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Blackstone Boulevard, Speeding, & Bike Safety

By JAMES KENNEDY

June 21, 2013--Yesterday I undertook a mini traffic study on Blackstone Boulevard, between Irving & Lloyd Streets.  Another 25 mph street, Blackstone is a featured piece of the citys section of the East Coast Greenway.  From 3-3:30 I clocked speeds on the southbound side, and then switched to watching northbound traffic for the next half hour.

Although the speed limit was 25, as in the Westminster study I chose to count cars going up to 30 mph as within the speed limit.  Out of 606 cars counted, 381 or 63% were within this technical limit.  The statistical mode for "non-speeding" cars was 29 mph, demonstrating that many "non-speeders" were within close reach of the more permissive threshold.

The previous study of Westminster Street raised the question of what role obstructions such as turning cars had to play in keeping people to the speed limit. In this study, 31 cars, or 8% of people traveling under 30 mph, were making a turn. Typically two to three cars were slowed by each turning car, so I estimate that  almost one in three "non-speeders" (124 out of 381) were under 30 mph because traffic flow had presented them no other option.

Speeding was common on this street, but not as common as on Westminster.  165 drivers, or 27%, were driving between 30 and 35 mph on a 25 mph road.   

Extreme speeding was also present.  Twenty-four cars were between 35 and 40 mph.  Six drivers were above 40 mph, with the top speed an astonishing 44 mph--higher than the greatest speed clocked on Westminster.  Drivers moving faster than 35 mph constituted 5% of drivers.  In one sense this is not a lot, yet one could contrast the figure with the number of everyday cyclist commuters in Providence, which by the 2010 Census was only 1%.  In Providence, that 1% is omnipresent--as the bumper sticker says, Bicycles are everywhere!--so imagine that for every bicycle seen there are five motorists speeding more than ten mph over the speed limit--even on the East Coast Greenway.

Why concern ourselves with this? As an experienced cyclist, I must admit that Blackstone offers few problems to me and feels very pleasant to ride on.  But as a teacher in a bike program at Nathan Bishop M.S., I was surprised to return to that same road with my students over several months this spring and suddenly feel uncomfortable.  Noted among my findings during the study was that none of the many cyclists who passed me were children. In cities like Portland, Oregon, 40% of students ride their bikes to school, while in the Netherlands the figure is closer to 90%.  A healthy youth contingent of cyclists is a signal that a city is pursuing effective policies.

Cycling is overall a very safe transportation mode.  Estimates by health officials say that biking is twenty times more likely to lengthen your life than shorten it.  Helmets add another level of safety, eliminating most serious head injuries.  So safety is in part a matter of subjectively creating the feeling of comfort.  The Netherlands, for instance, categorizes roads over 35mph--25 mph!--as fast, and in need of physical separation.  Nearly all the traffic on Blackstone--including the "non-speeding" contingent--would be felt as uncomfortable and unsafe by the Dutch public.


Hopefully this study offers policy-makers and citizens some tools to change that.

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