Doored in Union Square

(Note: the video is no longer online but a screen clip is on another page.)

I see a lot of people who comment here discussing fault. Fault and crash prevention are not the same. I’ll take crash prevention any time over being able to point the finger of blame from a hospital bed — though in this case crash prevention would unfortunately have required either of two things:

* riding at 5 mph or less to be able to stop before striking the door, largely removing the speed advantage of bicycling over walking

* or to operate according to the normal rules of the road and pass the cab on the street side, with enough clearance to avoid a door there — but if the NYC police are ticketing cyclists for doing this, as Dan Connor says, and judges are holding bicyclists at fault for it, in the face of compelling evidence of danger like that from the video, then the only hope is an appeal to overturn the judge’s ruling (expensive, uncertain) or repeal of the mandatory bike lane law (a long drawn-out process).

Also very unfortunately, bicycling advocates and governments are busy painting, and now walling, bicyclists into smaller corners. The “protected” bike lane where the pedestrians walked out near the start of the video is a fine example of that. That bike lane is bad enough. I’ve ridden in Manhatten myself and I think that crosstown bicycling could be well-served by converting every 4th or 5th street into a bicycle boulevard (only local motor traffic). North-south traffic is a tougher issue. The 9th Avenue bikeway (10 feet wide, one-way) works pretty well in my experience but its cheap imitation on 2nd Avenue is a gauntlet. More about NYC bicycling here:…

Description and history of the location of the Tempe crash

Comments from Reed Kempton, a Senior Planner with the Maricopa County Department of Transportation, late in the day on March 21. This is an addition to my earlier post about the crash. I thank Reed for his permission to post his comments, which originally appeared on the e-mail list of the Association for Bicycle and Pedestrian Professionals.


I’ve been driving through this intersection in its various configurations for 50 years and bicycling here for 48 (Yes, I am that old!) and would like to address some of the questions and statements from the past couple of days. Refer to the Google link below and note the position of the large X in the median. One report indicated that the pedestrian stepped off the median into the car’s path about 350 feet south of the intersection near the top of the X in the northbound direction. If this is the case, the car would have just changed lanes and been moving into the left left turn lane. 125 feet further south makes more sense to me as the car would be moving straight and not yet reached the left turn lanes.

>How many lanes of car traffic are there?

2 lanes southbound; 2 lanes northbound; approaching the intersection northbound adds 2 left and one right turn lane; both directions include sidewalks and bike lanes

>Why does the area have clear, solid, inviting pathways across a median, if people aren’t supposed to cross there?

A history on the Mill Avenue bridges over the normally dry Salt River can be read at the Wikipedia link below but here is a short summary. From 1931 to 1994, only one bridge existed. Southbound traffic used the bridge while northbound traffic drove through the river. When water was flowing, a rare occurrence for many decades, the bridge was used for one lane of traffic in each direction. There was an asphalt crossover located just north of the bridge. When the second bridge was added, a crossover was put in place to accommodate the potential closing of one of the bridges. The X in the median is intended to be used to move cars from one side to the other if a bridge was closed. What looks like a path, has vertical curbs and signs that say do not cross here. In 1999, Tempe put two dams in the river to create a town lake.

>How far is it to a safer place to cross?

The signalized intersection is 350 feet north. Ped access to the park below the road is about the same distance south. Just south of that is a shared use path along the north bank of the river. The Rio Salado Path connects to path systems in Scottsdale, Mesa, and Phoenix making it possible to travel significant distances without riding or walking on a road.

>A trail meets the street where there is no crosswalk and no traffic signal.

While it is pretty easy to walk across the desert landscape in this location, there is no trail meeting the street. There are numerous mountain bike trails east of Lake View Dr.

Maybe tomorrow we will be given more information.


The Tempe crash

The dashcam video in the recent Tempe crash which killed a woman walking across the street with a bicycle has now been released.

To me, it is quite clear that the human driver was dozing off or distracted and that the vehicle’s sensors failed to register that the pedestrian — walking with a bicycle broadside to the road, a very robust infrared and radar target, and crossing empty lanes before reaching the one with the Uber vehicle — was on a collision course. The vehicle had its low-beam headlights on when high beams would have been appropriate, the headlights were aimed low (probably a fixed setting), and the pedestrian’s white shoes don’t show in the video until two seconds before impact, that is, at a distance of about 60 feet at the reported 40 mph.

Braking distance is about 80 feet at 40 mph, and reaction time for a human driver adds about another 60 feet. An automated system with radar and infrared should have noticed the pedestrian sooner, had a shorter response time, and stopped the vehicle. Human eyesight is much better than a dashcam’s at night and the human driver might have seen the pedestrian earlier and avoided the crash if she had been paying attention. But also, the bicycle had no lights or side-facing retroreflectors which might have shown up much earlier and alerted optical or infrared sensors or a human driver, and the pedestrian somehow chose to cross an otherwise empty street at precisely the time to be on a collision course.

So, the human driver and vehicle’s sensors failed miserably. We can’t allow automated vehicles (and human drivers) to perform at the level shown in this video. We do need to make greater allowances for pedestrians, bicyclists, animals, trash barrels blown out into the road, etc.

Several people have offered insights — see comments on this post, and also an additional post with a description and history of the crash location.

Another deceptive poster

More evidence that the anti-car crowd can’t think its way out of a paper bag. Even when they could make a much better case for themselves.

Claim of space occupied by motor vehicles.

Claim of space occupied by motor vehicles.

The text, in Italian, reads “space necessary to transport 48 persons: auto, electric car, robotic car.”

Only, the cars aren’t transporting anyone. They are all parked. They would take up much more space if in motion, just to have a safe following distance. The robotic cars would take up somewhat less space, due to their quicker reaction time for braking, but still much more than shown in the picture.

Twice before on this blog, I’ve shown similar posters making similar claims, and each time, they have shown parked vehicles.

Here, Muenster, Germany poster.

Here, Seattle, Washington, USA poster.

Jim Melcher and America’s Perestroika

Jim Melcher at a Boston Area bicycle Coalition rally on Boston Common, 1979. Photo by Anita Brewer-Siljeholm

Jim Melcher at a Boston Area Bicycle Coalition rally on Boston Common, 1979. Photo by Anita Brewer-Siljeholm

Jim Melcher was one of my professors at MIT. He was also was a year-round bicycle commuter and in 1977, one of the first 25 members of the Boston Area Bicycle Coalition, In the 1980s, his activism expanded into issues of national economic and military policy.

Jim died of cancer on January 5, 1991, weeks before the outbreak of the first Iraq war. In his final months, he composed a long essay, “America’s Perestroika”, which includes stories that have a familiar ring for any bicycle commuter, a discourse on the role of academics in formulating national policy, and an uncompromisingly straightforward description of political issues as well as his disease.

Jim’s wife, Janet Melcher, gave me permission to publish “America’s Perestroika” on the Internet, and I have made it available on my Web site.

Some Portland weirdness

Oregon cyclist Hal Ballard posted this picture in a Facebook group. (You may or not be able to see the original post). You may click on the image for a larger view.

Stott and 26th NE, Portland, Oregon

Knott and 26th NE, Portland, Oregon

Here is a Google Street View from before bicycle markings were painted:

Portland, yet! Well, Portlandia.

Often, flubs like this result from a construction crew’s having its own ideas about design, as in “oh, there’s a ramp from the sidewalk and my 5 year old rides on the sidewalk.” I don’t think that you would find this in the design drawings. Portland traffic engineering has its ideas about bicycle facilities which I may or may not agree with, but leading a bike lane extension into the curb when there is a shared-lane marking in the next block isn’t one, or at least that seems very improbable to me.

it is distressing that this happened, and that the city didn’t immediately correct it.

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 the general travel lane worked better. 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 the bike lane 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.