Thursday, October 18, 2012

Making intersections safer

Intersections are easily the most dangerous place for both bicyclists and motorcyclists. The smaller vehicles are harder to see, especially for attention-deficit drivers who are distracting themselves with phone calls, etc. Far too often, the motorist laments, "I didn't see him!" after smashing a rider, even though they were often headed straight toward one another.

Bicyclists are also vulnerable to the "right hook" at intersections. The rider is coming up beside a car on the right - in the bike lane, and the right-turning car - often without signaling - turns into the cyclist's path.

(Personally, I'm very aware of the potential for such a situation, and watch turn signals closely. It is required by law to signal a turn, you know. However, I don't trust the non-signaling driver and make sure I have an escape route... just in case I'm suddenly being right-hooked by somebody who can't operate the turn signal on account of the phone, the coffee cup, etc.)

Traffic engineers are always trying to figure out ways to make intersections safer. In Portland, they've tried bright green "bike boxes" - painted pavement to designate places where a bicycle should be. Unfortunately, that particular effort may not have had the desired effect - this story says right-hook accidents have actually increased following their implementation at "a handful of tricky intersections."

Here in Boise, they've kinda done a "Bike Boxes Lite" treatment - some bike lanes have been painted dark green, apparently in an effort to remind motorists that they are sharing the pavement with cyclists. (I hope they got a good deal on the paint, because it's ugly! And it's so dark it's hardly noticeable... and 2 or 3 months later it's fading badly.)

My friend and correspondent Bob T sent me some very interesting info about the Dutch way of doing intersections. Very innovative! (I've never been to the Netherlands, but they are arguably the most bike-friendly folks on the planet. Cycling is part of the "national identity," and bike transportation is routine for the citizenry.)

The intersections are enlarged to create a "semi-roundabout" for the bike lanes, which are isolated from motor traffic by a raised island. Woe to the poor motorist who strays too far to the right - he'll be jumping a curb! The main advantage is improved line-of-sight... motorists and cyclists aren't creeping into each other's blind spots. And of course, as Bob points out, there isn't an "us versus them" attitude of resentment between motorists and cyclists. They're just members of the "family of man" trying to get from Point A to Point B.

Here are a couple of videos that explain it all. This one is an explanation, using diagrams, etc. ... the "power point" explanation. And this one uses street-side video to show how it works in real life. (Real life is always better than "on paper.")

Traffic engineers on this side of the pond could definitely take a cue from those innovative windmill people who wear the wooden shoes and grow tulips!


Josh said...

I'd much rather take my place in line behind motor traffic than pass on the right. With the described design, it requires a separate green phase for the bike lane, and even then, motorists will run the red to turn right (as demonstrated at the end of the video).

If there is a bike lane, it should end before the intersection and cyclists should merge with other vehicles through the intersection.
Anytime there's a through lane to the right of a right turn lane, there will be conflicts.

Bikeboy said...

Josh, you are obviously a "vehicular cyclist"! Indeed, if you're serious about cycling in most US cities, you'll be sharing pavement "intimately" with motor vehicles.

I've got to confess I'm an "opportunist" - if it seems advantageous to be in the vehicle lane, I'll take it. But if there's a bike lane and I can jump up the line by using it, I'll often do that.

Most casual cyclists are very uncomfortable being in the vehicle lane. Primarily due to lack of experience and confidence... I've learned that most drivers won't deliberately squish me. In fact, most are sympathetic and cooperative, if I'm obviously doing my best not to hold 'em up.

Clancy Anderson said...

The green paint here is not noticeable especially with the darker mornings. ACHD did just repaint part of their "wider" bike lane on Americana.

I dont' think it matters where you are in the travel lane or bike lane when drivers continue to be idiots. A couple of days ago, a driver swerved into the bike lane and into a parking lot, down a side walk just so he could miss the red light. He crossed over State Street and filled up at the Cheveron. I hit my brakes and yelled. I thought about stopping a talking, but just rode on.