traffic Safety.

It’s hard to argue that the truck wasn’t blocking the lane if the victim couldn’t safely get around it.

This is yet another well intentioned law that actually makes things worse for people on bicycles.

The apparent purpose behind CVC 21211(b) is to keep cities from having to choose between parking and bike lanes. Yet in effect, it confuses drivers who don’t know whether or not they can park there, since it’s hard to park any vehicle in a bike lane without blocking it.

And as this tragedy shows, the consequences can be deadly for people on bicycles.

This is the 27th bicycling fatality in Southern California this year, and the fourth in Riverside County.

Update: The victim has been identified as 81-year old Indio resident Larry Lee Ortner. The Riverside County News Source places the scene of the crash at the southern location, around the bend of the road above Calle Chillon. Thanks to Victor B for the heads-up.

My deepest sympathy and prayers for Larry Lee Ortner and his loved ones.

 

15 comments

  1. PatrickGSR94 says:

    This is tragic, but I’m not buying it that it was the truck driver’s fault. Every person operating a vehicle has the responsibility to not hit what’s in front of them. Sure, if the truck hadn’t been there, the cyclist wouldn’t have died. You don’t just hit something and die. Was he riding with his head down? Was he not paying attention? Why didn’t he just go around the truck? Why didn’t he slow down first? No one forced the cyclist to crash into a stationary object, especially a large object like a truck.

    And seeing as how the truck driver complied with the law, and obviously didn’t hit any cyclists when first parking in the bike lane, I would say the driver played no part in the death of the cyclist, and definitely should not face charges.

    • bikinginla says:

      Let’s consider that the rider was going fast enough that the crash was fatal, which suggests he was traveling at speed. Now let’s consider that the crash happened during the morning rush hour. It’s easy to say he had his head down and wasn’t paying attention; more likely, he had to make a last minute choice whether to pull out into traffic to go around the truck, or risk crashing into it. There’s also a bend in the road around where the wreck may have occurred, so it’s also possible that his view of the truck was obstructed until the last minute.

      I can’t say that’s what happened, based on the limited information available. But I’ve been in similar situations enough times that I’d say that seems far more likely than he simply wasn’t paying attention.

      And I don’t see how you can say the driver complied with the law; given how narrow the bike lane is there, a parked truck would have clearly blocked it, and clearly impeded the ability of the bike rider to pass through safely, which is a clear violation of the law. That does not necessarily mean the driver was at fault, but I don’t see any way of looking at it where he was not in violation of CVC 21211.

      • Oliver Klozoff says:

        The truck driver should be cited for parking in a bike lane, which, by default was “impacting the normal movement of a bicyclist.” The law should be changed to update “No Parking or standing in any bike lane”

    • Was he not paying attention? Why didn’t he just go around the truck? Why didn’t he slow down first? No one forced the cyclist to crash into a stationary object, especially a large object like a truck.

      We’ll probably never know the whole story. Although it’s hard to imagine running into the back of a parked truck, there may be other details that make it understandable. For example, what if the rider thought he could pull into the traffic lanes, so he didn’t slow down as he approached the truck. Then, at the last instant a car approached from behind, and he couldn’t change lanes or stop in time.

      Whatever the details, if state and local laws didn’t allow parking there (and they were enforced), there wouldn’t have been a truck there to start with.

      Again, whatever the details, a man is dead, and his loved ones are in my heart.

    • terri-rae elmer says:

      I was there right after it happened. I ride that road nearly every day. I am NOT criticizing Mr. Ortner in ANY way. But I sincerely don’t understand how he could not have seen that truck.There is not a lot of traffic on Bermudas early in the morning, and the lanes are quite wide While i understand the truck was in the bike lane, it’s not a blind curve. I have been thinking about this since it happened and I cannot figure out why he didn’t see the truck.

      • bikinginla says:

        Thank you for that. It always helps to have someone with knowledge of the situation, because most of us are just guessing based on the limited information we have. It’s okay to offer legitimate criticism while still being respectful; we all make mistakes. And one reason it’s important to figure out how a wreck happened is so we can all learn from it, and hopefully keep it from happening to someone else.

        Is there a downhill there or something else that would have caused Mr. Ortner to pick up speed? My best guess about what happened, and it’s only a guess, is that a car coming from behind prevented him from moving into the traffic lane to go around the truck, and he was going too fast to stop. But sadly, we may never know.

  2. I’m kinda old-school enough to remember when “hitting a parked vehicle” was code for a dooring. Is there the possibility of that in this case? Cyclist goes around the illegally parked vehicle and gets a door to the face?

    • PatrickGSR94 says:

      Yeah I would place that fault squarely on the driver. But if “rear-ended the truck” is true, well that’s the fault of the person rear-ending the object in front of them.

      The first sentence of this post is false association.

      • bikinginla says:

        I understand what you’re saying, but I’ll stick with what I wrote. If the law clearly prohibited parking in a bike lane, rather than just blocking it, the truck wouldn’t have been there, and this victim would likely still be alive. Again, that doesn’t mean the driver was at fault, but I do put a lot of blame on a law that simultaneously allows parking in a bike lane, and prohibits blocking it.

  3. David Drexler says:

    Since it was a gardening truck would it be appropriate to say that the poor cyclist did not, “wake up and smell the roses?”

  4. Vehicles parked in bike lanes are one of my pet peeves. The ambiguous state law makes me even more frustrated. Sadly, this bicyclist may be an example of why the state law is more than just frustrating.

    My thoughts are with his loved ones.

  5. JD says:

    We offer up our prayers for the family and friends of the victim.

  6. Serge Issakov says:

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Bikeways including bike lanes induce a false sense of security which can be very dangerous; even fatal.

  7. Victor B says:

    The bike lane there isn’t wide enough to allow a landscaping truck to park without impacting the normal movement of a cyclist.

    By the way, his name is Larry Ortner. Larry was 81 years old and lived in Indio. He’s survived by his wife Judy.

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