Category Archives: Bicycling

PeopleforBikes Interprets Boulder Data

Here’s a quick review of an article by Michael Andersen of the PeopleforBikes Green Lane Project about the City of Boulder, Colorado’s removing what he calls a “protected bike lane”. I prefer to call it at barrier-separated on-street bikeway, avoiding a value judgment. Let’s see what the article in fact establishes.

graph in streetsblog article

Graph in Streetsblog article

According to the graph (copied above) and numbers in the article, the installation achieved a major reduction in collisions between motor vehicles at the expense of a 2.5 time increase in motor-vehicle-bicycle collisions. The article states that bicycle volume went up by 54%, and so the car-bicycle crash rate went up by about 1.6 times. Most car-bike crashes in urban areas involve crossing and turning movements. Forcing motorists to cross a bikeway to enter a travel lane, and forcing bicyclists and motorists to start turns from the wrong side of each other, make these crashes more difficult to avoid.

But the story gets more interesting if you click on the article’s link to city data. The left pie chart at the bottom of the city-data infographic shows crashes per year before the installation and the right pie chart, crashes per week following the installation. There were, on average, 11.3 car-bike crashes per year before the installation and 3 in 8 weeks, about 20 per year, afterward. That comes out to an increase of about 1.7 times, but the afterward sample is very small (3 crashes) and seasonal variation isn’t accounted for. The comparison has no validity.

Now look again at the graphs in the article. they don’t accurately reflect these numbers. The “before” bar reports about 0.15 car-bike crash per week or 8 per year, not the 11.3 per year in the pie chart, and so the graph shows an increase in bicycle crashes even greater than the numbers would suggest .

So, to sum up, the article reports a reduction in car-car crashes, but a large increase in car-bike crashes — while defending the bikeway as “protected” and failing to note that there isn’t enough “after” data to produce any statistically valid comparison.

Oh, and there’s also this, on the second page of the infographic:

“The bicycle volume increase along the corridor is consistent with the increase the city typically sees when school is back in session.”

The cyclist counts, unlike the crash counts, are robust. About half the increase is attributable to the school’s being back in session, not to installation of the separated bikeway — a point which Andersen neglects to mention.

To sum up:

What does the article say about the safety of the Boulder facility? Nothing. No conclusion can be drawn from the data, but despite that the Green Lane Project shot itself in the foot with a graph showing a large increase in bicycle crashes.

What does the say about bicycle use? Maybe an increase of 20% or so due to installation of the bikeway, though some of that may only have been transferred from another street.

What does the article say about the quality of Green Lane Project journalism? I think that I’ve made my point but you can answer that for yourself.

Alice Swanson fatality, a right hook

Here is the intersection in Washington, DC, where cyclist Alice Swanson was killed by a right-turning garbage truck.

The Street View is from 2009, as close as Google gets to the year of the crash (2008). The big cross street is Connecticut Avenue. The little one before it is 20th Street NW. My recollection is that the garbage truck turned right into 20th Street, and Swanson probably assumed she could pass it safely because it would turn right onto Connecticut Avenue and the traffic signal was red. If you open the Street View in Google Maps and click on the clock at the upper left, you can go to Street Views from different times and see the intersection without a bike lane (2007) and with green paint (2014). The dashed bike lane stripes indicate that motorists are supposed to merge into the bike lane, but many do not and it may not even be possible with a large truck. Note also that parking extends close to the intersection — the last 20 feet or so are no parking, with a fire hydrant.

Daytime running, nighttime blinding

Here’s a sign I just noticed for the first time, on the Minuteman bikeway, outside Boston.

Sing on Minuteman Commuter Bikeway

Until LED lights went on steroids, who would have ever thought that this would be a problem? But then, unregulated industry is ever willing to find an answer to a perceived need.

Do you think that major bicycle manufacturers are straight about safety, any more than, say, auto manufacturers were until their feet were held to the fire by Ralph Nader’s book Unsafe at any Speed and the Federal regulations it led to? (Not that auto manufacturers are straight about safety even now, witness the commercials of cars being driven at insane speeds, but that’s another story).

Latest example: Trek’s campaign for daytime running lights — not a bad idea, but I have some real problems with Trek’s advice.

A light that is visible from a long distance in daylight is blindingly bright at night. Light-emitting diodes have become so efficient that this is entirely possible with a small, battery-powered headlight. Trek markets and sells lights designed for daytime running and improperly designed for nighttime use. Trek claims that these lights are visible at distances up to a mile in daylight. These lights shine into people’s eyes and blind them at night (as with many other brands as well).

This trend is abetted by the “more is better” syndrome. Brighter must always be better, right? There is even a light  marketed under the name “blinder”. I kid you not. Look it up on the Web — you’ll find it.

The round beam pattern of Trek’s headlights is inappropriate for nighttime use. A headlight used at night should have a flat-topped beam pattern. Automobile headlights have one. German standards for bicycle headlights require a flat-topped pattern  (not surprisingly, as a lot of bicycling in Germany is on paths, and German regulators are sticklers about detail). You may read about very fine headlamps from Germany on Peter White’s web site. In the Boston, Massachusetts area, Harris Cyclery sells them, as do other discerning bike shops. (Disclaimer: a write for a Web site which has a business relationship with Harris Cyclery). Lights with a flat-topped beam pattern are available from some Asian manufacturers, too.

Trek’s advice doesn’t avoid mentioning blinding people, and also doesn’t mention the pedal reflectors or ankle bands which are required by law in Massachusetts, or the rear reflector which still alerts overtaking drivers if a taillight quits or becomes dislodged. Trek taillights do not include an integral rear reflector. Laws vary from place to place, but they generally require a steady taillight or rear reflector at night. A blinking taillight alone is hard to track with the eyes.

To use a headlight properly designed for nighttime use as a daytime running light, just tilt it upward a little so it shines into people’s eyes!

Above all though, safety needs to be active, not only passive. “Being visible is key to your safety on the road,” says Trek. Well, yeah, but lights protect you only when there is a clear line of sight between you and the person who needs to see you. Ride to be visible, and that means, among other things, pass on the left, not on the right, and on a narrow, winding country road, merge away from the right edge as you enter a blind right-hand curve.

A more detailed discussion of bicycle headlights is at http://sheldonbrown.com/LED-headlights.html

A more thorough understanding of how to be safe can be gained by taking a CyclingSavvy course, or a League of American bicyclists Smart Cycling course, Can Bike course (Canada), ROSPA Cycling Proficiency course (U.K.) reading the booklet Bicycling Street Smarts, John Franklin’s book Cyclecraft, John Forester’s Effective Cycling… Disclaimer: I am a CyclingSavvy and League of American Bicyclists instructor, and I wrote Bicycling Street Smarts.

But why do i do these things? Because I want you to be safe, to give a quick answer.

 

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Everyone thinks of changing the world…

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, nobody thinks of changing himself.” —

Leo Tolstoy

3 PM yesterday, I was bicycling on a 2-lane street in Wellesley, Massachusetts when a school bus coming the opposite way stopped a few hundred feet ahead of me, its blinkers flashing. A kid got out and ran across the street past the front of the bus. I rode up to him.

“Kid, people are supposed to stop for school buses, but not everyone does.  So look before you cross the next lane. I was a passenger in a car once where the driver didn’t.”

“Thank you.”

Do you see an analogy to the expectations of cyclists for “infra” to prevent them from having collisions?

Toronto incident used to slam shared-lane markings

A podcast and Web page slam shared-lane markings as an inferior type of bicycle infrastructure. In it, an animated GIF shows a bicycle courier being forced off the street by a taxi driver.

Hey, about that animated GIF: the cyclist was NOT riding over the sharrow. Instead, he was riding in the taxi driver’s right rear blindspot. If he had ridden over the sharrow, staying in line behind the taxi, or passed it on the left in the next lane as any other driver would, no problem.

Here is the video in a more complete version  online:

It appears clear that this was a road rage incident, but also, knowledgeable cyclists have an expression for what this bicyclist was doing: “edge riding.” Many cyclists are inordinately fearful of being struck from behind, to the extent that they put themselves in situations like the one shown — and expose themselves to far greater hazards. In this case, the cyclist was actually going faster than the car! The sharrow reflects an attempt to direct bicyclists to the safest position, and to instruct motorists that this is legitimate — not that it makes all streets equally safe or pleasant, and indeed sometimes it is used when other measures might be better but are costly, or would bring on political opposition. On typical, narrow city streets and often also on others, the sharrow is entirely appropriate, and helps to avoid crashes of the type shown in the GIF, among others.

It appears that the cyclist, annoyed by the taxi driver’s close passing, struck the taxi with his hand and the driver swerved toward the cyclist. Every version of the video which I have seen starts late and does not show earlier encounters which are mentioned briefly in a verbal exchange. Roman Atwood, who was shooting the video out the back window of a car, has to have been aware that something was going on, or he would not have aimed his camera that way. A version of the video, showing a jump from an earlier scene and so suggesting that there is no earlier footage of the incident, is the second one from the top in this Toronto Today report. Attwood was in the process of shooting this prank video. He is a professional prankster but this does not appear to be a prank video: his response to the cyclist was compassionate. I have messaged him to ask what more he can tell me. Both the taxi driver and the cyclist were charged in the incident.

So, again, please, what does this example say about sharrows? And, further, what does all this say about the expertise about bicycling that went into this article and podcast? Or the depth of research, considering that I found  many news reports of the incident, with longer videos, through a simple Web search?

NYPD confiscates e-bikes.

Electrically-assisted bicycles confiscated by the New York City Police Department

Electrically-assisted bicycles confiscated by the New York City Police Department. Photo credit: NYPDMTN via Twitter

This post is in response to an article by New York City reporter Vince Barone about the city’s police department confiscating electrically-assisted bicycles. The article is here. I also sent the comments below to Mr. Barone in an e-mail.


Vince — I read your article. Thanks for drawing attention to the issue.

According to the NYPD it is safe to have pedestrians and bicycles and gasoline-powered motorized bicycles and motorcycles and passenger cars and buses and trucks on New York streets, but not electrically-assisted bicycles? (See http://www.motorizedbicyclehq.com/motorized-bicycle-laws-new-york/ ) A traffic ticket isn’t enough: the electrically-assisted bicycles are confiscated as contraband, the same way as illegal drugs or proceeds of theft.

I call BS on this. The problem is with behavior and infrastructure, not electric bicycles. Where are they supposed to fit? The problem is with riders who have no training in how to ride safely, e-bikes faster than typical bicyclists in bike lanes and even more so, in separated bikeways. Not that the same problem doesn’t already occur with faster bicyclists, who can travel just as fast as the e-bikes.

E-bikes are economical, quiet and pollution-free. The NYPD’s confiscating them from people who use them to serve their daily transportation needs is a serious enforcement overreach and an economic body punch to these people. The NYPD has a history of such overreaches. The late Steve Faust was particularly eloquent about this. (People at New York advocacy organization Transportation Alternatives can offer detail on his campaigning.)

There are infrastructure, education and enforcement solutions which avoid these issues, but also the idea that an e-bike is a hazard while a gasoline-powered motorized bicycle, motorcycle, passenger car, bus or truck is not a hazard is preposterous.

I get a hug during CyclingSavvy instructor training.

I have operated my bicycle essentially as a driver since 1978, when I read an early edition of John Forester’s book Effective Cycling. Since 1982, I’ve been an Effective Cycling Instructor, then League Cycling Instructor, in the League of American Bicyclists educational program, which got its start with Forester’s work.

In the 1980s, Forester’s instruction about road use was state-of-the-art. Over the years, there have been changes to teaching techniques and content, some for the better and some for the worse, some from inside the League’s program and some by individual instructors,  but I think that it is fair to say that there has been no systematic revision and upgrade to the content about bicycle driving.

On the weekend of March 3-5, 2017, I took instructor training in a different program, CyclingSavvy, in Orlando, Florida.

CyclingSavvy Instructor Training, March 4, 2017. Instructor Trainers keri Caffrey and Lisa Walker debrief instructor candidates following a "feature" -- a ride through a demanding stretch of roadway.

CyclingSavvy Instructor Training, March 5, 2017. Instructor Trainers Keri Caffrey and Lisa Walker debrief instructor candidates following a “feature” — a ride on a challenging stretch of roadway.

CyclingSavvy is a program of the American Bicycling Education Association, with an emphasis on urban cycling. In my opinion, CyclingSavvy classes are more focused and effective than the classes in the League of American Bicyclists program.

A CyclingSavvy class can be difficult for long-time League Cycling Instructors, in part because we have, well, ingrained ways of doing things. I took a CyclingSavvy class in August, 2011, in Portland, Maine. It was a bit of a rough experience. There were misunderstandings, especially on a group ride before the class: about lane use — at one point I asked “what are we doing this for?” and about the purpose of the ride. (My video camera setup is important enough to delay the ride start?) I came off that class with a lukewarm endorsement at best to work toward being an instructor.

In the years since then, I’ve been privileged to develop a closer relationship with CyclingSavvy, by reading materials online, attending two conferences and working on a CyclingSavvy edition of my Bicycling Street Smarts booklet (still awaiting publication as of this writing).

I’ve learned quite a number of things from CyclingSavvy that were new to me. To name some:

  • more assertive lane positioning;
  • group lane changes from the rear;
  • how to instruct novice cyclists so they will ride as an organized group;
  • waiting for the green light to turn right, so as to turn onto an empty street;
  • Turning into the destination lane for a left turn immediately on turning right;
  • plotting strategies for lane use with Google Maps;
  • teaching techniques effective in effecting behavior change;
  • time management when teaching.

I got a solid recommendation to go for  CyclingSavvy instructor training last October — studied up — it’s demanding! — and took the training, March 3-5.

At one time during the parking lot session of the training, I said: “I’m humbled with what I’ve learned that’s above and beyond what I already knew.”

Which is true.

Trainer Lisa Walker then  came over to me and gave me a hug.

I’ve been asked to describe what led to the hug. And this has been my explanation.

The takeaway from my experiences: I recommend that League Cycling Instructors, especially long-time ones, take special care to familiarize themselves with the differences between their practices and those of the CyclingSavvy program. That study can be illuminating, and can make the difference between failure and success in the CyclingSavvy program. You might get a hug too!

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The “Dutch Reach”

I have sent the following message to Dr. Michael Charney, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, promoter of the “Dutch Reach”. The “Dutch Reach” is motorists’ opening the drive’s side door with the opposite hand, so they must look back for bicyclists riding within range of an opening car door.

Dr. Charney —

Have you studied the literature of bicycle crash causation and prevention, see for example Paul Schimek’s study of Boston bicycle crashes — or had any instruction in best practices for safe cycling,  for example through the CyclingSavvy program or the League of American Bicyclists Smart cycling program?

Sure, the Dutch Reach will prevent doorings as long as the motorist remembers to use it.

It probably works reasonably well in the Netherlands, where bicyclists have great political influence, where enforcement against motorists is draconian and where bicyclists’ squeezing through tight spaces is unavoidable on crowded, narrow streets that date back to medieval times.

Promotion of the Dutch Reach at least acknowledges that bicyclists riding at normal speeds are unable to stop in time to avoid an opening car door, as hasn’t been universally acknowledged in advice given to bicyclists.

Car doors aren’t the only problem with riding close to parked cars. There are also ride-outs, drive-outs, merge-outs and walk-outs, all of which, as well as dooring, are avoidable by riding far enough from parked vehicles to see, be seen, and have maneuvering room. Every motorist who gets out of the car on the street side is also going to walk out around the front or back of it to get back in, and merge out to drive away. The resulting risks are avoidable only by riding outside the door zone, or if in it, very slowly and cautiously.

Bicyclists who are in a position to be doored also are often overtaking on the right, subjecting themselves to risks of right-hook and left-cross collisions. The “Dutch reach” addresses only dooring.

Promoting the Dutch Reach as if it would make door-zone bicycling safe promotes the false belief that most car-bike crashes on urban streets are overtaking crashes. In fact, these are rare. Bicyclists still have the other problems which result from edge-riding, and become uneasy. These bicyclists’ beliefs either trap them in the door zone or lead them to quit bicycling.

Bicyclists who rely on the Dutch Reach are defining themselves as helpless victims, expecting the same motorists they fear to take all of the responsibility for their safety. Self-definition as a victim prevents bicyclists from understanding that they can take actions to improve their own safety.

Promoting the Dutch Reach perpetuates the idea that bicyclists are second-class citizens, motorists have a superior right to use the road, and promotes the construction of door-zone bicycle lanes which codify that belief.

Most media outlets cover the Dutch Reach — as is usual with bicycling issues — out of context. Once again, as with helmets, bike lanes, etc. etc., a single measure, which has benefits and also which can fail, is described as if it is a be-all-and end-all and draws attention away from what could be a comprehensive and reasoned approach to bicyclists’ mobility and safety.

Would you as an MD advise your patients to come in for a yearly doctor visit and dismiss things they can do for themselves: healthy diet, avoiding smoking, exercise, monitoring for symptoms of serious disease? Would you ignore research which shows the importance of these practices? No, but you are promoting a single practice which can address only one of many safety issues facing bicyclists, and whose promotion unfortunately reinforces common misconceptions and distracts from comprehensive solutions.

Thank you for your attention.

Self-balancing motorcycle

Road and Track magazine has reported on a self-balancing motorcycle from Honda.

How does the motorcycle balance itself? As shown in videos with the Road and Track article, the front fork is hinged so the front wheel can move forward, increasing trail — the distance of tire contact patch behind the steering axis. Then automated steering motions shift the mass of the machine and rider slightly side to side to maintain balance. The machine is also reported to be able to perform a conventional track stand, like those done by bicyclists — turning the front wheel at an angle to one side, and maintaining balance by propelling the machine forward and backward.

These capabilities require that the motorcycle have special control mechanisms, a computer on board to operate them, and sensors to report the machine’s orientation — which can be tricky on a single-track vehicle, because it can balance even when leaning into a turn. The Honda feature is described as for low speeds and when the motorcycle is stopped. That would avoid the issue with leaning. An internal-combustion engine would require a special and complicated transmission to drive the motorcycle subtly backward and forward on short notice.  In any case, electrical motors are needed to adjust the fork angle and make subtle steering corrections. An all-electric motorcycle is simpler and can be used indoors, as shown in the videos in Road and Track. They show no exhaust pipe.
In a discussion on Facebook, Jim Lindner wrote:

Extending the wheel base and fork angle gives the ability to move the mass of the engine right and left, a form of weight shifting they likely did not count. A motorcycle has a bit more mass than a bicycle improving the resistance to change, but with a little leverage or sudden shift of load I think this system’s ability to correct will easily be overloaded.

This brings up the concept of the  operational design domain: the range of conditions under which robotic features work. Automated-vehicle researchers and engineers use this concept. ODDs range from cruise control and anti-lock braking up through robotic crash avoidance for a vehicle otherwise under the control of a human driver, and onward to driverless operation under increasingly more challenging conditions.

The ODD for an automated two-wheeled vehicle does not include slippery surfaces or steering into a curb at a low angle unless it has sensors which allow it to avoid these hazards.  To avoid falling over, it must avoid these conditions as a skillful human driver would. This capability is far in the future.

Who is the law for?

An article on the Medium site has the headline “Drivers: the law was made for you, not cyclists. Worry about your driving, not their riding.”

So, what is that supposed to mean? That cyclists should be able to ignore the traffic law, and that is just fine?

Certainly, the law applies to motorists. But, while saying that the law is made for motorists and not cyclists may be a convenient way to excuse many cyclists’ cavailier attitude toward the law, it is incorrect both as a practical matter and as a historical one. Ignoring the rules of the road can put anyone at risk. And William Phelps Eno, who developed those rules, didn’t even ever learn to drive a motor vehicle. He set out the principles of traffic law before motor vehicles were common, when horses and buggies — and bicycles — were the predominant road users, aside from pedestrians.

Are  there are problems with specific provisions of the law? Yes, certainly, and as they affect both bicyclists and motorists.

If bicycling is to be a useful means of transportation, people have to be able to get to and from where they want to go, and by reasonably convenient and safe routes. Bicyclists are concerned about bans, and about restrictions on what part of the road we may use, enacted for the convenience of motorists, though supposedly in the best interest of bicyclists. Such restrictions can seriously reduce safety and convenience.

The Medium article mostly takes up a different concern, with stop signs, arguing that bicyclists should not have to stop for them. In that light, the headline is misleading, and about stop signsI am somewhat in agreement with the author. Let’s look at what stop signs are supposed to accomplish, and at how well they — and the law behind them — accomplish that.

The law poses two requirements at a stop sign: to stop, and to yield. Yielding prevents crashes. Often, slowing is enough to enable yielding. If it were “incredibly dangerous,” as the article says, for either motorists or bicyclists to yield without coming to a full stop at most intersections, there would be many more crashes than in fact occur. Pointing the finger of blame at either motorists or bicyclists for not stopping distracts from some important concerns about stop signs.

In fact, there are many more stop signs than necessary in the USA: they are often installed as a quick political solution to a behavior problem. In Europe, far fewer stop signs are used: yield signs are more common, and drivers understand the rule for uncontrolled intersections: yield to the driver approaching from the right. The rule is the same here, except that the overuse of stop signs leads drivers to assume that if there is no sign ahead of them, drivers in the cross street must yield.

Stop signs require a stop before the crosswalk even if there is nobody in the crosswalk or about to use it. Yielding to traffic in the cross street may require pulling ahead past the stop sign through or into the crosswalk to look for cross traffic — increasing the incentive to ignore the stop sign.

Now let’s look at a few statements at the end of  the article. The uathor really goes off the rails here:

But, you say, reckless cyclists and/or pedestrians could be causing accidents, couldn’t they? Certainly, although any time cyclists or pedestrians are involved in car accidents, the blame will almost always go to the driver, since they were obviously not paying enough attention or going slow enough to be able to react in time.

Who is at fault under the law does not depend on whether the person is riding a bicycle or driving a car. It depends on who was violating the law — who, for example, ran a stop sign. Aside from that, police in the USA rarely issue citations against motorists involved in collisions with bicyclists, even when the motorist was clearly in violation. What is this about “obviously”?

It’s the same reason a driver rear-ending another driver is always at fault. It’s up to you, driver, to pay attention to what’s happening on the road and it’s up to you to make sure you are able to react in time.

No, it isn’t the same thing. A driver rear-ending another driver is always at fault — well unless the leading driver suddenly cut in front and slammed on the brakes — because it is practical for a following driver to slow or stop, but not for a leading driver to be constantly looking back or to accelerate, possibly into another crash scenario, to avoid being rear-ended. Certainly, drivers should pay attention and attempt to avoid collisions even when someone else is violating the law, but if a bicyclist runs out from a stop sign, the bicyclist is at fault for the collision.

Cyclists and pedestrians are always able to react more quickly,

Nonsense. Always? Everybody? Granny crossing the street with her walker? Cyclists with only a coaster brake, twice the stopping distance of other bicycles and three times that of cars with antilock braking?

they have a much wider field of vision,

More nonsense. Motor vehicles have rear-view mirrors. Most bicyclists use none. Turning the head to look back is in any case required under the law only when changing lane position or entering the roadway — again, a reason that the following driver is held at fault in rear-end collisions.

and they don’t have the capability of causing as much damage as a several-thousand-pound motorized vehicle, even one driving slowly.

Well that’s true, though it brings up the red herring of vehicle weight.

So chill out, drivers; you don’t own the roads, you just act like you do. And unless you obey every single traffic law 100% of the time, you have no business criticizing the people you’re supposed to be keeping an eye out for.

Good citizenship has to go both ways. While perfect conduct is not to be expected of anyone, pointing the finger at a group that one does not identify with is a really effective way to avoid taking responsibility for one’s own actions.

Chances are, if you hit someone, it’s going to be your fault, no matter what.

Nonsense, as I hope I have shown.