Archive for January, 2012

Please, Please Stop Saying This

January 31, 2012

I’ll write more on this later; this is a rant, but it’s probably the most important thing I’ll ever say on this blog.

Long time readers all ready know that I hate the whole notion of
Vehicular
Cycling, CABO, and more.

I have many, many allies in this. Pretty much 100% of motorists and the vast majority of cyclists all agree that infrastructure is necessary to make cycling a serious transportation means.

However, we run into problems when our allies unwitting undermine us.

How is that?

Now, if you read old posts, you’ll see that I, too, am guilty of this mistake, but it stops here.

Please, never say, again things like:

1. “Forester had good ideas for his time.”

No, he didn’t. He misread a study and created a program which used fear, uncertainty, and doubt to hold cycling back.

None of these things were ever good ideas.

2. “I ride VC.”

I don’t know how people ride, but I suspect that people who have not had a cycling safety course do not ride VC. Riding in traffic is NOT riding VC. Riding in a safe way from experience is NOT VC.

VC is the notion that you are driving a car when you really are riding a bike.

This is delusional.

3. “VC is a safe way for me to ride in current conditions.”

Long time readers know that this statement is broken in many ways. First of all, what is “safe”? If “safe” means teaching people to fight, politically, what has saved lives in other places, then yes, VC is “safe”.

Read the stats and weep. The door zone is not as dangerous as they say. Bright colors and flashy lights don’t protect you. The sidewalk isn’t the death trap it’s made to be.

I can go on, but the point is that instead of these phrases, we need to start saying some things that are more useful.

1. VC is a terrible idea, even in the 70’s. It’s a dangerous way to ride, and the classes that encourage this style give people a false sense of security by having them deny their normal instincts and emotions.

2. A bike safety course will NEVER make one as safe as proper infrastructure. We actually would like to see better statistics on current practices to learn how to ride safely.

3. Nobody rides VC. Nobody. Outside of some staged movies, the vast majority of cyclists learns from trial and error which is good as it’s our genetic heritage. Things suck now because cyclists can’t have harmless collisions (error) because the roads are inherently dangerous. Thus, riding (trials) are decreased, and this actually discourage the education of the public.

True education occurs on the roads, alone, at night without lights (necessarily) in all forms of weather.

When people first start riding they learn that the streets are louder, scarier, and filled with anonymous and hostile machines which could kill them at the slightest mistake.

Is this the lesson we want our children to learn? Is this the world we want to leave them?

Look around, and you’ll see very few cyclists riding alone in the middle of a high speed lane up a hill around a bend. They won’t last long there.

4. No infrastructure, no rights. Just as allowing modern motor cars to drive up and down the natural sides of a mesas is empty as a right because it’s impossible, it’s equally impossible to claim that cyclists have equal rights now.

Until the paths for cyclists are the same or shorter than for cars, until the grade we have to climb is the same or shorter than for cars, until the death rate for cyclists is equal to or less than for cars, until the amount of money spent by the government is equal to or more than for cars, we aren’t equal.

Right now, a bicycle is as free as a typewriter in Soviet Russia. Sure you can type anything you want, but if you do, you may die for that right.

I can’t wait to read what you write while obsessing over the Gulag.

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Making Stuff Up (Or Cycling Risk Science 101)

January 30, 2012

When I first started riding my bicycle, I thought that the main challenge was balancing.

Oh, was I wrong!

The main obstacle for cycling safely is cars.

Most cycling deaths are caused by getting hit by a car.

This should be obvious.

However, I wasn’t really sure HOW to ride safely.

How did I learn?

I just mainly rode for about ten years. While riding, I payed attention.

However, I am not really sure how well I am doing. All my ideas on why I did things were my own ideas.

To this day, I just ride in a way to try to stay out of traffic as much as possible. I try to make eye contact so I don’t get t-boned, but overall, I do NOT assume that motorists see me.

In the absence of data, I considered riding style to be a personal preference.

Then I learned that there were people who claimed that they knew how to ride safely and smoothly, being calm in ANY road condition.

I’m not a genius, but I do know that when I see absolutes like ANY (or NEVER), my bullshit detector goes off.

Overall, I just felt that there were some roads that are dangerous, period, and there’s nothing that I can do to help myself.

As it turns out, there are a lot of people who disagree with me.

They call themselves various names which can be googled.

Overall, I think that cycling safety is a great idea. We need to learn as much as we can to keep ourselves safe.

But I do object to having cycling safety absolve all others of their need to do things safely. That is, roads can be made safer; we can have bike lanes, and so on.

Turns out that some clever diagrams were used to disprove these amazing pieces of infrastructure.

Doesn’t matter if it works or not, we have these amazing graphics showing us all these “conflict points”.

Sounds spiffy and quite convincing.

However, I thought that real world data was more important.

No, I was told, “coorelation does not equal causation”.

Ah, I guess those five words are the magic wand that makes all traffic data vanish into a cloud of uncertainty. What is left is these beautiful diagrams based purely on speculation.

Hmm, I don’t want them to have all the fun.

I am a good writer, myself, can’t I get into the act?

I guess I can because I am!

Here’s my idea: I’m going to make up a bunch of bullshit, but scientific sounding terms then by the powers of speculation, I’ll breathe them to life.

Here’s an example: conflict area or CA.

Conflict area is the amount of time that someone is in danger of being hit by a car. Basically, you can get hit by a car in your house so the idea is that you want to be in a “less likely to die” conflict area than in a greater conflict area.

If one conflict area is safer than another than, we can say you are “safe”. By safe, I mean safer than if you were in a greater conflict zone.

For example, the difference between your house (non-conflict area) and the street (conflict zone). Also, the conflict area is an area in terms of geometry thus the units are meters squared.

Got it?

Another notion is probable accidents or PA’s. A probable accident is a likely accident that can kill you. For example, being rear ended. The units for PA is in integers.

If you multiply the PA x CA you get the risk in the units of PA x m^2.

Next, we have ITD which is incidences to die. This is the number of things that must happen before you actually die.

For example, you can be rear ended and die right away (ITD=1), but if you get doored, you will most likely die only if you get hit by a car. Thus it’s twice as likely (or more) that you will die by being straight up rear ended than by being doored. Thus dooring has an ITD=2.

The smarter readers realize that we are going to divide by ITD.

Thus we get the chance of dying in any location as:

(PA/ITD) x m^2

Now we’re cooking with gas!

Future blog posts will use these ridiculous, made up variables to real world data to get nonsensical conclusions.

Stay tuned.

Ecology of Rights

January 27, 2012

One of the more useful ideas that I have come across, recently in my reading, is called ecology of ideas.

This has nothing to do with nature, but everything to do with how useful an idea is to promoting your goals. When you ask whether an idea is ecological, you aren’t asking whether the idea is true.

It’s not that ecological ideas are necessarily false, but rather sometimes our obsession with the truth can get in the way of the useful.

Many un-ecological phrases are also examples of loaded language:

“Loaded words and phrases have strong emotional implications and involve strongly positive or negative reactions beyond their literal meaning.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loaded_language

One example of this is “rights to the road”.

This is a useless phrase because it doesn’t really mean anything.

It does sound good, in a vague way. Who would be against “rights to the road” by a totalitian or patriarch.

However, it would be better for the rights to be spelled out more specifically like I did in a previous post. Also, it’s nice if we could see specifically _why_ these rights are so important.

Right now, I do _not_ feel like I have the right to ride my bicycle many places. That is, I feel that there are many jobs that I will NOT be able to get to by bicycle.

Even new laws specifically allowing me to ride on the roads that get there won’t help much.

Another un-ecological phrase is “motorist education”. Again, who would be against education?

However, things fall apart when you look at the details. What does education, in this context, mean? Is there as specific class that motorists will have to take? When will they take it? How will we ensure that they will take it? What’s taught in the class? When will 100% of motorists be “educated”.

Right now, to my knowledge, cyclist education, for motorists is 100% voluntary and there is no government body which oversees said education. Thus is totally non-standard. Thus, without knowing who’s educatated or with what, we have no idea how to judge whether this is a good idea.

As it stands, “motorist education” is a soft and vague way of deflecting complaints that motorists suck to be close to when on a bicycle. If someone complains that motorists harass you for taking the lane or that a stretch is too dangerous because you keep getting buzzed, some “cycling advocates” will say that “motorists need education” rather than putting in to effect something with more teeth which will actually solve the problem.

The real hope is that you, and your complaint, go away and we continue with life as usual with said advocates not riding on the stretch of road that sucks for you, because they have cars, and can choose when and where to ride.

Another pointless phrase is “door zone”. Where is this exactly? We know that if you get hit by a door “doored” you were riding too far into the “door zone”. However, car doors are variable in length. Thus the door zone is really not a rectangular “zone”, but rather a fuzzy area which changes with parking patterns. For example, if there’s a semi truck parked in front of a smart car, you might have to go further out into the lane to avoid crashing into the corner of the semi. However, if you are in the same location when riding next to the smart car, you are still out of range of its door.

The silliest thing about the door zone is that it’s often given as an exact distance where you are “safe to ride”. However, it’s absurd that one can keep one’s bicycle straight. Even if you could, unless you ride out into the center of the travel lane, you will be in the “door zone” some time or another.

The problem with “door zone” is also that it implies that there are locations which are particularly dangerous on the road. However, studies have shown that people get hit in every single location on the road. Thus, splitting up the road into arbitrary zones is not really helpful in ascertaining a safe place to ride because we don’t know a safe place.

This is because even when designations such as “travel lane” are given, we still can’t be sure exactly where each cyclist was and the other circumstances of his accident. As I said before, you can get hit by a car while sitting in your house. It’s not common, but it’s possible.

Finally, with the door zone, when someone gets doored, we blame the cyclist. We don’t ask for more “motorist education”. On the other hand, if the same cyclist is rear ended, we don’t blame him for riding in the road, but rather we try to find some other cause for his death or we start to talk about how if you do the math in a certain way, this is an unlikely event.

Thus, “door zone” is an arbitrary phrase which is usually used against cyclists sometimes to make us look stupid other times to justify our deaths.

Another useless phrase that is going out of fashion is “competent cyclist.”

Again, since cyclist safety is in its infancy, especially in the US, there are no real experts on cycling riding. At best there are people who are experienced, Sadly, many experienced and intelligent cyclists report that they feel that the more they cycle, the less safe they think that they are riding because they take more chances due to less fear. So experience might not be all that it’s cracked up to be for riding. Statistics are also not much help as we said before. Thus, outside of speculation–which many people love to do, including me–there’s no real way saying what’s safe and what’s not.

The more honest people say that they don’t know, there are no “cycling experts”.

Also, note that cyclists are 10x more likely to be killed in accidents per trip mile than motorists. Why don’t we have the phrase “incompetent motorists”?

Pedestrians are even more likely to die than cyclists per trip mile. Why not say “incompetent pedestrian”? Mainly because it’s stupid, but the same can be said for cycling unless you want to create a convoluted argument against infrastructure.

I suggest that since our roads suck for cycling, there is no real safe way of riding. At best, we can avoid certain roads, especially “rural roads” at night.

Thus, another useless phrase is “with proper education, a cyclist can ride safely anywhere”. Most data shows that this is a total fabrication as some roads are more inherently dangerous than others.

Along these lines is another meaningly combination of words which is “normal flow of traffic.” It’s often said that we can’t have cycling infrastructure because it interupts the “normal flow of traffic.”

Well, everything interupts traffic. Flowing traffic isn’t the point; the point is to get from point A to point B. To make this safer and more efficient, we have traffic lights, drive ways, and parking lots. In each of these, a motorists interupts the “normal flow of traffic.”

Also, traffic isn’t naturual, it’s created by humans. Thus, it’s up to humans to decide what is “normal” for their creation. We used to not have freeways. When the first one was built, would it have been legitimate to argue that this was not normal? People would have laughed. Thus, to say that anything interupts “normal” traffic flow is just silly.

Overall, there are many nonsensical phrases we hear around cycling. They are strongly worded so we must agree with the phrases. Otherwise, we are incomptents who are against rights and education and thus we urge people ride in the door zone and away from rural roads.

Externalized Mitigation

January 26, 2012

I’m not a libertarian because I think that their views are mainly selfish and show a lack of understanding of human nature.

However, I do like one of their sayings which is “My rights begin where your rights end.”

To me, this means that I can do whatever I want as long as I don’t take your rights away.

That usually works except when it comes to motor vehicle traffic.

Here’s the thing. I really want dedicated cycling infrastructure.

Not because I can’t all ready use the roads, anyone can ride their bike on a well formed road.

The main reason is that automobiles are annoying and scary.

The thing is that NOBODY thinks of them as being the problem.

Everytime you have a safety lesson, it’s where the victim didn’t take care of themselves.

It’s a total blame of the victim.

For example, we are responsible for wearing bright clothes.

Why?

Because if we don’t, motorists might kill us.

That’s pretty harsh, don’t you think? Death for the wrong wardrobe? Sounds like a backward, and insane religious theocracy.

But no, we are _different_ from an insane, theocracy because we don’t mean to kill you, it’s an accident.

Really? How so?

Before you get into a car, you know it’s dangerous. Streets are not inherently safe for pedestrians and cyclists.

If they were, I wouldn’t have to continuously live in a state of paranoia like I do now.

I’ll repeat this, I live in a constant state of paranoia not unlike a child in a war zone who has to watch out for mine zones, stray bullets, and sexual predator soldiers.

Can you just walk into any street without looking, wearing black with no lights and be safe?

Why not?

Because you will be killed.

I think I should have the right to NOT be killed. I don’t think it’s reasonable that I have to mitigate the problems that automobiles cause. Making me constantly having to check and double check for some moron on their cell phone is IMPINGING ON MY RIGHTS.

Which rights?

Well don’t I have a reasonable right to live?

Another example is disease. Disease is caused by nature and we have drugs and immunizations to lessen the risk.

Wild animals are another problem that humans have greatly reduced.

So why is the US government spending billions to make it more likely for us to die if we don’t dress a certain way and look around all the time like scared mice?

It should be the responsibility to each individual to mitigate the harm that they cause. 100% mitigated, not 50% not 10%.

That means, I should NEVER hear a car engine if I don’t want. I should never have to look around for a car. I should never have to carry lights and all kinds of other crap on my bicycle if I don’t want to.

But it’s really hard to mitigate automobile related problems.

So what?

It’s hard for me to control myself when walking by someone eating an ice cream cone but that doesn’t make it OK for me to take their ice cream.

But the economy will collapse if I don’t pollute as much as possible.

Really?

I’d like to meet this economy person who is the scape goat for other people’s selfishness.

From what I learned, “economy” meant exchanging goods and services in an mutually beneficially way. I see no benefit to noise, smoke, and death. Perhaps I’m stupid or I am looking at smog at all the wrong ways. Most people think that traffic noises are awesome which is why I see people picnicing right along the 8. 🙂

The point is that I don’t have the answers. But I get really angry when people create a shitty situation for me then they bitch when we have to spend a fraction of their subsidies on mitigating the problem that they created in the first place.

So the next time someone moans about the high cost of facilities say “no” that’s the high cost of our auto-centric world. Facilities for bicycle and pedestrians, only, would be a fraction of the cost of the auto-centric infrastructure. I mean the cost of socialized housing for cars, aka free parking, alone could pay for significant improvements in our infrastructure.

Micro-violations

January 25, 2012

OK, before I post this, you should see this amazing
data analysis.

You should probably read this whole blog before wasting time on my ramblings. This is truly a landmark blog.

OK, you’re back. I trust that you have read all of Biking in LA. 🙂

There is this are where I ride where people are turning from a rural road onto a freeway. Each and every driver rides across the double yellow lines.

This is funny to me for many reasons. One is that that I have to dash across the intersection, as it is, because the cars come down the rural road so fast, it’s almost as if they come out of nowhere. Also, it’s funny because there are people who claim that “nobody will cross a double yellow line, because it’s illegal, which is why motorists have to buzz cyclists on certain roads.”

Yeah right.

There’s another reason why I think it’s funny that people cross the double lines and that is because it’s totally harmless.

Very few cyclist go through this area, and the ones that do can take evasive action, like ride the wrong way, if they really need to get through this intersection.

This started me thinking of the notion of micro-violations. Note, that I’m not a lawyer, blah, blah, blah. This is merely an idea of my own that I just invented.

The idea is that there are some things that are illegal and are really dangerous like blowing through a stop sign in front of a school.

I know people are in a hurry, and so on, but hello, children! There’s a giant school right in front of you so stop, completely, for these stop signs even if it’s after school hours because many schools have play grounds that are used even at night.

On the other hand, like above, where people blow over a double yellow line, this is harmless.

Many violotions of cyclists, are similarly harmless.

Yet the government treats all violations the same. Worse, many people also treat these violations as the same.

This whole idea is why there are suggestions for changing the law so that it’s more in harmony with what’s actually necessary and safe rather than just blindly and mindless following arbitrary laws.

One last thing.

We are so obsessed with interection violations, we have red light cameras. As per above, I say rightly so.

But now rear ending is incresing. In fact, if you google rear ending statistics, they are totally obsessed about a minor increase in rear endings at red light cameras. The idea is that red light cameras are “dangerous”.

Maybe, but I think that the solution to this problem is to make the lanes more narrow near the red light so that people ride slower. Also, they can ticket tail gating more. I have never seen a ticket for tail gating, only speeding. But tail gating, in many places, can be just as dangerous.

Also, while speeding is just inconsiderate and irresponsible, tail gating is a form of agression and bullying.

If we just accept that most motorists will be incompetent and irresponsible, we can, at least, pull the licenses of those who are hostile.

Cycling Values

January 24, 2012

There are lots of groups who promise to do things which are “good for cycling”, but I have to ask, what does this really mean?

For me, this means four things: safety, efficiency, comfort, and mode share.

If something does not contribute to these things, I am not interested.

1. Safety is not as easy to understand as people may think. This is because it’s difficult to determine how many people are riding. Thus, to measure safety a census is necessary. I feel that this should be done in the next US census to get better data. Also, better crash data is needed.

Also, people make divergent predictions on what will make us safe. However, I find that the best way to determine this is to study places that are all ready safe and to find out what they do.

Increased safety for bicycles should mean increased safety for motoring and pedestrians, too.

2. Efficiency means how quickly and easily we can cycle. This means cycling freeways and paths with fewer junctions with motor vehicles. This means less hills or mitigation strategies on par with freeways which means 6% or less EVERYWHERE. This is far less expensive than building a new freeway and way more fun!

Efficient cycling should mean more efficient walking and motoring, too.

3. Comfort is related to efficiency and less hills, but also with less fear. Additionally, cycling should be more quiet and less smelly with less burning petrol odors.

Finally, we can do things like wrapping polls to make them less dangerous, give foot rests at curbs when we stop, or even handles for resting on.

When it comes to comfort, the sky’s the limit.

4. Mode share means increasing the number of people who cycle. This will be a natural result of the first three points. More mode share will actually also reinforce the top three points because more cyclists will want more safety, efficiency, and comfort and they will vote them for themselves.

I mainly want higher mode share, however, because I want more people to ride so everyday I am surrounded by beautiful cyclists of all ages, races, and walks of life.

One day, we will all leave our thunderdome view of cycling behind.

This is my vision for the future.

Biking Bell Curve

January 23, 2012

Imagine if there was a group of people who had superior skills regarding to cycling so that they could do so in such a way as to make it much safer.

Should we listen to this group?

The vast majority of cyclists says “NO!” In fact, they flat out ignore this group.

Why?

Because they are women of course.

How do I really know that these cyclists are the most “competent” of them all?

Let’s look at the facts. After all, just going on our own “superstitions”, we’d never learn anything!

Women account for only 40% of cyclists nationally, but they make up only 10% of the fatalities. Men on the other hand, are 60% of the total, but are 90% of the fatalities. Thus, women are less likely, even when their smaller total numbers are factored out, to die when cycling.

But who are the chest thumping bike xperts? (sic) 🙂

Men!

So here’s the thing. Why the hell would I listen to someone who is more likely to die?

I shouldn’t.

We really don’t know _why_ women are less likely to die, and we probably never will because, like I said, nobody listens to women.

We’d rather continue to die in larger numbers while mocking the safer sex.

I do have a theory on why women are in less accidents, and that is because they ride more intelligently.

In order to promote bicycle safety, I’m going to advocate riding more like women.

Other idiots can continue to ride their own made up ways, but I’m going to peddle down the path of wisdom.

Here are some of my preliminary findings in the wonderful, innovation I call “listening to women”.

Notice that these are all tendencies and the opinions of the women cyclists that I have spoken with and read about. Thus, there are going to be women who ride the exact same as the prototypical male. If this offends you, please close your browser window now. I’m not here to offend, but merely to collect data to keep myself alive.

Women tend to ride only when they feel comfortable. Other morons call this “superstitious” or whatever, but guess what, the proof’s in the pudding.

Women don’t tend to look at made up “crash diagrams” nor do they obsess over door zones or the dangers of sidewalk riding.

They go out of their way to ride longer routes which are quieter and avoid heavy, loud traffic.

They wear what they want.

If riding is too hard or scary, they just won’t ride at all which probably accounts, in part, for their lower numbers of cyclists. This also happens to be one of the cornerstones of Cross’ conclusions. Be very careful on what roads you ride on. Don’t be bold. Don’t ride too fast.

And overall, if you aren’t part of the safer sex who rides like the safer sex, shut up about safety. The numbers are against you, and whatever you say is bound to be wrong and just get people hurt.

Let A Thousand Flowers Bloom

January 21, 2012

The title is from a Mao quote where, for a brief time, he loosened up the speech codes thinking that this would lead to many poems written about the brilliance of Communist China. Instead, he got lots of criticism about his regime.

Some people feel, from the beginning, his plan was to trick his opponents out into the open so he could arrest them.

What does this have to do with cycling?

Nothing really except that I do like the title, and I see it as a metaphor for what California, and the rest of the United States would look like if we had the courage to loosen up our planning codes to allow engineers to truly innovate.

Many people make the stupid comparison of government and the private sector. However, I do feel that in this particular case, the government can learn from private industry.

Imagine if the engineers at Apple Computers had the same rigid “design codes” that the traffic engineers have. We would all be staring at blocky green cursors on black screens as text crawled across the screen from a 2400 baud modem.

American bikeways are now at the same kind of shitty standard that computers were forty years ago. I think that is, in part, because we don’t allow our engineers to have the full creative expression that they need to truly shine.

One of the reasons for these regressive attitudes is based on fear for the safety of cyclists due to confusion that all road users will have when confronted with innovations.

I think that this fear is largely unfounded.

Humans are more intelligent than that. Also, one of the best innovations that the roads are lacking is intuitiveness. Just as a radically new iPhone is more intuitive to use than the safer and well trod DOS, newer road designs will be more intuitive for cyclists, motorists, and pedestrians.

Initially, there will be a shock, but this is more of a safety shock than a collision producing one. When confronted with an innovation, motorist will be forced to slow down and to pay attention. This attentiveness will result in fewer not more collisions as one of the biggest contributors to motorway fatalities is driver inattentiveness.

Although the increase in safety and comfort for all is a huge advantage there are other benefits as well which is to make travel fun again.

A good friend of mine recounted it this way: she lived in a country where each state had not only different colored traffic signs but they were written in differing languages! Shortly after moving to the US, she took a road trip to a neighboring state. Imagine her dismay to realize that the state looked exactly same as the one before. With so much homogeneity, what’s the use of travel at all?

Traveling by bicycle, however, she had a much different experience. Infrastructure for cycling was slightly different in each state. There were harried students squeezing by her into the door zone in college towns, to wine tours by bicycle in another, to a bike path in the golf ball zone in another. Finally, in many places there was the unfortunate smelly and noisy shoulder of the boring and homogenous highway.

How many places have we gotten off an exit of a freeway and saw the same cluster of chains along side a fast paced arterial road and wondered why are we even here?

Now imagine every town being different with different styles of cycle tracks, round abouts, buffered bike lanes, biking boulevards, and even rope bridges across canyons for bicycles only.

Where are people going to come for tourism? What towns will people talk about, start businesses in, and want to raise their children in?

People like to whine about how high New York rent is, but there, more than anywhere else, you get what you pay for. New York has world class talent in every field because it has built the infrastructure that draws those people there and keeps them there. Why do you think that they are building all this biking stuff anyway?

Hint, it’s because they really know how to take care of their residents, and they are not afraid to spend money to do so. In fact, one might argue that this kind of government spending actually increases the tax base because it attracts wealthier residents to live and spend their money there.

Where else do you see such wealthy people living in apartments and walking the streets? In other places, walking is seen for the poor only.

So I urge the state of California to get off its ass and to stop standing in the way of innovation. We wasted forty or so years while the rest of the world surpassed us.

Instead of trying to ape Amsterdam, let’s up our game and have them coming here to learn for us. Sure there are lots of intelligent Dutch and Danish engineers so it’s a worthy competition. Let’s see who can build the most bicycle friendly city.

Burning Kens on My Lawn

January 19, 2012

Before we get off on the wrong foot, let’s just say that I am a BIG fan of Kenneth Cross and his research.

My goal is to burn down the house of cards which is based upon a misreading of his research, but I have nothing but good to say about the man (and all other men [and women]).

For some people, it’s always 1977 and the Ramones are getting a “Teenage Lobotomy”.

And so it goes as I venture into the well trod and tired world of Kenneth Cross’s 1977 study.

Why do I waste time on a study which is over 30 old?

Mainly because it’s the basis of _Effective Cycling_ a book everyone should read especially when they find themselves as hostages in Iran.

My goal is bury this study once and for all.

I want a VCer to be highly embarrassed when I mention Dr. Cross and his study because they have been exposed as humbugs as surely as the man behind the black curtain.

But I didn’t come to bury Dr. Cross, but to praise him.

From the good man himself:

“I am pleased by the increasing rationality among those concerned with bicycle programs. There is less emotionalism and more informed discussion at bicycle conferences.Definitive data are beginning to appear from bicycle research. Funding agencies at the national level have become aware of bicycle safety and the social benefits of bicycling. All of these changes point to a promising future for bicycling in the United States.”— Ken Cross, 1978”

Yes, he’s actually quite an affable fellow, and his study is a landmark in cycling research, but it does have some short comings which are no fault of Dr. Cross.

First of all, the study is old, and things have changed. Cycling technology has gotten a lot better. Many of the ideas, like good cycling lights, have been invented. Automotive radar is, perhaps, around the corner.

Ironically, his study has been used, in the US, to squelch more research in safe infrastructure and we are many years behind. This is not Cross’ fault.

In fact, my goal is to resurrect his original message to move research forward or at least to shut up the local nutjobs who quote his study in vain.

First, let’s see the quote that launched a thousand anti-bike way ships:

“Crucial to this policy is the superstition that the greatest danger to cyclists is same-direction motor traffic. Experienced cyclists such as myself knew that the major collision hazards came from conditions ahead of the cyclist, just as they do for motorists, but we had no scientific data on this point. California contracted with Ken Cross to make a statistical study of car-bike collisions, in the expectation that this study would demonstrate the truth of the superstition that the greatest hazard to cyclists came from same-direction motor traffic. Ken’s study was presented to the California Statewide Bicycle Committee at a meeting room in the Sacramento Airport. After the presentation, I rather naively pointed out that the Cross study supported all that I had been saying and utterly disproved the supposed basis for California’s policy.”

http://www.johnforester.com/Articles/Safety/Cross01.htm

Note how he says that people’s fears of being rear ended are “superstitious” this is really important because we are going to come back to it.

There’s a funny thing about superstition and that is that we all have biases. Even me. Heck, especially me; I have breakfast with my biases daily. I want to be intimately acquainted with their biases.

Sometimes, though, we can read a paper, and make an honest mistake.

This is what I think happened when the book _Effective Cycling_ was written.

Here’s the first one (with page number from the study for easy reference):

Page 256

“The fear of overtaking accidents is well founded since the likelihood of fatal injuries is indeed higher for overtaking accidents than for any other class of accidents revealed by this study.”

Remember how above, we were told that this fear was “superstitious” and yet here in Cross’s study, the basis of all VC, this was the opposite.

Some of the things that VC people say are true, but many, many of their quotes turn out to be totally false. In fact, every time there’s a quote, I do a five minute google search and often, I can find that their quotes are not substantiated by the data at all.

Recall the anti-infrastructure bent the VC community has visited upon us?

Page 267

“Except for accidents that resulted from the motor vehicle being out of control, it seems reasonable to assume that most Class D accidents would not have occurred if an on-street bicycle lane had been present and the bicyclist had been riding in it.”

So Cross sees the benefit of infrastructure. Guess what? Like many cases, here he’s right.

There’s more:

“There is virtually no doubt that off-street bicycle lanes would reduce the incidence of overtaking accidents, if such facilities were available and used by bicyclists who otherwise would be riding on roadways.”

But what about education? Doesn’t that help?

“With only a few exceptions, there is little that a
bicyclist can be taught that would help him avoid Class D accidents once he has decided to ride where and when such accidents are most likely to occur.

As a consequence, the primary objective of an education and training program for bicyclists should center on modifying the bicyclist’s choice of where and when he will ride.”

Note, that he doesn’t promise that there’s a magic riding style to “liberate us all from superstition.” This was nonsense that was made up and put into Cross’s mouth.

Basically, Cross is saying that some roads are too dangerous to ride on at all.

Check this out:

http://cyclingsavvy.org/hows-my-driving/

“Many bike lanes are designed poorly or just plain dangerous. Bike lanes next to parked cars are often entirely within a hazard area we call “the door zone.” A suddenly-opened door can kill a cyclist.”

This is funny because in an earlier blog post, I talked about how dooring wasn’t a problem in Florida. It’s just too small of a problem to be worried about. Haha, superstition.

“Driving in the middle of the lane actually protects cyclists against the most common motorist-caused crashes: sideswipes, right hooks, left crosses, and drive-outs. A bicycle driver’s top safety priority is to ensure he or she can be seen by motorists with whom they might potentially be in conflict, and bicycling in the middle of a lane is one of the most effective ways to do that. Most overtaking crashes involve a motorist who attempts to squeeze past (illegally) in a lane that is too narrow to share.”

Actually, as you suspect, this is a lie.

If you look on problem 16 on page 237, you’ll see just 1.8% fatalities for a motorist trying to squeeze past. The 4% of the problem 14 where there’s no possible evasive action is greater, and there are other risks which are greater as well.

So you wonder, where they got this information from and why they don’t post data for us to look at it?

In fact, with such wrong data, I suspect that they merely made shit up.

From page 227:

“Many bicycling experts advocate riding in the center of the traffic lane rather than along the right-hand edge of the roadway. They claim that riding in the center of the traffic lane increases the chances of
being observed by motorists who are preparing to enter the roadway from intersecting streets or driveways.

“Also, they argue that riding in the center of the lane provides a greater buffer zone between the bicycle’s path and the position at which motor vehicles stop before entering the
roadway.

“Thus, riding in the center of the traffic lane provides addi­tional time for the bicyclist to initiate evasive action once it becomes apparent that a motor vehicle is going to enter the roadway. The authors believe that the following important questions must be answered before it is possible to recommend that bicyclists be taught to ride in the center of the traffic lane.

* Would riding in the center of the traffic lane increase the likelihood of detection by a margin that has practical significance?

* Would riding in the center of the traffic lane increase the bicyclist’s preview time by a margin that has practical significance?

* How would traffic efficiency be affected if riding in the center of the traffic lane became a common practice?

* Should riding in the center of the traffic lane be prohibited on some types of roadways and/or during certain time periods? If so, what types of roadways and what time periods?

* Should young bicyclists and/or slow-moving bicycles be permitted to ride in the center of the traffic lane? If not, what is the cutoff age/speed?”

If there’s an answer to these questions, please let me know. I have never seen it. I’ll post it if I get a good answer.

Thus, overall, I do think that the idea of a cycling safety course based on the data is a good idea, but have we ever seen one?

I have not. The ones I have seen like cycling savvy have misinformation all over them, and they seem to made to appeal to a small part of the population who wants to seem more elite than the rest of us sad sacks.

I mean I shudder at the whole notion of taking the lane because I think it’s totally inconsiderate. Of course, they’d probably tell me that I’m an idiot for having manners or something.

Also, the double standard arises, regarding classes versus facilities. This is because do we seen any moves to license the class by the government? No. Is there a law that expressly makes the classes legal? No.

Finally, do we see any mention, in this study, to the “rights to the road”? No.

Another shibboleth that we waste a ton of time on is the number of “turning conflicts that facilities cause.”

Looking at the Cross study, we realize that this is total nonsense.

Of all the types of fatalities caused by cyclists, 2.4% are caused by motorists going through an intersection and hitting a cyclist.

In fact, out of the 5 categories of Class C accidents, only two yield any deaths at all. Yet there are a great number of collisions for this type of accident as would be expected when vehicles come into conflict with one another.

This is where the VC people make a classic bait and switch where they confuse collisions with lethality then they pretend that all collisions are deadly.

Page 211-212″

“The vast majority of collisions occurred shortly after the motorist accelerated from a stopped position. This fact accounts for the low inci­dence of fatalities for Class C accidents. When the motor vehicle struck the bicycle, the impact velocity was low and the bicyclist usually careened off the front of the motor vehicle. When the bicyclist struck the motor vehicle, the impact velocity was solely a function of the bicyclist’s speed.

Apparently, the bicycle speed was not often great enough to produce fatal injuries.Because of the low incidence of fatal accidents, Class C accidents must be considered less important than other types of accidents that account for fewer accidents but more fatal injuries.”

Thus, it is clear from Cross’ study that if you were going to increase cyclist safety, you’d argue against taking the lane (untested still), against “rights to the road”, in favor of facilities, and for classes that taught one to ride where the least number of deaths were observed and not merely to satisfy an ideology.

The Safety Delusion

January 17, 2012

The other day, someone at worked as me if I were afraid to die on the streets.

This told me a number of things.

One was that in his mind, and many others, a bicycle equals death.

I wrote about this before.

Another thing, though, was that it implied that motoring was safe.

Not a safer choice, given conditions, but just plain old safe.

It’s not.

I wondered where he got this idea since there are so many car accidents, we all know at least one person who has been injured in one, and many more of us were in them.

I don’t know the answer to this question, but it affects how we treat road design.

This is why I oppose our hysteria about drunk driving and our hand waving over motorist education about our “rights to the road.”

Yes, we should not drink and drive. Yes, we should be educated.

But I’d argue that poorly designed roads are as much to blame for people’s deaths as drunks and lack of education.

When we focus on drunks and learning, we seem to pretend that the roads are safe right now. We just need smarter, sober drivers.

I have been looking into other alternatives.

One of them is “Sustainable Safety.”

http://www.swov.nl/uk/research/kennisbank/inhoud/05_duurzaam/sustainablesafety.htm

This movement started in 1991, and it seeks to continually make countries like the Netherlands, safer.

“At the same time, every year, we have to regret the fact that so many road traffic casualties occur. This represents enormous societal loss.”

This is from the safest country in the world.

They are so humble.

The difference here is that there is an emphasis on safety in engineering.

It is assumed that the same is true in the United Statses, but from my limited contact with people, there is no.

In vehicle purchasing there is a desire for the appearance of safety, but many vehicles that are bought for safety purposes, like SUVS, are actually less safe than cars.

But when people have complained to the City of San Diego because they felt a section was unsafe, the city disagreed. This is despite several accidents happening there.

So the burden of proof is on us. Roads designed within code are seen as safe. This is despite our large number of traffic deaths a year.

On the other hand, things that have worked well in other countries, saving many lives, Countries like the Netherlands have had a twenty-fold reductions in children deaths after the “Stop de Kindermoord” (Child Murder Campaign).

I wonder why we have not had the same outrage to the deaths of children in the US.

This blog post talks more about Sustainable Safety:

http://hembrow.blogspot.com/2010/01/sustainable-safety.html

Strangely, in California where there are more cycling deaths, in proportion to the number of riders, yet less money spent on safety for cyclists, new innovations are put under a microscope because they may be “unsafe”.

The reality is that that roads are all ready unsafe, and the fact that people don’t ride means that we don’t care about cyclists here.

As pointed out elsewhere, if they merely made cycling illegal, more people would be doing it. Right now it’s seen as so terrible, dangerous, and unpleasant, more people smoke pot, which is illegal than ride a bicycle.

Why is this? I don’t really know the answers, but I do realize that this reality means that we have been sold out by Quislings who have made cycling worse than illegal.

For those who’d like to see what real advocates have done, let’s look at a movie about them in the Netherlands: