Tag Archives: Oregon

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.



Truck side skirts: reliable way to prevent cyclist fatalities?

No, not reliable. And they are also supposed to confer an aerodynamic advantage. Some do, some don’t.

Some have a smooth surface which can deflect a cyclist. That is still no guarantee that the cyclist will escape serious injury or death. Other side guards are only open frameworks which can catch and drag a bicycle. A lot of what I have seen is little more than window dressing.

The side guard in the image below from a post on the Treehugger blog has no aerodynamic advantage and could easily guide a cyclist into the rear wheel of the truck.

Photo of truck side with guard from Treehugger blog.

Photo of truck side with guard from Treehugger blog.

A cyclist can easily go under the side guard shown in the image below, from a Portland, Oregon blog post. A cyclist who is leaning against the side guard is guided into the sharp edge of the fender bracket and fender, and the front of the turning wheel, which can pull the cyclist down. There is another wheel behind the one in the photo.

Side guard on City of Portland, Oregon water transport truck

Side guard on City of Portland, Oregon water transport truck

The side guard on a Boston garbage truck in the photo below — my own screen shot from the 2013 Boston Bikes annual update presentation — is only an open framework which could easily catch and drag a bicycle.

Side skirt on City of Boston garbage truck

Side skirt on City of Boston garbage truck

A truck which is turning right off-tracks to the right. A cyclist can be pushed onto his/her right side, and goes under, feet to the left, head to the right. On the other hand, if an overtaking truck contacts the left handlebar end, or if the right handlebar end contacts a slower or stopped vehicle or other obstruction, the handlebar turns to the right and the cyclist slumps to the left, headfirst.

To be as effective as possible for either aerodynamics or injury prevention, side guards must cover the wheels. Though that is practical, none of the ones shown do.

But no practical side guard can go low enough to prevent a cyclist from going underneath. The side guard would drag  at raised railroad crossings, driveway aprons, speed tables etc. Even if the side guard did go low enough, it would sweep the fallen cyclist across the road surface, possibly to be crushed against a parked car or a curb.

Fatalities have occurred when cyclists went under buses, which have low side panels — but the wheels are uncovered. The Dana Laird fatality in Cambridge, Massachusetts is one example. Ms. Laird’s right handlebar end is reported to have struck the opening door of a parked vehicle, steering her front wheel to the right and toppling her to the left.

Dana Laird fatality, Cambridge, Massacchusetts, 2002

Dana Laird fatality, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2002

The bicycling advocacy community, as shown in the blog posts I’ve cited, mostly offers praise and promotion of sub-optimal versions of side guards, a measure which, even if executed as well as possible, offers only a weak, last-resort solution to the problem of bus and truck underruns.

Most of the comments I see on the blogs I linked to consider it perfectly normal for motor traffic to turn right from the left side of cyclists, and to design infrastructure — bike lanes in particular — to formalize this conflict. The commenters also would like to give cyclists carte blanche to overtake close to the right side of large trucks, and place all the responsibility on truck drivers to avoid off-tracking over the cyclists.

Cyclists are vulnerable road users, but vulnerability is not the same as defenselessness. It is rarely heard from today’s crop of bicycling advocates, but a cyclist can prevent collisions with trucks and buses by not riding close to the side of them. There’s a wild contradiction in playing on the vulnerability, naiveté and defenselessness of novice cyclists to promote bicycle use with measures — particularly, bike lanes striped up to intersections — which lure cyclists into a deathtrap. Regardless of whoever may be held legally at fault in underrun collisions, cyclists have the ability to prevent them, and preventing them is the first order of business.

Want to learn how to defend yourself against going under a truck? Detailed advice on avoiding bicycle/truck conflicts may be found on the Commute Orlando Web site.

Additional comments about the political situation which promotes underrun collisions may also be found on that site.

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.

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.

What color is your bike lane?

Should the pavement in a crosswalk, or special on-street bicycle facility, be painted a special color? Under what conditions? What color?

European countries use color. Let’s look at a few examples and see what they might teach us.

First let me say that my showing treatments here does not mean I endorse them. In the first couple of examples below, running a bike lane around the outside of a roundabout defeats the purpose of the roundabout in maintaining smooth traffic flow. Having cyclists and motorists merge into a single, slow flow of traffic has been shown safer for the cyclists too.

That said, this pink bike lane is in Thisted, Denmark — photo taken in 2006.

Roundabout with pink bike lane, Thisted, Denmark. Photo by Dan Carrigan

Roundabout with pink bike lane, Thisted, Denmark. Photo by Gordon Renkes.

This sea-blue bike lane in another roundabout is in Lyngby, Denmark.

Roundabout, Lyngby, Denmark, with blue-painted bike lane. Photo by Ryan Snyder from 2011 Association of Bicycle and Pedestrian Professionals calendar

Roundabout, Lyngby, Denmark, with blue-painted bike lane. Photo by Ryan Snyder from 2011 Association of Bicycle and Pedestrian Professionals calendar.

These bright blue-green lanes are in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Blue-green bike lanes in Copenhagen. Photo by Jon Kaplan

Blue-green bike lanes in Copenhagen. Photo by Jon Kaplan

This red bike lane is in Winterthur, Switzerland.

Bike lane in conflict zone, Winterthur, Switzerland. Photo by James Mackay

Bike lane in conflict zone, Winterthur, Switzerland. Photo by James Mackay

As these photos show, there is no consistent color for carpet painting of bike lanes in Europe. German-speaking countries do appear to have settled on red, but Denmark has used at least three different colors in recent years.

There are issues with the effectiveness of color too.  A couple of years ago, the US Federal Government sponsored a scan tour so traffic engineers and planners from around the country could examine bicycle and pedestrian facilities in Europe. According to one participant in the scan tour, Denmark uses paint only on one or two bicycle routes through an intersection, having found that using it on more routes negates any benefit. Clearly, it is important to address such issues.

What message does the color convey? A common use is to indicate conflict zones — where motorists must expect bicyclists and yield to them. At other times, color is used where no such conflict exists. Here is an example from Bristol, in England where the message is  probably “no cars here”:

Barrier-separated bikeway with colored pavement, Bristol, England. Photo by James Mackay

Barrier-separated bikeway with colored pavement, Bristol, England. Photo by James Mackay

Also according to the scan-tour participant, Switzerland uses red only where there is a history of crashes — leading to inconsistency in the message because crashes happen for different reasons. In the following example, colored pavement indicates a place of refuge from motor traffic — quite the opposite of the conflict zone in the previous Swiss example.

Who is the message of colored pavement supposed to be for? Bicyclists? Motorists? Both? Here it is apparently only for bicyclists.

Swiss use of colored pavement in non-conflict zone. Photo by Nicklaus Schranz.

Now let’s look at some US examples. The first common bike-lane color in the USA was blue, as used in Portland, Oregon. This bike lane in Cambridge, Massachusetts followed Portland’s example:

Cambridge, Massachusetts blue lane

Cambridge, Massachusetts blue lane

Blue led to objections, because it already had a designated use in the US vocabulary of colors: handicapped parking spaces.

Green was proposed instead, and it is on the way to become a standard. Unlike blue, it shows up under the monochromatic yellow-orange of sodium-vapor streetlamps as well as the blue-green of mercury-vapor lamps. Green markings are the subject of several experiments testing their use under various conditions.

Green bike lane in Seattle, Washington

Green bike lane in Seattle, Washington

Yes, experiments. To be included in the national reference, the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, and to be approved for general use, a new treatment has to be tested to see whether it affects behavior in an intended and desirable way. This is reasonable in the light of safety issues and expense. Where does it make sense to use paint; what consistent and understandable message might the paint send? What about durability of the paint; should it be reflectorized…there’s a tradeoff: reflectorized paint is slipperier. And so on.

Any state, city or town may install a nonstandard treatment and is exempted from legal liability if it works with the Federal Government and the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, collects data and prepares a report on how the treatment worked.

Some communities don’t bother. Madison, Wisconsin has installed this crimson bike box. Crimson, even more than the European red, looks nearly black under both types of streetlights.

Red-painted bike box in Madison, Wisconsin. Madison Star-Intelligencer photo.

Crimson bike box in Madison, Wisconsin. Craig Schreiner/Wisconsin State Journal photo.

Madison, Wisconsin, of all places — a city with a long-standing and most knowledgeable bicycle program staff — one of the best in the nation. A city which has in the past known how to be innovative in ways that really work — see this example — and how to avoid costly and deadly mistakes.

Why the crimson bike box, then?

For many American bicycling advocates, trips to Europe take on the aura of a religious pilgrimage. Anything in Europe has to be better than what we do here, even if it isn’t.

As an aside: this reminds me of the American inferiority complex about European painting and music around the year 1900. American composers and artists who imitated European styles are largely forgotten today. We remember the American originals, who, certainly, adopted much from European styles, but who found their own voice. Scott Joplin. Charles Ives. George Gershwin. Duke Ellington. Aaron Copland. Bessie Smith, Billie Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald, Andy Warhol, Georgia O’Keeffe… but I digress.

It’s more than a question of an inferiority complex. It’s also about corporate lobbying. Bikes Belong, the bicycle industry’s political lobby, organizes its own scan tours. The goal of this lobby is to increase sales of bicycles — and why bother with troublesome, boring, nerdy details. Instead of sending professional program staff, Bikes Belong sends politicians. This is from the Bikes Belong Web site:

Zach [Vanderkooy] leads our project to make U.S. bicycling safer and more appealing by helping cities adapt the world’s best bike facility designs, policies, and programs inspired by leading bicycling cities in Europe.

And this is from a story on the Madison.com news blog:

The bike boxes are the first project from a European fact-finding tour of bicycle-friendly cities in Germany and the Netherlands that Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk and 19 other civic and business [leaders] made last month.

If you work for the bicycle program staff of a city, the Mayor is your boss, and you do what the Mayor tells you to do, or you can very well lose your job.

I wrote that before I learned of the following:

Arthur Ross, Madison’s long-time, nationally-recognized bicycle and pedestrian program manager, is being demoted — see this story.  Whether it has to do directly with the crimson bike box or not, I don’t know yet.

I’ve said it before: in planning for bicycling, we need to do better than the Europeans. Certainly so on the issue of painted pavement, because, clearly, Europe doesn’t use it in any consistent or logical way. We need to do better with other, similar issues too, and because we face bigger and different challenges — and because it would be very unfortunate to lose the opportunity to do better.

In its turn, Europe may learn from us too.

Child passenger prohibitions — Massachusetts law, Oregon bill

Eli Damon, who lives in Massachusetts, as I do, has drawn attention to a bill introduced into the Oregon legislature to ban child passengers under 6 years old on bicycles. Eli cited an online article:

No Biking With Kids Under Six in Oregon?!

There’s a history to this kind of legislation here in Massachusetts. Eli’s message continues:

In Massachusetts it is illegal to carry passengers under one year old.
Either way, it arbitrarily paralyzes car-free/car-lite families. Eli

The below-one-year ban in Massachusetts occurred around 1990. Its wording was developed in a meeting in Washington, DC, organized by the Bicycle Federation of America (now the National Center for Bicycling and Walking). I’m not sure I have all of the details exactly right, but more or less, the BFA was the successor to the BMA (Bicycle Manufacturer’s Association), which represented the interests of a large segment of the American bicycle industry.

When domestic bicycle manufacturing fell on hard times, the BFA took more of its income from writing government reports. It still maintained a friendly relationship with industry — it championed the “more people on bicycles” — more bicycle sales — approach to bicycle planning, with the accompanying lack of concern for cyclists’ rights and responsibilities and for shortcomings of special bicycle facilities.

The League of American Wheelmen, as a cyclists’ membership organization, was more confrontational with the industry, especially around 1980 with John Forester as president. His complaints about special bicycle facilities and about the industry-backed CPSC all-reflector nighttime safety equipment requirement made the industry wary even as industry-friendly Board members took over in 1983 — leading to a substantial decline in League membership. By 1989, the leadership had shifted again and the League had substantially recovered, but it still did not have the strength, will or perspective always to uphold members’ interests. The child-seat issue is a prime example of this.

The industry’s interest in prohibiting carrying of infants on bicycles, as with the all-reflector system, was in shedding liability risk by establishing an equipment standard which could place responsibility on the consumer. Child-seat manufacturer Troxel was most concerned about the transportation of infants, because Troxel didn’t make any product suitable to transport them. Infants can’t hold up their heads, so helmets also came into the discussion. Never mind that a “baby pod” rigid papoose-like device can easily be imagined which would carry an infant far more safely than any open child seat. That is, you could crash, slamming such a pod onto the ground and sliding it along and afterwards, only have to wipe away the baby’s tears, assuming that you didn’t need serious medical attention yourself.

The League was at the table for the meeting at the BFA, and there is an informative article about it in a League magazine from 1989 or 1990 — sorry, I don’t have my copy right on hand. The League did not rise up against the ban, as is evident from the merely reportorial tone of the article.

Goofy bills — often, ride-on-the-left bills — can be introduced naively because some legislator or constituent has a bee in his or her bonnet about some safety concern. But that was not the case with the Massachusetts ban. It resulted from industry lobbying, through Safe Kids, and stemming out of the DC meeting.

The 1990 Massachusetts helmet and child-seat law did not include a liability exclusion for failure to use a helmet, though the seat belt law did include a liability exclusion: a person who causes a crash can’t dismiss a lawsuit by another, injured person who only fails to wear a seat belt. After four years of lobbying and making connections with safety advocates, cyclists did manage to get a liability exclusion into Massachusetts helmet law, but also, the maximum age requirement for helmet use went up from 12 to 17 years — political horse trading.

What is the case with the Oregon bill? I don’t know. It bears looking into. There would certainly be no consensus in the industry. The bill impacts more of the industry than the Massachusetts law, including Oregon trailer manufacturer Burley and bicycle retailers — especially Clever Cycles in Portland, which specializes in the kind of equipment whose use would be made illegal. The bill also impacts a larger percentage of the bicycling public.

The 1990 Massachusetts law was mostly an example of non-cyclist interests’ having taken the initiative, while cyclists weren’t paying enough attention. One argument for increasing the numbers of cyclists is that they then become a more powerful political force. That can sometimes, ironically, work against cyclists’ interests, if the recruits are mainly people with an unsophisticated understanding of their interests. Neglect of cyclists’ rights issues and support of poorly-conceived bicycle facilities feed on this dynamic. The lobbying for 1994 Massachusetts law and the current pushback against the Oregon bill are, on the other hand, what we would hope for: an active and well-informed cyclist constituency standing up for cyclists’ interests as best we can.

Streetcars and bicycles

The rails for the E line branch of the Green Line subway/streetcar in Boston, Massachusetts, USA occupied the middle of two-lane Centre Street for over 20 years after service was discontinued. There had been a proposal to redo the street and restore streetcar service, but ADA requirements for wheelchair compatibility would have required new tracks to snake over to raised platforms at the curbs for stops. Bicyclists, who already were crashing on the existing rails, would have had to cross the new rails repeatedly. Bus service with the transfer to the Green Line on Huntington Avenue, which runs in the median, is about 2 minutes slower than streetcar service. Reconstructing the street with the new rails also would have been very expensive. Eventually, the proponents for bus service won out and the old tracks were paved over.

The three remaining streetcar lines in Boston all run in the median. A busway also can run in the median. All conflicts can be addressed with signalization. But this solution requires a wide street. If it isn’t wide enough then you lose the bike lane/wide outside lane: here is an example.

A streetcar line on a one-way street allows bicycle traffic to stay on one side and streetcars on the other. Here’s a photo of this treatment in Portland, Oregon. It still has problems described in the caption. Or the streetcar may go contraflow with no other contraflow traffic allowed.

Not so good: Running the bikeway behind the trolley stop. A Copenhagen study found that running a cycle track behind a bus shelter led to 19 times the crash rate and 17 times the injury rate of other installations. Problem with a streetcar line, though, is that the tracks pose the risk of bicyclists’ crashing even when there is no streetcar nearby. That leaves no good solution other than to put the streetcar and bike route on different streets. Here’s an example of a bikeway behind a bus shelter from Portland. Unfortunately, the street here leads to an important river crossing, so a different bike route wasn’t an option.

I have heard that Phoenix’s new light rail system has to skew between stops either side of a one-way street because there is an important trip generator on the left side. A bike lane plays hopscotch with the light rail line and bicyclists must cross the street twice to continue. At least it is possible to transport bicycles in the light rail cars — probably the best way to get through that area with a bicycle!

Portland, Oregon HAWK Beacon

What is a HAWK beacon?

A High-intensity Activated crossWalK beacon, or HAWK beacon, is much like the flashing lights commonly used to stop traffic at fire stations and railroad crossings — but applied to a crosswalk. The HAWK beacon is dark unless a pedestrian’ pushes a button to cross. Three reasons commonly given for using a HAWK beacon are:

  • A traffic signal that is normally green or that turns red when nobody needs to cross may not be as effective in stopping cross traffic;
  • There is no need to have an active signal unless someone actually wants to use the crosswalk;
  • The HAWK beacon has a flashing red that follows the steady red. Traffic may restart if pedestrians have finished crossing, reducing delays. Continue reading

Hawthorne Bridge discussion gets thorny

Riding a bicycle on a sidewalk is rarely a better choice than riding in the street, but it is better on the Hawthorne bridge in Portland, Oregon, which has a narrow roadway with a treacherous steel-grid deck.

I first rode across this bridge in 1987. As of my more recent exploration of the bridge in September, 2008, the sidewalks have been widened significantly, and the routes to and from them greatly improved.

My friend Kat Iverson rode behind me with her helmet camera and shot the 5-minute video which you may view here.

More recently yet, I have read a blog posting by Mark Stosberg about the bridge. He and I agree that riding on the sidewalk is a necessary evil in this situation. He even links to my Web site as a reference. He states correctly that there are “no roads or driveways to cross on the bridge while traveling westbound.”

But just about there, my agreement with him begins to fade.

Continue reading

Bike box rationales

On another Web page, I have discussed the features and operational characteristics of so-called “bike boxes”, in which bicyclists wait for traffic signals ahead of the stop line for motor traffic. I recommend that page as background information for this discussion.

In this posting, I will discuss rationales advanced for the installation of bike boxes.

There are two principal rationales for a bike box, one of which I regard as valid but which might better be served by a different implementation. The other rationale, I find very distressing.

The first rationale is to accommodate a high volume of bicycle traffic, where bicyclists might have to wait through multiple signal cycles behind motor traffic, or else might filter forward and then not have room to wait. I recommend that bicyclists wait behind the first motor vehicle, so as not to be caught on the light change, and to negotiate with the driver of the second vehicle in line. That places the bicyclist in the exhaust of the first vehicle, but that’s better than risking a right hook collision. The exhaust problem has become far less serious in countries which have mandated pollution control on motor vehicles. But — there’s only so much room behind the first vehicle for a couple of bicyclists. A bike box behind the first vehicle would formalize that option, but unfortunately, the length of vehicles varies.

A bike box is advantageous in terms of bicyclists’ travel time when going straight through the intersection, if it facilitates filtering forward past stopped traffic — though, on the other hand, it increases motorists’ travel time. The bike box makes no significant difference in a bicyclist’s through travel time when the bicyclist arrives on the green.

But a bicyclist can get caught at the right side of the roadway when approaching the bike box, and the light turns green. Merging into the flow to go straight, or make a vehicular left-turn, is more advantageous unless traffic is very congested. (And that’s one reason among others that use of a bike lane should not be mandatory!)

The other rationale for a bike box is to encourage more people to ride bicycles by increasing comfort. I find this rationale very scary when the supposedly comfortable facility includes a deathtrap. I call this the “Pied Piper” approach to bicycle planning. It involves some convoluted thinking — bicyclists fear motorists, so, build facilities which appear less scary to the bicyclists.

A bike box with a pre-green signal interval (red and yellow in European practice) provides a warning for a bicyclist not to overtake and swerve in front of the first motor vehicle waiting at the intersection as the light turns green. He/she can still get stuck waiting for through traffic to clear, and the signal to turn red, then green again, if the intention using the bike box was to prepare a left turn (as with a Vancouver, BC bike box and some in New York City) or to cross to the other side of a one-way street (as with a bike box in Eugene, Oregon).

Motorists waiting behind a bike box without the pre-green are expected to look for bicyclists in their right rear-view mirror while also scanning the intersection ahead. That increases the likelihood of mistakes in both tasks, but also, the right rear-view mirror doesn’t provide complete coverage of the area where a bicyclist may be, particularly for the driver of a truck or bus with a high cab and a hood. If the motorist doesn’t look into the mirror at the right time, the bicyclist may have passed outside the field of view seen in the mirror. That is the rationale for additional mirrors, beepers, bicyclist-presence actuated flashers etc. that have been proposed to warn motorists of bicyclists overtaking on the right, and warn bicyclists of motorists preparing to turn right — none of which measures have been implemented in practice and all of which are technological solutions, with the attendant problems of implementation rollout and reliability.

So: what to recommend? here’s what I suggest. Never overtake a long truck or bus with less than 5 feet of clearance to its side, not even in a bike lane. Preferably, overtake on the left or move forward in line with other traffic, but in a traffic jam, you may filter forward *slowly* in a bike lane. Be aware of thehazard of car doors opening from either side, pedestrians stepping out form in front of tall vehicles, etc. Never swerve across in front of a vehicle unless you can be entirely sure that it will not start to move. Make eye contact with the driver, signal your intentions. If you can’t see the driver in a high-cab vehicle, just don’t swerve left. Pulling into line behind a vehicle that is waiting for a traffic signal or stop sign is reasonably safe if you obey these precautions. Swerving across in front of a vehicle waiting first in line, even with a bike box, is only safe if you can be sure that the traffic signal is not about to change.

Alternatives to the bike box?, For less-skillful bicyclists in urban areas, I favor the bicycle boulevard concept, in which bicyclists and motorists share a roadway according to the normal vehicular rules of the road, on a street with low traffic volume — typically, a residential street paralleling an arterial, using diverters and small traffic circles to keep down the volume and speed of motor traffic. This approach avoids the problems with attempting to accommodate conflicting movements with special facilities on a street that also carries heavy motor traffic. There are tradeoffs, to be sure: the bicycle boulevard isn’t a main street, so it may not provide such a direct route between as many trip endpoints — and unless bicycle transportation is taken very seriously, the bicycle boulevard may not have as favorable signalization as a main street. I have seen and ridden bicycle boulevards in Berkeley and Eugene, and they do seem to work rather well in those cities. No, I don’t have use or crash data, only my personal observation.