Politics, open government, and safe streets. And the constant incursion of cycling.

Two Years Later: The Official Version of Alice Swanson’s Death

Two years ago today, Alice Swanson was struck and killed by a truck while riding her bike to work.   In the days, weeks, and months that followed, there was much discussion about what, exactly, happened (and how it could have been prevented).  The DC MPD, in my view, was not very forthcoming with the details of its investigation.  No charges were ever brought against the driver.  The document below – the “Final Overview Memo” from DC’s MPD – should have been made public a long time ago.

Update: This report was issued in December of 2008, and I obtained a copy not long after.  The report was not recently released by the DC MPD, and I apologize to readers for not making that clearer in my introduction.

Swanson Report Redacted

There are many lessons to be drawn from this memo, but for now, I’ll just urge that those who are interested in cycling safety (and its relationship to law enforcement) give it a full read.

Update II: After you’ve read the report above (and hopefully shared your view here), you should check out WashCycle’s analysis here.


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  1. Props to the DCMPD for spending the effort on an accident reconstruction to investigate this fatality. That’s more than many departments would do.

    From the eyewitness statements, it seems like Ms Swanson tried to pass the turning truck on its right? Is that correct? If so, I have to agree with the report conclusion.

    Condolences to Ms Swanson’s family and friends, and I really really hate to blame the victim, but never pass trucks on the right.

  2. freewheel

    Isn’t this the same report issued earlier? In any event, here are some questions and observations:

    (1) To say that the bike “struck” and “made impact with” w/ the garbage truck is bizarre. The truck was obviously in motion or Allison would be alive. To say that Allison “struck” the truck makes it sound as if the truck was just sitting there. Obviously, that was not the case.

    (2) It’s strange that the truck driver could pass Allison on the left and yet be unaware of her as he approached the intersection. Or are they implying that he never passed her? She caught up to the truck (which may have been stopped) and “struck” it?

    (3) The witnesses are useless. She had her head down and was in a racing position OR she had her head up and was riding in an upright position. Which is it? Could she really have been so unaware of a garbage truck that she rode right into it?

    (4) Was the bike lane part of the problem? When they say she was not in the bike lane, what do they mean by that? To the left of the bike lane? Beyond the bike lane and in the intersection?

    We’ll never know what happened. If the facts in this report are at all accurate, I suspect she was riding to right of the truck and incorrectly believed that the truck was going straight rather than turning right. That is the only way I can envision a cyclist striking a moving truck rather than the other way around.

  3. MB

    Only report, as best I know. Circulated among a few last year, but never posted. I thought it should get out there.

  4. Richard, I think you need to reread the report. The final conclusion is that Alice Swanson was biking too fast for safety. She had a green light and was in a bike lane. She had the right of way. The truck failed to yield the ROW to her and that was the cause of her death. That the driver couldn’t see her was not an excuse. It is an admission that he was driving a vehicle that would now allow him to see another road user who was in a legal position. Or that he turned too quickly instead of slowly inching forward. The truck made a right turn from the left hand lane.

  5. MB

    The post has been updated to clarify the date of the report and link to Washcycle’s previous analysis.

  6. bym

    The truck had its hazards on during the trash pick up, then its right turn signal. Swanson could have seen the hazard lights, but never the switch to a right turn signal.

    The truck, in order to make the wide right turn, entered the intersection (as if to go straight) then executed a sharp right turn in order to clear his right rear tire past the pedestrians on the northeast corner AND not hit the parked cars on the west side of 20th Street.

    In sum, the truck executed an unexpected sharp turn from the center lane across another travel lane. If Swanson was in a Smart Car (instead of a bike) in a full travel lane (instead of a bike lane) and drove under the truck and was crushed, would it still be Swanson’s fault? I don’t think so.

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