Lessons of Spruce Street

I’m posting this in connection with the video I shot of a ride on Spruce Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, already embedded in an earlier post. Spruce Street is a one-way street with parallel parking on the left side, and a bike lane on the right side except for a couple blocks where there is parallel parking on the right side also. Here’s the video. You may click on it to enlarge it. It is a high-definition video, best viewed full-screen.

Now, I’ve quite often been accused at times of being a militant vehicular cyclist.

Militant vehicular cyclists are stereotyped as disparaging all bike lanes, always preferring mixing with motor traffic.

In fact, in my ride on Spruce Street, I was being pragmatic: using the bike lane when it worked for me, leaving the bike lane when it did not. The bike lane worked quite well for me when I chose to use it. It safely allowed faster motorists to overtake me, and me to overtake slower motorists, between intersections.

But now, a Philadelphia cyclist, K.K. (I’ll just use initials) has turned the vehicular cycling complaint on its head, accusing me of being subservient to motorists, because I did not always stay in the bike lane on Spruce Street in Philadelphia. I’m going to try to probe the rationale for this.

What would explain K.K.’s complaint? She doesn’t say. I can only speculate. So, I’ll do that.

I spent a bit more time waiting than if I’d always ridden up to the intersection in the bike lane, but I don’t think that is the point. Assertiveness, for K.K., amounts to territoriality, as in: “the bike lane is my part of the street, and by not using it 100% of the time to get ahead, you are failing to stand up for cyclists’ rights.”

It also appears to me that K.K. thinks that militant use of the bike lane sends a message that will lead to improvements in motorists’ behavior so they respect bicyclists more, and safety will improve — the “safety in numbers” argument. Perhaps. But don’t count on it to save your life.

And it also appears that she thinks it is actually safer to stay in the bike lane, which is a sad situation, because people are getting killed by riding in up to the coffin corner before intersections. Large trucks have been turning right from the next lane, knocking bicyclists down and running over them.

Topping off the irony, the remedy to the coffin-corner crashes now being proposed by the Philadelphia Bicycle Coalition is to force bicyclists into the coffin corner by placing a barrier between the bike lane and the general travel lane, creating what is ironically called a “protected bike lane.”

If you would like to see the specifics of K.K.’s complaint, and my responses, they are here. Yes, I know that a logical dialog doesn’t work with people whose minds are closed. But it may be useful for others to get a taste of how such minds work.

RRFBs: Time for Co-opetition

The US Federal Highway Administration has withdrawn its interim approval of  Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons (RRFBs) because a company which makes them has patented them. This is a serious public-policy error. The RRFB has proved effective at increasing compliance of drivers to yield to pedestrians at crosswalks.  This is most important at mid-block crosswalks and at the entrances and exits to roundabouts, where no other traffic signal is likely to be present, and the RRFB can be actuated only when a pedestrian is about to cross, minimizing delay.

While it might be possible to patent some refinement to the RRFB, the basic concept is as old as the Belt Beacon, flashing traffic signal, or railroad-crossing beacon. Patenting requires that a device be novel, useful and non-obvious, and I can’t imagine that it would be hard to get around RRFB patents, or invalidate them. But does anyone have the resources to fight these patents? And if that succeeds, it’s a Pyrrhic victory, as it also opens up the market to other competitors. Is the market for RRFBs large enough to get a company to pony up the money for a challenge, in the light of this situation? The patent and FHWA policy have killed the market too, at least in the USA, and where does that leave everyone, not least of all the patent holders? The process is broken.

What can we do to help fix this? An inventor or licensee deserves to profit from the invention, but not only does the FHWA policy prohibit use of this particular device, it also kills innovation generally. Patents are good for 20 years. Is it really acceptable for signals technology to be 20 years behind innovation, which also is stymied by lack of a market?

There has to be a better way, which rewards innovation while preventing one company from cornering the market. I’d be for some form of mandatory cross-licensing of products which are required by statute or regulation. Cross-licensing has worked in industry: prime example: in the 1950s, Ampex developed the quadraplex videotape recorder, and RCA held the patents on color TV technology. Ampex and RCA engaged in “co-opetition”, cross-licensing these technologies, and both were able to market color videotape recorders. This is what is called in highly technical language a “win-win”.But changing the rules probably requires Congressional action.

While we’re at it: a demonstration of co-opetition: the oldest known surviving color videotape recording: President Eisenhower speaks at the dedication of NBC’s new studio in Washington, D.C., May 22, 1958. The show goes into color at 14:50 and the President speaks at 16:30.

Spruce Street, Philadelphia

Bicyclist Emily Fredericks was killed, crushed by a right-turning garbage truck, on Spruce Street in Philadelphia on November 29. Another bicyclist, Becca Refford, was similarly right hooked a block away on Pine Street on December 8 and suffered serious injuries. I happened to have video of a ride I took on Spruce Street, including the crash location. I put editing of this video onto the fast track, adding narration about how to ride safely on this street, in the interest of preventing future such tragic and avoidable crashes. Please share with friends in Philadelphia.

This is high-definition video and is best viewed in YouTube at 1080-line resolution, or the highest resolution your monitor will support, if less than that. Click on the video to bring up the link to the version on YouTube.

Dutch Strict Liability Myth

A commenter on Facebook made a statement which is often heard in the USA:

“A Dutch lady said they have so few hurt because drivers are guilty unless they can prove they weren’t.”

Well, this doesn’t quite amount to fake news as such. I don’t expect that there was any intention to deceive, but it is hearsay.

The actual situation with liability in the Netherlands is more complicated, as described in the flow chart below, from a Bicycle Dutch blog post — which cites the Dutch traffic law, in case you would like to take your exploration of the topic further. You may click on the image to enlarge it.

Dutch strict liability flow chart

Dutch strict liability flow chart

I’m simplifying somewhat, but Dutch strict liability works much like no-fault auto insurance in the USA, and applies only to compensation for injuries, not to penalties.

Chicago Bike Lane Guide, a Blast from the Past

The Chicago  Bike Lane Design Guide, published by the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center of the University of North Carolina in cooperation with the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation and the City of Chicago, is available online on the NACTO site.

What would be a cyclist’s safest line of travel in the situation shown? Safest would be in line with the motor traffic, as counterintuitive as that may seem. Every credible bicycling education program advises this. That is where motorists have a good view of cyclists and interact with us according to the normal rules of the road. On the street shown, with only one lane for motor vehicles in the bicyclists’ direction of travel, riding in line with motor traffic would, certainly, be inconvenient for the motorists. So, perhaps a better solution would be to choose another street. Chicago is a grid city and offers many choices. Different street improvements might also be considered.

But, what does the cover show? Here it is.

Cover of the Chicago Bike Lane Design Guide

Cover of the Chicago Bike Lane Design Guide

There are some oddities about the photo — I’ll describe them first, before getting to my main point.

  • The bicyclist’s helmet is too far back on his head, and so, not strapped on securely either.
  • The saddle of his bicycle is too low, and he is pedaling on the arches of his feet, making pedaling inefficient and suggesting that he does not know the best technique for stopping and restarting.
  • His trouser leg is not secured against catching in the chain.
  • I’d prefer that cyclists wear cycling gloves and brighter-colored clothing, though I don’t indulge in finger-pointing against cyclists who don’t.

All in all, the cyclist looks awkward. It appears to me that the photo is intended to show that a newbie, awkward, timid bicyclist can find relief from anxiety by riding in a bike lane. Or maybe the people who did this photo shot didn’t know any better — and that is just as troubling on the cover of a guide published by the organizations it identifies as its creators.

This is a posed photo shoot. If the cyclist had kept riding, he would have collided with the photographer. Even the bus probably was recruited, stopped so its picture could be taken. Choices in staging this photo, not only in selecting it,  were intentional.

But here is the main point: though knowledgeable bicyclists had been warning about riding within range of an opening door of a parked car for decades, the bicyclist shown is riding in the middle of a bike lane adjacent to a parking lane, in the door zone. The bus shown passing the bicyclist carries the implication that the bike lane makes this interaction safe.

An opening car door throws a bicyclist out into the street. The same year the Guide was published, a cyclist in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a brilliant and accomplished graduate student, was doored and thrown against the side of a city bus. She fell under its rear wheels and was crushed to death. I wrote about that incident shortly thereafter. Many similar incidents have occurred over the years, and their number continues to increase.

I have posted comments on the Chicago Bike Lane Guide’s approach to the question of the door zone on another page.

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An undertaking undertaking

I answered this question on the Quora question-answering site.

Who is at fault if a driver undertakes you from behind you while you are safely making a left turn on a one-way road?

First, let’ define “undertaking”. That doesn’t mean that the vehicle is a hearse. It means that the vehicle passes between yours and the edge of the road when you are near the edge and turning toward it. Since the question mentions a left turn, the questioner is probably in a country where traffic keeps left by default and normally passes on the right. The term ‘undertake” is more commonly used in the British Isles than in North America in any case. But the question could apply to a left turn from the left side of a one-way street anywhere.

Usually, the driver who undertakes is at fault. Generally there is not room for another dual-track vehicle to pass between the turning vehicle and the edge of the roadway, though there may be room if more than one lane allows left turns, or room for a single-track vehicle (motorcycle, motorized bicycle, bicycle). A driver might also undertake on a highway shoulder or by driving off the road. In any of these cases, it is illegal.

Some countries place a bicycle lane or barrier-separated bikeway in the path of the turning traffic, and if the undertaking driver is a bicyclist, the turning driver is held at fault. The resulting conflict may be not mitigated at all, or mitigated in any of several ways — with warning signs, street geometry, street markings or traffic signals. The intention of this arrangement is to relieve bicyclists of the burden of mixing with motor traffic to travel straight through the intersection, and so, placing all of the responsibility for avoiding collisions on the motorist.

Because of the speed with which bicyclists travel, the turning driver is required to look to the rear to the side toward which he or she is turning, rather than only first merging to the lane position for the turn and then yielding to pedestrians who are standing on the corner or walking in the crosswalk. Looking to the rear imposes an additional task burden on the driver at a time where attention to the front and sides is also in demand, and may even be impossible, depending on the geometry of the intersection and the design of the turning vehicle. Unless drivers know to expect this conflict and mitigating factors are in place, this is a risky situation, often resulting in what is called in the USA a “right hook” collision. It also reduces the throughput of intersections by requiring additional waiting — sometimes by motorists, sometimes by bicyclists and sometimes by both.

 

Some Dutch roundabouts

Dutch roundabouts have received a lot of publicity, notably here: https://bicycledutch.wordpress.com/tag/roundabout/

Roundabout design in the Netherlands has seen a long process of trial and error. A design used until bicyclists complained strongly enough about it placed the bikeway away from the circular roadway, but cyclists were required to yield. Here is an explanation of Dutch roundabout design developments.

http://bicycledutch.wordpress.com/2011/05/12/priority-for-cyclists-on-roundabouts-in-the-netherlands/

The current preferred design places the bikeway away from the circular roadway, and motorists are required to yield, as shown in this video below. That clears up yielding issues.

Here is a video of a roundabout outside the city of s’Hertogenbosch, put forward as an example of good design.

There is a long discussion of this roundabout, among others, on Facebook.

This is a rather large roundabout at the intersection of major highways, and with moderate deflection on entry or exit.  Looking here in Google Maps,  it’s clear that the highway in the background at the left is a bypass around the city of s’Hertogenbosch — though not a limited-access highway like the one which appears in the distant background in the video.

This roundabout was constructed in connection with the new bypass road around the city. Google Street View from 2009 shows the roundabout under construction. A sidelight on this observation is that Dutch practice does consider motor traffic. Two of the legs of the intersection at the roundabout are new roads being constructed at the same time.

I’ve been told by a knowledgeable person that the  bikeways on either side of the highways are supposed to be one-way, but the only destinations along these bikeways are at intersections — reducing the temptation to ride opposite traffic.

The design requires a lot of space because the circular bikeway is  much larger than the circular roadway. The roundabout  is outside a city, but nonetheless, it appears that several houses had to be demolished or moved to make way for this roundabout.

The installation here  places separate bikeways (red asphalt) and walkways (paver blocks) outside the circular roadway. Bicycle traffic shown in the video is light. If bicycle traffic were heavy, it would result in  congestion of motor traffic because motorists yielding to cyclists could not enter or exit the roundabout. Having a path (or for that matter, crosswalks) around the outside of a roundabout obviates the main advantage of the roundabout, that traffic can keep moving. Only grade separation would avoid this for both bicyclists and pedestrians. Motor vehicles and bicycles sharing the roadway would avoid the bicyclists’ causing congestion, but would not be as attractive for bicyclists lacking in skill and confidence..

If you look at the video full-screen, you can see a number of details which are not evident in the small window on this page. I am most interested in the interactions and negotiations for right of way, which are the central issue with mobility and safety in any intersection which is not traffic-signal controlled.

Expectation in the Netherlands is that motorists will yield wherever they see shark-tooth markings. The path around the outside of the roundabout is brought out to the entry and exit roads at a right angle and far enough outside the roundabout so that motorists will be able to see approaching bicyclists. Ohio resident Patricia Kovacs has investigated roundabouts in that state and demonstrated that motorists don’t even yield to pedestrians. She has posted some comments about roundabouts on this blog and in the Facebook thread mentioned earlier.

Some cyclists in the s’Hertogenbosch video are shown looking to their right as they pass paths coming in from their right, for example at 0:55 and 2:25, but many are shown not turning their heads to look for conflicting motor traffic. That is to say, they are putting their complete faith and trust in motorists to yield to them, which is a comment on Dutch expectations for motorist conduct. There is an especially stunning example of this at 1:59, where a cyclist powers through an intersection as motorists approach from the left, inside the roundabout, and the right, entering it. However, at 6:07, a motorist stops abruptly at an exit to the roundabout as a fast cyclist comes around from the right.

One cyclist leaves the roundabout on the left side, opposite the intended direction, at 1:38 in the video.  Another is riding around the roundabout clockwise at 2:40 and apparently while talking on a mobile phone.

At 2:34, a motorist is shown slowing to yield to a cyclist who turns right rather than to cross the exit of the roundabout. With no lane changing or negotiation betwen motorists and cyclists, the motorist did not have a way to know which way the cyclist would go.

Cyclists carry various objects in their hands or on the handlebars. At 6:40, a cyclist is carrying something which looks like a hockey stick.

At 7:18 a young woman has a disabled bicycle and is walking.

Now let’s look at some other Dutch roundabouts.

A roundabout inside s’Hertogenbosch, here,  has the bikeway immediately adjacent to the circular roadway, so that cyclists are hidden directly behind — not next to — exiting vehicles. The video shows motorists required to yield to cyclists in spite of this right-hook threat.

Here’s the video of the roundabout. Are the cycling facilities safe, as claimed? Or if safety is achieved here, is it maybe achieved in another way? You decide.

The description of the video indicates that this roundabout is rather new. Its design appears to be restricted by the small available space at an urban intersection.

Some notable interactions:

At 0:20, a car brakes rather abruptly. Shortly thereafter, a motor scooter passes through the roundabout on the roadway.

At 0:30 and again at 0:53, a car blocks the bikeway to allow a pedestrian to cross in a crosswalk which is just outside the bikeway.

Most bicyclists are not paying any attention to the traffic in the roundabout, At 0:45, a bicyclist is looking down at a cell phone, but at 0:50, 1:10, 1:29, 1:53, 2:03 and 2:10,  and a few additional times, bicyclists perform a shoulder check. The one at 2:03 does this while also carrying a cell phone in one hand.

At 1:49 and again at 2:20, there is a motorcycle in the bikeway, waiting along with bicyclists to enter the roundabout, and there is a bicyclist standing over his bicycle, facing opposite the direction of traffic.  It appears that he is having a conversation with the motorcyclist and a couple of pedestrians. They are blocking the crosswalk.

At 2:49, a motorist stops in the roundabout to yield to a bicyclist who does not cross, but instead turns right. The bicyclist gives a right-turn signal, but too late for the motorist to react, and in any case, a prudent motorist would not risk that the bicyclist would go straight even though signaling. The design of the roundabout does not make the bicyclist’s intentions obvious.

At 2:58, a bus barely outpaces a bicyclist through the roundabout. The bicyclist turns right, but the bus driver has no way to know that he will. The bus driver is either very highly skilled at judging the bicyclist’s speed, or reckless. The bicyclist would have had to yield to the bus if going slightly faster and continuing around the roundabout.

Starting at 3:00, several bicyclists enter traveling the wrong way on the bikeway or sidewalk. Some turn right but others pass close to a doorway which a pedestrian has just exited, and a blind corner, and cross from right to left in the crosswalk or bikeway. An articulated bus enters the roundabout and these bicyclists pass behind it. Other bicyclist traveling counterclockwise around the roundabout will have to yield to the long bus, though this occurs outside the field of view of the video.

At 3:45, bicyclists share the bikeway around the roundabout with a skateboarder and motor-scooter rider.

Almost all the bicyclists are pedaling about 40 rpm.

Here’s a roundabout where bicyclists go around square corners: http://goo.gl/maps/lxfc2

And a little roundabout with advisory bike lanes at some of the entrances: http://goo.gl/maps/HK908

In the so-called “shared space” roundabout in Drachten, cyclists share space with pedestrians. The meaning of the term “shared space” is very different here from its more usual meaning, that motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians all operate in the same space.  In the Drachten roundabout, bicyclists and pedestrians share space — as on shared-use paths in the USA — but are strictly separated from motor traffic except in crossings, as in the other Dutch roundabouts. The space around the margins of the Drachten roundabout also serves as a pedestrian plaza.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B88ZVrKtWm4

I’m poking around in YouTube and Google maps. Here’s a roundabout in YouTube — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EXUF97p8fXQI — location not given, as is usual in such promotions, but I found it in Google Maps by searching on the name of one of the businesses nearby: http://goo.gl/maps/Jd2ED. A special feature made the roundabout practical: the buildings are set far back at a 45-degree angle on each corner. The circular bikeway around the outside makes it possible for motorists to see cyclists in order to yield (though motorists don’t always, as the video shows) and greatly adds to space requirements, which already are large for a roundabout. There wouldn’t be room for such a roundabout at many urban intersections.

Here’s a blog post which includes the video just described and others of the same roundabout, and describes different types of Dutch roundabouts. http://bicycledutch.wordpress.com/2013/05/09/a-modern-amsterdam-roundabout/

Another roundabout in Amsterdam is of the spiraling Turbo Roundabout design, with a path close around the outside and scary sight lines which place a cyclist too far to the right to be in view of a motorist exiting the roundabout: http://goo.gl/maps/fQybJ and street view, http://goo.gl/maps/LU1ww . Traffic signals have had to be placed at the exits to mitigate these conflicts. This is a triple roundabout with a tramway going around the inside, also requiring traffic signals.

The left and center roundabouts in this overhead view, http://goo.gl/maps/Q3jIy also are of the bikeway around the outside type: but the rightmost one, in a wooded area, is of the newer type.

Dutch roundabouts are  of several types for motor traffic, but the major difference for bicyclists is whether they travel around the outside of the roundabout, or there are grade separations. There are no examples like the small modern roundabouts and neighborhood traffic circles in the USA, where bicyclists share the roadway with motor vehicles.

Here is an example of grade separation: https://bicycledutch.wordpress.com/2011/05/26/multi-level-roundabout-the-safest-solution-for-a-junction/

And here is a showcase example of grade separation — replacing an installation much like the one shown in the first video embedded in this post : https://bicycledutch.wordpress.com/2012/08/23/spectacular-new-floating-cycle-roundabout/

Roundabouts are expensive and take up a lot of space.  Many of the promotions we are seeing of Dutch facilities ignore these limitations and the compromises they exact and/or celebrate the newest and most impressive examples.

Brooklyn Bridge air horn blast

The Brooklyn Bridge, one of the engineering wonders of the world, opened in 1883 and is still in full service. (Highly recommended: David McCullough’s book The Great Bridge…) Traffic on the roadways when the bridge opened consisted of horseback riders, animal-drawn vehicles, trolley cars and a few high-wheel bicycles. The elevated, central promenade of the bridge was designed for pedestrians. With the advent of motoring, the trolley line was removed and bicyclists were relegated to the promenade. The bridge had stairs until 1982 when it was renovated and bicycling activists succeeded in getting them replaced with ramps. The activists were able to point to the stairs’ as an accessibility issue and also that a stampede on them had killed people shortly after the bridge opened.

The promenade is narrow and often crowded. Though there is a line designating bicycle and pedestrian space, neither space is sufficiently wide. Pedestrians like to stand on both sides, to look out.
Prudence and caution are in order. The bicyclist in the video below is exhibiting neither. Bicycling Magazine has more sympathy for him than I have.

Will bicyclists someday be allowed to ride on the roadway again? A good case could be made for barrier-separated bikeways on the bridge, but removal of lanes for motor traffic would increase congestion and face fierce opposition. At one time, elevated trains ran between the ends of the bridge on rails at the level of the promenade. They were replaced by subway lines which run in tunnels under the river and extend farther. A path could be installed where the trains once ran. In fact, the City is looking into this. Historical status of some elements of the bridge is questionable, as much has changed over the years including removal of much that was original. The superstructure of the bridge evolves to meet current needs, demands, preferences and financing, while its underlying structure stands unchanged, a monument to the genius of its creators and the years of hard work and sacrifices of life and health which went into its construction. Onward to the next stage, with an improved bikeway…

Avoiding the left cross

This post isn’t about pointing the finger of blame. If that is to your taste, you can find endorsement of that position in many of the comments on the video on YouTube. But I think that we would rather avoid crashes in the first place, so this post is about avoiding crashes.

The cyclist could have prevented this crash. He missed three cues that it was about to happen. The motorist missed one cue.

Briefly at 0:09 through 0:10 in the video, the car which was about to turn left is visible with its left-turn signal on. The cyclist’s camera saw the car and so the cyclist also could have seen it and the motorist could have seen the cyclist, but neither was looking at/for the other. The car slowed (note increasing gap between it and the SUV ahead of it). The minivan which the cyclist was passing on the right also slowed, leaving a gap for the car to turn left into the driveway. These were additional cues which the cyclist might have heeded. Following the brief interval when the cyclist and motorist might have noticed each other, the minivan screened the cyclist’s and motorist’s view of one another until too late for either to prevent the collision.

How might cyclists avoid crashes like this? While it is tempting to maintain speed in a bike lane when motor traffic to the left is slow or stopped, do not expect that the bike lane somehow makes you immune to incidents like this. Do not pass on the right any faster than would allow you to avoid a vehicle or pedestrian crossing in front of the vehicle to your left. If you can safely pass motor vehicles on the left (though not here on this two-lane road), do that instead.

Say what?

Click on the photo for a larger view. Your comments are welcome.

Cambridge Street at Sudbury Street, Boston, July 25, 2017

Cambridge Street at Sudbury Street, Boston, July 25, 2017


The location as of September, 2016:


July, 2015


October, 2014


September, 2013