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Crash at Kennedy Plaza Should Teach Us Something.

A person is in critical condition after being hit by a bus at Washington Street, near Kennedy Plaza. This is very close to where the planned "bike-bus lanes" are intended to be on Exchange Street. Although this accident is not caused by that design, it's a reminder of the dangers of buses to pedestrians, and a good reason to remember that we should try to separate uses as much as possible. I tweeted that I think the accident serves as a reminder that buses are dangerous, and that mixing bike/pedestrian areas with bus lanes is a mistake. 



Now, you might say, "Why you pickin' on this guy?" My comment that Bill DiSantis' design for Exchange Street is a death trap, and that if an accident resulted in it he would blame it on human error rather than see the design flaw, is not a baseless personal attack but a statement of policy. I realized after I said it though that not everyone might have the context to know why it's true. So here's more from what Bill DiSantis had to say about the Exchange design in his email via RIPTA to me*:

Most bike fatalities are the result of car/bike crashes but it is true that many crashes involving bikes and large vehicles such as trucks and buses usually involve severe injury or death for the cyclist. However most of those crashes result from the cyclist entering the truck/bus driver’s blind spot and colliding with a turning truck/bus. (my italics) The usual scenario is a “right-hook” collision at an intersection where a straight-thru cyclist collides with a right-turning vehicle. In some crashes the truck/bus passes the cyclist and misjudging the cyclist’s speed turns in front of the cyclist. But in many crashes, the cyclist actually comes up behind the truck/bus and enters into the driver’s blind spot. The driver turns not knowing there is a cyclist there because he simply cannot see the cyclist. In some cases, the truck/bus driver doesn’t even realize there has been a collision. This was the case in the last 2 bike fatalities in Boston, truck drivers left the scene not knowing there had been a crash.
So encouraging cyclists to move away from the right edge of the roadway and into a center-of-the-lane position where they are fully visible to the truck/bus drivers avoids the cyclist getting lost in the driver’s blind spot. A cyclist trailing a bus in the center-of-the-lane would be out of the bus’ turning track and if far enough back within the drive’s vision. A cyclist in a frontal center-of-the-lane position would be fully visible to the driver and given the relatively short length of the Exchange Street bus/bike lane would unduly delay the bus’s progress.


In this scenario a bus traveling at 20 to 25 mph (a reasonable speed in urban condition) passes a slowing moving cyclist traveling at 10-15 mph (again a reasonable speed in an urban condition). The cyclist then “catches” the bus when it stops to pickup/drop off passengers. The process then repeats itself-cyclist passes bus, bus passes cyclist, cyclist catches and passes bus. This is a common scenario when a cyclist travels along a roadway that is a designated bus route. Many experienced urban cyclists soon learn to avoid this by taking parallel roadways and avoiding bus routes when possible. During the Bike Providence Plan, we found that the results of the actual routes submitted by local cyclists via the VHB Bikeways mobile app showed many cyclists currently use adjacent and parallel side roads move about the City. (I personally avoid Hope St on my weekly bike-to-work rides opting to take a slightly longer but less congested parallel routes. But I still encounter some leap frog with RIPTA buses as I come down South Main and Canal Streets). This is the reason when we did the Providence Plan that we tried to avoid as much as posbile designating the R Bus route roadways as on-road bikeways.
Instead of recognizing that people are killed due to predictable patterns of behavior, and designing a road accordingly to make those behavioral patterns moot, Bill's analysis puts all the onus on individuals to make the right decisions with bad infrastructure. This is backwards. Bill has stated at other times that he feels that bicyclists are mostly to blame for their own accidents, rather than contributing positively to designs that make bicycling safe. This is just one of many examples.

I believe that Bill DiSantis is sincere in his views, but I think he arrogantly ignores safety data that has saved lives in other countries, and by putting himself in the way of good design, I think he puts Providence behind where it should be on developing a good bike plan. Bill has stated that he thinks 20 mph and 15 mph slow zones are too slow for cities, even though cities like Paris and New York are moving to make them default speeds. Bill has erroneously stated that protected bike lanes cause accidents--while poorly designed models caused conflicts at intersections, modern versions have made countries and cities that adopt them greatly safer for cyclists, and indeed, for all users of the road. Bill's ideas are wrong, and because he's a traffic engineer, he has the power to implement his wrong ideas. So while I wish him no ill, and can understand why constantly having to put pressure on an individual may seem distasteful, I think it's necessary. He's the one with the responsibility to design a good system, and he hasn't. He has to be held accountable to that.


~~~~

*Here is the entire text of the email:

Bike/bus conflicts:

Most bike fatalities are the result of car/bike crashes but it is true that many crashes involving bikes and large vehicles such as trucks and buses usually involve severe injury or death for the cyclist.  However most of those crashes result from the cyclist entering the truck/bus driver’s blind spot and colliding with a turning truck/bus.   The usual scenario is a “right-hook” collision at an intersection where a straight-thru cyclist collides with a right-turning vehicle.  In some crashes the truck/bus passes the cyclist and  misjudging the cyclist’s speed  turns in front of the cyclist.  But in many crashes, the cyclist actually comes up behind the truck/bus and enters into the driver’s blind spot.  The driver turns not knowing there is a cyclist there because he simply cannot see the cyclist.  In some cases, the truck/bus driver doesn’t even realize there has been a collision.  This was the case in the last 2 bike fatalities in Boston, truck drivers left the scene not knowing there had been a crash.

So encouraging cyclists to move away from the right edge of the roadway and into a center-of-the-lane position where they are fully visible to the truck/bus drivers avoids the cyclist getting lost in the driver’s blind spot.  A cyclist trailing a bus in the center-of-the-lane would be out of the bus’ turning track and if far enough back within the drive’s vision.  A cyclist in a frontal center-of-the-lane position would be fully visible to the driver and given the relatively short length of the Exchange Street bus/bike lane would unduly delay the bus’s progress.

Bike/Bus “leap frog”:

In this scenario a bus traveling at 20 to 25 mph (a reasonable speed in urban condition) passes a slowing moving cyclist traveling at 10-15 mph (again a reasonable speed in an urban condition).  The cyclist then “catches” the bus when it stops to pickup/drop off passengers.  The process then repeats itself-cyclist passes bus, bus passes cyclist, cyclist catches and passes bus.  This is a common scenario when a cyclist travels along a roadway that is a designated bus route.  Many experienced urban cyclists soon learn to avoid this by taking parallel roadways and avoiding bus routes when possible.  During the Bike Providence Plan, we found that the results of the actual routes submitted by local cyclists via the VHB Bikeways mobile app showed many cyclists  currently use adjacent and parallel side roads move about the City.  (I personally avoid Hope St on my weekly bike-to-work rides opting to take a slightly longer but less congested parallel routes.  But I still encounter some leap frog with RIPTA buses as I come down South Main and Canal Streets).  This is the reason when we did the Providence Plan that we tried to avoid as much as posbile designating the R Bus route roadways as on-road bikeways.

On a relatively short run such as the length of Exchange Street from Memorial Blvd to the Park ROW west, the leap frog scenario just doesn’t happen because the distance is so short and one end of the bike/bus lane is controlled by a traffic signal.
Another advantage to cyclists in a bike/bus lane is that during the gaps between the bus headway, the lane is just a bike lane with no other traffic.  This does require an enforcement component after construction and we recommend RIPTA work with the City to implement a vigorous enforcement campaign post construction.

Bike/Bus lane case studies:

Obviously a fully separated bicycle facility would be the preferred bicycle accommodation but the existing site conditions preclude anything other than a shared facility.  We note that the City has recently restriped Exchange St from Memorial Blvd to park Row  West to reduce the number of travel lanes thus  making way for the proposed improvements.  Bike/bus lane designs have been installed in a number of locations throughout the US.  Attached is a case study from the FHWA publicationBIKESAFE: Bicycle Countermeasure Selection System detailing evaluation and results of the operation of a bike/bus lane in Tucson, AZ over a 20 year period.  Also attached is a copy of a Florida DOT report  A Summary of Design, Policies and Operational Characteristics for Shared Bicycle/Bus Lanes.  The lessons learned from these to publications were incorporated into the proposed Exchange Street project.

Based on the results of these actual installations, it is more than reasonable to expect the proposed Exchange Street bike/bus lane will operate  in a similar fashion and will be added benefit to the bicycle network in the City of Providence.

4 comments:

  1. So you're counter proposal is what then? There is no world we will build that does not include the possibility of vehicles of different types moving through areas where people walk. I think your extrapolation from one collision to a complete indictment of a particular design involving different vehicle/transport modes is very far fetched.

    What do you mean by a "modern bike lane"? I have seen "modern" implementations (e.g.: put in place in the last 3 years) that arguably decrease rider safety by putting riders in blind spots (parking sheltered bike lanes). There are bike lanes of every possible description being built constantly and have been for 50 years, while design is very important, I think calling any particular design "modern" is nonsense.

    I agree, I don't think bike-bus lane on Exchange is a good idea simply because I don't think it will have any meaningful value to people using bicycles given the amount of bus traffic moving through that corridor, but then, I haven't seen the plans to know the context of that design you are critiquing. Perhaps, if you have it, you could post the plans, or tell us who has it to get a copy, so that the rest of us can make a better informed opinion than relying on your diatribe against Bill.

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  2. My counterproposal is that the four-lane width of Washington to the train station be made into dedicated bus lanes and dedicated bike lanes, with an island. There's no reason that can't work. It's insulting for an engineer to actually state that we can't do something like that, when it takes five minutes of investigation to figure out it works. As Enrique Penalosa says, we could assemble a committee of twelve year olds, and in twenty minutes they would decide, unanimously, to pursue a better path than we're pursuing now. This is ridiculous.

    Bill's model is that they should be mixed, and that the bus should bypass the bike when needed. I haven't seen drawings but I've read his description of this, and there's no reason that we would need to design the street that way. It's inconvenient to bus users, and discourages biking. As The Phoenix article on the bike plan says, the idea of a "shared lane" in general is kind of a misnomer, since every lane is potentially a shared lane. We have this language in Providence that we're moving forward by promoting all these shared spaces, which haven't even be traffic calmed, and those shared spaces are just the exact same thing we already have.

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  3. I understand your reaction to my anger at Bill's plans, and it's possible I take his views a little too much to heart. As I said, I know it's distasteful to constantly harp on one person. But It's not a personal attack. I'm not trying air dirty laundry about his personal life or say that he's a bad person. I'm saying something which is harsh, but relevant to policy--which is that I think he's a bad engineer, or at least that the engineering he's currently doing is bad. Glenn Greenwald pointed out that when Reagan died everyone just wanted to say endless good things about him as if we were guests at the funeral of someone's grandmother, but sometimes when a public figure of responsibility is in charge of bad policies, you can't just make polite conversation about them. In this case it's a living person, with power to put bad policies in action. I think we need to draw a line in the sand and say that these policies don't work, and I find that a lot of people in the organized biking community are not willing to say these things, while the people who bike because they have to, or because they're trying to carve out a space to bike despite being uncomfortable, are very clearly unhappy with these policies. Maybe it's a Rhode Island thing (small state). Maybe it's a not-many-people-biking thing (Bill is a biker, so he's "one of us"). But whatever it is, we need to be willing to say these harsh things. And of course, I don't like to be a total nasty person, and it does make me feel upset to say harsh things about a person, and perhaps Bill is a nice person who treats his wife nice or is kind to children, but his unwillingness to accept reality as it affects biking policy is holding this city back. It's him that's centrally responsible, and it's him that should be criticized.

    The places where biking succeeds are mostly in northern Europe, and a few patches of cities around the world that have adopted similar policies to those countries. The idea I'm promoting behind "modern" infrastructure is protected bike lanes and slow zones (15 mph). Those are what works. We shouldn't even talk about sharrows. We should probably not talk about painted bike lanes--certainly not those next to parked cars. The biking community is used to not getting what it wants, but political figures are trading something with us. They want to appear to be doing something. When we validate their policies of "taking small steps forward" when nothing is actually being substantively done, we're giving away our influence for free. This is the moment in history where we either solve these things, or human beings are screwed. If Rhode Island can't figure this out, who will?

    Sorry to be intense, but that's how it is.

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    Replies
    1. That was James. I'm signed into the wrong account.

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