Safety (and Danger) in Numbers

26 Sep

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So how safe or not is it to ride a bicycle in traffic in the U.S.?  What kinds of crashes happen most frequently?  It might surprise you to know that it’s not that easy to find out.  Data are not always complete or up to date, and much depends on how officers classify and describe incidents.  Part of the reason for the lack of data is that the federal government does not require states to meet benchmarks for bicyclist and pedestrian deaths, only for car passengers.

Partly for that reason, the League of American Bicyclists worked from 2011 to 2013 to learn as much as they could about bicycling fatalities in the U.S.  The results were recently published under the same title as the project: Every Bicyclist Counts.

So what did they find out?

1) The most common fatal crash involved the cyclist being hit from behind.

The single most surprising and important finding was this: from among the 13 types of collision that the LAB tracked, the one responsible for far and away the most bicyclist fatalities — 40% — resulted from being hit from behind.  That’s about as much as the next five categories of collision combined.  These are usually crashes involving a car attempting to pass, thus the need for enforcement of Virginia’s new 3-foot passing law.  An RTD article a few weeks ago pointed out that the law may need to be supplemented by a change in the rules about crossing a solid yellow line; unless the motorist is going to creep along behind a cyclist for miles, it has to be okay (when safe, of course) to cross that line to give 3 feet of space.

 2) Urban arterial roads are the most dangerous.  

The combination of speed and traffic makes these roads the most dangerous for cyclists.  Think Broad Street, Laburnum, Forest Hill.  These roads are designed mainly with one thing in mind: moving a lot of car traffic.  As noted above, the number of deaths from collisions at intersections and elsewhere is about 50-50.

3) Driver inattention and recklessness are a problem.  

In cases where police reports included an additional factor in the accident for the motorist, 42% noted that the driver was operating their vehicle in a careless or inattentive manner.

All sorts of things can distract you from the road.  A police offer in L.A. recently killed a cyclist by veering into a bike lane while he was typing into his on-board computer and was not charged with any crime because entering information into the computer is considered within his duties (see article here).

So, at the risk of stating the obvious, when you drive a car, minimize distractions.  When you’re traveling the speed that our roads tend to encourage, a lot can happen in the two seconds you took to glance down at your phone or find a radio station.  And remember, texting while driving is now against the law.

As a cyclist it can help to use lights and clothing to be as visible as possible, and to position yourself in the lane so that you’re right in drivers’ field of vision.

4) Riding the wrong way really is dangerous.

For cyclists the most common additional factor was riding the wrong way on a street.  Some people have the idea that riding on the opposite side is safer because you can see cars coming toward you.  But cars turning onto that road are a lot less likely to see you because they’re not expecting someone coming from that direction.

Speed

One thing not mentioned in the LAB report is vehicle speed.  In most cases that’s obviously not something that police reports can include because they arrive after the fact, although it can be implied in the “reckless” category.

But it’s well-established (and fairly intuitive) that the slower a vehicle is traveling, the less likely it is that someone hit by that vehicle will die.  A report from humantransport.org cites two different studies about the chances of death for pedestrians relative to vehicle speed.  Both studies find that the chance of pedestrian death at 20 mph is 5%.   How much would you think it jumps when the vehicle is traveling 30 mph?  10%?  20?  The odds jump to at least 37% according to one study, and to 45% in the other.  At 40 mph it jumps to above 80%.

This is no doubt one factor that makes urban arterials dangerous.  Their design and speed limits encourage 40+ mph driving.  But even local streets in Richmond often have limits of 25, which effectively translates into average speeds closer to 30 in many cases.

So, here’s a radical idea that I will pursue further in the follow-up to this post: within the city, what if we just slowed everyone (in cars) down?  That would help reduce injury and death for motorists as well.  For many this will seem unthinkable, but that attests to a mentality that privileges speed/time over safety.

New Lanes on MLK!

18 Sep
Green markings highlight the emerging bike lane on Leigh Street near VCU Medical Center.

Green markings highlight the merging bike lane on Leigh Street near VCU Medical Center.

Except for the new lane that was installed when 2nd street near the James River was redone, Richmond has not seen much in the way of new bike lanes lately, despite a lot of planning.  The Bicycle Master Plan for the city should be complete and ready to be presented to the relevant commissions and city council before long, and that will help.  There are also some lanes in the works on Brookland Park Boulevard, Leigh, Semmes, and some other places with an eye toward having at least the beginnings of a network on the ground before October 2015.

Bike lane with a roughly four-foot buffer on the south side of the MLK Bridge.

Bike lane with a roughly four-foot buffer on the south side of the MLK Bridge.

 

But unless I’m mistaken, the MLK Bridge aka Leigh Street Viaduct gets the honor of being the first buffered bike lane, and one that was created via a road diet (reduction of travel lanes) at that.  I just road across going east for the first time today, and it felt good!  I do hope they put arrows showing the proper direction one should ride, though: on my first trip across I already had to maneuver around someone riding the wrong direction.

True, it does not connect to lanes on either side (Correction: it does not connect to lanes on the east side, and at present the lanes on the west will not extend for more than a block or two).  But then Leigh Street east and west of the bridge does not have three lanes going in each direction.  Leigh is a good candidate for a major east-west route, but has the down side of varying in width from three, two, or one lane depending on the area.

Certainly the goal should be to have a continuous lane; but it also makes sense to grab an opportunity as it presents itself — the proverbial “low hanging fruit.”  Having lanes in place makes it much easier to make the case for connecting them later — especially when it might involve removing parking or travel lanes where the question of excess capacity is less obvious.

So: here’s to Richmond’s first buffered bike lane, and to many more!

Floyd Passes Commission w/ Changes

16 Sep
Bike boulevard with traffic diverters in San Luis Obispo, CA.  From labikas.com.

Bike boulevard with traffic diverters in San Luis Obispo, CA. From labikas.com.

The RTD reports today that the Floyd Avenue bike/walk street (bike boulevard) project has passed the city Planning Commission with changes recommended by the Urban Design Commission.

Those recommendations include reducing the speed limit to 20 mph, reconsidering speed bumps, and taking another look at the intersections east of Boulevard (which I assume means take another look at the possibility of traffic diverters like the one pictured above).  Commissioner Doug Cole was the sole dissenting vote, but voted this way because, as he put it, the plan had been “watered down.”

It is true, from what I understand, that the plan that received majority approval from the Fan District Association no longer included speed bumps or the equivalent, and no diverters, which at select intersections would direct cars onto adjacent streets.  What remained was traffic circles in place of stops signs for east-west traffic, and some curb bump-outs that would narrow the roadway at some intersections (this slows traffic, creates a shorter distance for pedestrians to cross, and helps keep people from parking too close to the corner).

I was not privy to the discussions that led to these changes, but I have to admit that my first reaction was the same as Cole’s.  It’s not hard to imagine that, lacking diverters and other measures to slow traffic, Floyd might become more attractive to automobile through traffic.  That’s why the recommendations of the Planning Commission are really important.

The Politics of Bike Infrastructure

There’s little doubt that the diverters and speed bumps were removed to reduce opposition from area residents.  And some of the meetings about this project revealed some rather vehement opposition.  I know from some meetings on the north side how intense feelings can get about these things, even when the change looks like a win-win.  In a meeting about reducing Brookland Parkway it was clear, for example, that residents would never give up a rarely-used parking lane to make way for a bike lane.  When the alternative of removing a travel lane in each direction was proposed as an alternative, even residents who said they wanted traffic calming came up with all sorts of reasons why it would supposedly lead to disaster.

Which is to say: we are far from bicycle infrastructure enjoying wide enough popular support that politicians don’t worry about blacklash.  That was and continues to be the case in other cities as well, although the lack of disasters tends to dampen opposition over time once you actually get some lanes on the ground.

But to get those lanes or whatever on the ground initially you need decision-makers who are really behind the effort and willing to confront some grumpy voters.  Although the relevant council members for the Floyd project have generally expressed support, it’s not clear to me that all of them would have supported a robust version of the plan in the face of major opposition, especially from the civic associations.  It’s easy to support bike infrastructure as a general idea; it’s another thing to push for a project in the face of vocal opposition.  And although the mayor deserves credit for getting the ball rolling with bike infrastructure in the first place, he has focused his attention and political capital elsewhere.  So bicycle advocates are left with few fully committed allies in powerful positions, and some fairly powerful enemies.

Good or Bad Compromise?

So what does one do?  My first inclination is to push for the best infrastructure possible — the kind that will make it easy and comfortable for, say, families to use bikes to get around the city.  Then there are the political realities of the city that make the ideal very hard to achieve, especially in the sort term.  The cliché is that politics is about the art of compromise, so the question becomes what compromises are acceptable, especially if you’re thinking long-term?

I really hope that city council passes a robust Floyd Avenue plan.  It will probably not be an ideal bike boulevard.  But it will be a first for the city — a start that could be made better over time.  Taking a strategic and long-term view, I think that is better than waiting, who knows how long, for everything to align in favor of the ideal.

 

Another Saturday Bike/Beer Event!?

11 Sep

I’m out of the loop!  And geez, is it possible that we have yet another bike-related event happening this Saturday???

Well, somehow I just now stumbled onto a notice on Richmond.com about the 1st annual New Belgium Pedal Fest, from 12-5 at Haxall Point (I’m pretty sure that’s the part of the canal where the street art is)!  Not surprisingly, beer is part of the deal, along with some music.  And it’s $5 to get in, half off if you come on a bike!  And attending will help funnel some money to Richmond Cycling Corps, a great organization.

Good News and Weekend Events!

11 Sep

A Buffered Bike Lane!

Yes, that’s right.  According to Church Hill People’s News, crews are out today converting the rightmost lane on each side of the MLK Bridge (aka Leigh Street viaduct) into a buffered bike lane.  Let’s hope this is the first of many that will be installed soon.  And the approaches to the MLK lane (if you’re heading east on Leigh) are also in place, with bright green paint and everything!

Traffic Skills 101

Ride Richmond is hosting a Traffic Skills 101 course this Saturday.  The course includes both classroom instruction and on-bike practice to help people ride more safely and confidently in traffic.  The fee is $25.00.

The on-bike portion will be at RideRichmond’s soon-to-be-open Binford Bike Park skills course and Binford Middle School in The Fan to be used for safety drills, and the rest of the class will cover basic traffic laws, best practices, crash prevention, and equipment and gear.  Afterward, there is a group ride to put it all into facilitated practice.

Register here! https://www.eventbrite.com/e/traffic-skills-101-richmond-cycle-smart-summer-2014-tickets-12552915107

Spoke and Hop Fest

And after that’s done you could head over to the Spoke and Hop Fest at Hardywood from 12-9 pm.  Here’s what the Hardywood site says:

Please come out and celebrate handmade bicycles, bicycling in general, great craft beer and beer making and all the cast of characters that come with each.

This event will showcase a combination of over 50 cycling advocates, vendors, Virginia breweries and fabricators at Hardywood, include all-inclusive sampling for guests, live music, film, food and demonstrations.

Proceeds from the Richmond Spoke and Hop Fest will benefit both the Richmond Regional Ride Center, an organization with the goal of rehabilitating and constructing a total of over 70 miles of off-road cycling trails in Pocahontas State Park and the James River Park System, and the Virginia Craft Brewers Guild providing a foundation for our rising culture of craft beer in Virginia.

Tickets are $35 for adults in advance and includes beer samples.  Designated drivers and folks under 21 can get “special pricing,” and kids under 10 are free.

Heart of Virginia

And if that were not enough bike stuff for one day, RABA is holding its annual Heart of Virginia Bike Festival in Hanover County.  If you register today the cost is $55.  10-, 34-, 64-, and 101-mile options available.

Go Bike! Design Contest

2 Sep

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You might have seen this on the back cover of the latest Style Weekly, but in case you didn’t…

The local group i.e.* is sponsoring the Go Bike! Design Contest.  I was kind of hoping for a contest for funky bike racks kind of like the ones designed by David Byrne for New York City, but this could be cool too.

Here’s the scoop from the i.e.* web site:

Win $2500 for the design of an iconic artistic symbol to grace the tops of 30 bike racks to be installed throughout the City of Richmond before the 2015 World Cycling Championships.

 We will cast 30 replicas of the winning design in metal, to be bolted atop the city’s bike racks. The metal design will be distributed to 30 artisans throughout RVA who work in a wide variety of media to embellish the symbol into original works of art, creating a customized finish for a uniquely RVA bike rack and art piece.  The locations of the bike racks have been determined based on the City’s Master Bike Plan.

 The winner will be recognized at all GoBike! sponsored events, will be credited with the creation of the original design in official documentation, and will be announced  in local newspapers, the i.e.* website, and in all communications related to the project.

i.e.* describes itself as “a collaborative community initiative to discover, support, and showcase creativity and innovation in the Richmond region, and amplify it to the world.”

So check out the specs by following the link above and start sketchin’!

RVA Bike Jumble Saturday

22 Aug

Ride Richmond is holding its annual bike swap event at the VMFA on Saturday 8/23, 10 am to 4 pm.  Come and check out vintage and used bikes and parts.  If you have just a couple of things to sell, you can add it to the community swap area.

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