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This is part of a multi-part reflection I've been doing following the death of my friend, Mark Baumer . There's nothing graphic i...

East Side Monthly February Edition: Fix Blackstone Blvd.

The February edition of East Side Monthly is out in print and online. Since I kvetched them out pretty hard last month for their ridiculously lazy editorial against traffic calming, I'd like to turn around this time and remind you to read the much better piece that came out this month. Matt Moritz, myself, Alex Krogh-Grabbe, and Hugo Bruggemann all make it into the piece (page 9).

I want to draw one itsy bitsy point of difference between myself and RI Bike (called RIBC in the article). Matt Moritz was pushed by ESM on whether there were any negatives to protected bike lanes:
"It's unusual," admits Moritz. "Anything unusual is dangerous, but the relative risks are lower."
This is really just a rhetorical difference--Matt is just more modest in speech than I am, and the buried lede is that "the relative risks are lower"--but it's bad salesmanship at the very least. And it's also not true. First off, protected bike lanes are safer, period. They are safer. They are safer. They are safer. They draw more people, which some experts say adds to awareness of bicycles on the road. They reduce crashes in between intersections. Old-style protected bike lanes had design flaws that caused an increase in crashes at intersections, because the original design had poor sight-lines and turning radii that were too wide for cars, allowing drivers to swing wildly across protected bike lanes when making turns (for that matter, although there have not been any actual crashes, the latter problem does exist for painted bike lanes on Blackstone Blvd., since turning radii at certain intersections look more like the off-ramps of highways than like neighborhood streets). 

But no one builds protected bike lanes like that. Protected bike lanes have had 40-plus years to be perfected elsewhere, and we should build them according to modern design principles instead of trying to reinvent the wheel like we're in the 1970s. This is a good report on badly designed protected bike lanes. It's very simple: we're not going to build them like that. We're going to build them like this:

Councilman Sam Zurier was interviewed, and he said we should wait and see what the experts say. Sam Zurier is an earnest man, but this is translated in SamZurierspeak as "I'm not sure we should do anything because there are a bunch of grouchy neighbors breathing down my neck the other way, so let's see if this story will disappear". So Sam, here's what the expert information shows: the Netherlands started out in the 1970s with a higher death rate on its roads than the U.S., and after the oil crisis, steadily added protected bike lanes everywhere. It is now a much safer place to be than the United States (it's not #1, but the countries that is, Sweden, also heavily pushes protected bike lanes through Vision Zero). So the debate is over. It's time to act. Protected bike lanes need to come to the neighborhood--and to all other Providence neighborhoods--now.

I used to canvass. Speaking with down-tone, keep your message simple, and don't give ground when there's no ground to give!

By the way, things that are unusual make traffic safer. It's well known that five-point intersections that feel unsafe actually have fewer (and more importantly, less severe) crashes, because people who approach these uncontrolled intersections feel insecure, and thus slow down. When countries change the norms around "keep right" or "keep left", there is often an adjustment period in which drivers feel out-of-place on the side of the road they're on, and data shows that traffic crashes go down. Sweden originally had a keep left norm, and then changed to keep right. The crashes went down, but then over time adjusted back to the baseline norm as drivers became accustomed to the new direction. So, if anything, perhaps we should throw a monkey wrench in things every so often so as to reduce fatalities.
Anyway, that's all I wanted to add. People who don't bathe themselves in data about transportation try to pick up the gestalt of a speaker's theme from a short comment they make, and I would like the other bike advocates in Providence to stop blocking progress with unnecessary equivocation (I know you don't mean to do that, but it matters!).



  1. I'm probably not using dangerous and risk in the correct way for the point I was trying to make. You did a pretty good job of parsing my meaning though with your counter-example data.

    My fuller point about danger was meant to be that unexpected conditions are more likely to contribute to drivers causing crashes - hence what I call more dangerous. I see this being a little different than the countervailing data you've provided. Changing the side of the road one drives on, or making other large changes to a roadway would clearly make for more cautious initial behaviors. My recollection is that I was trying to describe possible impacts of raised/differentiated sidewalks, not bike lanes or protected bike lanes.

    The risk side of my statement is that if traffic speeds are successfully lowered because the severity of an injury when a crash occurs is less (assuming auto vs. walker/rider). Keep in mind that this is also in the context that no incidents/crashes have been reported to police in the last 3 years, according to the DPW presentation.

    As you point out, familiarity leads to less safe behaviors (speeds, turning maneuvers, etc.). Since familiarity isn't something that can reasonably be prevented, better design is the answer, but there is likely a transition period. And that was meant to be my point.

  2. Thanks for the clarification.