In more fallout from the Alice Swanson tragedy and rising gas prices, the Post has been featuring bicycle safety throughout its family of publications. First Kris Coronado, who writes the excellent bike-centric column Trail Blazer for the Express Night Out (which I only recently discovered), took a Confident City Cyclist course taught by occasional commenter Allen Muchnick
"There's this mind-set in this country: If you bicycle in front of a motor vehicle, you're going to get run over," says Muchnick. "It's nonsense. It's the safest place to be. Especially in the cities, where traffic speeds are fairly comparable — in fact, most bicycles are faster than cars downtown."
The article discusses bike lanes
Muchnick, who teaches Confident City Cycling classes for the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (Waba.org), is not always a fan — ride on or close to the outer line if you must use them, he says. WABA executive director Eric Gilliland agrees but adds that they still show "drivers that you should expect to see cyclists on this road."
The important thing, says Gilliland, is for riders to look at those painted lines as guidelines, not barriers. When approaching intersections, a cyclist in the bike lane could end up in the blind spot of a right-turning vehicle. "We tell people to ride the safest way possible: If it's out of the bike lane, it's out of the bike lane."
For more on bike lanes, check out Bicycle Universe's page. And a pet peeve of mine (thanks Paul)
One tip: If it's necessary to alert a cyclist, he says, "eye contact is the best thing instead of a honk. It's frightening, in fact. It's not the best way to communicate."
Metro buses do this (honk) all the time. A Metro employee told me they were trained to do this. True or not, I have turned down the frequency and intensity of my "stink-eye."
Also upcoming (well, maybe) is the emergence of what Gilliland and Sebastian call "bicycling ambassadors." The idea is to take cycling safety literally to the streets, in the form of visible, uniformed bikers who would not only serve as behavior role models, but would also pass out safety brochures and bike maps, and offer tips to others. But it's just a concept for the time being.
District law says that vehicles "may enter a restricted right curb lane . . . to make a right turn" and that "a right turn shall be made as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway." This is to prevent vehicles, including bicycles, from attempting to pass cars on the right just as those vehicles are turning right. Drivers who stay to the left for right turns, "respecting" the bike lane, are unfortunately encouraging bicyclists to pass on the right, leading to tragedies such as the death of my Mount Pleasant neighbor Alice Swanson last week.
Then he slammed DDOT
Bike lane striping is supposed to change from solid to broken a minimum of 30 feet from intersections. This is specifically to indicate to drivers that they can enter bike lanes for right turns. But the District fails to break the bike-lane striping as prescribed, instead painting bike lanes solid right up to intersections. Thus, misguided drivers believe bike lanes remain inviolate and make their right turns from far to the left, thereby increasing the threat of a deadly "right hook" collision to any bicyclist on their right.
I'm not sure if that's the case on R Street at 20th. Speaking of safety, RPUS has a nice post on the book Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do.
"The system that many of us would feel is more dangerous is actually safer, while the system we think is safer is actually more dangerous," he says. That is because intersections are what he calls "crash magnets," the site of half of all traffic collisions.Engineers calculate that a four-way intersection has 56 potential points of what they call "conflict," or as Vanderbilt says, "the chance for you to run into someone" — 33 places to hit a car and 24 spots to hit a pedestrian.
Roundabouts, on the other hand, reduce the number of potential conflicts to 16. They reduce speeds and prompt drivers to pay more attention to what they're doing, rather than simply sailing through a green light. <
This week, the Post jumped in with a couple of stories in the health section and a chat with Eric Gilliland. From the first article.
I am waiting for my husband to ask me quietly whether I might reconsider biking to work, something I have been doing for about three years.
It's interesting that the Alice Swanson tragedy has caused people to think cycling too unsafe, but no one writes an article about drivers (or pedestrians, or transit riders) reconsidering their commutes after one of the dozens of local, fatal car accidents each year. In the paper, the title of the second part of the article was "Cyclists take their chances on the mean streets of D.C.". I don't take my chances. I ride safe, and I ride because it's safer than driving. Why does the Post write an article about safety and throw out a BS title about how risky it is?
Moira E. McLaughlin, the author, points out that cycling is up due to gas prices and that many stores offer classes for newbies. She talks about driver-cyclist conflict and cycling etiquette. [I disagree on what to do if a car is in the bike lane - she hops up onto the sidewalk, but to each their own]
She puts a lot of emphasis on helmets, which I do feel add safety and I wear one, but I sometimes think it gets overstated because it's such a visible and "take control" thing. A doctor friend of mine said if you can only wear a helmet or sunscreen, go with the sunscreen. Of course I recommend both, but you never see anyone talk about stupid cyclists not wearing sunscreen. My point being, it might be less safe (contentious, I know), but it ain't like driving and watching TV.
The article does finally end with some useful facts and a reasonable conclusion.
Despite all the potential dangers, only about 265 bicycle crashes are reported each year in the District, according to the D.C. Department of Transportation. (That's fewer than half the number of pedestrian accidents reported.) There are 34 miles of bike lanes in the District and plans for about 20 more miles by 2010, said Mike Goodno.
So for me, the benefits of urban biking -- it's cheap and convenient -- outweigh the dangers.
The second article had more definitive safe cycling advice, not all of it good.
The slower you're going, the closer to the curb you should ride.
Huh? How fast you're going should have little to nothing to do with where you position your bike. They need to get Allen to help them out. Anyway, It has a good link to this site. They also say this
Stay off the sidewalks. Lots of bike accidents happen on sidewalks, where riders tend to run into poles, posts, mailboxes, and other obstacles or to get hit by cars backing out of driveways. Leave sidewalks to pedestrians.
Again true, but - like with helmets - overstated. There are times when the sidewalk is the right place to be. Sidewalk cycling, in my opinion is like SCUBA diving. SCUBA is more dangerous than swimming. So when you SCUBA you must be more cautious than when you swim, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't do it. Same thing with sidewalk riding. You can't ride on the sidewalk like you would on the street. You have to go much slower. You should stop at every intersection and have to be even more alert, but it can be a safe option. [Of course, unlike SCUBA diving, sidewalk cycling is kind of lame and not fun].
They point out that 28% of cycling fatalities involve cyclists who'd been drinking. True. For drivers its 32%.
In the paper was a "The Rules of the Road" box that said "Cyclists everywhere in the United States are supposed to abide by the same traffic laws as drivers." Again this is not true. Cyclists must obey traffic laws like drivers must, but there are subtle differences between the laws for cyclists and drivers. It's a little difference, but I expect the post to, y'know, report the facts.
Turning to the Eric Gilliland chat, it's nice to have an actual expert. He talks about the MPD and problems WABA has lately (more on this in a later post)
We are in the process of arranging a meeting with the MPD about the sting operation against bicyclists, as well as the case of Alice Swanson and the pedestrian that was struck last week. Regarding the sting we feel it was both poorly timed and ill informed. Coming so soon after the death of Alice the ticketing operation against cyclists strikes us as blaming the victim. Also, the place where cyclists were being ticketed has had only 4 bike crashes in the last decade. The enforcement should have taken place at a high crash intersection.
we feel that enforcement of traffic laws for everyone (and that includes cyclists) is a huge issue. But enforcing traffic laws does not appear to be a priority for the police, even though encouraging biking and walking are a priority for the city overall. I get far too many calls each year from cyclists that have been ticketed for doing nothing wrong. In many of these cases if you simply replaced the bike with a car, the case would have gone the other way.
We are watching the Alice Swanson case very closely, but in spite of our repeated efforts to get more information about the case calls to the Major Crash unit have not been returned. We are in the process of setting up a meeting with MPD to discuss this, but have nothing solid yet. We have been pretty disappointed with the reaction to the tragedy by the city as a whole.
He also recommends the confident city cycling class, talks about the importance of lights and bells, about kiddie trailers, the bicycle commuter act, the Idaho stop sign law, BikeDC, why cyclists ride on Beach Drive instead of the trail, helmets and improving the 14th Street Bridge
There is a study underway that is looking at both the DC and VA sides of the 14th Street Bridge with an eye toward improving the connections for bikes/peds. Regarding the route, it really depends on your ultimate destination, but Ohio Drive south of the Jefferson is a good road, and 15th Street (Raoul Wallenberg) is generally fine. The section aground the Tidal Basin is very tough to navigate.
On safety in DC he points out
we are finding that while cycling is increasing dramatically, injuries and fatalities are remaining steady. Studies have shown that the more cyclists there are on the road, the safer it is to bike.
And on what holds DC back from being a great biking city
I think the delays faced by key trail projects (Met Branch, Anacostia) are part of it, the need for more on road bike lanes especially on high volume streets, the lack of motorist education and enforcement, better incentives for developers to provide lockers and changing facilities, better incentives (re: $) to encourage people to commute, city support for large bike riding events, more innovative engineering solutions like bike boxes, cycle tracks, etc...
Someone did point out something about hand signaling that I'd never thought of before
On every bike I've ever owned, the back brake is activated by the right hand. Using your right hand to signal basically means you only have your left brake in case you need to stop. Since activating the left brake usually results in a sudden stop as opposed to the back brake yielding a slower stop or skid, it puts the cyclist in a very dangerous situation at the moment they are about to execute a turn.
All in all, it was a nice effort by the Post, but there was some questionable advice mixed in with the good.