Tag Archives: advanced stop line

The Six-Way in Rush Hour

Here’s another video showing conditions at the six-way intersection of 16th Street, U Street and New Hampshire Avenue NW in Washington, DC, where special bicycle facilities have been installed.

Also please see my earlier post about this intersection, with another embedded video.

Scaling up and scaling down

New York bicycling advocate Steve Faust has stated that some ways of accommodating bicycling do not “scale up” — that is, they work with small numbers of cyclists, but less well with larger numbers.

His central complaint is that use of roadways with no special bicycle facilities, according to the conventional rules of the road, does not scale up well.

I might put that a bit differently. After all, more cyclists need more room. Mass rides such as New York’s own 5-Borough Tour avoid special bicycle facilities and occupy the entire width of Manhattan’s multi-lane avenues. Motor vehicles are excluded while these rides pass through. Interaction within the group of many thousands of cyclists is for the most part according to the conventional rules of the road, and falls short only in that many of the participants are inexperienced.

On roadways carrying both cyclists and motorists, cyclists inconvenience motorists when the motor traffic could go faster — that is, when there are many cyclists and few enough motorists that they could travel unimpeded, if not for the cyclists. Motorists inconvenience cyclists when motor traffic is congested, and stopped or traveling slower than cyclists might want to go. Level of service always declines as a road becomes more congested, and it declines faster when vehicles have differing speed capabilities.

On the other hand, there also are situations in which operation as intended does not scale down to smaller numbers.

Motorists are more likely, for example, to yield to a crowd of pedestrians than to a single pedestrian.

Another example is the leading pedestrian interval: the walk signal goes on a couple of seconds before motorists get the green light. The leading pedestrian interval is intended to get pedestrians moving out into the intersection before motor traffic can begin to turn across a crosswalk, encouraging motorists to yield to the pedestrians. The same approach is used sometimes on bicycle facilities, for example on the Boulevard de Maisonneuve bicycle sidepath in Montréal, Québec, Canada. But a leading interval only works if there is someone waiting to cross when the signal changes. With smaller numbers, so the first pedestrian or bicyclist reaches the crossing after the motorists get their green light, the leading interval’s only achievement is slightly to reduce the capacity of the intersection.

The same issue can occur with any “conflict zone” with poor visibility as users approach, including the “bike box” or bicycle waiting area ahead of the stop line for motorists at an intersection. Once one cyclist is in a “bike box”, a motorist is unlikely to move forward, because that would require running over the cyclist. Therefore, the bike box is then safe for the entry of other cyclists, at least into the same lane in which the first cyclist is waiting.

The”bike box” works as intended when there are large numbers of cyclists so the first one arrives well before the traffic signal turns green.

If there are few cyclists, so the first one is likely to arrive just as the traffic signal turns green, then there is the potential for a right-hook collision, or a motorist’s colliding with a cyclist swerving into the bike box.

Safety requires that there be enough cyclists that early-arriving ones block the way of motorists, or at least alert the motorists that others may arrive. This safety factor does not scale down to small numbers.

Research in Portland, Oregon shows that only 5% of bicyclists swerve into the bike box when they are first to arrive; about 35% if they arrive later. The reluctance of the first-arriving cyclist reflects risk avoidance to some extent, due to not knowing when the traffic signal will change, but also that the swerve lengthens the cyclist’s trip — none of the Portland bike boxes are designated for left turns. The later-arriving cyclists are to some degree protected by the arrival of the first one, but also they either have to wait behind or move over to the left of that cyclist, into the bike box.

“Safety in numbers” claims become rather interesting when such issues are considered.

The design challenge is to achieve efficiency and safety of all travelers, regardless of whether numbers are large or small.

James Mackay on bike box implementations

James Mackay describes his experimentation with timing of special signals for bicyclists at an NCUTCD Bicycle Technical Committee meeting.

James Mackay is a practicing traffic engineer who participated in a summer 2009 scan tour of European bicycle facilities. He is a member of the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices Bicycle Technical Committee (NCUTCD BTC). His comments on European vs. US bike box implementations are published here with his permission:

Bicycle advance stop line implementations I saw in Europe amounted to a five-legged stool, with resultant stability and functionality.

I get very concerned with American implementations that amount to a two-legged stool.

Proposals I see over here lack the individual contribution and resultant system stability of the sum of following five factors which provides a functional system over there:

  1. Near-side-only signals, which greatly reduced motorist encroachment on bike boxes and pedestrian crosswalks;
  2. Traffic signals that provide an advance red/yellow phase indicating that a green indication is imminent;
  3. Trixi mirrors (convex, internally heated mirrors placed on the near side signal pole, directly beneath the motorist’s traffic signal);
  4. Right Turn on Red “RTOR” -or the UK equivalent of LTOR – does not exist in these countries (serving to preclude operational conflicts), and;
  5. Cell phones are not to be used while driving.

Overall the bike boxes were used in cultures with much higher numbers of bicyclists. A motorist in the countries we visited would be much more likely to see a bicyclist using a bike box. This would specifically include truck drivers.

I don’t recall seeing traffic enforcement in the scan tour countries. Seemingly, there was a much stronger social contract in effect. In particular, bicyclist compliance with signals and other traffic control devices was much higher than what we are used to seeing in the U.S.

James Mackay, P.E.

Secretary (Emeritus as of January, 2011), Bicycle Technical Committee, NCUTCD

Also see a description of James Mackay’s bicycle signal experiment.

Comparing crosswalk and bike box

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