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Posts from the Bicycle Safety Category

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Harvard Researcher Calls for Better Police Reporting of Bike Crashes

A chart like this on police reports, designed after car collision recording forms, could help researchers understand better what causes bike collisions. Image: Journal of Injury Prevention

Adding standardized ways to report the circumstances of a bike crash, like this chart modeled after car collision forms, could advance understanding of how to prevent injuries and deaths. Image: Journal of Injury Prevention

Police departments need to improve the way they investigate, document, and convey information about crashes involving cyclists, according to a new study by Harvard public health researcher Anne Luskin in the Journal of Injury Prevention.

While police reports are standardized to record relatively detailed information about car collisions, the same is not true of collisions involving bikes. Better police investigations of bike collisions would help researchers, policy makers, and street designers understand what puts cyclists at risk and improve safety, according to the authors.

Lusk analyzed police crash reporting techniques in all 50 states. She also examined 3,350 police crash reports of bike collisions in New York City.

The information in the reports tended to be scarce and insufficient to determine what caused the crash. Police only consistently reported whether a cyclist was involved and whether the cyclist was wearing a helmet, her team found. Police did not consistently report factors like street conditions, angle of impact, and other information that would be useful in understanding what contributes to collisions and injuries.

Lusk recommends that police reports be modified “to include bicycle-crash-scene reporting fields.” Right now, information that is recorded about bike crashes isn’t specially coded for entry into a spreadsheet — the type of standardization that makes data widely accessible. Police forms should include information like what type of bike infrastructure, if any, exists at the crash location; whether either person involved in the crash was turning; and the points of impact on the car and the bike.

There is less room for error if crash reports are filled in not by hand but with handheld tablets, the authors note. Many state police departments are already moving in that direction.

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Meet the Man on a Mission to Make Florida Walkable and Bikeable

Fowler Avenue in Tampa, one of the country's most dangerous cities for pedestrians. Photo: FDOT

Fowler Avenue in Tampa, one of the country’s most dangerous cities for pedestrians. Photo: FDOT

Billy Hattaway just might have the most challenging job in any American transportation agency. As the Florida Department of Transportation’s lead official on bicycle and pedestrian safety, he’s charged with making Florida — consistently rated among the deadliest states for walking and biking — safe for people to get around under their own power.

Since FDOT hired him for the post in 2011, Hattaway has been leading the effort to reform the way this enormous agency designs and builds streets, winning accolades from advocates and the national press in the process. He also heads up one of Florida DOT’s seven districts, directing policy for the southwest corner of the state.

Can Billy Hattaway change the culture at the Florida Department of Transportation? Photo: BikeWalkLee

Billy Hattaway’s job is to change the culture at the Florida Department of Transportation. Photo: BikeWalkLee

We recently spoke to Hattaway about how the reform process is going. Here’s what he had to say. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What were you doing before you were at FDOT?

I was working in the private sector. I worked for 25 years at Florida DOT in three stints. I was trying to advance these [street safety] concepts in the late 80s and early 90s and I didn’t have much success. So I went to the private sector.

I was consulting with VHB [Engineers], which is based in Boston. Most of the work that I did was bike and pedestrian planning. I was doing station area planning for the extension of the Phoenix light rail. It was all form-based code and street design basically for the Phoenix light rail.

It sounds like you have been given a very hard job.

We had to do a lot of structural changes to the organization to drive the change. We have 6,500 employees and you’re trying to change 50 years of planning and design culture.

Read more…

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Study: What Puts Cyclists at Greatest Risk? It’s Not What You Wear

When a cyclist is killed or seriously injured, the responses you hear often pin the blame squarely on the victim. “Why wasn’t she wearing a helmet?” Or, “Why was he wearing dark clothing? “

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Going without bright, reflective gear did not have an impact on cyclist injury severity, according to a new study. Photo: Richard Masoner/Flickr

But according to a new study [PDF] by a team of Canadian university researchers, those factors don’t seem to have much impact on the overall severity of injury when cyclists are hurt in collisions.

The report looked at injury severity among about 700 adults in Toronto and Vancouver who were hospitalized after a bike collision or fall. Researchers teased out which factors had the biggest impact on the extent of people’s injuries.

Here’s what they found.

What DID Put Cyclists at Greater Risk? 

Being hit by car

Duh, of course! But this point is worth reiterating. The cyclists who were injured in collisions with cars, or by falling to avoid a car collision, were more severely injured than people who just fell, or were involved in a collision with another cyclist or pedestrian.

Riding on sidewalks or shared use paths

Researchers found that people who were injured while riding on sidewalks or shared-use paths tended to sustain worse injuries, even compared to cyclists riding on major roads with no bike infrastructure. These counterintuitive results suggest that riding in places with potential conflicts between cyclists and pedestrians can be more dangerous than people assume. An earlier study by the same research team found people riding on sidewalks and multi-use paths were also more likely overall to be involved in a collision or crash.

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Streetsblog NYC
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Life-Saving Truck Design Fix Sidelined By Federal Inaction

This is the second post in a Streetsblog NYC series about safety features for large vehicles. Part one examined the case for truck side guards and New York City’s attempt to require them for its fleet.

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Large trucks operating in New York City are not required to have side guards to protect pedestrians and cyclists. Photo: dos82/Flickr

American cities are beginning to take the lead on requiring side guards on large trucks in municipal fleets. That’s a good first step toward saving lives, but without addressing privately-owned vehicles, city streets will not be safe from trucks that tend to crush people beneath the rear wheels after impact. The federal government continues to drag its feet, and without a national mandate, the prospects for meaningful action from the states look slim.

Last year, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended installing side guards on all large trucks, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which regulates truck design, has yet to pass a rule requiring them. NHTSA says it might begin soliciting input on new trailer guard rules by the middle of next year. Traditionally, the agency has focused on guards for the back end of trucks, which protect car occupants in rear-end collisions. There’s no guarantee that any progress toward new rules next year will include side guards.

In the absence of federal rules requiring side guards for trucks, New York state and local legislators have taken tentative steps toward addressing the problem. Albany’s previous attempts at similar legislation don’t inspire confidence, however. A recently enacted state law mandates “crossover” mirrors to reduce the size of blind spots in front of trucks weighing at least 26,000 pounds that operate on New York City streets. Enforcement of the mirror law is dismal, in part because of a loophole that exempts trucks registered out-of-state. The ultimate fix would be a national crossover mirror mandate, but the federal government has not shown any inclination to take that up.

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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.

Read more…

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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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Streetsblog Chicago
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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:

Read more…

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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.