The Danger Of Grates To Cyclists And The Path To Safer Bike Lanes

Jul 23, 2018

Whenever you head out on the road on your bike, you face risks. While some of those are inevitable, others can be prevented or, at least, reduced. During our bike safety talk last month, several questions came up about street and highway codes, specifically relating to grates in the bike lane. Unfortunately, many of the grates in our community cross over into the bike lane and are hazardous to cyclists.

Being so, here’s a closer look at the risks posed by drainage grates, the current laws in place, and what we can do.

What are the potential problems with grates?

First, here are some of the common problems with drainage grates:

  • Grates with sinkholes around the frame
  • Grates with a raised frame
  • Grates with wide longitudinal slots
  • Grates with wide gaps between the frame and gate

You’re probably already cringing while you imagine what could go wrong. From your tire dropping into the space, to it slipping, to it stopping and launching you, there are many possibilities and they aren’t good.

Cyclists may ride into the traffic lane to avoid these hazards which puts them at risk of a collision. However, if they don’t avoid the obstacle, they risk a crash.

What is the legal stance on drainage grates in California?

On July 1, 1973, the following was added to Chapter 1 of the Streets and Highways Code of California: Regarding construction under a contract advertised after this date, the legislative body of a city must only install grates on city streets which are not hazardous to bicycle riders.

What kind of grates are not hazardous as per the law?

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) defines proper grate design in Chapter 830, Topic 837.2 of the Highway Design Manual.

It says that grate inlets should ideally be located in areas where pedestrians and cyclists will not be present. However, if bicycle traffic can be expected where a grate is needed, the grate types on Standard Plan D77B must be used. Where bicycle traffic is not expected, like a freeway median, grates from Standard Plan D77A can be used.

With these regulations in place, many of the newer grates have become more friendly to cyclists. For instance, Dana Point, CA has grates with crisscrossed metal which eliminate the issues of tires getting stuck. However, what about the existing grates that don’t meet the standards?

What is being done about older, hazardous grates?

Dangerous drainage grates are not a new or unknown issue. Many cities across the state and country are creating plans to remedy them.

For example, the City of Newport Beach CA released a Bicycle Master Plan in 2014 which was unanimously adopted by the City Council. Mind you, it is 200 pages long and includes many proposed changes. However, on page 189, drainage gates are covered. The plan involves creating a program to inventory all existing drainage grates and replace those that present a hazard. It points out that many older grates were installed with linear parallel bars which are spread wide enough for a tire to become caught and that they need to be replaced with bicycle-friendly slats which run horizontally. It also mentions that uneven or rough surfaces caused by existing grates and utility covers need to be raised or lowered, so they are flush.

The City of San Francisco CA also released a Bicycle Plan which includes a section in Part 8 about catch basins. It has identified 68,000 catch basins in the city and is replacing the older grates which have bars that run parallel to the direction of travel with horizontal bars so they will be more bicycle-friendly.

There is no question that many grates currently present a danger to cyclists. However, now we have the laws in place to minimize the risk. The next steps are to identify the grates that are outdated, ensure the proper authorities are aware of them and ensure there is a plan of action in our cities for making the needed repairs/replacements.

What you can do if you see a hazardous grate?

At Bike Legal, we represent clients who have been in cycling accidents and know first-hand how a collision can turn a life upside-down. Removing these hazards from roads where bicycle traffic is present is a must to ensure our safety. We can all help by documenting dangerous grates and sending the information to the proper authorities. Be sure to take a picture and note the location.

It will take time and money to fix all of the grates that were installed before the standards were established, so it’s important for those of us who are interested in seeing these changes to ensure we communicate with our city leaders to make the resolution a priority.

Have you been in an accident and need an expert in cycling injury cases? Contact Bike Legal today at 1-877-Bike-Legal for a free consultation. Get to know our attorney team an learn how we can help you with your case. 

Related Posts