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.

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.

Chicago Bike Lane Guide, a Blast from the Past

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

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

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

Cover of the Chicago Bike Lane Design Guide

Cover of the Chicago Bike Lane Design Guide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




An undertaking undertaking

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

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

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

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

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

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