The US Federal Highway Administration has withdrawn its interim approval of Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons (RRFBs) because a company which makes them has patented them.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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The cyclist’s comment on this Youtube video: “This is why turn signals are important. Had she used a turn signal, I would have stayed back and let her turn. But because she didn’t use one, I assumed she was going straight.”
Let’s take a look into the situation.
The car was initially stopped, second in line at a traffic light. Then the light turned green. The cyclist was approaching in the separated bikeway from the car’s right rear, off to the side. As the motorist initiated her turn, the cyclist wouldn’t be visible in the motorist’s passenger-side rear-view mirror. The motorist would have had to turn her head sharply to the right to see the cyclist, but she needed to look ahead to steer and avoid other potential conflicts. Yes, she should have used her turn signal, but again, she was supposed to yield to the cyclist, not the other way around, and the location of the bikeway made it easy for her not to notice the cyclist.
What are solutions to this problem?
* Well, certainly, drivers should use their signals.
* Bicyclists need to be aware of these conflict situations, and it’s best not to make assumptions.
* Bikeways like this create the appearance of safety because they assuage “fear to the rear” but in urban and suburban areas, most car-bike crashes are due to crossing and turning conflicts, including the one shown in the video, the classic “right hook” — and also the “left cross” (car turns left into the path of an oncoming cyclist). This is a two-way bikeway on one side of a street and so it placed the cyclist farther outside the view of the turning motorist, and can also lead to “Left hooks” and “right crosses”. Germany no longer recommends two-way bikeways like this, as the safety record has proved to be especially poor.
* To avoid these conflicts, the bikeway needs an exclusive signal phase when other traffic doesn’t turn across it. But that will result in more delay for bicyclists and motorists alike. This bikeway also crosses driveways where the barrier is interrupted.
* A bikeway in a corridor separate from streets, a bike route on lightly-used streets, ordinary striped bike lanes or wide outside lanes avoid the problems with a separated bikeway.
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.
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.
Here’s a video of the intersection of Commonwealth Avenue and St. Mary Street, Boston, Massachusetts, USA, an example of the design expertise which earns Boston its place with the League of American Bicyclists as a Bicycle Friendly City.
The video is from 2013. As of 2016, one change has been made: the zigzag in the bike lane has been replaced by a diagonal transition.
The idea that cyclists should turn across in front of multiple lines of motor vehicles to change lane position is not unique to this location. Here’s another example, and it is by no means the only other one:
I knew I’d have a problem with the film just based on the the title.
There can be animosity between people on bikes and in cars, but bikes and cars are machines, which have no feelings and generally don’t get into trouble unless there is a person is behind the steering wheel or the handlebars. The title “Bikes vs. Cars” reminds me of a frequent complaint of bicyclists who have had incidents in traffic, “the car didn’t see me.” The title and that statement both reflect a fear-based mental block which has led to the inability to conceive of the car as a machine under control of a human, with whom it is possible to interact, and so, much more often, to avoid incidents…
Enough. There’s more to say. My facebook friend Kelley Howell has posted a detailed review, which follows here:
Why I think the film, Bikes Vs. Cars, is a waste of money:
by Kelley Howell
It was a scattered, gawky film filled with untenable contradictions. Some thoughts:
The film switched back and forth between a desire to own the streets and use them as if they belonged to bicyclists who have a right to drive on them, free of cars, but then it dropped its pretense to militancy asking for small slivers of space on the edge, as if if that edge were some Magic Kingdom of safety. On one hand, the people in the film seem to be demanding a right to take the entire road and get the hated cars off it. On the other hand, it’s all about scampering out of the way, deferring to a dominant majority no one knows how to handle, let alone challenge.
As an example, there was a line in the film which went something like this: “At 1 AM, during the quiet of Carmeggedon in LA. I sneaked on to the 405 and rode my bike on this massive highway. It was beautiful. I owned that feat of human engineering. For the first time, I felt it was a marvel of human engineering that was made for me.”
Then they switch to Sao Paulo in Brazil, to capture the happy reactions of bicyclists who learned that the city is laying down 100s of kilometers of too narrow bike lanes in a very congested city where few people appear to follow traffic law to begin with. I was hard pressed to imagine all these scrappy motorists would respect the painted lines of a 4 foot wide gutter bike lane.
Which is it: do you want to drive a bike on that feat of human engineering, the 405, or a 4 foot bike lane with cars passing too close, driving out into your path, and right- and left-hooking you constantly? How is that demanding your rights? How is it safe? Accepting a scrap of asphalt, some of it carved out of a gutter built for sewer water? After all that rhetoric of wanting access to feats of human engineering, how is that you want to operate in a gutter bike lane?
The film trades in the imagery of the bicyclist, rolling free, free of motorists, free of the burden of a body on pavement, free because it can dodge the confines of hated “traffic”. The magic of the bicycle is its thrift, its speed, and its nimble ability to slip through crevices of urban congestion. It is at once traffic and the supposed escape from it.
But this is reminiscent of the propaganda that dominates the most pedestrian – har! – of auto advertisements where cars mean freedom, an open road, an endless horizon. This imagery in commercials is a stark counterpoint to the reality of miles of congested freeway, gridlock, and, well, to borrow a phrase, the hell that is other motorists at rush hour.
This trope — the bicycle as freedom, magically evading being captured in traffic — is present in an amusing fantasy entertained in the film: pulling 20% of all motorists off the Los Angeles roads and reinserting them with their derrieres planted in bike saddles. Apparently they will accomplish their 14.7 mile commute on their Dutchie or Cruiser, pedaling along at 10 mph?
Going by LA county numbers, 20% of the ~4.5 million motoring commuters is 900,000 bicyclists. Even if their commute where far shorter – say a manageable 5 miles at 10 mph — that’s a lot of bicyclists who get to share those four foot wide gutter bike lanes. Good luck with that!
Then, there was a main protagonist, name escapes, in Brazil. She says, to paraphrase, “What I want is some respect for human cooperation.” And then the film plugs away about the lack of bike lanes. Having apparently conceded that motorists will NOT actually give bicyclists that respect or cooperatively share the roads, they ask for a sliver of space in the gutter.
Which is fine. Really. If that’s what you want. But don’t imagine segregating modes is about cooperating. It’s rather about demanding public resources be spent on gutter-based infrastructure in Brazil precisely because motorists WILL NOT share the road. No one has actually changed the domination of motorists. In this “victory,” existing configurations of power remain the same, leaving bicyclists just as powerless as they always were, only now they are marginalia set off by 6 inch stripes of paint.
The incident with the Dutch cab driver was high camp and deserves its own post. It was my impression that the cabbie staged the whole thing, a real drama queen pining for his 5 minutes on camera. Basically, it was exemplary of what Nietzsche called a transvaluation of values: an opportunity for bicyclists everywhere to make the motorist suffer for a change.
The problem is that this is an exercise in punishing schadenfreude. We are all supposed to love it that the roles have reversed in the Netherlands. The taxi driver has to be troubled, delayed, and dominated by the majority, bicyclists. We get to engage in gleeful enjoyment to see him upset, angry, cowed by the throngs of bicyclists blocking his every move. There! Take That, you bad, bad motorists. How do you think it FEELS to be marginalized like we were?
This is a stupid and shameful sentiment that shouldn’t be tolerated by anyone doing bicycling advocacy. But it is, unfortunately, celebrated by too many participation advocates – including this film, which trades in cheap theatrics and, well, quite frankly, trashy propaganda. At least have the decency to be sophisticated about it if you are going to trade in such infantilizing sentiments.
 I am unhappy with the choice of ‘transvaluation of values’ to express what I mean here. But it’s been a longass day. Tant pis!
 As for the transvaluation of values thing, for more detail on the problems with this position, see Wendy Brown’s work States of Injury: Power and Freedom in Late Modernity. Here, Brown captures the problem as one where, basically, an oppressed or marginalized group rises in power and status, promoting a compulsion to repetition rather than liberation:
“Initial figurations of freedom are inevitably reactionary in the sense of emerging in reaction to perceived injuries or constraints of a regime from within its own terms. Ideals of freedom ordinarily emerge to vanquish their imagined immediate enemies, but in this move they frequently recycle and reinstate rather than transform the terms of domination that generated them. Consider exploited workers who dream of a world in which work has been abolished, blacks who imagine a world without whites, feminists who conjure a world either without men or without sex, or teenagers who fantasize a world without parents. Such images of freedom perform mirror reversals of without transforming the organization of the activity through which the suffering is produced and without addressing the subject constitution that domination effects, that is, the constitution of the social categories, “workers,” “blacks,” “women,” or “teenagers.”
It would thus appear that it is freedom’s relationship to identity-its promise to address a social injury or marking that is itself constitutive of an identity that yields the paradox in which the first imaginings of freedom are always constrained by and potentially even require the very structure of oppression that freedom emerges to oppose.”