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Posts from the Bicycle Safety Category

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Boston Globe Columnist Tweets Out History’s Dumbest Anti-Bike Rant

I hesitated to even respond to Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby‘s odious tweetstorm against cycling in Boston, because the man is obviously just trolling for attention.

But boy, Jacoby made it hard to hold back. In response to the death of Amanda Phillips, 27, who was struck and killed by a truck driver earlier this week, Jacoby went straight to the old bike ban argument:

Yep. Bikeless streets are clearly the solution to America’s 35,000 annual traffic deaths. At least Jacoby provided a fat target.

So Jacoby doubled down with this gem:

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A Hit-and-Run Driver Killed 5 People on Bikes, So the Press Lectured Cyclists

The five victims of a hit-and-run driver Tuesday in Kalamazoo. Photo retrieved from Mlive.com

The five victims of hit-and-run driver Charlie Pickett. Photos: Mlive.com

A hit-and-run driver killed five people on a group bike ride in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Tuesday. Four others were seriously injured in the horrifying crash, caused when a driver hit their training group — known as “the Chain Gang” — from behind.

Charlie Pickett, whose Facebook page proclaims his love of stiff liquor, was arrested in the death of five cyclists outside Kalamazoo. Photo: Facebook

Charlie Pickett, whose Facebook page is emblazoned with a logo that says “100 Proof,” was arrested for killing five cyclists outside Kalamazoo. Photo: Facebook

Police arrested 50-year-old Charlie Pickett (right), according to Mlive.com, and charged him with five counts of second-degree murder.

The incident resembles a fatal collision that happened in the Akron area in September, when an SUV driver crashed into five cyclists on a training ride, killing two. The driver, 42-year-old Timothy Wolf, initially refused a breathalyzer and was eventually acquitted of vehicular homicide in February. (In this case the driver turned left into the group of cyclists. Wolf blamed sun glare.)

At the very least, you would expect that horrific cases like these would hammer home what an enormous responsibility drivers bear and how careful we should be when we get behind the wheel of a car. But even when the circumstances overwhelmingly point to negligence on the part of the driver, the impulse to lecture cyclists remains strong.

Following the Kalamazoo tragedy, the Grand Rapids’ ABC affiliate took the opportunity to air a segment about “bike safety,” warning cyclists to ride single file, stay close to the white line, and signal when they are turning. The piece eventually notes that there is no indication the Kalamazoo cyclists were doing anything wrong. Meanwhile, the Detroit Free Press warned cyclists to wear helmets — because helmets are magical objects that protect your whole body when a driver hits you from behind at high speed.

The same tacit victim blaming was on display after the Akron crash as well. Cleveland’s ABC affiliate also made the case for helmets, even though the people who were killed were wearing helmets.

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Why Helmets Aren’t the Answer to Bike Safety — In One Chart

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Better street design and getting more people on bikes — not blind faith in helmets — are the keys to making cycling safer, recent research has shown.

Want a good visual to get the point across? The Toole Design Group made this for you.

Of these countries, the U.S. has the highest rate of helmet usage among cyclists — around 55 percent — but also the highest cyclist fatality rate per distance traveled. Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, where helmet use is practically nil, cycling is much, much safer.

While this is just eight data points, higher helmet use seems to be associated with higher fatality rates. Intuitively, that makes some sense. The more dangerous an activity, the more people feel inclined to take steps to protect themselves.

Despite the high rate of helmet use in the U.S., helmet campaigns have clearly failed to make cycling as safe as it should be. If anything, they’ve distracted from the much more important work of designing safer streets and reducing motor vehicle speeds in cities.

Updated at 4:37 p.m to replace Toole’s line graph with Toole’s bar chart, based on the same data.

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Insane Comic Books Warn Phoenix Children That Biking Will Kill Them

This comic book was produced by the Phoenix Street Transportation Department to warn young children about the dangers of not wearing a helmet. Retrieved from the Arizona Republic

This comic book was produced by the Phoenix Street Transportation Department to warn young children about the dangers of not wearing a helmet. Via The Arizona Republic

Hey kids, the Phoenix Department of Street Transportation has a fun message for you: Riding your bike is likely to result in a gory horror scene. If you don’t wear your helmet, of course.

This is the cover of a comic book being distributed to third and fourth graders in Phoenix.

This is the cover of a comic book being distributed to third and fourth graders in Phoenix.

That’s the gist of an over-the-top “bike safety” comic book that has alarmed parents of third and fourth graders in Phoenix. The comic shows a cyclist with his brain exposed and blood dripping down his skull on the cover. The inside is equally horrifying, conjuring a world where kids get run over and lose the use of their legs because they pop wheelies.

The books were produced by the Phoenix Street Transportation Department with a $18,700 grant from the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety. An illustrator hired by the transportation department explained to the Arizona Republic that they were meant to scare children into wearing helmets.

Helmets can protect against head injuries in the event of a crash or fall, but the idea that helmet use is the one true answer for bike safety is cartoonishly simple.

Gory comic books about bike helmets are not the kind of thing you see in places with excellent bike safety records. It is basically an admission that public agencies have failed to create safe streets and an indictment of the prevailing safety culture.

At a time when kids are developing chronic disease at an alarming rate thanks in part to the lack of physical activity, Phoenix is sending the message that something as normal as riding a bike will cause you to resemble an extra from the Walking Dead.

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Finally, a Little Accountability for State DOTs on Bike and Pedestrian Safety

In a win for bike and pedestrian safety, the Federal Highway Administration announced yesterday that it will require state transportation agencies to do something they have never had to do before: set goals to reduce bike and pedestrian fatalities, and track progress toward attaining those goals.

The news is part of FHWA’s roll-out of several “performance measures” for state and regional transportation agencies. The system of metrics is supposed to make the agencies more accountable for the billions of dollars in federal transportation funds they receive every year.

Advocates for walking and biking pressed FHWA to include bike and pedestrian safety measures in the performance standards, after they were initially excluded. Andy Clarke, former head of the League of American Bicyclists, now with the Toole Design Group, said the League helped solicit more than 11,000 comments in favor of creating performance measures for bike and pedestrian safety.

FHWA must have been listening. In its announcement, the agency said, “Non-motorized safety is of particular concern and improving conditions and safety for bicycling and walking will help create an integrated, intermodal transportation system that provides travelers with real choices.” Translation: The feds value walking and biking.

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How Cities Clear Snow From Protected Bike Lanes: A Starter Guide

A Kubota sweeper/plow, center left, clears the sidewalk at 300 South and 200 West, Salt Lake City. Image: SLC.

pfb logo 100x22This post is by Tyler Golly of Stantec and Michael Andersen of The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes.

As protected bike lanes have spread from city to city across North America, a problem has followed: snow.

Most protected bike lanes are too narrow for standard street plows. So how are cities supposed to keep them clean?

Last year, the two of us decided to try and help more cities solve this problem by researching the best equipment to use for clearing snow from protected bike lanes. We wanted something like PeopleForBikes’ past post about the best sweepers for clearing protected bike lanes of leaves and debris.

But after talking to city staffers across North America and Europe, we realized that the challenges of winter are different than the challenges of fall. The reason is that winters themselves are so different from city to city.

The snow that piles into a protected bike lane in Chicago is very different in quantity, weight and thaw pattern than the snow in Calgary, which is very different than the snow in New York City.

Moreover, there’s just not as much variation among snow-plowing equipment. As one staffer we spoke to put it, the perfect plow rig for your bike lane is the biggest one that isn’t too big.

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Study: Sharrows Don’t Make Streets Safer for Cycling

Sharrows are the dregs of bike infrastructure — the scraps cities hand out when they can’t muster the will to implement exclusive space for bicycling. They may help with wayfinding, but do sharrows improve the safety of cycling at all? New research presented at the Transportation Review Board Annual Meeting suggests they don’t.

Sharrows are useless and perhaps even harmful, a new study found. Photo: University of Colorado Denver

Sharrows without traffic-calming won’t do much to make cycling safer. Photo: University of Colorado Denver

A study by University of Colorado Denver researchers Nick Ferenchak and Wesley Marshall examined safety outcomes for areas in Chicago that received bike lanes, sharrows, and no bicycling street treatments at all. (The study was conducted before Chicago had much in the way of protected bike lanes, so it did not distinguish between types of bike lanes.) The results suggest that bike lanes encourage more people to bike and make biking safer, while sharrows don’t do much of either.

Ferenchak and Marshall’s study divided Chicago into three geographic categories using Census block groups: areas where bike lanes were added between 2008 and 2010, areas where sharrows were added, and areas where no bike treatments were added. They then looked at how bike commuting and cyclist injuries changed in these areas over time.

They found that bike commute rates more than doubled in areas with new bike lanes, compared to a 27 percent increase in areas with new sharrows and a 43 percent increase in areas where nothing changed.

Meanwhile, the rate of cyclist injuries per bike commuter improved the most where bike lanes were striped, decreasing 42 percent. Areas that got sharrows saw the same metric fall about 20 percent –worse than areas where streets didn’t change (36 percent), although the difference was not great enough to be statistically significant.

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What Happened When a Newspaper Became an Advocate for Bicyclists

In too many cities, newspaper coverage of bicycling has stoked some of the darker aspects of human nature. Opinion pieces about bike lanes tend to cater to the reactionary opposition, goading the trolls of the comments section, where casual death threats are standard fare.

News Press reporters Janine Zeitlin and Laura Ruane accept an award for their coverage of bike safety issues in South Florida. Photo: Florida Department of Health via News Press

News-Press reporters Janine Zeitlin (center) and Laura Ruane (right) accept an award for their coverage of bike safety issues in South Florida. Photo: Florida Department of Health via News Press

But a newspaper in South Florida has taken a very different approach over the last few years, unabashedly advocating for safer streets for cycling. And it’s earning accolades in the process.

The News-Press in the Fort Myers, Florida, region won praise from the Columbia Journalism Review and local safety advocates for its “Share the Road” series, highlighting the danger faced by cyclists in a deadly corner of the deadliest state for biking.

Starting in the summer of 2014, News-Press reporters have shed light on bicyclist fatalities on local roads, and what can be done to stop the loss of life.

In the year the series launched, eight cyclists were killed in Lee County (population 661,000), the News-Press reported. By comparison, in Portland (population 609,000), one cyclist was killed in 2014 and zero in 2013.

The News-Press dug into the problem, running a feature on each of the 12 people killed while biking in Lee and Collier counties, which include the communities of Naples, Cape Coral, and Fort Myers. These areas are both huge tourist destinations and home to lots of low-income workers and immigrants. The roads are notoriously dangerous for people walking or biking.

Led by reporter Janine Zeitlin, who used to bike but stopped because it felt too risky, the News-Press combed through data about what was causing the collisions. Among the factors they identified: “wide and fast roadways,” “lagging infrastructure and laws,” “bad drivers,” and “lack of safety education.”

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Federal Report: Bad Street Design a Factor in Rising Ped/Bike Fatalities

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A new report from the non-partisan Government Accountability Office [PDF] examines why people walking or biking account for a rising share of traffic deaths in the United States. While the conclusions aren’t exactly earth-shattering, one culprit the GAO identified is street design practices that seek primarily to move cars.

The investigation was ordered by U.S. representatives Rick Larsen (Washington State), Peter DeFazio (Oregon) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC) in response to increasing pedestrian and cyclist deaths. Between 2004 and 2013, traffic deaths dropped steadily for drivers, but inched up for people walking or biking, according to the GAO. The cause of the discrepancy isn’t clear.

The GAO interviewed officials from state and local transportation agencies, U.S. DOT, and bike and pedestrian advocacy groups about obstacles to safety. Its conclusions reflect the attitudes of the institutions that were interviewed, without adding much in the way of data analysis.

One factor the GAO points to, for instance, is “alcohol use” — a favorite of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (one of the groups interviewed). This can refer to both drunk driving or a victim who was struck while drunk. The GAO notes that in 14 percent of pedestrian fatalities, the victim was drunk or high. But the report presents no data to support the notion that intoxicated pedestrians account for the rising share of pedestrian fatalities. Nor is it clear why alcohol-related fatalities would increase for pedestrians and cyclists while declining in the aggregate.

Another part of the report, however, does delve into institutional obstacles to safer streets. The GAO notes that many transportation agencies, especially state agencies, still don’t see protecting pedestrians and bicyclists as a priority.

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Zig Zag Road Striping Calms Traffic in Virginia

Virginia Department of Transportation installed these zig zag pavement markings to caution drivers about the potential for pedestrians and cyclists by a popular trail crossing. Photo: Virginia Department of Transportation

Virginia DOT installed these zig zag markings to caution drivers approaching the intersection of a popular walking and biking trail. Photo: Virginia DOT

At 11 points in northern Virginia, the familiar straight dashed lines on the road gives way to a series of zig zags. The unusual markings, the result of a pilot project from the Virginia Department of Transportation, are meant to alert drivers to be cautious where the Washington and Old Dominion (W&OD) Trail intersects with the road — and bicyclists and pedestrians frequently cross.

After a year-long study of this striping treatment, Virginia DOT officials say the markings are effective and should become part of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices — the playbook for American street designers.

This photo shows another style of zig zag pavement marking tested in Virginia. Photo: VDOT

This photo shows another style of zig zag pavement marking tested in Virginia. Photo: VDOT

VDOT found the zig zag markings slowed average vehicle speeds, increased motorist awareness of pedestrians and cyclists, and increased the likelihood that drivers would yield. They also noted that the effects of the design change didn’t wear off once motorists became used to the it — they still slowed down a year after installation.

VDOT says the results indicate that zig zag markings are a more cost-effective solution for conflict points between trails and high-speed roads than the current treatments: flashing beacons placed above the road or off to the side.

The zig zag concept was imported from Europe. It is currently used in only two other locations in North America: Hawaii and Ottawa, Ontario. It was one of more than a dozen European traffic management techniques VDOT zeroed in on to test locally.

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