Archive for the ‘Safety’ Category

Will M1 RAIL become an M1 FAIL?

Friday, January 18th, 2013

The opinions expressed here are those of the m-bike blog, but you already knew that right?

Bikes, walkability and good transit are keys to forming an effective urban transportation system.

The shortcomings of Detroit’s transit — built on the DDOT and SMART buses systems and People Mover — are well documented.

We wish the M1 RAIL would be complement, but from all that we know to date, it won’t be. In many ways, it will diminish the urban transportation system.

Huh?

First, let’s make one clarifying point. The Detroit Woodward Light Rail project from downtown to Eight Mile was a good one, but it didn’t connect enough Detroiters to jobs nor tap into the more millage-rich surrounding counties. Governor Rick Snyder, Mayor Dave Bing, and U.S. DOT Secretary Ray LaHood changed this project into a Bus Rapid Transit system that would connect Oakland, Macomb, and Wayne Counties with a high-speed regional transit system. It’s a great solution and we support. This is exactly what this region needs for better transit.

But, once this project was no longer running on rails, the M1 RAIL investors restarted their 3-mile streetcar design — something that even they admit is a development project rather than a transit project. Development? Yes. studies show that permanent transit solutions like streetcars spur transit-oriented development along their routes. Guess what? So does Bus Rapid Transit.

There are some key points to keep in mind with the M1 RAIL. It starts at Larned and goes to Grand Boulevard. It runs mostly along the Woodward’s curbs except at the ends. Remember that Lego video that showed how curb running is slow and unsafe? The U.S. DOT’s Woodward Light Rail environmental review concurred as did the majority of the public comments.

Curb-running streets cars will run as slow as the slowest vehicle on the road. Streetcars can’t go around a stopped bus, a slow bicyclist, a parking car, etc. Even without anything in their way, the streetcars are expected to travel at 11 MPH — roughly equivalent to a beginning bicyclist.

This is a linear People Mover, but slower and is projected to carry fewer passengers.

Of course Detroit’s original street car system was center-running.

When asked, a M1 RAIL representative has said the curb versus center running was a “religious argument” among their investors.

If better transit was the goal, the M1 RAIL investors would have put money into level bus boarding stations and pre-sale ticket systems like NYC has. According to NYC’s transportation commissioner this was the best way to improve bus service reliability. It could have been implemented far more inexpensively. This would be a fix-it first strategy that relies on bus rapid transit to deliver transit-oriented development.

One other thought: why do you design a transit system that doesn’t directly connect with the Rosa Parks Transit Center or Cobo Hall or the Ren Cen?

Not Complete Streets

The reason for covering the transit issues first is to make clear that this is not an anti-transit article. We did not want this to read like bicyclists’ sour grapes. It’s not.

However, there’s another reason the Woodward Light Rail concluded that center-running operations was best rather than curb running. Curb running is significantly hazardous for cyclists. Bicycle wheels get caught in streetcar tracks causing serious injuries, and in some cities, lawsuits. This is why most cities don’t build curb running systems, or at least put them one side of one-way streets.

A very recent study found bicycling on streets with curb-running streetcar tracks is 300% more likely to cause a crash over a regular street like Woodward.

A center-running design would be a Complete Street. Putting the M1 RAIL at the curbs makes Woodward Avenue less Complete.

Now if you’ve following the recent Detroit Works Project unveiling, you’d have seen Complete Streets touted as a priority in Detroit.

According to the national experts, streetcar systems should design for safe bicycling from the start. MDOT and M1 RAIL did not. In fact, years ago MDOT’s Tim Hoefner said solving the bicycle safety issue was at the top of their to do list. Apparently they never got to it.

But its a public road

To date, MDOT has shown mostly indifference to this project’s negative impacts on bicycling. In exchange for a significantly less safe state-owned road they offered to put up some directional signs along a couple miles of Cass Avenue. Seriously.

MDOT has also said cyclists can use the sometimes parallel street, John R. Of course MDOT is removing the John R bridge over I-94 and in that project’s environmental review they said cyclists can use Woodward.

MDOT has been quick to deflect blame to others such as the Federal Highway Administration, but it’s a public road, they own most of it, and they have a Complete Streets policy. Why are they allowing a less-safe design based on some investors’ “religious argument?”

U.S. DOT’s role

From what we can gather in speaking with other sources is that the regular process rules are off the table. Secretary LaHood is so enamored with the investors’ commitment that he’s directed his staff to make it happen. And it’s Detroit — a laggard in the public transportation world.

That might explain why he’s giving the M1 RAIL group $25 million before the supplemental review process (which determines if it should be built) is even completed.

Other issues

And this discussion hasn’t gotten into other more significant issues like social equity. How do the investors justify building a redundant transit system when Detroiters and Detroit school children struggle to find mobility options with the current bus system? That is a far greater travety than any bicycling safety issue.

And where has the media been on this reporting? They’ve certainly covered the happy talk but so far have shown an unwillingness to look any deeper.

Now, what happens when Bus Rapid Transit comes to Woodward? At its ends, the M1 RAIL runs in the center where the Bus Rapid Transit will go. According to one transportation expert, M1 RAIL may have to get torn out.

There are many, many good people involved in the M1 RAIL and we all feel very passionate about doing the right thing for Detroit, but this project as currently designed doesn’t work. It’s a project heavy with investors and light on collaboration.

We need to do better.

Another helmet law to bite the dust?

Monday, January 14th, 2013

Kensington Metropark

We wrote about this in 2009: Milford Township has an ordinance requiring bicyclists to wear a helmet on the paved trails at the Kensingon Metropark.

And to be more specific, bicyclists must only wear a helmet when the paved trail is 10 feet wide.

Biking on the roads at Kensington or unpaved trails? No bicycle helmet is required.

This ordinance came about in 1996 after an inline skater had a fatal crash going down a long downhill section of trail. That segment of trail was changed and made less steep to reduce speeds, but the ordinance remained.

It may not remain for much longer according to this Observer & Eccentric article.

Huron-Clinton Metroparks has asked the township to drop the regulation, in effect since 1997, because of “inconsistencies” between the Kensington trail and adjoining trails that don’t have the rule — as well as enforcement issues, said Denise Semion, metroparks chief of communications.

“When the trail was built, it wasn’t connected to all the other trails (like it is today). It was a different time back then. Now we got people enjoying a bike ride, not required to have a helmet anywhere else, and they ride into Kensington and suddenly they have to have a helmet. It’s inconsistent for cyclists, it’s difficult to enforce. And we haven’t really been enforcing it that much (anyway),” she said, likening it to having a seat belt law in some communities, but not others.

One other issue with this ordinance is people in wheelchairs have to wear bicycle helmets.

Motorists and Actor-observer bias

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

Certainly you’ve read the public comments whenever the media write about making this area a better place to bike.

It’s quite common to read stereotypes of cyclist as law breakers — and that’s an excuse for cyclists not to have safe facilities.

You may also read cycling organizations stress that bicyclists should follow the rules of the road, to be ambassadors, to not play into this stereotype.

Both responses are malarkey with perhaps the latter being more disappointing since it’s coming from the same team.

Does AAA tell motorists to be ambassadors while driving to reduce scorn from non-motorists and to ensure safe facilities get built? Of course not.

The hypocrisy of motorists stereotyping cyclists as law breakers is clear. Which road user is causing the majority of road fatalities, personal injuries, and crashes? Aggressive driving, distracting driving, drunk driving — notice the common word?

Police believe it is optimal setting speed limits at the point where only 15% of motorists are speeding. Top safety experts have admitted to us that speed limits are fairly worthless because drivers ignore them.

Furthermore, since 2004 no cyclist has caused a crash in Michigan resulting in the serious injury of death of a motorist or pedestrian. We checked.

So why the cycling hate?

The best explanation we’ve found is Actor-observer bias. According to Wikipedia:

People are more likely to see their own behavior as affected by the situation they are in, or the sequence of occurrences that have happened to them throughout their day. But, they see other people’s actions as solely a product of their overall personality, and they do not afford them the chance to explain their behavior as exclusively a result of a situational effect.

In other words, a motorist can justify their speeding because the speed limit is too low, or 5 MPH over is socially acceptable, or because they’re in a hurry.

However, when a cyclist on rolls through a stop sign, it’s because they are lawbreakers. This latter judgement is also called a Fundamental attribution error.

A two-fold solution

First, bicycle advocacy organizations need to make the rules of the road work for bicyclists. Contrary to what you may read, the League of American Wheelmen nor any other bicycle advocacy organization were at the table when the automotive industry crafted the basis for today’s rules of the road during the 1920s. We need these rule templates changed at the national level. The Idaho stop law should be the U.S. bicycle stop law.

We don’t want the same laws for bicycling. We want better laws.

Second, we need to get more people on bicycles. Doing that should give more motorists a better understanding and perhaps empathy for cyclists. We need more motorists understanding why treating stop signs as yields or jumping red lights can be safer for us. Not every motorist will become a bicyclist, but their family members and co-workers could.

It’ll never be a complete harmonious relationship between motorists and cyclists, but the first step is to recognize the social psychology driving motorists’ perception and make real improvements for a safer future.

Incomplete Roundabouts

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

We’ve noticed two tendencies when roundabouts are discussed in the transportation world.

Not all the same

First, they’re often all treated the same. But just like roads, we can’t make gross generalizations about all roundabouts. Some roundabouts are pleasant one-lane affairs that are easy to navigate by bicycle. At the other end of the spectrum are multi-lane, multi-roundabout disasters.

It seems some road agencies building roundabouts to handle a much greater vehicle capacity. That means simple one- or two-lane roundabouts turn into bigger monsters. An example of this is at W. Maple Road and Farmington Road. Both are two lane roads that expand to 5- and 6-lane roads before entering a triple-lane roundabout. Not only is it not bicycle friendly, it’s not designed to let cyclists easily transition on the adjacent pathways to avoid it.

AASHTO‘s latest bicycle design guidelines say roundabouts should not be built like this. They should be designed for current needs and made easily expandable for future needs.

Single‐lane roundabouts are much simpler for bicyclists than multilane roundabouts, since they do not require bicyclists to change lanes, and motorists are less likely to cut off bicyclists when they exit the roundabout. Therefore, when designing and implementing roundabouts, authorities should avoid implementing multilane roundabouts before their capacity is needed. If design year traffic volumes indicate the need for a multilane roundabout, but this need isn’t likely for several years, the roundabout can be built as a single‐lane roundabout, and designed to be easily reconstructed with additional lanes in the future when and if traffic volumes increase. In 1 addition, where a roundabout is proposed at an intersection of a major multilane street and a minor street, consideration should be given to building a roundabout with two‐lane approaches on the major street and one‐lane approaches on minor streets. When compared to roundabouts with two lanes at all four legs, this design can significantly reduce complexity for all users, including bicyclists.

MDOT even made a video of an apparently overbuilt roundabout and suggests bicyclists would want to use it. Of course they fail to show bicyclists having to move to the center lane in order to exit at other intersection legs.

Ignoring Bicyclists

The other major roundabout issue is bicyclists as well as pedestrians are often ignored when they are designed and discussed.

We Are Modeshift recently wrote this fine article on this topic.

When roundabouts are placed appropriately, they increase traffic flow and provide motorists with well-documented safety benefits. However, for non-motorized users — bicyclists and pedestrians, and especially those with disabilities — roundabouts present unique challenges to safety and accessibility.

Speaking of safety, a recent survey from a Wayne State/MDOT roundabout study found that 47% of bicyclists and almost 50% of pedestrians found them “very unsafe”. Interestingly enough, 57% of all the survey respondents had purposefully avoided a roundabout.

An example roundabout design that ignores bicyclist and pedestrian safety is on the cover of MDOT’s How to Use a Roundabout brochure (see photo). How are pedestrians supposed to use this facility? There are no sidewalks, even on the bridge. The pedestrian instructions inside the brochure fail to address the roundabout design on its cover. As for bicyclists? They have to cross over a travel lane that becomes a entrance ramp to I-75. Though it’s not shown, there’s another roundabout on the other side of I-75 with the same lack of accommodation. If bicyclists want to avoid this roundabout, there are no sidewalks available.

This is not a Complete Street nor a Complete Roundabout. It’s not something we should continue to build much less highlight.

MDOT’s office of Research and Best Practices shows the same incomplete intersection under the title, “Roundabouts: How to get around a safer intersection.”

Apparently they forgot to add, “So long as you’re in a car.”

 

 

Effective road safety education

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

If only the Michigan Driver’s Test had a question on cycling driver’s might know to respect us…

Ah, right. We’ve heard this many times. Bicycle advocates even spent political capital trying unsuccessfully to get this put into state law.

We think it’s mostly a waste of time and here’s why. Most people learn driving habits at an early, impressionable age. Teenagers don’t show up for driver’s education with a blank state of mind. Chances are they’ve been in cars their entire lives and learned the basics of driving from observing others. A couple questions won’t change a

And that’s why it’s important to teach road skills early.

Some schools in Europe have classes for young students that teach safe cycling and walking skills on miniature road courses. Cleveland has something similar with their Safety City.

The Washington Area Bicyclist Association has a design for a very cool traffic garden as shown in the photo. Wouldn’t this be a neat training area around Detroit, perhaps located close to schools or parks or the Detroit RiverWalk? With the proper signs and designs, young cyclists and pedestrians could learn how to safely share our public road spaces through playing.

Through MTGA, we initiated some discussions on how to fund such infrastructure. Perhaps Safe Routes to School is the best fit.

Interestingly enough, it was also recently discussed at the Governor’s Traffic Safety Advisory Commission.

With all the bike lanes and sharrows being added to Detroit streets, one of more traffic gardens could be one means for improving public education on safely sharing our streets.