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Traffic Engineers Still Rely on a Flawed 1970s Study to Reject Crosswalks

When St. Louis decided not to maintain colorful new crosswalks that residents had painted, the city’s pedestrian coordinator cited federal guidance. A 2011 FHWA memo warns that colorful designs could “create a false sense of security” for pedestrians and motorists.

Shoddy, 50-year-old research is an obstacle to grassroots street safety efforts like this fleur-de-lis crosswalk in St. Louis. Photo: Rally St. Louis

That may sound like unremarkable bureaucrat-speak, but the phrase “false sense of security” is actually a cornerstone of American engineering guidance on pedestrian safety.

You’ll find the words “false sense of security” in Washington state DOT’s crosswalk guidelines too. The city of Stockton, California, makes the same claim. The list goes on.

What gives? Well, you can trace this phrase — and the basis of some engineers’ reluctance to stripe crosswalks — to one very influential but seriously flawed study from the 1970s.

In 1972, a researcher named Bruce Herms conducted a study of crosswalk safety in San Diego. He found that intersections with marked crosswalks had higher injury rates than ones with unmarked crosswalks. He concluded that marked crosswalks should only be installed where they are “warranted” because they can give pedestrians a “false sense of security,” encouraging risky behavior.

But there were problems with the study. For one, Herms didn’t actually study why people made certain decisions at crosswalks — that “false sense of security” was just speculation on his part.

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Streetsblog USA
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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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Where Are the Best Places for Protected Intersections in Your City?

How a protected intersection could fit into the Portland streetscape. Image: Nick Falbo via Bike Portland

How a protected intersection could fit into the Portland streetscape. Image: Nick Falbo via Bike Portland

Protected intersections are the best new thing in American bike infrastructure since, well, protected bike lanes. They greatly reduce the potential for turning conflicts between drivers and cyclists — left turns on a bike, especially, become easier and less stressful — and they make pedestrian crossings much safer too.

So far, a few cities around the country have raced to install their first protected intersection, but the design is still very rare. That means there are a ton of opportunities in American cities to create safer and more inviting intersections for biking and walking.

Which locations could benefit from protected intersections? Here’s a fun exercise courtesy of Nick Falbo, a key figure in the introduction of this design in the U.S. Michael Andersen at Bike Portland says Falbo sketched out what six sites in the city would look like with protected intersections:

Nick Falbo, who works as a senior planner for Alta Planning and Design but did this project as a volunteer on his own time, said he got the idea to create them after he gave a presentation about protected intersections at a conference last fall. A city employee who was attending, he said, asked where in Portland protected intersections could go.

“I’m thinking, like, where can’t they go?” he said.

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Contested Elston Bike Lanes Are Finally Here, But Divvy Station Might Leave

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The new bike lanes on Elston still need bike symbols and crosshatching in the buffers. Photo: John Greenfield

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Note: Keating Law Offices, P.C. has generously agreed to sponsor two Streetsblog Chicago posts about bicycle safety topics per month. The firm’s support will help make Streetsblog Chicago a sustainable project.

It’s been a long time coming, but buffered bike lanes have finally materialized on Elston between North and Webster. With this new segment, just about all of the nine-mile-long diagonal street has the lanes.

Buffered lanes usually serve as a consolation prize for cyclists on streets where there isn’t enough right of way, or political will, to install physically protected bike lanes. Since they’re merely paint on the road, and they generally don’t inquire the elimination of any car parking spaces, they’re really not much of an imposition drivers.

But the buffered lanes on this stretch of Elston were surprisingly controversial. When Chicago Department of Transportation staff discussed the plan for them at a meeting hosted by the North Branch Works industrial council back in December 2013, there was stiff resistance. Although there was already a protected lane on the street from Division to North, and a faded conventional lane north of North, the industrial council argued that encouraging more cycling on the street would interfere with truck movement and endanger bike riders.

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The bike lanes near Kohl’s, a little south of Webster. Photo: John Greenfield

As an alternative to upgrading the Elston lanes, the North Branch Works lobbied CDOT to build a roundabout bicycle detour proposal designed by a local architecture firm, dubbed “A New Bike Route.” Fortunately, the department held its ground, pointing out there was already heavy bike traffic on Elston, and more than a quarter of injury crashes on the street involved cyclists.

In spring of 2014, CDOT presented a slightly modified design for the buffered lanes, with the travel lanes widened from 10.5 feet to 11 feet, and the industrial council grudgingly accepting the plan. The bike lanes were slated for construction within a year, but installation didn’t begin until almost two years later.

Following the repaving of this stretch, the parallel lines for the lanes and buffers were installed, but the bike symbols and crosshatching for the buffers haven’t been put in yet, but the lanes are already functional. The rest of the work should be completed in the early spring, once the weather is warm enough for pavement marking, according to CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey.

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Streetsblog USA
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More Driving, More People Dying on America’s Streets

On Friday, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration released new data [PDF] showing that traffic deaths are up. Up quite a bit.

More driving, more problems. Photo: Wikipedia

More driving, more problems. Photo: Wikipedia

During the first nine months of 2015, 26,000 Americans were killed in traffic collisions — a 9.3 percent increase over the same period in 2014. According to Autoblog, that would work out to the highest one-year percentage increase in traffic deaths since the 1940s if the trend continued through the end of 2015.

The most obvious reason is that cheap gas is prompting people to drive more. Indeed, during the first three quarters of 2015, drivers logged 80 billion more miles than the same period the previous year — a 3.5 percent increase.

That means the increase in driving doesn’t account for all the increase in fatalities. One theory, courtesy of David Levinson at the University of Minnesota, is that when gas prices fall, collisions rise faster than mileage because people who don’t ordinarily drive much, like teenagers, start driving more.

In its messages, NHTSA keeps hammering “behavioral” issues, like drunk driving and failing to wear seatbelts — which certainly are big contributors to traffic fatalities. But when you get down to it, driving itself is the source of risk, and NHTSA won’t address the systemic factors that compel Americans to drive instead of taking transit, walking, or biking.

You’ll never see NHTSA mention the disaster that is low-density, single-use zoning, which lengthens the distances people have to travel in cars. Or the way state DOTs keep building bigger highways even though they don’t maintain the roads they already have.

In a statement, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the new data “is a signal that we need to do more,” but he did not specify what, exactly, we need to do more of.

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Today’s Headlines for Tuesday, February 9

  • Active Trans Provides More Arguments Against Widening the Stevenson
  • …While MPC Discusses Why They’re Supporting the Plan
  • Researchers Who Studied Chicago Bikeways Argue Sharrows May Be Counterproductive (CityLab)
  • Cyclist Who Suffered Skull Fractures in Logan Crash Has Made a Full Recovery (The Chainlink)
  • DNA Readers Respond to Photo Project Highlighting Red Line’s Black/White Divide
  • CTA Asking People Who Are Riding Trains in a Continuous Loop to Exit & Pay Fare Again (RedEye)
  • Derailment Caused Delays on Metra’s BNSF Line Yesterday (Tribune)
  • 2 Different Alleged DUI Crashes in Riverside 10 Minutes Apart (Tribune)
  • How St. Stanislaus Was Saved From the Wrecking Ball During Kennedy Construction (DNA)
  • Motor Row Streetscape Will Include Gateway Inspired by Vintage Tourism Posters (DNA)
  • Interactive Quiz: Where Do You Prefer to Sit on CTA Trains? (DNA)

Get national headlines at Streetsblog USA

Streetsblog USA
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Study: “Shared Space” Slows Drivers While Letting Traffic Move Efficiently

The idea behind “shared space” street design is that less can be more. By ditching signage, traffic lights, and the grade separation between sidewalk and roadbed, the shared space approach calms traffic and heightens communication between drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists. Instead of following traffic signals on auto-pilot or speeding up to beat the light, motorists have to pay attention to their surroundings.

A "shared space" in Austria. Image: Transportation Research Board

A shared space in Graz, Austria. Image: Transportation Research Board

Shared space design has been shown to calm vehicle traffic and allow more freedom of movement for pedestrians with no increase in traffic injuries. A new study from professor Norman Garrick and Benjamin Wargo at the University of Connecticut finds that in the right conditions shared space won’t cause traffic jams — in fact it makes intersections more efficient for both pedestrians and motorists.

The study examined six sites around the world that have some degree of “shared space” and where each approach to the intersection has one lane of motor vehicle traffic. Because of the limited number of shared space designs in the U.S., only one American example is included: Uptown Circle in Normal, Illinois.

Using video, the researchers measured driver speeds and pedestrian and vehicle delay. The authors then compared those observations to computer-simulated estimates of how much delay would occur if the streets were designed with more conventional traffic control measures, like stoplights or roundabouts.

They found that in this context, shared space design calmed traffic while also creating less delay for both pedestrians and motorists than traffic signals.

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Streetsblog USA
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Obama’s Politically Impossible Transpo Plan Is Just What America Needs

Even with a tax on oil, the U.S.'s effective gas tax rate would be the lowest in the industrialized world. Graph: Tony Dutzik via FHWA

Even with a tax on oil, the U.S.’s effective gas tax rate would be the lowest in the industrialized world. Graph: Tony Dutzik via FHWA

It may be “seven years too late,” as tactical urbanist Mike Lydon put it, but President Obama has released a transportation proposal that calls for big shifts in the country’s spending priorities.

Obama’s proposal would generate $30 billion annually from a $10-per-barrel surcharge assessed on oil companies. More importantly, the revenue is linked to a substantial shift in what transportation projects get funded. It’s the kind of thorough proposal, on both the revenue and spending sides of the equation, that Obama shied away from for most of his presidency. (It would only have stood a chance during his first two years in office.) While this Congress would never pass it, the proposal does lay down a marker for what smart federal transportation policy could be.

In a rough sketch laid out by the White House yesterday of the upcoming proposal, Obama calls for major increases in transit funding and investing in a network of efficient high-speed rail. Perhaps even more innovative is a $10 billion program to reduce carbon emissions from the transportation sector. This program, among other things, would fund states to better coordinate housing and job development with transportation. Obama’s proposal also calls for $2 billion to support research and development and the implementation of autonomous vehicles.

Not surprisingly, what has gotten the most press is the oil tax, which even Obama admits would likely be passed on to consumers through higher gas prices. Already, Republican Congressional leaders have called the proposal “DOA.”

Obama’s people have acknowledged the bill faces long odds in Congress, describing it as a conversation starter. An unnamed administration official told Politico the plan would help shift the nation’s transportation policy out of the Eisenhower era.

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Ken Dunkin Pushes for Legislation That Would Make Chicago Streets Less Safe

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Ken Dunkin

Once again, traffic enforcement cameras are being used as a political football in Chicago. Last November, 12th Ward Alderman George Cardenas showed he’s more interested in votes than reducing crashes and fatalities, when he led a protest against speed cameras on the 3200 block of South Archer in McKinley Park neighborhood, near the Mulberry Park green space.

Cardenas called the speed cams an “aggressive tactic to nickel and dime the taxpayers,” disregarding the fact that the eighth-mile safety zone around the park was in the top ten percent of Chicago safety zones for crashes. Between 2009 and 2012, there were 214 crashes near the park, six of them resulting in serious injuries or deaths.

Now state representative Ken Dunkin is getting in on the cam-bashing act. Dunkin, a Democrat whose represents the 5th District, mostly located on Chicago’s South Side, faces a tough reelection battle in next month’s primary because he broke ranks with his party in a key vote last November.

He sided with Republican governor Bruce Rauner by abstaining from a vote on a bill that would have reversed deep cuts Rauner made to state childcare programs, a move which effectively killed the legislation. As a reward to Dunkin for helping out the governor, a political action committee with ties to Rauner recently made a $500,000 donation to the rep’s campaign fund.

In an apparent attempt to shore up needed political support, Dunkin is calling for a statewide ban on red light and speed cameras. On Sunday, he held a press conference with dozens of members from Citizens to Abolish Red Light Cameras, the same group that showed up for Cardenas’ anti-cam grandstanding event. The presser took place near a red light cam at 76th Street and Stony Island Avenue

Dunkin said he wants House Speaker Mike Madigan to allow lawmakers to vote on House Bill 141, legislation to ban red light and speed cameras, which has been stuck in the Rules Committee since spring 2015. Dunkin argued that the cams are in place to create revenue but don’t improve safety, which allows taxpayers to be “gouged and to be played by the scam of the century,” the Sun-Times reported.

Dunkin pointed to last week’s conviction of Richard M. Daley-era transportation official John Bills for taking bribes from former red light camera Redflex as proof that the city’s traffic cam initiative is inherently corrupt. During his 2015 reelection campaign current mayor Rahm Emanuel announced a number of reforms to the red light camera program, including the removal of 50 red light cameras at 25 intersections that saw one or fewer right-angle crashes in 2013.

What Dunkin is choosing to ignore is that, despite the Daley-era corruption, there’s plentiful evidence from cities around the country and that well run automated enforcement programs save lives. A 2010 review of 28 studies of speed camera programs found uniformly positive effects on motorist speed and fatality rates.

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Come Hang Out With Us This Wednesday at Monk’s Pub

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Photo: Monk’s Pub

Our last Streetsblog Chicago reader event at the Exchequer Pub was a great time, with dozens of transportation fans showing up for an evening of good conversation and deep-dish pizza. We’re continuing our monthly meet-up series tomorrow evening at Monk’s Pub, which is also located under the Loop ‘L’ tracks. Here’s the skinny on this Wednesday’s event:

Streetsblog Reader Meet-Up
Wednesday, February 3, 5:30-8 p.m.
Monk’s Pub
205 West Lake Street

Monk’s is a classic Chicago tavern with medieval decor, tasty grub, and a great beer selection. Did I mention that they have free peanuts, and you’re encouraged to throw the shells on the floor?

Streetsblog meet-ups are a great opportunity to talk about transportation with other folks who are passionate about making Chicago a better place to walk, bike, and ride transit. We’re looking forward to hearing your opinions about the Belmont flyover, rapid transit service on the Metra Electric Line, and the proposal for state legislation to ban red light cameras.

As usual, there’s no charge to attend, but we’ll have a donation jar out, in case you’d like to contribute to our 2016 funding efforts. Streetsblog Chicago is currently funded through April. We’re in the process of raising $80,000 by this spring to cover the following year of operations. Along with grant money and advertising revenue, reader donations will be a key piece of the puzzle for reaching that goal.

But, again, no need to donate in order to attend the meet-up on Wednesday. We hope to see you at Monk’s!

RSVP on Facebook if you like.