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Posts from the "Bicycle Safety" Category

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Don’t Believe the Headlines: Bike Boom Has Been Fantastic for Bike Safety

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The Governors Highway Safety Association released a report Monday that, the organization claimed, showed that the ongoing surge in American biking has increased bike fatalities.

Transportation reporters around the country swung into action.

“Fatal bicycle crashes on the rise, new study shows,” said the Des Moines Register headline.

“Cycling is increasing and that may be reflected by an increase in fatal crashes,” wrote NJ.com.

“Bike riding, particularly among urban commuters, is up, and the trend has led to a 16 percent increase in cyclist fatalities nationwide,” reported the Washington Post.

Bike fatalities are a serious problem that needs to be tackled. The United States has dramatically higher rates of injury and death on bikes than other rich countries, and it would be appropriate for GHSA, an umbrella organization of state departments of transportation, to issue an urgent call to action to make biking safer. So it’s especially troubling that the main thrust of this report is complete baloney.

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How Should Streetcars and Bikes Interact?

Bike lane or streetcar track? With rubber inserts, perhaps it could be both. Photo: DDOT via ##http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/18791/bike-lanes-could-let-cyclists-avoid-h-street-streetcar-tracks/##GGW##

Bike lane or streetcar track? With rubber inserts, perhaps it could be both. Photo: DDOT via GGW

Streetcar service could finally begin this year in Washington, DC. Trial runs are already taking place. And the debate about how people on bikes will navigate the tracks is already raging.

Last week, the District Department of Transportation quietly proposed streetcar regulations that would ban bicycling within a streetcar guideway except to cross the street. Most immediately, that would prohibit bicycles on H Street NE, one of the city’s premier nightlife hotspots for young people, many of whom arrive on bikes — in part because the area has been underserved by transit until now. There are no fewer than seven Capital Bikeshare stations along the corridor.

But a bike ban on streetcar corridors could have far broader implications when DC builds out its full streetcar network, which DDOT dreams of building out the network to eight lines over 37 miles throughout the city.

DDOT clarified on its Facebook page that it was proposing to prohibit bikes “in the area of the concrete surrounding the rails (effectively the lane the streetcar is running in)… Not the entire street right-of-way.” That means, DDOT says, that cyclists can ride in the left lane — which would undoubtedly lead to conflicts with cars accustomed to seeing cyclists hugging the right edge. If DDOT is serious about that, perhaps they could paint sharrows to inform drivers that bikes have a right to be in the left lane.

Either way, a bike ban is not the best way to deal with what is, by all accounts, a thorny situation.

The Washington Area Bicyclist Association acknowledges that “streetcar tracks can pose a legitimate hazard to bicyclists” but insists that “banning bikes is not an acceptable solution.”

It’s a “solution” that came up earlier this year in Tucson and in 2012 in Toronto, where a cyclist died when his wheel got stuck in the tracks of a streetcar system that doesn’t even run anymore. Lots of cities have struggled to find ways to make the interaction between bicycles and streetcars less perilous.

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Study: To Keep Bicyclists Outside the Door Zone, You Need a Buffer

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A buffered bike lane does a better job of encouraging bicyclists to ride outside the door zone than a wide bike lane. Photo: John Greenfield

A new study has found that bike lanes with a buffer next to the parking lane are better than conventional bike lanes at encouraging bicyclists to ride outside the door zone.

The study, recently published by the Transportation Research Board, concludes that wider but un-buffered bike lanes aren’t necessarily better than narrower lanes in encouraging bicyclists to ride outside the door zone. If there’s enough space to make a wider bike lane, the authors conclude, that extra space should be used to install a “narrower bicycle lane with a parking-side buffer,” which “provides distinct advantages over a wider bike lane with no buffer.”

Researchers reached their conclusions after observing thousands of cyclists using various bike lane configurations in Chicago and Cambridge, Massachusetts. On one Chicago street, for example, few bicyclists rode outside the door zone when the bike lane had no buffer, then after a two-foot buffer was striped, 40 percent rode outside the door zone.

Bicyclists are more likely to ride outside the door zone in a buffered bike lane than any other bike lane width studied.

Bicyclists are much more likely to ride outside the door zone in a buffered bike lane than in any other bike lane width studied.

That’s because the door zone is four feet wide, and riding in the center of a six-foot-wide bike lane still doesn’t give a cyclist enough clearance.

The on-street tests demonstrated that a six-foot-wide bike lane offers no advantage over one that’s five feet wide, or even four feet wide. Regardless of the width, bicyclists still ride in the center of the lane — within the radius of a typical car door swinging open. Dooring crashes are common in urban areas like Chicago: In 2012, the last year for which data is available, 18 percent of reported bike crashes were doorings.

The researchers were studying different types of bike lanes, and how people use them, in order to refine recommendations in the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ ”Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities.” The guide recommends five-foot-wide bike lanes and says four-foot-wide bike lanes can be used in other situations — but it was based on trial and error, not scientific research.

While protected bike lanes weren’t studied in this research, the authors’ observations show how proximity to moving traffic contributes to doorings. For instance, the study concluded that, “as traffic volume increases, bicyclists move away from vehicles in the travel lane and position themselves closer to parked vehicles or the curb.” Researchers observed the same response as truck traffic increased. This leads bicyclists to ride in the door zone — but with protected lanes, cyclists don’t have to ride next to motor vehicle traffic, and this isn’t a problem.

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Houston’s Plan to Make “Bicycle Interstates” Out of Its Utility Network

The blue lines show trails planned as part of the Bayou Greenways system. Image: Utility Line Bike & Hike Trails

Rights-of-way controlled by the Houston utility company CenterPoint (the dotted lines) could combine with trails planned as part of the Bayou Greenways system (the blue lines) to create a grid of off-street biking and walking routes covering much of the city. Map: Utility Line Bike & Hike Trails

This post is part of a series featuring stories and research that will be presented at the Pro-Walk/Pro-Bike/Pro-Place conference September 8-11 in Pittsburgh.

Long lanes of grass alongside power lines are almost as ubiquitous in Houston as highways. There are roughly 500 miles of high-voltage utility rights-of-way criss-crossing the city, and they’re mostly just dead spaces, forming weedy barriers between neighborhoods.

What could the city do if it repurposed these underused spaces? Inspired by an article in Rice University’s Cite Magazine, Alyson Fletcher decided to write her master’s thesis at the Cornell University landscape architecture program on that question. She drafted a proposal to turn these linear, grassy areas into a “recreational super-highway” — and it’s starting to look like a real possibility.

In May, the city inked an agreement with CenterPoint Energy, owner of some 500 miles of utility rights-of-way across Houston. The agreement provides the city with free access to these spaces, some 140 of which are high-voltage lines with very tall towers and wide rights of way, which are well suited for trails.

For years, city and state leaders had struggled to overcome liability concerns on the part of the energy provider. Who would be responsible if someone was injured? CenterPoint didn’t want to be that party. So Texas lawmakers got together last year and passed a law resolving the liability issue for CenterPoint.

Designers at Rice University, the University of Houston, and SWA Design Group estimate the project could cost about $100 million to complete. Community activist Michael Skelly has been leading tours of the utility areas for people who want to learn more about the proposal.

Besides the low cost of land acquisition, the project has another important selling point: It complements the Bayou Greenways plan. As we reported last week, Houston plans to add 300 miles of trails and 4,000 acres of parkland along its 10 major natural bayous. But since most of the bayous are oriented east-west, the plan has limitations from a transportation standpoint.

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Safety in Bike-Share: Why Do Public Bikes Reduce Risk for All Cyclists?

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Injuries to all cyclists declined after the launch of bike-share systems in Boston and other cities. Photo: Kelly Kline/Flickr

What if Yankees legend Yogi Berra had followed a season with 24 homers and 144 hits with one featuring 27 homers and 189 hits? Would the baseball scribes have declared “Yogi Power Shortage” because only one in seven hits was a homer instead of one in six? Duh, no. The headlines would have read, “Yogi Boosts Production Across the Board.” The fact that a greater share of base hits was singles and doubles would have been incidental to the fact that Yogi’s base hits and homers were both up.

So how is it that a study that documented drops of 14 percent in the number of cyclist head injuries and 28 percent in total cyclist injuries in U.S. cities with bike-share programs got this headline in the Washington Post last month?

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To be sure, those figures were buried in the study. They saw the light of day, thanks to two posts last month by Streetsblog’s Angie Schmitt. So readers know that the Post’s headline should have been: “Cities with bike-share programs see marked decrease in cyclist injuries.”

Simple enough, right? Except that to run the story straight up like that would have required the Post to set aside the unholy trinity atop Americans’ ingrained misperception of cycling safety: the beliefs that helmetless cycling is criminally dangerous; that cycling is inherently risky; and that cyclists, far more than drivers, make it so.

To see why, let’s look further into the research data that made its way into the Post story. The team of researchers, two of whom work at the Harborview Injury and Research Center in Seattle, compared five bike-share cities with five cities that did not implement bike-share programs. The bike-share cities had a total drop in reported cyclist injuries of 28 percent, versus a 2 percent increase in the control cities. The effective difference of 30 percentage points is huge.

The safety improvement in bike-share cities is all the more impressive, since those places likely saw a rise in overall cycling activity that one would expect to lead to an increase in cyclist injuries. But the expected increase in injuries is small when you take into account the safety-in-numbers phenomenon that one of us (Jacobsen) has documented for a decade and counting: You’re safer riding a bike in a community where more people ride bicycles.

Let’s train the safety-in-numbers lens on that 28 percent drop in cyclist injuries in bike-share cities and consider why the injury risk fell instead of increasing:

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Jury Awards “Precedent-Setting” $2.4 Million to Doored Cyclist

A cyclist who was seriously injured in a Philadelphia collision in 2011 won a large settlement earlier this month. Photo: ##https://www.flickr.com/photos/philly_bike_coalition/8019843138/##Philly Bike Coalition / Flickr##

A cyclist who was seriously injured in a Philadelphia collision in 2011 won a large settlement earlier this month. Photo: Philly Bike Coalition / Flickr

In a decision that local advocates say delivers a “strong message” to drivers, a Philadelphia jury awarded a cyclist $2.4 million in damages earlier this month for injuries she sustained in a 2011 collision.

Ashley McKean was seriously injured when a driver doored her and she was then struck from behind by a van driver who was following too closely. The driver who doored McKean was found to be 43 percent at fault for the collision, the driver of the van 36 percent and McKean herself 21 percent, Philly Magazine reports. After the collision, the driver of the van reportedly told her she should have been riding on the sidewalk — which is illegal.

According to her attorney, Chris Brill, the formerly “athletic” McKean was lucky to survive but can no longer run or walk long distances. Brill said he’s not aware of such a large settlement ever being awarded in the U.S. for a dooring injury. Sarah Clark Stewart of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia agreed that the award is significant.

“I think that it does send a very strong message that bicyclists need to be taken seriously, and their safety needs to be taken seriously,” she said.

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What Is Your State Doing to Improve Walking and Biking?

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How good are your state’s policies on walking and biking?

The Alliance for Biking and Walking has made it easy to find out with this at-a-glance chart, released as part of its biannual Benchmarking report this week.

According to the Alliance, state policies are getting progressively better for walking and biking. Now, 34 states publish goals to increase levels of active transportation. That’s up from 29 states just two years ago. Nearly every state — 44 — now sets goals to reduce pedestrian fatalities, and 43 states have set goals for bike fatalities. Even states that aren’t known for walking and biking seem to at least be talking the talk. The Alliance reports that Florida now has a policy aiming to get more people walking, and Nevada is trying to increase cycling.

Cities are getting with the program as well, the Alliance finds.

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Big Win in Charleston: Car Lane Converted to Bike/Ped Path on Key Bridge

Bicyclists grown onto the Legare Bridge. Photo: Charleston Moves

After Tuesday’s vote, cyclists in Charleston won’t have to mix with traffic on the Legare Bridge. Photo: Charleston Moves

Charleston, South Carolina’s Legare Bridge carries about 56,000 cars over the Ashley River daily, but it’s never had a safe path for people on bikes. Connecting central Charleston with population centers to the west and south, it is such a critical corridor that bicycle advocates call it Charleston’s “missing link.”

Charleston bike advocates won a safe spot on a critical bridge this week, thanks to an effective campaign. Image: Post and Courier

Charleston bike advocates won a safe spot on a critical bridge this week, thanks to an effective campaign. Photo: Post and Courier

Now, after years of campaigning, Charleston cyclists have finally won a safe route on the bridge. Charleston City Council voted 8-5 Tuesday to open one of the car lanes to biking and walking exclusively, and active transportation advocates are elated.

Tom Bradford, director of Charleston Moves, the city’s bike advocacy organization, said the decision “truly is the linchpin to total bicycle friendliness.”

Central and downtown Charleston are on a peninsula, and the city and its suburbs sprawl over creeks, marches and rivers, so safe access to bridges is absolutely essential to navigating the city by bike. Bradford said Charleston has been getting more bike-friendly, but because of the city’s geography, “it never would have amounted to more than a hill of beans unless we could get across the Ashley River.”

Bike advocates have talked about opening the bridge — State Highway 17 — up to cyclists since the 1970s. The campaign intensified a few years ago when Charleston Moves took the lead. The group organized a petition drive, generating 1,500 signatures. It also went around to neighborhood groups and student organizations asking for resolutions in support of a bikeway on the bridge.

And Tuesday night, when City Council was set a vote on the issue, advocates for a safe bridge path packed the house. Charleston Moves‘ Board Chair Stephanie Hunt describes the scene:

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Before We Build, We Should Review How a Project Will Affect Safety

Jim Aloisi is a Boston-based lawyer, historian and transportation policymaker. He is a former Massachusetts state secretary of transportation. His most recent book is The Vidal Lecture.

Tanzeel Merchant is a Toronto-based urban designer, architect, planner and writer. He writes for Forbes India.

As cities across North American densify, innovate and refocus their priorities, there is a shared acknowledgement that the era of the automobile is over, and other modes of mobility, such as walking, cycling and transit, are in ascendance. However, these changes are constrained by powerful legacies of our past — the existing, auto-centric infrastructure of highways, inequitable transportation funding across modes, and outdated ways of thinking.

Before designing a road like this, traffic engineers should have to answer the question: Is it safe for people outside of cars, too? Photo: ##http://www.pbs.org/wnet/need-to-know/the-daily-need/dangerous-by-design/9619/##PBS##

When proposing a road like this, traffic engineers should have to answer the question: Will the project make people safer or less safe? Photo: PBS

Times have changed, and our planning and review processes need to change along with them. We now live in an era where young people are choosing not to get drivers’ licenses and buy cars, or are delaying those decisions, and older people are drawn to the virtues of a healthier lifestyle. Despite these trends, many transportation officials continue to shortchange funding for the mobility offered by walking and bicycling. Many streets, especially in new suburban neighborhoods, are not pedestrian friendly. Bicycle routes (if they exist at all) are often poorly designed and unsafe. Equitable funding for these modes of transportation is not, and has never been, a reality.

Safe walking and biking ought to be a right, not a privilege. A spate of recent tragedies involving pedestrians and bicyclists points to the urgent need to make mobility safety a critical element of new focus. If you hit a pedestrian at 20 mph, 5 percent will die; at 30 mph, 45 percent will die; at 40 mph, 85 percent will die.

Walking and bicycling are also cost-savers for cities. Integrating these modes into street designs comes at a small cost, with huge returns in terms of reduced vehicular congestion, lower emissions, less wear and tear of roads, stronger local economies and more vibrant neighborhoods.

Planners and decision-makers need a better approach to ensure active transportation is safe and convenient. We propose requiring public infrastructure and transportation projects to undertake a Safety Impact Review (SIR) as part of the process of permitting projects meeting certain thresholds. An SIR would ensure that desired outcomes are baked into development and infrastructure projects right from the start.

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New Bill Would Make Bike/Ped Projects Eligible for TIFIA Loans

The day after President Obama’s State of the Union plea to improve economic opportunity for struggling Americans, New Jersey Democrat Albio Sires introduced a bill that he says will help meet that goal.

Rep. Albio Sires (D-NJ) has introduced a bill to extend low-interest TIFIA loans to communities -- especially low-income communities -- for street safety projects. Photo: ##http://paraclito.net/2010/11/04/albio-sires-por-la-libertad-de-cuba/##Paraclito##

Rep. Albio Sires (D-NJ) has introduced a bill to extend low-interest TIFIA loans to communities — especially low-income communities — for street safety projects. Photo: Paraclito

His bill [PDF] would build on the TIFIA loan program, which is so beloved by Congress its funding was expanded by a factor of ten in the MAP-21 transportation bill, up to $1 billion this year. Since the beefed-up TIFIA program will fund any proposal deemed creditworthy and only selects projects that cost at least $50 million, advocates for transit and active transportation have been concerned it will become merely a slush fund for toll roads.

Sires’ bill, the New Opportunities for Bicycle and Pedestrian Infrastructure Financing Act — NOBPIFA for short (if you call that short) — would set aside 1 percent of TIFIA’s $1 billion and earmark that money for biking and walking. For these projects, TIFIA’s minimum project cost would be lowered to $2 million, making low-interest, long-term loans available to communities for improvements to their biking and walking networks.

Three co-sponsors have signed on to the bill. Two of them, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, are Republicans from the Miami area. Florida is consistently ranked as one of the most dangerous states in the country for walking and biking.

In a statement, Sires tied the bill introduction to Obama’s State of the Union address:

Last night, President Obama called on Congress to help rebuild our middle class, and this bill would do just that. When we make our roads and sidewalks safer, we help connect workers to new jobs. We create communities where families want to live and businesses want to invest. And we give mothers and fathers peace of mind, knowing they aren’t sending their children to school on the unsafe sidewalks and roadways that exist in so many of our rural and urban communities.

The bill reserves 25 percent of project funding for low-income communities, “with the goal of creating a more equitable, safe roadway environment for all Americans.”

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