Using the Hive Mind to Make Biking Safer

Whenever anyone asks me why I like Twitter so much, I tell them it’s about the information. If you follow the right people (and who that is obviously depends entirely on you) you can tap into an amazing amount of great stuff from around the Internet (and real life too). It’s like having a custom-made news feed filtered through some very intelligent, and idiosyncratic, human brains.

Picture_2.pngYesterday, one of the people we follow on the Streetsblog Network Twitter account, @zaneselvans, let us know via Twitter about a very cool project from the Cascade Bicycle Club called Bikewise. The site collects and maps user-generated reports of bike crashes, hazards and thefts from around the country:

We started bikewise in the conviction that we could make biking safer and more fun by gathering good data on the things that sometimes go wrong.

Crashes: It’s estimated that 75% or more of all crashes go unreported. We believe that by gathering detailed information on how and why crashes happen, we’ll be able to ride smarter. Also, we hope that knowing where crash hotspots are will help us to identify issues with traffic behavior and road design.

Hazards: How many times have you ridden past a dangerous sewer grate or overgrown vegetation and wished there were someplace to report it? Now there is. We aim to not only collect hazard reports, but to pass these on to the appropriate authorities. (Please note: we’re still putting this part of the system in place.)

Thefts: Tracking where and how bikes get stolen is a key part of making preventing thefts. We’re currently working on other pieces of this system, so that if your bike does get stolen, you have a better chance of getting it back. More to come on that.

Obviously, such a site is only as good as the information it collects and what is done with it once it’s in the system. The SeeClickFix service has demonstrated that this kind of software initiative can help local governments get problems solved. Bikewise’s success will depend on the participation of people who are committed to improving biking conditions, and interested in the possibilities of the Internet-based hive mind. Maybe you’re one of them. 

Another news flash from Twitter: @USDOT is on, as of yesterday. We’re happy to report that we were one of the first three follows they made. The other two were @T4America and @whitehouse.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I don’t know how to twitter, but as fate would have it, I was knocked off my bike by a motor vehicle for the first time today. And not having half a day to spend to perhaps have someone get a ticket (and perhaps not), I didn’t take the trouble to report it. I did give the young guy with North Carolina plates who hit me a lecture, however, so hopefully he learned his lesson.

    I mention it only because it was the type of crash guide books and blogs say is very unlikely — I was hit from behind while riding in a straight line on the right.

    I was riding at a modest steady pace (say 10 mph as I was approaching a light) adjacent to parked cars, when a passenger van came up from behind, and passed at perhaps 20 mph a few inches away. His mirror clipped my handlebar, dumping me over. This was northbound on Park Avenue South, near 16th Street, adjacent to Union Square.

    There were ‘mitigating circumstances” however. He said he was being tailgated by another vehicle, and thus couldn’t slow down without risking being rear ended. I’m not saying that makes it your fault, he conceded.

    I’ve got some scrapes and bruises, but if someone does that when I’m 78 rather than 48, it could be much worse, so it’s worrying in that sense.

  • Sarah Goodyear

    Sorry to hear about the crash, Larry, and I’m glad you’re OK.

    Just to clarify, you don’t have to know how to Twitter to use http://bikewise.org, that’s just where I found out about it. You do have to register, though.

    And as for those North Carolina plates: http://www.streetsblog.org/2007/06/27/carpetbagging-drivers-head-to-north-carolina-for-plates/

  • Larry Littlefield

    Well, there you go.

    One aspect of having people pay a modest cost for a permit to park their cars overnight on the street in NYC, which I favor, is that it could be limited to cars licensed and insured in NYC. Parking would get a lot easier, I’d bet.

  • gecko

    #1 Larry Littlefield, ” . . . Park Avenue South, near 16th Street, adjacent to Union Square”

    This area is way too unsafe and long overdue for serious traffic calming and cycle track; where the Fourth Avenue buffered bike path going north ends at 14th Street.

    Probably one of the worst dangers are the private garbage trucks recklessly racing around this area about 11 in the evening doing collections; wherein the city is totally negligent allowing this dangerous situation to persist in this extremely high-density area.

  • Larry, that’s a tough break. Glad to hear that you are OK.

    Sarah, I peeped at bikewise, and it looks pretty interesting, but I would like to reinforce the old canard about how most accidents happen within a couple blocks of your home. The stretch of road that you most frequently travel (mode-independent) will be the stretch of road nearest your house.

    I think the furthest away from home I’ve ever had an accident was 15 blocks.

  • Larry, that collision of yours sounds more like the driver passed too close and misjudged the distance than the rare “hit from behind” collision. My suggestion would be to actually ride farther to the left (generally in the center of the lane, if there is no bike lane) in order to prevent this from happening. When drivers don’t see enough space to pass you in the same lane, they won’t. They’re forced to actually look in the adjacent lane to make sure it’s clear, then get over into it in order to get around you. If there’s no room to get over, they have to slow to your speed. Also, you need to ride a safe distance away from parked cars to avoid opening car doors (4 feet to avoid the widest car door lengths), so riding in the center of the travel lane can solve that problem as well.

    Riding like that will get you honked at more but hit less. Steel yourself to ignore the honking and cussing with the consolation that they’re not running into you.

    Read more of my take on taking the lane at http://www.transitmiami.com/2008/05/29/taking-the-lane-with-florida-bicycle-laws/, as it regards Florida laws. I’m not familiar with New York laws, but Google probably knows.

  • Sorry to hear it Larry and I’m glad you’re okay.

    Just want to say though that those circumstances don’t seem to me to mitigate the driver’s fault.

    It’s not that driver’s responsibility to keep moving so a driver behind him doesn’t rear-end him. I mean, that’s what brake lights are for. In fact, in examining car-car rear-end “accidents,” law enforcement and insurance (wisely) have an near total prejudice against the rear driver.

    I’m sure that doesn’t help you a great deal, Larry, but it’s worth repeating for general consumption, I think…

  • Funnily, at the exact same spot yesterday (although southbound), I witnessed a psycho truck driver do something psychotic.

    He was stopped at a red light at 16th in those congested 2 lanes. A cyclist in front of me was squeezing narrowly between the truck in one lane and another car stopped in the adjacent lane. I was behind the cyclist, doing the same thing.

    Before the cyclist got as far as the truck’s driver door, the driver opened the door (in his path) and screamed at him, “are you @#$% crazy, you could scratch my truck!”

    I am not kidding.

    The other cyclist just smiled and kept going, but I couldn’t help yelling, “yeah? did either of us scratch your fragile truck? I hope you drive responsibly, you psycho.” My tone was surely not useful, but I was right, regardles… He yelled some stuff at me too as I rode off.

    A block or two later I thought, “wait, why aren’t I calling the phone number on the truck and saying that this driver deliberately opened the door in the path of a cyclist, a potentially, and often truly lethal move?” I headed back to get the number but, astoundingly, he had actually moved enough to be gone from the area… Next time, buddy!

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Mitigating circumstances” was just a joke at his excuse.

    What you had was an inexperienced driver (not good at looking at different things at once), and not a good one, driving a wide vehicle (his or his Mom’s van — the older woman was the passenger).

    I’d think twice about trying to drive a van like that in Manhattan, with 32 years experience behind the wheel.

    As I said I got off with a few boo boos and I think he learned his lesson. Hopefully he’ll stick to 20 mph.

  • Larry man, get that crash into Bikewise! Discussion threads like this one are personal, but ultimately not persistent. The beautiful thing about this application is that all these little pieces of information accumulate, and are machine readable, and aggregated in one place, where they can be used for the powers of good!

  • Regarding the thefts aspects, while it is good to know where to NOT go, most of us already know that. But Twittering to get it back leaves my head kind of spinning, WTF….
    Best to take a practical/proactive approach and register and TAG it before anything happens, such as: http://www.bikeregistry.com/install.php.

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