Tag Archives: crosswalk

I approve of this?

UPDATE: This post gives background information on the intersection. I have now ridden through it, and my opinion of it has changed. I have another post about it, and a video. Please check them out.

The image below shows a special installation of traffic signals and markings at the intersection of 16th street, U Street and New Hampshire Avenue NW in Washington, DC. To enlarge the image so you can read the text descriptions, click on it. You also may have a look at a Google map satellite view. Then please return to this page for my comments.

16th Street, U Street and New Hampshire Avenue NW, Washington, DC

16th Street, U Street and New Hampshire Avenue NW, Washington, DC

Pierre L’Enfant and Andrew Ellicott — and let’s also not forget African-American surveyor Benjamin Banneker — laid out Washington’s streets from scratch –  in the pre-automotive 1790s. Washington’s diagonal avenues give it an openness and unique sense of place — but the resulting uneven-length blocks and multi-way intersections make for some serious headaches now. Some traffic movements are odd, traffic signals can not be synchronized efficiently…

Before the new installation, no signals in this intersection faced new Hampshire Avenue. Bicyclists would sometimes use New Hampshire Avenue for through travel, though its conflicting one-way segments made that illegal and there was no conflict-free crossing interval.

The illustration above is from a page posted by the government of the District of Columbia describing a new installation of contraflow bicycle lanes, bicycle waiting boxes and special traffic signals. At first glance, these may raise the hair on the back of the necks of people who are suspicious of special bicycle facilities treatments.

Look again. The bike boxes look odd only because they connect with diagonal New Hampshire Avenue. They are cross-street bike boxes — which bicyclists enter from the left. Bicyclists from New Hampshire Avenue enter on a separate signal phase from the motor traffic on 16th Street, rather than to creep up on the right side of motor vehicles, as with more-usual bike-box installations. Motorists do not have to crane their necks or stare into a right-side mirror looking for these bicyclists.

The cross-street bike boxes are even more conflict-free than usual. Because only bicycle traffic runs contraflow, bicyclists do not have to negotiate with any right-turning traffic when entering the intersection.

To summarize: this installation, importantly, does not violate the fundamental traffic-engineering principle of destination positioning at intersections, as so many special bicycle facilities installations do.

Or, looking at the same conclusion from a different point of view, the installation does not require or encourage bicyclists to do anything dangerous or stupid, and it offers reasonable travel efficiency considering the situation it addresses.

I am not going to say that this installation is perfect. I can see the following issues.

  • Bicyclists’ having to wait through two traffic-signal phases is inconvenient and might lead to scofflaw behavior. A “scramble phase” could allow crossing in one step and might even apply to bicyclists arriving from other directions. It would reduce the time allocated to for all the other phases, but it might be practical, and preferable, at times of low traffic. Signals and markings which only apply at some times could, however, be confusing.
  • The installation addresses only bicycle traffic entering the intersection from New Hampshire Avenue. Traffic control remains as it was for 16th street and U street. Considering the many ways in which bicycle travel could be made slower and/or more hazardous in the name of making it better, this may be a case of “best leave well enough alone,”  but on the other hand, real improvements might be possible.
  • The bike boxes on 16th street could be interpreted as encouraging bicyclists on that street to overtake motorists on the right, then swerve in front of them, as is the more conventional with bike boxes.
  • Just outside the lower left of the picture on New Hampshire Avenue, there is wrong-way parallel parking next to the bike lane. Motorists exiting wrong-way parking spaces are in head-on conflict with bicyclists, but cannot see them if another vehicle is parked ahead. (See illustrated description of wrong-way parallel parking elsewhere, if the explanation here is unclear.) At the top right, on the other hand, note that the bike lane is farther from the curb: this segment of New Hampshire Avenue has back-in right-angle parking, avoiding the sight-line problem.
  • And, while we’re at it, I have another issue with the street grid, though it’s common to many other cities and not readily subject to correction. Streets that go east and west guarantee that twice per year,  for several days, the Sun will rise and set directly along the streets, glaring into drivers’ eyes.  If the street grid ran northeast to southwest and northwest to southeast, this would never happen. All you Pierre L’Enfants of today designing new cities, please take notice, here’s your chance to acquire a reputation as Pierre L’Enfant Terrible!

This installation is the subject of experimentation sanctioned by the U.S. Federal Highway Administration, with observation, data recording and analysis to see how it works in practice. The experimentation may turn up more issues, or reveal that some are of little importance.

Now, dear readers, you also may also have points to add to the discussion. Let the comments fly.

See also: GreaterGreaterWashington blog entry about this installation; Washington, DC Department of Transportation page about it; Google maps satellite view.

Comments on a safety-in-numbers study

The University of California has published a study of pedestrian crashes in Oakland, California,

The Continuing Debate about Safety in Numbers—Data from Oakland, CA
Judy Geyer, Noah Raford and David Ragland, Traffic Safety Center;
Trinh Pham, Department of Statistics, UC Berkeley

The full report is available online:


John Forester, founder of the Effective Cycling program of cyclist education, and statistician, has demonstrated that the Safety in Numbers claim of Jacobsen (also cited in the Oakland paper) is faulty. Due to faulty math, a random set of numbers will generate the curve that apparently shows a decreasing crash rate with increasing numbers of users. This is not to say that the safety-in-numbers claim is false, but rather that Jacobsen has provided no evidence to support it. (Forester also questions Jacobsen’s explanation for safety in numbers as applied to bicyclists, but that’s a different issue.)

The Oakland report expresses the same complaint about Jacobsen’s math, and goes on to use better math to look for answers. Here’s a quote from page 5 (PDF numbering) of the Oakland report:

However, others are concerned that correlating collision rate (C/P) with pedestrian volume (P), (where C equals collisions and P equals pedestrian volume) will almost always yield a decreasing relationship due to the intrinsic relationship of the variable P and the fraction 1/P.

Tom Revay has generated a Microsoft Excel Workbook demonstrating how Jacobsen’s curve may be generated with  random data. Press the F9 key on a PC to refresh the random data. (Press Command [Apple] and = at the same time on a Mac. I thank Dan Carrigan for this information)

The Oakland study came up with some interesting and intriguing results. Here are a few; please correct me if I am wrong:

Pedestrians vs. Collisions/Pedestrian

Figure 4, p. 17, Pedestrians vs. Collisions/Pedestrian

  • The graph on p. 17, PDF numbering (click to see a larger version) shows the characteristic downward curve due to faulty math. However, the curve slopes back upwards for the intersections with the very highest numbers of pedestrians.
    p. 16, Pedestrians vs. Collisions

    Figure 3, p. 16, Pedestrians vs. Collisions

    A better graph (graph on p. 16, PDF numbering, click to see a larger version) shows crashes increasing with a steeper slope for the higher-volume intersections, worst at the intersections with the highest volume. Crash numbers are low enough, though, that the results for individual intersections are not statistically significant.

  • The Oakland study examines different intersections in the same community over the same time period rather than the same intersections at different times, or different communities with different volumes of pedestrian and vehicular traffic. The study can establish whether the safety in numbers effect applies only under the conditions it examined. Data from different times of day might possibly be checked against traffic volumes, though the results would be less robust and effects of lighting, alcohol use etc. would make them harder to interpret.
  • It is clear that a few intersections are outliers, with many more crashes than others. These intersections would be high on a priority list for improvements — though the actual numbers for individual intersections, again, are too low to be statistically significant.  The problem with lack of statistical significance highlights the importance of applying research data and operational analysis in determining where to make infrastructure improvements — crash data for an individual intersection are not statistically robust unless the intersection has an extremely bad problem. You apply research results and operational analysis so you can avoid collecting data on each intersection by killing and injuring people.
  • (See Results, p. 9, PDF numbering) Number of lanes on the primary and secondary streets, and number of marked and unmarked crosswalks, did not correlate with crash rates! (But note that this result is consistent with data on bicycling showing that riding on arterials is safer than on residential streets).
  • Despite the safety-in-numbers finding, the intersections with the largest numbers of crashes are still those with high pedestrian volumes. Increasing numbers decrease the rate of crashes, but not the number of crashes.
  • p. 18, Vehicles vs.Collisions/Pedestrian

    Figure 5, p. 18, Vehicles vs.Collisions/Pedestrian

    The crash rate increases for pedestrians as the number of vehicles increases (page 18, PDF numbering), though less rapidly than the number of vehicles. Is there a safety in numbers effect for vehicle operators as the number of vehicles increases? Yes, the likelihood that any particular driver will collide with a pedestrian decreases with the amount of vehicular traffic passing through an intersection — though the study doesn’t report this. The study doesn’t answer whether the result is achieved by improved signalization at high-volume intersections, or by depressing pedestrian volume (risk homeostasis), or by what other effect. The study also doesn’t say anything about crashes overall, as it doesn’t report on crashes not involving pedestrians.

All in all — interesting, intriguing, and careful research — but more research is needed!

Livable Streets proposal lacks credibility

I’m looking at a GOOD magazine/Streetsblog proposal for a “livable street”

This is a prime example of what I call the Photoshop school of traffic engineering. Anyone with computer graphics skills can generate a before-and-after comparison like this. Often, it looks very attractive to the untrained eye — but, whether the proposed changes make sense is another issue entirely.

It would be nice if the Streetsblog people who created this graphic had a few more clues about street design. Some of the issues:

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Guest posting: John Ciccarelli on the NYC Broadway bikeway

[John Ciccarelli is a consultant on bicycling, League of American Bicyclists Cycling Instructor and member of the Bicycle Technical Committee of the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. These comments are based on his observations during a field trip to examine bicycle facilities in New York City in December of 2008.]

Broadway bikeway, Manhattan

Broadway bikeway: clogged with pedestrians

For me, the pedestrian conflicts on a new unconventional Manhattan bikeway — on the pedestrian-enhanced blocks of Broadway starting south from Times Square — rendered that bikeway nearly useless — even though those blocks of Broadway are similar to the
9th Avenue layout in several ways:

  • Both streets are multi-lane one-way-southbound
  • Both have a left-curbside one-way bikeway
  • At intersections there is a bike signal and a left-turn pocket and turn-arrow for motor vehicles (where the cross street is two-way or one-way-left) Continue reading

Comparing crosswalk and bike box

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