Tag Archives: motor vehicle

Michael Colville’s Pitch

About the video here by Mikael Colville of copenhagenize.com:

Mikael Colville’s talk in the video is introduced by a video clip of a rather sorry infrastructure situation, with a crowd of bicyclists slowly making their way forward, cramped in a narrow passage to the right of an opaque barrier, while a line of cars turning right must yield to the cyclists after turning past the barrier. To me, this choice of a clip conveys the message “look, we are morally superior, motorist, we’re going to make it hard for you: you have to yield to us.” It doesn’t say anything about making bicycling more convenient, or anything but a nuisance to people who might think of switching from motoring. Or that whoever chose this location had any other sense about infrastructure — certainly none about sight line hazards.

And the music — the Rolling Stones’ Sympathy for the Devil! Now there’s an odd choice!

Similarly, at the end, there is an overhead drone shot of a bridge which has recently been restriped from four to two lanes of motor traffic, to add street level bike lanes next to already existing bikeways behind curbs. The implication is that bicyclists are winning by taking space away from motorists, and that space is to struggle over, not to share. In this case, on a bridge, I’d agree that bike lanes are suitable, but are four needed? What happens where they turn off at the end of the bridge while motor vehicles can go straight? We don’t see. Who knows?

The talk is all about marketing. The core of his message is that guilt-tripping people about environmentalism doesn’t work, and we must use marketing to make bicycling look attractive. Two products which Colville discusses for purposes of comparison, sewing machines and vacuum cleaners, are both highly useful labor-saving devices which quickly became popular for that reason, but he doesn’t mention that. He does praise improvements which made them more compact and useful in the home, but mostly, he praises the decorations on sewing machines which made them more attractive to homemakers.

My mother owned a Singer treadle sewing machine, and indeed it was a beautiful product — to some degree because of the flower stencils but also because of its elegant product design, with a table to hold supplies and attachments, and into which the machine could be folded down to make the table useful when the machine wasn’t in use. Treadle power was perfect for the pre-electrical era, and the wheel on the right end of the machine could start, slow or stop it with precision. Not to speak of my mother’s machine’s being several decades old and still working perfectly.

My mother also owned a 1950-ish Kenmore (Sears brand, made by Electrolux) vacuum cleaner, and it was an esthetic horror, shaped like an airplane fuselage, painted dull gray and very loud. She made much more use of the vacuum cleaner than of the sewing machine.

Colville says that we must market bicycling like these products. He deprecates “the 1%” of people who will wear fancy cycling clothing” — guilt by association with political class struggle, divisive, and also a reference to the categorization which Roger Geller made up, pulling the numbers out of his head, only to be followed up by a home-town study which found that his numbers were exactly right (surprise!).

Colville says that people are conservative and don’t want to stand out. But, tattoos peek out from under his plain white T shirt.

I don’t think that bicycling can be sold by marketing alone. It must be practical and useful like a sewing machine or vacuum cleaner, or people won’t use it for daily transportation. Though some people like to show off with Spandex and carbon fiber bikes, others wear street clothes and ride beater bikes. Some do both. Should instructors even care? We make bicycling more practical for any cyclists by helping them to do it well — and offering informed opinions on what works, or not, in bicycle planning and infrastructure.

Duck Boat crashes

We had a duck boat run into a motor scooter from behind on Saturday, May 7, 2016 in Boston, killing one of the riders. It isn’t clear from the news story why this happened, though I expect that the poor forward visibility from the duck boat was a factor. Did the motor scooter operator pull ahead of the duck boat, riding and stopping in its large blind spots? Or did the duck boat operator run into the back of the motor scooter in spite of its being in hiss field of view? As usual with crashes involving two-wheelers — bicycle, motor scooters, motorcycles — and despite there having been many eyewitnesses, the Boston Globe offers no information as to the cause of the crash. Investigation is underway, although if it proceeds as with recent bicycle crashes, detailed results may not be made available for a long time, if at all.

Another duck boat crash occurred in Seattle, 5 killed, 62 injured — but that one was due to failure of an axle, which sent the duck boat into the side of a bus in an oncoming lane of traffic.

What is to be learned from these crashes?

For one thing, the duck boats are surplus from the Second World War. Though they served gallantly in that war, they are over 70 years old now: mechanical failures are not out of the question. The duck boats’ design as amphibious vehicles placed the driver high above the road over a high hood, with poor visibility to the front — a problem which has led to fatalities of pedestrians in crosswalks with large trucks. The duck boats do not have a front bumper, but instead, have a hull which can push unfortunate pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles underneath. These vehicles probably would not be legal, except that they are antiques.

Another issue with the Boston crash may be of education. Did the motor scooter driver not understand the peril of riding in blindspots of large vehicles? Boston is relentlessly installing bicycle facilities which direct bicyclists to ride into blindspots. It does not appear that the collision involved any such installation, but motor scooter operators are permitted under the law to use them, and their existence, along with a lack of instruction as to their perils, contributes to hazardous behavior elsewhere as well.

In the context of all these issues, my misgivings about the Vision Zero campaign described in the Boston Globe on April 17 need no further mention.

Lane Control on Lexington Street

Here’s a video showing a bicycle ride on a constant mile-long upslope, at speeds of 10 to 12 miles per hour (16 to 20 km/h), on a suburban 4-lane speedway with narrow lanes and no shoulders, the most challenging street in the community where I live. Motor taffic was very light, and auite fast. Points made:

  • Lane control is not about riding fast: it is about controlling one’s space.
  • Lane control is necessary so motorists will overtake at a safe lateral distance on a street with a narrow right-hand lane.
  • By requiring motorists to make full lane change, lane control lets a cyclist with a rear-view mirror confirm well in advance that motorists will overtake with a safe lateral distance.
  • With the light traffic on a multi-lane street, a slow bicyclist does not cause any significant delay to motorists.
  • Most motorists are cooperative.
  • A few motorists are abusive — even though they can easily overtake in the next lane —  but they too overtake safely.
  • American traffic law supports lane control.

Lane Control on Lexington Street from John Allen on Vimeo.

Bike Box at Charlesgate East

This post is about the intersection of Commonwealth Avenue eastbound and Charlesgate East in Boston, Massachusetts, an intersection with a “bike box” — a waiting area for bicyclists downstream of where motorists stop for traffic signals. More generally, this post is about the assumptions underlying the bike-box treatment, and how well actual behavior reflects those assumptions.

I have described bike boxes more generally on a Web page. There is a discussion of them also in photos assembled by Dan Gutierrez. If you are logged into facebook, you can bring up the first photo and click through the others (“Next” at upper right). Non-members of facebook, the world’s largest private club, can view the slides one by one by clicking on this link.

Dan Gutierrez has also released videos of bike box behavior here and here.

On Wednesday, September 19, 2012, I rode my bicycle to Charlesgate (see Google satellite view for location), with video cameras. I observed traffic for about an hour and shot clips of bicyclists passing through the intersection.

The bike box at this intersection is intended to enable a transition from the right side to the left side of a one-way roadway. (There is a study of a similar treatment in Eugene, Oregon, intended to enable transition from left to right. That study was released in two different versions, one from the U. S. Federal Highway Administration and another from the Transportation Research Board.)

I have now produced a video from my clips. Please view the video in connection with this article. You may view it at higher resolution on the vimeo site by clicking on the title underneath.

Bike Box at Charlesgate East from John Allen on Vimeo.

A Look at the Intersection

Let’s take a virtual tour, examining a longer stretch of Commonwealth Avenue than the video does.

West of Charlesgate West on Commonwealth Avenue, there is a bike lane in the car-door zone, tapering down to nothing before the intersection with Charlesgate West. Bicyclists can still slip by on the right side of most motor vehicles.

At some time following the initial installation, the City painted shared-lane markings near the right side of the rightmost travel lane. I have observed bicyclists riding at speed in the slot between the parked and moving vehicles,  at risk of opening car doors, walk-outs, merges from both sides and right-hook collisions. The purpose of shared-lane markings is to indicate that a lane should be shared head to tail, not side by side. These markings should be placed in the middle of a lane rather than at its edge.

Transition from bike lane to no bike lane to bike lane at right edge. Note, no shared-lane markings yet in this aerial view (Google Maps aerial view)

Transition from bike lane to no bike lane to bike lane at right edge. Note, no shared-lane markings yet in this aerial view (Google Maps aerial view)

Bike lane tapered to nothing in the door zone approaching Charlesgate West

Bike lane tapered to nothing in the door zone approaching Charlesgate West (Google Street View image)

Between Charlesgate West and Charlesgate East, parking is prohibited, and the curb line at the right edge is farther to the right. The rightmost lane used to be a wide, general purpose travel lane —  but nobody who knew the intersection drove a motor vehicle in this lane. A motorist who drove in this lane would be trapped to the right of other through traffic when it became a parking lane after Charlesgate East.

In or around 2010, bike lanes and a so-called “bike box” were installed at Charlesgate East.

The intersection with Charlesgate East as it existed before 2010 is shown in the first of the two photos below. The intersection with changes is shown in the second photo.

Intersection of Commonwealth Avenue and Charlesgate West before the additional of a bike lane (Microsoft Bing aerial view). Though there is an arrow indicating that the right lane is for through travel, it is unused, because it leads to a row of parked cars in the next block. It is a "musical chairs" lane.

Intersection of Commonwealth Avenue and Charlesgate East before the addition of a bike lane (Microsoft Bing aerial view). Though there is an arrow indicating that the right lane is for through travel, it is empty, because it leads to a row of parked cars in the next block. It is a “musical chairs” lane.

Lane reassignment at Charlesgate East: four usable travel lanes, a musical chairs bike lane, Also note left-side bike lane after the intersection.

Following the changes at Charlesgate East: four usable travel lanes, and a musical chairs bike lane. Also note left-side bike lane after the intersection, top right corner of image. (Google Maps aerial view)

A bike lane is on the left side of the roadway (upper right in the photo above) leads to an underpass. The  transition from the right side to the left side is supposed to be made by way of the “bike box”, with bicyclists swerving left across two lanes of motor traffic to wait facing the left-side bike lane as shown in the image below. Bicyclists headed for other destinations are also supposed to use the “bike box,” waiting in the appropriate lane.

Intended route for bicyclists using the "bike box".

Intended route for bicyclists using the “bike box”.

The right-side bike lane is now the “musical chairs” lane which leads into a parking lane. The City has, in a peculiar way, acknowledged this, painting what I call a “desperation arrow” just after the intersection. It is visible at the right in the photo below. It directs bicyclists to swerve  into the right-hand travel lane in the short distance before the first parked car.

Looking across Charlesgate East. The Desperation Aroow is visible at the right side of the roadway. (Google Street View)

Looking across Charlesgate East. The desperation arrow is visible at the right side of the roadway and the bike lane to the underpass is at the left side. (Google Street View)

When the closest metered parking spot to the intersection is occupied, the parked vehicle sits directly over the “desperation arrow”.

Vehicle parked legally at metered parking spot, over the desperation arrow.

Vehicle parked legally at metered parking spot, over the desperation arrow.

The designated route is not the only important one. The left-side bike lane after the intersection reduces the width of the other lanes — a particular problem for bicyclists who continue in the rightmost travel lane. Many do, in order to continue at street level rather than using the underpass.

Bicyclist Behavior

I observed that most bicyclists approached Charlesgate East in the green-painted bike lane. It is the prescribed approach to the intersection, even though it is not satisfactory for any destination.

On reaching the intersection, many bicyclists ran the red light, yielding to cross traffic. in this way, they avoided being trapped to the right of moving motor traffic. Cross traffic was easily visible and relatively light, at least in mid-afternoon when I observed it.

The bike box can serve as a waiting area only on the red light. Approaching the intersection as the light turns from red to green or on the green requires bicyclists to merge left; otherwise, they are caught short by the parked cars on the far side of the intersection.

After crossing the intersection, most bicyclists merged into the door zone of the parked vehicles in the next block. If they did this on the green, they were at the same time being overtaken by motorists. Some bicyclists looked over their left shoulder for traffic as they merged; others did not.

I saw a couple of very odd maneuvers: two bicyclists who entered on the red light and crossed from right to left in the middle of the intersection as if that were the location of the bike box — one of these bicyclists continuing in the left side bike lane, the other merging back to the right. I saw one bicyclist who made a sweeping left turn from the bike lane.

I did not see even one bicyclist swerving into the bike box as intended. This observation is consistent with Dill and Monsere’s research in Portland, Oregon. To swerve into the bike box when the traffic signal is red is to gamble on when the light will turn green, crossing close to the front of motor vehicles whose drivers are in all likelihood looking ahead at the traffic signal. A tall vehicle in the near lane can hide a bicyclist from a driver in the next lane. Often, also, motor vehicles encroach into the “bike box”, making it difficult or impossible to enter. Those bicyclists who knew about the underpass —  and chose it — merged across easily if they ran the red light, but got caught waiting at the desperation arrow, if they entered on the green light.

A few bicyclists merged out of the bike lane before reaching the intersection. Some of these, too, ran the red light, and others waited for the green. It should be noted that there are long periods in the traffic signal cycle when the block between Charlesgate East and Charlesgate West is mostly empty, making merging easy.

Improve the Situation?

So, what does this show? For me, the central lesson of all this is that the bike box is supposed to solve a problem which it cannot solve.

Also, because entering the bike box is a gamble, it is a violation of traffic law. Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 89, section 4, states:

When any way has been divided into lanes, the driver of a vehicle shall so drive that the vehicle shall be entirely within a single lane, and he shall not move from the lane in which he is driving until he has first ascertained if such movement can be made with safety.

I’m especially concerned about bicyclists who lack basic bike handling and traffic skills being dropped into this environment which claims to remove the need for those skills but which in reality requires outsmarting the system. This leads to hazardous behavior and fear.

What could improve the situation here? I see parking as a crucial issue. Removing the 20 or so parking spaces in the block following Charlesgate East would cure the “musical chairs” situation at the intersection — well, mostly.

Vehicles would still stop to load and unload. There is no way that bicyclists can ride safely without knowing how to negotiate merges. Wherever bicyclists may travel, someone may be about to overtake. Removal of parking is a political long shot, to be sure, but on the other hand, the few parking spaces on Massachusetts Avenue can only hold a small percentage of the vehicles of people who live or work in the same block. Isn’t there a possible alternate parking location?

Improved traffic-signal timing might ease merging from the right side to the left side of the roadway in the block before Charlesgate East. Wayfinding signs and markings encouraging merging before reaching the intersection would be helpful.

In my video, I show bicyclists crossing Charlesgate East in a crosswalk. That is not to operate as a driver, but it is practical and reasonably safe because there is no right-turning traffic from Commonwealth Avenue, and traffic on Charlesgate East is not permitted to turn right on a red light. Crossing two legs of an intersection in crosswalks to get to the bike lane on the far side involves waiting through an additional signal phase. Also, a Boston ordinance prohibits riding a bicycle on a sidewalk.

One way of resolving the issue of the traffic signal’s changing as a bicyclist enters the bike box is to enable entry concurrent with a pedestrian signal interval.  Then bicyclists must wait before entering the bike box and again once having crossed it.  Considering the percentage who are unwilling to wait even through one signal interval, there would probably be even more resistance to waiting through two. Another blog post, with a video, examines travel times through two intersections in Phoenix, Arizona with this type of crossing.  The travel times are unreasonably long.

Legalizing bicyclists’ crossing Charlesgate East when motorists are held back would require a separate bicycle signal. A green signal for bicyclists after the green signal for cross traffic would not delay many motorists. There would be significant delay though, for bicyclists, tempting them to run the red light. The earlier they can cross before parallel motor traffic starts, the more time they have to merge before motor traffic behind them starts up. How soon the traffic clears is going to vary greatly with time of day.

I’d like to make a case for a “bicycle boulevard”– a street which bicyclists can use for through travel, but where barriers and diverters require motorists to turn at the end of the block, on Marlborough Street, to the north of Commonwealth Avenue; and/or Newbury Street, to the south. There would have to be a new bridge across the Muddy River at Charlesgate; for Newbury Street, also a tunnel under a ramp to the overpass; or Marlborough Street, a connection under the Bowker Overpass to Beacon Street and Bay State Road. I have suggested elsewhere that Bay State Road be reconfigured as a two-way bicycle boulevard.

Such a bridge might be an element of a redesign of Charlesgate Park — originally an attractive link between Olmsted’s Emerald Necklace park system and the Charles River Esplanade, now blighted by the Bowker Overpass which looms over it. However, the Bowker overpass crosses the Massachusetts Turnpike Extension, a limited-access highway.  Restoring ground-level access maintaining access across the Turnpike would require major reconstruction.

 

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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…

Six categories of bicyclist/motorist interaction

Let me propose six different categories of cyclist and motorist interaction. This is a first try, so it’s open to modification.

1) Vehicular — to quote John Forester, who developed the concept of vehicular cycling, “bicyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles.” In vehicular interactions, bicyclists and motorists alike use lane positions as described in the traffic law for vehicles, and reach those positions by merging. Purely vehicular operation  is, however,  to an extent a red herring category, because nobody, Forester included, has ever claimed that bicyclists can merge across heavy, high speed motor traffic.

2) Mostly vehicular, but with greater recognition that high-speed motoring is more compatible with bicycling if there is width for motorists to overtake without having to merge, and that bicyclists (including operators of motorized bicycles and mopeds) can’t manage to merge on roadways with high speeds and heavy traffic, making special treatments appropriate in some cases.

3) Motorists may merge across designated bike lanes. Bicyclists travel these lanes, stop for traffic lights and stop signs, but are  are (in theory) not required to merge into or across motor traffic.  In theory, because double-parked vehicles, people getting out of parked cars, slower bicyclists etc. often require bicyclists to merge out of a bike lane anyway.

4)  Neither bicyclists nor motorists merge. They only cross each other’s paths by making crossing and turning movements at designated locations. Essentially, bicyclists are treated as pedestrians. Motorists must yield to bicyclists as they do to pedestrians, and bicyclists must slow and stop as needed so motorists have time to yield. This is the typical treatment where a designated multi-use path crosses a road.

5)  Motorists must drive at pedestrian speed or come to a complete stop to avoid collisions with bicyclists they can not see, but there are special signs or markings to make motorists “aware of bicyclists”. — meaning, “aware that there might be a bicyclist.” Examples: bike lanes to the right of right turn lanes, bike boxes, blind entrances from driveways where conflict zones are indicated by colored paint, signs etc.

6) ) Motorists are required to drive at pedestrian speed or come to a complete stop to avoid collisions with bicyclists they can not see, but there are no special signs or markings to make motorists “aware of bicyclists”. Example: “shared space” plazas where direction of travel is not defined by curbs or lane lines, and traffic may travel in any direction.

These categories are in order of decreasing demands placed on bicyclists until we get to the last two, where the demands placed on motorists become excessive and so bicyclists must anticipate more motorist mistakes.

These categories also are in order of decreased efficiency of use of roadway space and of increased travel time.

As to safety, that depends on behavior, but  there is a tradeoff of safety against efficiency with all of these.

Street Traffic Regulations: classic book online

My friend Bob Shanteau writes:

Another reason scofflaws give [to justify their behavior] is that traffic laws are intended only for motorists, reflecting a total ignorance of the origins of those laws.

Google has made the 1909 book “Street Traffic Regulation” by William Phelps Eno available online.

This book makes it clear that the first rules of the road preceded the dominance of the streets by motor vehicles. The behavior of … scofflaw cyclists now closely mirrors the behavior by all road users that Eno observed in the early 1900’s, leading to the need for street traffic regulation in the first place. He focused his efforts on education about his proposed rules of the road. That education is what the bicycle scofflaws of today sorely lack.

Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC: Incredible Shrinking Bike Lanes

A showcase example for  Federal promotion of special bicycle facilities in the USA has been laid down on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC, with bike lanes extending between the Capitol and the White House.  It’s quite a show, but it didn’t turn out exactly as planned.

Well, on with the show. On June 7, 2010 — as described in a press release and videos[Revised version as of 2016 without photo but with link to photo gallery] [Article announcing the event] [Version of article as of August, 2016] [Press release] League of American Bicyclists President Andy Clarke, Representative James Oberstar (D-MN), NBA basketball star Caron Butler and the Crown Prince of Denmark were out on Pennsylvania Avenue expressing their enthusiasm for the bike lanes, riding bicycles supplied by Specialized, a major American bicycle supplier. Why the Crown Prince? American bicycle facilities advocates hold Denmark up as an example. Why industry involvement? Because the industry sees special facilities for urban cycling as the key element in propelling the next wave of bicycle sales. Why politicians? Because public funding would have to pay for the facilities. Why Caron Butler? I don’t know! [Update: the blog post and press release indicate that Butler funded a bicycle giveaway program for children.]

Lone bicyclist on Pennsylvania Avenue bike lane in early morning; buses queued in background

Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes, May 11, 2010

But, in its press release, the League of American Bicyclists borrowed a basketball expression, describing the Pennsylvania Avenue project as a “slam dunk.”

This wasn’t the first praise for the project. A month earlier, on May 12, the photo at the right appeared in a message sent to an e-mail list of the Alliance for Bicycling and Walking (a consortium of state and local advocacy groups) among other lists. The iconic bicyclist is riding off into the sunrise, toward the Capitol. In the background, tourist buses queue for their first run of the day. Accompanying text, by League of American Bicyclists board member Tim Young, reads:

I was just in Washington and rode the new Pennsylvania Ave Bike Lanes, so fun the paint was still drying. Awesome to ride from the White House on one end to Congress on the other, and have such huge dedicated space for bikes. You have to ride it!

Center lane was an unexpected design for me, but it works if you follow the signals and signs. Its casual riding, so much room and buffer, and the road is not that busy for its size, I understand about 30,000 ADT. You can see from this photo the massive bus use, so the curb lane is full of conflicts. The center rides fine. The only unhappy campers were taxi drivers wanting to make U turns mid block.

Photo: Mike Tongour, Bikes Belong lobbyist, rides towards Capital Hill.

(Bikes Belong is a bicycle industry lobbying organization which, among other efforts, lends substantial financial support to the League.)

Young may, however,  have spoken too soon about the ample width of the bike lanes. They had been installed over the weekend of May 1 and 2; promptly on Monday, May 3, the Mid-Atlantic division of the American Automobile Association issued a press release  suggesting that they would worsen traffic congestion. (That press release is no longer available on the AAA Web site, but I have made it available.) It has in turn been widely criticized by bicycling advocates, for example here and the criticism has been echoed in some media outlets, for example, here and here. The Washington Area Bicyclist Association, the local bicyclists’ advocacy group, asked its members to support the lanes, here.

Bicycling advocates pointed out that Pennsylvania Avenue was already relatively lightly traveled, as the blocks nearest the White House had been permanently closed to motor traffic following the 1995 bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City. An AAA poll, cited in the press release, indicated that only 20% of members would feel compelled to become bicycle commuters if traffic congestion worsened. The bicycling advocates turned this finding on its head: 20% is a higher bicycling mode share than in any US city. Copenhagen’s bicycle mode share is hardly any larger, though its bicycle-to-work/school mode share is around 37%.

On May 20, the Washington Post reported that changes in the lanes were in the works. A quote:

Gabe Klein, director of the Department of Transportation, called to clarify that the delay in the opening of the bike lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue might not result in the lanes growing tighter.

Klein disclaimed bowing to any pressure and said the lanes needed to be “redesigned” to enhance the safety of bicyclists.

The article also described a Bike to Work Day rally to be held the next morning in support of the lanes and to be addressed by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Portland, Oregon).

Two weeks later,  on June 7, Clarke, Oberstar, the Crown Prince and NBA basketball star Caron Butler were out in the bike lanes for their media event. Clarke returned to his office to describe the project as a “slam dunk.” In the light of the proposed changes, this event can be construed as support of the project in the face of a threat.

Slam dunk indeed. It turned out that bicyclists were slammed, and dunked.

On the next day, June 8, the Post published an article describing the planned modifications. Travel lanes that had been converted to bike lanes were to be restored, and the bike lanes moved to the median (growing tighter, in spite of what Mr. Klein had said). The article reports that the AAA applauded this change, while the Washington Area Bicyclist Association expressed concerns about conflicts between bicyclists and pedestrians.

The changes were made. On June 22, the lanes officially opened. On July 3,  independent journalist Matt Johnson rode the lanes and took photos. He wrote an article and posted his photos on Flickr. He gave anyone permission to use them, with attribution. I thank him.

The title of the article, “Pennsylvania Avenue Bike Lanes Still have a Few Flaws“, suggests that the lanes had been improved. The contents of the article and the photos show quite the opposite.  The space for bicyclists had been significantly reduced, and bicyclists were thrown into conflict with pedestrians at intersections.

Here’s a photo of the bike lanes, looking west across 9th Street NW, taken in mid-May. The layout is already rather strange, with turning bicyclists — including right-turning bicyclists — directed to merge left. The right-turning bicyclists have to  re-cross the stream of through-traveling bicyclists to get to the crosswalk which they are supposed to use.

Bike lanes at 9th St. NW, mid-May, 2010

Bike lanes at 9th St. NW, mid-May, 2010

Below is another photo which Johnson took at the same location on July 3. (You may click on either photo for a larger view.)

Bike lanes at 9th St. NW, July 3, 2010

Bike lanes at 9th St. NW, July 3, 2010

The space between the two lanes of opposite-direction bicycle traffic is gone — the available width is indeed tight if the lanes are to carry any substantial volume of bicycle traffic. But the intersections are weirdest of all. Through-traveling bicyclists now ride up and over the median refuge where pedestrians wait. The bike lanes are now immediately adjacent to the black, handlebar-snagging bollards that protect the traffic-signal poles. Turning bicyclists have it stranger yet: they are aimed straight at the traffic signal at the center of the median.

The one change that anyone could contend is a safety feature is the row of flex posts between each bike lane and the adjacent travel lane, intended to keep motorists from encroaching into the bike lane. Safety feature? Well, maybe. A flex post is harmless to a car, but it can easily take down a bicyclist.

A search of the League’s e-mail blasts and blog turned up blog posts responding to the AAA press release [version as of August, 2016, without photo] and reporting on the opening celebration [version as of August, 2016 without embedded photo but with link to photo gallery] for the reconfigured bike lanes on June 22, as well as the “slam dunk” post and a couple of others featuring the Crown Prince, but no mention of the redesign. Comments on the redesign turn up several times in a record of a live online chat with Washington Area bicyclist Association Executive director Shane Farthing. (Search on “Pennsylvania” inside the post to find them.)

Enough for now. This article is intended as a brief history. I’ve addressed technical issues only to the extent necessary to move the history along. I’ll be addressing them in detail in another post.

[Update: I have posted a video of a ride on these bike lanes, with narrative description. It addresses technical issues]

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Idaho special bicycle laws

Idaho law allows cyclists to treat a stop sign as a yield sign. See http://www3.state.id.us/cgi-bin/newidst?sctid=490070020.K
It also allows a bicyclist to treat a traffic signal as a stop sign.

I would support the traffic signal aspect of this law as a second-rank stopgap for the installation of signal actuators that detect bicycles and that are smart enough to adjust the signal timing to the speed capability of the vehicle.

Today’s electromagnetic loop detectors can detect bicycles if properly designed and installed, but many jurisdictions are still installing ones that cannot, or installing them incorrectly. (For example, even Portland, Oregon installs bicycle-sensitive detector loops only in the bike lane, and so a bicyclist preparing a vehicular left turn, or overtaking traffic on the left, will not be able to trip the signal). Bicycling advocates should promote best practices in application of loop detectors, the most common detector technology.

But detector technology is improving, with video. ultrasonic and infrared detectors becoming able, at least in theory, to distinguish a bicycle from a motor vehicle. Bicycling advocates should promote continued research, development and application of improved signal detection technologies through professional organizations and through the National Committee for Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

All this said, there will still be intersections where the technology is not up to date, or where the detector is malfunctioning, or where fixed-interval signals produce a long red even though there is no cross traffic. I think that it is reasonable for bicyclists to be permitted to proceed cautiously on the red under such conditions. This special permission could, however, get out of control — on the one hand, with the engineering profession abdicating its responsibility to provide signals that work, and on the other hand with bicyclists abusing the rule and crossing at times when other traffic has to yield to them.

As to the stop sign provision: the most important message of the stop sign is to yield to cross traffic. Usually, a yield sign would be sufficient. Almost nobody, bicyclist or motorist, comes to a complete stop for a stop sign unless there is cross traffic to which to yield, or a short sight distance that requires a stop. Stop signs are heavily overused in this country, but unfortunately, stop signs are the first thing the public thinks of in order to increase traffic safety. For my comments on how this contrasts with European practice, please see this other posting.

Also, bicyclists don’t have a car hood in front of them and are able to see the intersection before pulling out into it, so a stop is needed less often. And bicyclists can restart faster and get across a smaller gap without stopping and putting a foot down. So I offer warmer support to the Idaho stop sign provision.