My letter to a staffer of Senator Scott Brown about the mandatory sidepath provision in the Federal Tranportation Bill is online. Feel free to re-use it, or parts of it.
My letter to a staffer of Senator Scott Brown about the mandatory sidepath provision in the Federal Tranportation Bill is online. Feel free to re-use it, or parts of it.
A commenter on the Washcycle blog where I first read of the mandatory sidepath provision in the Transportation Bill had the following to say:
In most parts of the country NPS, BLM and other stewards of Federal land are the furthest things imaginable from builders of bike paths
It only takes a little research to prove that statement incorrect.
Consider the Cape Cod National Seashore.
I happen to have posted an article with photos of the Province Lands paths (near the tip of the Cape), so you can see what kind of path we’re talking about here.
The Nauset path near the south end of the park also parallels a road. These paths in the National Seashore were built long ago to a very low design standard. Roads paralleling these paths now have Share the Road signs, reflecting the reality that many bicyclists prefer to ride on them. The roads also are more direct, and serve some trip generators which the paths do not. With the proposed law, the NPS would have to take these signs down and replace them with bicycle prohibition signs, and the park rangers would have to busy themselves with chasing bicyclists off these roads, reflecting a prohibition which is inconsistent with traffic law elsewhere in Massachusetts.
And quite a number more, I’m sure. Just search under the activity “Biking” on the page
The bill has adverse effects on funding, and also it contains the most draconian mandatory sidepath provision I’ve ever seen. Get-bikes-off-the road provisions like this one were deleted from the laws of most states which had them in the 1970s. This is on Page 226 of the bill:
(d) BICYCLE SAFETY.The Secretary of the appropriate Federal land management agency shall prohibit the use of bicycles on each federally owned road that has a speed limit of 30 miles per hour or greater and an adjacent paved path for use by bicycles within 100 yards of the road.
The Washcycle comments on this:
Even if the trail is in very bad shape, and the road is perfectly safe, the Secretary will have no leeway to allow cyclists to continue to use the road if a trail is available. This is very bad policy. Among other things it would end biking on portions of the Rock Creek Parkway where the speed limit is 35 mph.
Note that this applies not only to roads in parks but to any Federally-owned road. If there’s a trail within 100 years of a road, then to get to a destination on the other side of the road this law would require you to lug your bicycle through some environmentally-sensitive area in a National Park, or through private property, or swim across a river. If the trail is covered with snow but the road is clear, you would still have to use the trail. The legislation does not even state that the trail has to serve the same destinations as the road, or refer to any standards for design, etc. Excuse me. The conclusion the states reached in the 1970s is based on a simple principle: let bicyclists decide. If the trail is better than the road, they will use it.
Furthermore, the Federal Government does not have jurisdiction over traffic laws. The states do. The predictable outcome is dozens of court battles which will be an embarrassment to the Congress. There also is liability exposure in restricting bicyclists to a substandard path.
I am sending a version of this message to my Senators, John Kerry (D-MA) and Scott Brown (R-MA). Both, by the way, are avid bicyclists.
All I see in the America Bikes document about the bill is about funding. I want confirmation that the lobbyists all of the America Bikes member organizations are working to have this provision deleted. I am a member of three of these organizations: the Association of Bicycle and Pedestrian Professionals, the League of American Bicyclists and the Adventure Cycling Association, and I need to know that they are supporting my interests. And, as a member of the National Committee for Uniform Traffic Control Devices (NCUTCD) task force currently working on revisions to the Uniform Vehicle Code, I am especially concerned about this provision.
The same barrier can have more than one of the characteristics listed below, and they may be different for different types of vehicles.
A barrier may be benign for dual-track motor vehicles, yet overturn single-track vehicles. These can topple over a low guardrail or Jersey barrier. A sham barrier for dual-track vehicles such as a flex post can tangle with the pedal or leg of a bicyclist, becoming a threat barrier. Reflectorized pavement markers, which are little more than a virtual barrier for dual-track vehicles, can throw a bicyclist –see this video example.
These considerations are lost in the design of many bicycle facilities. Barriers that are hazardous to bicyclists are being used because they are normal traffic-engineering practice, sometimes only due to lack of knowledge but sometimes enforced through design standards.
On the other hand, a high railing with a handlebar rub strip can serve as an effective and safe deflection barrier for bicyclists, even though it may be too weak to contain a heavier dual-track vehicle.
In Orlando, Florida recently, I saw two other examples of misuse of barriers:
The most common misused barrier for bicyclists is probably the low railing, which will topple a bicycle over. That is seen in many different varieties, ranging from the conventional Jersey barrier or guardrail to low wooden curbs lining boardwalks, to hand-height railings alongside paths.
Equity, or sometimes equality, is the 6th “E” most recently added to the original three in traffic safety programs which were used as far back as the 1930s: engineering, education and enforcement, and two other E’s which were applied to bicycle and pedestrian programs, in the 1990s or thereabouts: encouragement and then later, evaluation.
Equity and equal rights are not the same, and neither is equality.
This distinction has surfaced repeatedly in struggles over civil rights of minority groups, with some people (generally more conservative) demanding only equal rights, and others (generally more left-leaning) demanding what they see as equity, including set-asides and restitution awards.
This distinction is similar to the one between bicyclists’ demands for the right to use the roads on the one hand, and demands for special bicycle facilities, on the other.
It can be argued that equity requires more than only equal treatment when the group in question is inherently different (for example, disabled people) or has been placed at a disadvantage, but it also can be argued that providing more than equal treatment is to acknowledge inherent inequality where it doesn’t exist or is irrelevant, invites backlash and is likely to lead to abuses.
There has to be a reasonable solution somewhere along this continuum, but opinions differ.
On March 14, 2011, I attended a meeting in Brookline, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. At that meeting, Dr. Peter Furth of Northeastern University, and some of his students, gave a presentation on proposals for street reconstruction and bikeways in the southern part of Brookline.
Most of the streets in the project area are fine for reasonably competent adult and teen cyclists to share with motorists, though one street, Hammond Street, is much less so, with its heavy traffic, four narrow lanes and no shoulders. I do agree with a premise of the presentation, that bicycling conditions could be improved, but I suggest different treatments, such as conversion from four lanes to three, with a center turn lane which becomes a median at crosswalks, also freeing up room at the sides of the roadway for motorists to overtake bicyclists.
Please read through this introduction before looking through the photo album I have posted with images from the meeting presentation, and drawings which were taped up in the meeting room.
Generally, I am concerned with the hazards and delays — and in winter, complete lack of service — which the proposal introduces for bicyclists, and with the blockages and longer trips it introduces for motorists, resulting in delay and in increased fuel use and air pollution. Some specifics:
There also was confusion in the presentation:
There also is an ethical issue: in their presentation, the students have appropriated a number of Google Street View images without attribution — a violation of copyright and of academic ethics. (Furth’s students also plagiarized photos from my own Web site for a different presentation, but I digress.)
The proposal generally attempts to make bicycle travel a safe option for children and for people who are new to bicycling. It fails to accomplish that, due to problems with access across streets to the proposed pathways. It also adds complication and delay for motorists and for the majority of existing and foreseeable bicycle users. It degrades and sometimes eliminates bicycling as an option in the winter months, and it pays no attention whatever to public transportation.
I have no objection to construction of a path in the parkland adjacent to the streets in the project area, but the proposal also works to enforce the use of the path by reducing the utility of the road network for bicyclists as well as for other users.
I do think that street improvements are desirable, and on one street (Hammond Street) a high priority to improve bicycling conditions, but these improvements can be achieved mostly through restriping, without the massive reconstruction, or rather, deconstruction, that has been proposed. This narrowing the roadways is intended to increase greenspace, and also apparently to reduce speeding, but the proposal goes way overboard in reducing capacity, convenience and flexibility. There are other options to reduce speeding, most notably enforcement and traffic-calming measures which affect speed without decreasing capacity.
The large multi-way rotary intersection of Hammond, Lagrange and Newton Streets, West Roxbury Parkway and Hammond Pond Parkway is the one place where I consider reconstruction to be a high priority.
Education also is an essential element of any attempt to make bicycling safer and a more practical option.
Long-run issues of energy cost and availability raise questions about the viability of sprawled suburbs whose residents are dependent on private motor-vehicle travel.
South Brookline is more fortunate. It is a medium-density residential area of single-family homes, only about 5 miles from the Boston city center and also only a few miles from the Route 128 corridor, a major employment concentrator. Schools, places of worship, parklands and shopping are closer than that. Bicycling can and should have a role here, but for many people and many trips, it is not an option, due to age, infirmity, distance, and the need to transport passengers and goods.
South Brookline could benefit from a comprehensive transportation plan, including strengthening of public-transportation options and maintaining arterial roads with capacity for varied existing, foreseeable and unforeseen uses.
Developing such a plan requires skills, resources and time beyond what I can muster, and so I’ll not attempt that here.
Now, please move onto the photo album.
A British cyclist who goes by the online name gaz545 on YouTube has posted a version of one of Lucas Brunelle’s “alleycat race” videos, with voice-over commentary. Bravo gaz545!
Lucas Brunelle is, or was, a bicycle courier, but he distinguishes himself by shooting videos of the alleycat races — anything-goes races through cities, in urban traffic. The racers are mostly from the bicycle courier community. A Brunelle video is now making the rounds of 40 cities in a bicycle film festival.
Brunelle’s colleague Kevin Porter, who appears in some of his videos, served with me on the massbiek Board for a ocuple of years, something of an attempt to draw the courier community into mainstream advocacy.
Allow me to describe the fundamental difference between alleycat racing and responsible, sane cycling (or responsible, sane driving a car, for that matter — it’s the same idea).
The rules of the road establish who may go and who must yield right of way, so road users know what to expect of each other — but also, beyond that, in every situation where it is possible, both the road user who may go and the one who must yield are in full view of each other and able to avoid a collision if the other makes a mistake. Where sight lines are obstructed, traffic signs and signals direct road users to slow or stop, and allow them to take turns where flows of traffic cross.
Alleycat racers flout all this. They rely on their wits, and on guessing what other road users will do. They ride as if they were invisible. Much of the time, they are invisible, hidden behind sight obstructions where they can only guess what is around the corner. They ride opposite the direction of traffic, between lanes, where one driver’s slight change of direction will result in a head-on collision. They ride in extremely close quarters with vehicles which, if the driver doesn’t do as the alleycat has guessed, will sideswipe them, collide with them or run them over.
Alleycat racing is an extreme sport: a sport that involves a serious risk of severe injury or death — but more than that. Most so-called extreme sports, for example motorcycle jumping, involve only self-imposed risks. Participants in extreme fighting sports impose serious risks on their opponents, but by consent. Alleycat racers, on the other hand, impose serious risks on other people without obtaining consent and without warning. There’s an expression to describe this: breaking the social contract.
Brunelle’s videos are of high technical quality. Also, I’ll admit to some admiration for the skill of the alleycat racers. It is a level and type of skill normally required of a soldier in combat, a police officer confronted with an armed and violent offender, a cyclist or motorist facing an imminent threat of a collision. Skill is good. Any cyclist, any driver will face emergency situations occasionally. I’d think that perhaps the most skillful cyclist imaginable would be a reformed alleycat racer, if such a character exists.
Tamer motorists and cyclists can learn anticipation of hazards, braking, swerving — through training, and practice in the controlled environment of the skid pad or empty parking lot. My Bicycling Street Smarts turorial is one of a number of resources that teach these skills. But to put these skills intentionally to the test in the public streets is to court unnecessary risks, and to put other people at risk as well. The crash types and crash rate described in the Dennerlein-Meeker study of Boston bicycle couriers reveal the risks that couriers take — and the couriers aren’t even riding at nearly the extreme level seen in alleycat races.
Gaz545 doesn’t know of any injury that occurred during the London alleycat race, though I saw a number of very close calls in his video. However, in an alleycat race in Philadelphia which passed through the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, a participant came racing down off an overpass on a campus walkway — going from right to left here —
(The break in the image of the overpass is due to the boundary between photos used in the satellite view)
The alleycat racer collided with a pedestrian — a student’s mother who was visiting the campus — knocked her down, injuring her seriously, and raced off. Other racers witnessed the incident. Police interrogated several but were unable to obtain identification of the hit-and-run racer from any of them.
Let’s describe the alleycat racers for what they are: outlaws who pump each other up to ever more extreme conduct in traffic, endangering others, not only themselves, and then when that danger results in injury to an innocent bystander, they adhere to a code of silence.
The pedestrian in the Philadelphia incident filed a lawsuit against the University for allowing the race to take place on its property, though the University had no idea that there would be a race. Suing the University was the only way that she could hope for any recourse.
It isn’t too far-fetched also to ask whether police might infiltrate the alleycat community to find out where a race is scheduled and perform an effective sweep-up. Alleycat racers are not “silly cyclists” (gaz545’s term, describing the cyclists in his other videos) making dumb mistakes in traffic because they don’t know any better. Alleycat racers act in wanton disregard for public safety. They do serious damage to the reputation of other cyclists as well, and I have very little sympathy for them.
(And here’s a link to Lucas Brunelle’s Web site, now that you have read what I have to say about it. There is no mention on it of the Philadelphia race, for whatever reason.)
News accounts of the report are making some rather strange assertions, such as that cyclists ride faster during rush hour than in the middle of the day, and faster on Wednesdays. On the other hand, the Lyon study is very interesting in that it aggregates data on millions of bicycle trips, recorded in the database of Lyon’s card-swipe bicycle-rental system.
I see two problems with this study, and more so with news items about it: not all data were collected that would be needed to describe cyclists’ trips accurately; also, there is a rush to conclusions, without looking at some rather important characteristics of cyclists’ trips.
Certainly, cycling can achieve shorter trip times than motoring when motor traffic is congested, whether by cyclists’ filtering forward on the same street or by choosing other streets, paths, riding against traffic, whatever. What I can’t grasp is how any individual cyclist would achieve a shorter travel time in rush hour than at other times.
Congested motor traffic slows bicyclists, though not as much as it slows motorists — because cyclists have a lower speed capability in the first place, and because cyclists have a greater choice of routes, and can filter forward. Even with bike lanes (of which, according to the article, Lyon doesn’t have any), congested motor traffic slows bicyclists. But also, congested bicycle traffic and pedestrian traffic slow bicyclists.
The Lyon data include only the times and locations of rental and return of the bicycles, and odometer readings. The data, then, cannot show where bicyclists went, and can record only an average speed. Importantly, the slower mid-day times may reflect rentals during which the bicycle is parked in mid-trip — shopping trips, or trips to appointments, lunch dates, classes, (Lyon is a major university city). Women’s speed capability is generally only slightly lower than men’s; to claim it as an important explanation is at least vaguely offensive. Morning and evening bicycle commuters, whether male or female, might be regular bicycle users, in better physical condition, more skillful in traffic and so capable of higher speeds. Without demographic data, there’s no way to know.
The report does include some interesting results about the shortest travel times, which it is safe to assume do not involve parking in mid-trip.
Bicycles included in the study are available at rental stations spaced around Lyon. A renter may obtain a bicycle at one station and leave it at another, making the system practical for single-direction trips. But renters must walk to the stations — the bicycles are, for example, not at their homes. Bicycles will not be used for the shortest trips unless stations happen to be very convenient to trip origins and destinations. Also, the system works only within the limited area where stations exist. These factors can be expected to affect the trip lengths recorded in the study.
I look forward with eager anticipation to a study using GPS data correlated with user data, so it is possible to categorize the cyclists, determine where they went, how fast they actually rode, and whether they parked the bicycle in mid-trip.
In a Bicycling Magazine blog posting, Bicycling attorney Bob Mionske describes an appalling situation: a motorist driving over 80 mph in a 45 mph zone struck and killed a teenage bicyclist in Connecticut. The bicyclist’s family sued the driver — but then, the driver countersued the family, claiming that the bicyclist was negligent in not wearing a helmet.
Connecticut law excludes such claims. Mionske says that the Connecticut legislature, in its wisdom, excluded the claims because bicycle helmets cannot protect bicyclists in high-speed collisions with motor vehicles.
I seriously question Mionske’s explanation. The same exclusion exists in laws requiring seat belts and automotive child seats, which usually do protect their users in collisions. Also, bicycle helmets do protect bicyclists in many if not most car-bike collisions. Only a small percentage involve high-speed impacts. The bicyclist cut off by a crossing or turning vehicle, or sideswiped, may only be dumped onto the road or onto the hood of a car, and head injury may be survivable or even completely avoided if the bicyclist is wearing a helmet.
Any passive safety equipment — seatbelt, child seat, helmet — can sometimes prevent injury, but cannot prevent a crash. To allow the victim to sue the perpetrator, and to prevent the perpetrator from suing the victim, is a moral issue, not a technical one. This is even more important when a law is poorly understood and weakly enforced, as with bicycle helmet laws. Children often ride bicycles where parents can not monitor them. Distribution of helmets also is an issue, when a helmet can cost as much as a cheap bicycle. In states with contributory negligence statutes, it’s worse yet: a finding of 1% negligence on the part of the victim results in dismissal of a lawsuit against the perpetrator.
To my knowledge, I was first to raise the issue of the liability exclusion. Back in the 1980s, well-meaning safety advocates, most importantly Safe Kids USA, had begun promoting bicycle helmet laws. A law was enacted in Massachusetts, where I live, without a liability exclusion. As a member of the League of American Wheelmen State Legislative Committee, I campaigned for a better law, and it was enacted. The League’s Consumer Affairs Committee, on which I served, publicized the issue of the liability exclusion, and it was written into the laws of many states, including Connecticut.
The League remained neutral on the issue of helmet laws, as its members’ opinion on them was divided — also realizing that fighting helmet laws could look bad and might not succeed; but the League insisted that such laws include the same liability exclusion as other safety-equipment laws. To their credit, safety advocates responded positively, supporting laws with the liability exclusion and innovative penalty structures. Examples:
The safety advocates also initiated helmet distribution campaigns for disadvantaged children. With time, the awareness became widespread that educational and promotional campaigns, more than laws, would be effective in increasing the rate of helmet use in the USA.
Helmets sometimes prevent injury and sometimes don’t — but that wasn’t the issue that propelled the campaign for liability exclusions. That a helmet would not have prevented injury could, quite to the contrary, point out the seriousness of a crash and make a persuasive argument that a bicyclist should recover damages!