Tag Archives: crash

The Photoshop School of Traffic Engineering strikes again!

The Photoshop School of Traffic Engineering strikes again, this time in Minneapolis.

For background, please read the Minneapolis blog post: http://www.ouruptown.com/2012/08/potential-cycle-track-coming-to-36th-street

Also please read John Schubert’s comment on that post.

I’ve added a comment too — still in moderation as I write this, and I repeat the comment here, slightly edited and with this introduction.

The location described in the blog post, 36th Street at Dupont Avenue, is shown in the Google map below. If the full image doesn’t appear, clicking to refresh the page will probably fix that. The image is zoomable and draggable, but by clicking on “View Larger Map”, you may enlarge it, look down from different overhead angles, and switch in and out of Google Street View.


View Larger Map

36th Street is part of a grid system. Smaller, lightly-traveled 35th Street is one of several that could instead be configured as a bicycle boulevard (also called neighborhood greenway) like those in Berkeley, Eugene, Portland and Seattle, so bicyclists use the street as a through route while only slow, local motor traffic uses it. That is popular with residents and avoids the problems with sight lines which John Schubert has described.

Now for some comments on the pictures in the Minneapolis blog post. They are examples of of what I call the “Photoshop School of Traffic Engineering”, Or the “Anything Goes” school. Well, anything goes in a Photoshopped picture but not necessarily in reality.

Here’s the first picture from the blog post:

Photoshopped illustration of proposed "cycle track" on 36th Street in Minneapolis

Photoshopped illustration of proposed “cycle track” on 36th Street in Minneapolis

The caption for this photo in the blog post reads “[a] possible cycle track is being considered for 36th Street in Minneapolis.” As we’ll see though, the rendering in the picture is hardly possible.

In the picture, there’s already a sidewalk on both sides but now also a special lane so pedestrians can walk in the street. To make room for this and the bikeway, the blue car in the right-hand travel lane is squished to about 3 feet wide and that lane is about 8 feet wide. The text describes the bikeway as 10 feet wide, but it measures as about 12 feet wide based on the size of the bicycle wheels. 36th Street has a cross street every 300 feet, also entrances to back alleys and driveways in almost every block, but the picture shows maybe one intersection (note crosswalk lines) in the distant background. That is unreal. There’s some need for people to get in and out of all those cross streets, alleys and driveways.

Now, the other picture:

Another Photoshopped illustration of the proposed bikeway

Another Photoshopped illustration of the proposed bikeway

The caption in the blog post reads “[a] rendering of how a cycle track on 36th Street could look east of Dupont Avenue in Minneapolis.” Again, no, it couldn’t.

The bikeway is shown at a more realistic width. I’m not sure though how three travel lanes, a parking lane, 3-foot buffer and 10-foot-wide bikeway fit into a street which now has only two travel lanes and two parking lanes. Also note the car about to turn right across a lane of traffic and then across the bikeway at the one intersection shown. The lane with the closest car in it is shown as a lane of traffic, not a parking lane, or there would be signs and markings to indicate that. Assuming though that it is a parking lane and the turning car isn’t cutting off the closer one, then the closer one is still hiding approaching bicyclists from the turning one, whose driver must look to the right rear to see them as they get closer — remember, they may be traveling at speeds up to 25 miles per hour. The bikeway is outside the field of view of the turning driver’s right-hand rear view mirror. Some vehicles have no windows behind the front seat, and so the bikeway would be in a complete blind spot. I just got back from Montreal where I rode bikeways like this and it’s hair-raising with heavy two-way bicycle traffic in such a narrow space. I also had repeated conflicts with motorists turning across my path, using intimidation to try to make a gap for themselves in the stream of bicyclists. It’s safer to ride on 36th street just as it is now, and a bicycle boulevard would be better choice yet, especially for slower and more timid bicyclists. As John Schubert says in his comment on the blog post, there are better ways to make bicycling inviting.

The proposed design isn’t about improving traffic conditions, for bicyclists or anyone else. It’s about a social agenda: creating the appearance of safety for naive bicyclists to increase bicycle mode share, and making motoring more difficult. Actually, motorists would instead use the smaller parallel streets. Elimination of parking on one side of the street to create the bikeway is unlikely to be popular with residents. Snow clearance also is difficult with barrier posts and parked cars in the middle of the street.

The Montreal bikeways are the subject of a widely-publicized research study claiming a safety advantage, but the study has been demolished, see http://john-s-allen.com/reports/montreal-kary.htm

Why this crash?

The fancy, expensive bicycles and racing clothing are not matched by these cyclists’ bike handling skills.

If you play the video through to the end, you will see that the wheel touch broke 4 of the 8 spokes on the right side of the boutique 16-spoke front wheel.

Detailed explanation:

  1. Boutique wheel, few spokes, spokes necessarily overtensioned, big gaps for things to get in between them.
  2. Rider ahead merged left and slowed (notice backpedaling), oblivious to riding in tight group.
  3. Tri bars and no brake there.
  4. Overlapping.
  5. Spokes broke against QR handle. At this point overlap was by more than half a wheel.
  6. Still a good recovery.
  7. Inability to steer due to unstable front wheel and to need to move hands position to brakes — cyclist heads for ditch.
  8. Attempt to brake on warped front wheel locked the wheel.

Some commenters on the YouTube post have pointed out that the cyclist who crashed was wearing a sleeveless jersey and not wearing socks. This clothing is characteristic of triathletes — who don’t ride in groups while racing and are less likely to learn group riding skills than are road racers. Another point about clothing is that the cyclist wasn’t wearing cycling gloves. He broke his fall with his hands on gravel. Ouch.

A Cyclist Signs Up for Advanced Driver Training

What was an avid cyclist doing in a place like this?

I like to ride my bicycle but sometimes I have to drive.

Over 40 years ago on dirt roads and snow in Vermont, I learned to steer into a turn; to manage the situation when a car loses traction, rather than to blank out or panic.

I shot the video above recently, in a class with hands-on driver training which goes well beyond that. All of the instructors are racers. They test the limits of traction at every turn on the racecourse. But here, they are teaching skills for crash avoidance on the road.

My son took the class with me. He had taken a conventional driver training course and already had his driver’s license, but he had no experience handling a car at the limits of traction.

The InControl course begins with a classroom lecture. Our instructor, Jeremy, explained that driver training is broken in the USA: that over 40% of new drivers have a crash within the first two years; 93% of crashes result from driver error and so, are preventable. He also explained that he would be teaching about steering, braking, hazard perception and avoidance.

Jeremy handed a quiz sheet with 16 questions to check off, true or false. We were told to hold onto our quiz sheets because we would review them later.

The most compelling part of the course is the hands-on practice. It is conducted under safe conditions on a closed course, in a huge, empty parking lot, in cars with a low center of gravity; an instructor is always in the car. As shown in the video, we did the slalom — at first with an instructor driving; then each student took a turn driving. We learned how great the effect of small increases in speed can be on the ability to maneuver. We practiced emergency stops, then swerving while braking; we had the backing demonstration and the tailgating test, as shown in the video.

To learn how to anticipate potential hazards takes time, and experience. The InControl class can discuss this but not teach this. A driving simulator like the ones used to train airline pilots would help to build that experience under risk-free conditions. Video gaming technology is approaching the level that it could do this at a relatively low price. Computers are up to the task, but they would need multiple visual displays and a special “driver’s seat” controller. Lacking that technology, I have traveled many miles with my son, both as a driver and as a passenger, coaching him. His many more miles of experience stoking our tandem bicycle were a fine lead-in.

What did I learn in this class, with my nearly 50 years of experience as a licensed driver? Several things of importance — among them:

  • Despite my decades of experience, I answered several questions on the quiz incorrectly. I’m not going to provide a crib sheet– go take the course.
  • There is a very significant advantage to having different tires for summer and winter use, due not only to snow but also to temperature difference. Winter tires have “sipes” — small grooves –to develop a “snowball effect” — actually picking up snow so it will adhere to other snow, and improving traction. Tires should be replaced when tread is still twice the height of the wear bars.
  • Side-view mirrors should be adjusted wider than I had been accustomed to — so their field of view starts where the windshield mirror’s field of view ends.
  • The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration’s standards for a 5-star safety rating are lower for SUVs than for passenger cars, as a result of industry lobbying (Any surprise?)
  • Importantly, that antilock brakes do more than allow shorter stops. They allow steering during emergency braking, and we practiced this as shown in the video.
  • Most importantly, to me as a cycling instructor, that learning to manage risks is essentially the same for bicycling as for driving a car. The attitude is the same, and hazard recognition and avoidance are similar. One important difference is that a well-trained cyclist’s brain is the antilock braking controller on a bicycle.

As I write this today, my son has driven himself to his classes at the local community college 12 miles away. Like any parent, I cross my fingers every time he goes out the driveway, but I am pleased to report that he has is cautious and calm as a driver and that his driving inspires confidence, with exceptions at a very few times.

I wish he didn’t have to drive. I don’t like the environmental burden it imposes, and I don’t like the risk. If public transportation were at all reasonable, he would be using it. If the college were half as far away, he’d be riding his bicycle at least on days with good weather. For now, his getting a college education wins out over those concerns…

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.

My September 11

My 10-year-old son Jacob’s school year hadn’t started yet on that brilliant clear September morning. My wife had left for work. I  had a business appointment in Belmont, a few miles from our home. Jacob and I set out for Belmont around 9 AM on our tandem bicycle. There wouldn’t be much traffic; the morning rush hour had passed. I had 30 years of safe cycling in Boston-area traffic, and little concern about our completing the trip safely.

Through an open car window I heard a word or two…Boeing 757 airliner…I got a spooky feeling. No radios were playing music or the boom chicka chicka booom chicka rant (expletive) rant rant rant which passes as music. I’d gladly have had that instead, thank you.

Jacob and I were turning left from where the car is in the picture. Note the hedge on the far left corner.

Jacob and I were turning left from where the white car is in the picture. Note the hedge on the far left corner.

Jacob and I were waiting just to the right of the double yellow line at a red light, to turn left from Waverley Street onto Thomas Street, near Belmont Center. Both streets are relatively narrow two-lane, two-way streets with light traffic. My left arm was extended in a very clear left turn signal. The traffic light turned green, and just as I began to swing the tandem to the left, I heard “beep beep” of a car horn behind us. A small gray sedan going about 30 mph passed us on the left side of the street, an insanely hazardous maneuver not only because of the possible collision with us, but also because someone might be making a right turn on red from Thomas Street, and would of course be looking the other way for traffic. A hedge blocked the view around the corner, too.

…two classic bicycle-on-wrong-side-of-the-street crash types, only with roles switched around…

Jacob and I rode the couple of hundred yards to the Belmont police station and spoke with Officer MacEachern, who was very supportive and professional. I didn’t get a look at the driver, but Jacob did, and identified her as a woman with brown or black hair (dyed?) and, he thought, wearing glasses. We reported the license number of the car, 350 JBA. The officer verified that it was for a gray Toyota Corolla sedan, and told us that it belonged to a 75 year old woman who lived in Belmont.

Officer MacEachern said that his department unfortunately could not issue a citation, since an officer had not seen the incident, but that he would go have a talk with the driver and that it might be possible to pull her license if she is incompetent.

I can understand being termporarily out of one’s mind. One time I was injured but felt no pain, even ignored the grating of bone on bone, just had to get — home. Once a truck strayed into my lane and sideswiped my car. Only my quick swerve avoided a head-on crash. I was going to turn around and chase after the truck except that my wife calmed me down.

Maybe the driver was the daughter of the car’s owner, who was in turmoil…maybe she had children at home and hoped to spend her final minutes with them.

Maybe she had someone on one of those planes — two flew from Boston — or in one of those buildings.

Jacob and I rode on to the home of my client where I shot the photo below.

Televison news coverage of the September 11 attack on the Pentagon.

Television news coverage of the September 11 attack on the Pentagon.

And that is how my son and I might have been killed on September 11 2001, not by Al Queda fanatics in red-hot hatred, though very likely through a ripple effect of their apocalyptic, ruinous madness onto someone I would probably have been happy to have as my next-door neighbor.

I went back a few weeks later and took the picture of the intersection, so I could include it in what is mercifully the story of a non-event and gets news coverage only here. Even if Jacob and I had been killed or gone to the hospital, our crash would have gotten even less attention than bicycle crashes usually do, on that day.

A take-away? Every  variety of opinion about Al Qaeda has probably already been expressed so I’ll only say this: adrenalin is a powerful mind-altering drug. It is available only by prescription except when you make it yourself, and because you do, police can’t cite you for it after a crash. But still, please think twice…

The Gilham Road raised bike lane, Eugene, Oregon

As a reader has commented on the Gilham Road, Eugene, Oregon raised bicycle lane in response to an earlier post, I’ve decided to follow up with some additional information about it.

Here’s a photo of the lane during installation.

Raised lane on Gilham Road, Eugene, Oregon

Raised lane on Gilham Road, Eugene, Oregon

I thank former Eugene Bicycle Coordinator Diane Bishop for sending me the photo. Her comments in the e-mail which accompanied the photo in February, 2002 are as follows:

I’m curious if you have seen or used any raised bicycle lanes? We installed one this summer and have had mixed reviews from users. Mostly the motorists don’t like it because they are forced to slow down (the road curves around various median islands, etc, and the travel lanes are 10′ wide, dropping the comfortable speed to about 20-25mph). But I”ve also gotten mixed reviews from cyclists. Most really like it, but some are concerned about the slope between the bike lane and the car lane. I’ve attached a photo so you can see what we did. This was taken during construction so we hadn’t done the landscaping, finished the sidewalk, or done the lane line painting. The bike lane stripe is at the bottom of the sloped surface now. The bike lanes are concrete, the auto lanes are asphalt.

The photo was taken at the intersection in the Google map below, looking south.


View Larger Map

Microsoft’s Bing mapping application offers a more detailed view, but you will have to open Bing separately to move around or zoom the view.

Microsoft Bing view of Gilham Road at Ayers Road, Eugene, Oregon

Microsoft Bing view of Gilham Road at Ayers Road, Eugene, Oregon

I responded to Ms. Bishop, as follows:

You asked me for my opinion, so here it is.

As much as political participation is important in our democratic process, I wouldn’t trust either bicyclists’ or motorists’ opinions of the facility. These opinions generally are swayed by perceived self-interest and don’t reflect professional training. Let’s consider the actual operational characteristics and crash rate.

I’m no fan of raised lanes (called “cycle tracks” in Europe). This design is common in early facilities installed in Europe, but now there is a heavy backlash against them, because studies have revealed them to have a much higher crash rate than riding in the street. The German ADFC has strongly opposed them for the past several years, since the study results came out. The ADFC recommends street-level bike lanes instead. [This press release] is typical of the ADFC position.

“Originally, cycle tracks were constructed to protect bicyclists from motor traffic. But since then, the number of studies which show that the risk of accidents is markedly higher on cycle tracks than on the streets has been growing. Bicyclists who are traveling on a two-way cycle track in an urban area on the left side of the street have 11.9 times the accident risk they would have on the streets. The cause of this danger is an incorrect political promotion of bicycling over the past few decades. In the past, travelers were segregated. Consequently, bicyclists and motorists could not see one another. At junctions, the bicycle traffic is directed onto the street, unexpected by the motorists. And so we have the typical urban bicycle accident. A bicyclist traveling straight ahead, struck by a turning motorist, is the most common type of bicycle accident involving a motor vehicle, states Stefan Brandtner, press contact for the All-German Bicycle Club (ADFC) Baden-Württemberg section.”

A survey of research on the accident rates of streets, bicycle paths and sidewalks is available on the Internet. And here are some links to specific studies posted on the Internet. Some (particularly Pasanen and Wachtel-Lewiston) are well-controlled for the same bicyclist population on the different types of facilities, while others are not, and so the difference in accident rates probably reflects to some degree that people who choose to ride on sidewalks generally are less skilled.

The Risks of Cycling by Dr. Eero Pasanen, Helsinki, Finland, higher car-bike collision rate for one-way sidepaths compared with streets, even though pedestrians are prohibited from the sidepaths (very similar to the installation shown). Extremely high rate of car-bike collisions with bicyclists crossing intersection on left sidepath.

Adult Bicyclists in the U.S. by Dr. William Moritz. Relative danger index 16 times as high for sidewalk riding as for major street without bicycle facilities. (Data include all crashes, not just car-bike collisions).

A Survey of North American Bicycle Commuters, by Dr. William Moritz. Relative danger index 5.32 times as high on “other” facilities (mostly sidewalks) as on average of all facilities (mostly streets). Data include all crashes, not just car-bike collisions. Lower ratio than in previous study probably related to typically lower speed and overall higher crash rate of average commuters compared with avid adult cyclists.

Alan Wachtel and Diana Lewiston, Risk Factors for Bicycle-Motor Vehicle Collisions at Intersections (ITE Journal, September 1994). Car-bike collision rate 1.8 times as high for sidewalk riding as for streets.

[The following documents] reach similar conclusions:

Sidewalk Bicycle Safety Issues, by Lisa Aultman-Hall and Michael F. Adams Jr. Bicycle accident rate 6 to 10 times as high as sidewalks as on streets in Toronto. (PDF document. See page 4.)

Toronto Bicycle Commuter Safety Rates, by Lisa Aultman-Hall and M. Georgina Kaltenecker. 4 times as high injury accident rate on sidewalks as on streets (PDF document. See table 5, page 19).

On the facility shown, the bicyclist is confined to the space between the slope down to street level, and the pedal-catching curb on the other side. I don’t know exactly how wide the lane is in the installation shown, but it appears to be no wider than 5 feet, with no shoulders, and with shy distance from the curb at one side and the downslope at the other side, the lane’s effective width is much narrower. The AASHTO minimum for a one-way bicycle path is 6 feet, *with* 2 feet of clearance at either side.

So this facility is not wide enough for one bicyclist to overtake another comfortably, even less so for a bicycle to overtake an adult trike or cargo bike of the type Jan Vandertuin is making (last I knew) in Eugene. Even aside from these examples, the carrying capacity of this lane is seriously reduced by its being raised. When bicyclists ride at street level (with or without a bike lane) they may merge outside the bike lane as necessary if the bike lane becomes crowded. In this installation, they can drop down to the street only at the cost of an uncomfortable and somewhat hazardous descent and ascent over the sloped edge. In wet, or worse, icy weather, or if sand or trash has accumulated at the bottom of the sloped edge, a bicyclist could easily be toppled by it.

The raised lane on each side also is bound to be used for two-way travel, because bicyclists do not perceive it as part of the street, and because it is much less convenient to get to the raised lane on the opposite side than it would be to get to a street-level lane on the opposite side. Left-side travel, as the studies show, greatly increases the risk of car-bike collisions. Some bicyclists would choose to ride on a sidewalk anyway — consider a child who wanted to get from one house to another on the left side of the street in the photo — but I don’t like constructing a facility specifically for bicyclists which encourages this behavior (as opposed to a bike route or street-level bike lane, which encourages right-way travel).

Naive bicyclists may assume that they are being “protected” from overtaking traffic by a raised lane, but the lane will cause more crashes than it prevents — certainly so in the case of single-bike and bike-bike crashes and almost certainly so in the case of car-bike crashes, by constraining the bicyclists’ line of travel and leading to a false sense of security. There appears to be an intersection in the background where the raised lane does not go down to street level before and after the intersection to allow merges (is this correct?). The motorists, than, are constrained to make their right turns from the left lane and the bicyclists, except for those at the ends of the skills spectrum — who are well-trained in vehicular techniques or who, on the other hand, make left turns as pedestrians — are likely to turn left from the right lane.

Often the motivation for a particular bicycle facility design is to affect the behavior of *motorists* rather than bicyclists. The classic reason for this has been to make things easier for motorists by getting bicyclists off the road. But here the goal appears to be to make things *harder* for motorists and slow them down by narrowing the lane width they can use. There are many other traffic calming and enforcement measures to slow traffic down and reduce its volume without constructing a problematic bicycle facility.

Another motive for constructing bicycle facilities is often to encourage people to ride bicycles, but again, there are many alternatives in design, and an unsafe facility which is popular is the kind most likely to lead to crashes!

I DO like gently sloped curbs at the RIGHT edge of the area in which bicyclists ride. With such a curb (commonly used on Cape Cod and called the “Cape Cod berm” here in Massachusetts), the trash, sand, water and ice problems still occur but at least most of the time a bicyclist who has strayed off the road can go safely up over the curb.

It appears that there is also a drainage issue. With no storm grate in the bike lane, and a curb at the right side, the lane will only drain if it slopes toward the street. It may be properly sloped now, but concrete slabs tend to tilt after a few years.

Essentially, I don’t see any significant difference between this facility and a sidewalk as far as bicyclists are concerned, other than that pedestrians have a separate sidewalk. I favor traffic calming measures in residential areas, with bicyclists traveling on the street, wide outside lanes and sometimes bike lanes at street level (though bike lanes are often installed where they create turning and crossing conflicts, and other solutions would be preferable); also bicycle paths away from roads to fill in the “missing links” in a bicycle route network, as discussed in the Oregon bicycle plan. This is my honest opinion and I hope it doesn’t upset you too much!

And in turn, Ms. Bishop replied:

On your raised bicycle lane response: no, you didn’t upset me. I’m not sure I agree with some of your comments, but I’m here and can see the lane and use it and you haven’t had that chance. Now that we have had it installed for a while and I’ve had a chance to ride it on several occasions, I’ve begun thinking we probably won’t keep this in our “toolbox” of street treatments. However, there are some things that seem to be good. I haven’t done a video study of the lane usage yet because it was completed so late in the fall last year. I’ll be doing that this spring. If I come up with
anything useful, I’ll let you know.

We don’t get snow or ice here (well, MAYBE a sprinkling of snow that lasts about 1/2 hr. once a year) but we do get a lot of rain. I was concerned about the sloped surface being slippery, but I’ve found it surprisingly easy to ride in the rain. I’ve also tested running up and down the slope pulling various trailers and they track as smoothly I can’t tell the difference from riding on a flat surface, even when one trailer wheel is over the edge while I’m still on the flat bike lane surface. One of the concerns raised by the neighbors (that I haven’t seen materialize) was that the kids would be out there using the sloped surface for playing with their bikes and skateboards.

I think you may be right about less competent cyclists not thinking about merging down into the auto lane to make their left turn. I hadn’t anticipated that when we decided to build the lanes. But I don’t think it will lead to more 2-way riding for 2 reasons: we have sidewalks for those you mentioned who would only be traveling a few houses away and those sidewalks are more accessible; and also because the traffic is relatively light on the street where we have the raised bike lanes (its a neighborhood collector).

For your suggestions on why we might have tried the design, actually you were right about the traffic calming interest…some of our folks were looking for ways to reinforce other traffic calming methods they built into the project. However, *I* was more interested in trying out a bike facility that might appeal more to children in order to get them off the sidewalks (which I agree with you are much more dangerous than the street). Our hope was that we could get them out in the street area where they will be seen by the motorists and slightly separated so they would be willing to try it. Raising them slightly higher seems to have the added benefit that motorists can see them better. I”m not sure we really accomplished all that.

So, thanks for your ideas. Like I said, I don’t think we are going to do that design again, but it was an interesting experiment. We want to make this community even more bicycle-friendly than it is, so are willing to try different approaches. Unfortunately I had very little time to research the design and, while [State of Oregon Bicycle coordinator] Michael Ronkin had it in the state bike/ped plan, he couldn’t suggest people or communities to check with in Europe.

And in turn, I replied:

Thank you very much for your reply. From your description, the sloped surface between the bike lane and the roadway appears to be less severe than it appears in the photo.

On another topic: there is a very interesting citation of a rather old Eugene study in a paper by John Williams, Alex Sorton and Tom Walsh. Dr. Sorton has told me that the paper includes data on the crash risks on streets, sidewalks and off-road paths. I would be most interested in knowing more about the study and if possible, obtaining a copy of it. I would be willing to pay for copying expenses and offer a service in return: conversion of the study into computer-readable format as I have done with a several other studies including, most recently, the classic 1976 Bikecentennial study — which I have posted it on my site.

This inquiry led to Ms. Bishop’s sending me a copy of the 1979 Eugene bicycle plan report, which I scanned and posted on the Internet — but that’s another story.

Mountable curbs

Mountable curbs have been suggested as a way to separate bike lanes or so-called “cycle tracks” from the rest of the street.

I am not in favor of such curbs. After all, any obstacle has hazard potential, and a mountable curb can have more than you would imagine.

As a cyclist rides along a mountable curb, tire “drift”, the slope and the offset front-tire contact patch make the bicycle hard to steer, so it must be held in a straight line by a continual effort. A similar issue with a different cause is discussed here.

Worse, if a mountable curb is slippery, it is no longer mountable, though it may deceptively still appear to be. The resulting fall may be a skidding-type fall or a diversion-type fall, in which the bicycle’s front wheel is swept to the side.

Trash, sand, snow or ice can accumulate along the curb. Installation of a curb-separated “cycle track” on a conventionally crowned roadway would require sloping the road surface away from the new curb to avoid this problem.

Even this unusual measure would not make snowplowing or street cleaning any easier, with an abrupt longitudinal change in elevation in the traveled way.

An approach used in Copenhagen is described here — a second line of drains at the curb (in the case shown, not mountable). The drains carry away standing water but does not solve the problems with trash, sand, refreezing water in the added, new gutter, snow clearance or street cleaning.

Cambridge, Massachusetts bicycle coordinator Cara Seiderman has shown a photo of a machine with a large, cylindrical, horizontal rotating brush used to clear snow from Copenhagen facilities. Perhaps this answers some of the issues with snow clearance and perhaps it also is used for street cleaning, but the expense is considerable, and the need for such equipment may not even be considered when a facility is constructed.

Snow clearance and ice melt issues on the 9th Avenue facility in New York City are described here; this is a barrier-separated rather than curb-separated facility, but the issues are similar. The bikeway here is wide enough that conventional snowplows could be used, but refreezing of meltwater from the windrow of snow between the bikeway and the street required heavy salting, and salt rusts bicycles.

So, is the prohibition of a barrier between a bike lane and the rest of the street in the AASHTO bike guide arbitrary? Does it only reflect issues with cyclists’ being able to enter and leave a bike lane, which can be addressed with a mountable curb? Not hardly.

Promotion of curb-separated bikeways, without considering the technical issues,or with “band” aid solutions such as mountable curbs, is all too typical of much bicycling advocacy.

Traffic theory: improving traffic signals to reduce pointless delay

A real-world time-space diagram, from Wikimedia commons.

A real-world time-space diagram

In theory, there’s no difference between theory and practice, but it practice, there is.

attributed to:
Yogi Berra
Jan L. A. van de Snepscheut
Albert Einstein

An optimal traffic-signal system would never present anyone with a red light or a don’t walk signal unless there actually is interfering traffic. In theory.

In practice, though, it may be desirable to introduce some delay in order to smooth the flow of traffic — to get vehicles on board a “green wave.” Traffic engineers think in sophisticated ways about this issue, but do not have the real-world tools to resolve it. While synchronized traffic-signal systems and sensor-actuated signals already improve the situation over uncoordinated timed signals, better sensing and more sophisticated software could, at least in theory, achieve much more.

Probably the most difficult part of the problem is in sensing approaching vehicles and pedestrians far enough ahead of an intersection so signals will change as they reach the intersection. Sensors are expensive, and many more would be needed. On the other hand, in a city dotted with security cameras, the sensor data may be easier to obtain, especially if traffic control is a goal when installing the equipment.

I am emphatically not describing so-called intelligent highway systems, intended to automate driving by taking control of vehicles. The driver then supposedly becomes a passenger, free to dial the cell phone, read the newspaper, watch TV or apply makeup without concern. For automated control to work, the system must exert at least as reliable control over vehicles as attentive drivers do. More yet: car makers have huge legal problems resulting from defects that injure only a small number of customers.

Automated control presently is applied only under very restricted conditions, on airport shuttle trains and the like. Even with a great increase in sophistication, it’s hard to conceive of how automated control (other than in collision-avoidance systems) would work on any roads except limited-access highways restricted to vehicles equipped for it.

Even under these conditions, there are difficult technical problems. Collision-avoidance systems to prevent collision with large objects ahead are just beginning to be common. Avoiding debris in the road, potholes and other smaller obstacles requires sophisticated sensing which a driver routinely performs — but well beyond the abilities of automated systems.

So, I am describing not a system to take over control of vehicles, but one to improve control of traffic signals. Humans would retain the ability to prevent collisions, and malfunctioning of the system would lead only to delay, not to crashes. The system would make little difference to anyone — motorist, bicyclist or pedestrian — except to reduce pointless delay.

Will this happen? If so, when and where? One promising thought is that it can happen bit by bit, at one intersection and another, rather than all at once along an entire highway.

Alleycat racers

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 –


View Larger Map

(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.)

Bob Mionske on “Driver Sues Family of Deceased Cyclist”

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:

  • no penalty, but only a warning;
  • penalty waived if the violator purchased a helmet;
  • positive incentive, such as coupon for a free serving at an ice cream shop for a kid seen wearing a helmet.

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!