Traffic Fatalities Up in NYC – Despite Increased Bicycle Infrastructure

Background Reading

Summary

Judgment day is upon us. Here is what our beloved High Priest of Urban Cycling wrote in response to an irate post by one Mark Konkol in the Chicago Sun-Times:

Ron Burke, Executive Director, Active Transportation Alliance

Ron Burke, Executive Director, Active Transportation Alliance

The Active Transportation Alliance agrees with Mark Konkol’s call for courtesy and respect on our streets (“Rogue Bikers Ignore Rules of the Road,” July 22). Unfortunately Mr. Konkol’s baseless hyperbole is counter-productive toward these measures, which seek only to divide people and fuel more aggression.

“We are people too,” Mr. Konkol reminds bike commuters, after labeling them as “rabid” and “militant” “crazies” and “knuckleheads.” If Mr. Konkol seeks more courtesy and respect, perhaps he should demonstrate some himself. Courtesy begins with each of us, even when someone is wrong. For example, we respectfully point to traffic data from across the country demonstrating the safety benefits of protected bike lanes, which contradicts Mr. Konkol’s claim they are “bunk.”

Chicago is transitioning into a city where you can safely walk, bike and drive. Reckless biking is not acceptable, nor is reckless driving. In Chicago alone, there are 60 vehicle crashes per day with serious injuries and fatalities to people inside cars, on foot and on bikes. Better street design, including protected bike lanes, helps calm all traffic and improve safety. People in cars, on bikes and on foot should all embrace these changes, even if some are still adjusting to them. To commuters and newspaper columnists alike, let’s show a little courtesy and respect for one another.

— Ron Burke, Executive Director, Active Transportation Alliance

New York would probably argue that they have not had enough time to prove the vaunted “safety benefits of protected bike lanes“. But eventually you will have to give the taxpayers a reason to keep backing the expenditures that these lanes represent. And having the fatality rates rides is not exactly the best way to make the case for the “safer infrastructure” they supposedly represent.

The Laundry Detergent Dilemma

New York is suffering because it has released data that has now been verified to show that its traffic fatalities are up in NYC for 2012. I liken this problem to all of the overselling that goes on in advertisements on television. We have tried to take a page from the commercials where the guy throws ink, then mud and finally red wine onto a nice wool carpet before squirting a bottle of miracle cleaner onto it and magically the stains are gone!

Make no mistake about it Protected Bike Lanes are far less about “safety” then they are about a political agenda designed to help curb the affects of Climate Change by reducing the number of automobiles on the roadways of America and more importantly in its urban districts. But like the current “Bike Mean Business” blather we are attempting to appeal to the GOP and its allies who are often on the other side of the debate where Climate Change is concerned.

But wait, I am not supposed to admit to this. There is a tacit agreement amongst the faithful members of the Church of Urban Cycling to simply omit these obvious attempts to “connect the dots” and instead peddle our product the way we would a miracle stain remover. But the founder of the GOP himself was fond of saying:

You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.
Abraham Lincoln

And that about sums it up. Eventually you have to “face the music” and explain why what you said did not come to pass. If we have a year following 2013 in which the fatalities in this city ride we will have to do the same sort of explaining of our promises that the current Chief of Police is doing every time another gun related fatality occurs. Chicago is sadly the murder capital of the Big Cities right now. No amount of shuffling is going to make that fact any more palatable.

We may have indeed “over sold” Protected Bike Lanes. We are about to make perhaps the same mistake with BRTs. Not every solution works in every situation. That is something with which most citizens are quite familiar. What they do not tolerate for very long is “happy talk“. That is the kind of drivel that was laid out for all to see and pick over when Ron Burke wrote his reply.

Now that the biggest of the urban population has had a chance to show the effects of their infrastructure the facts is going to have to be explained. Politicians and their department chiefs are going to be trotted out to explain away the data as either anomalous or the fault of those drivers who simply cannot give up their text messaging.

The entire purpose of Road Diets was to slow down traffic. Yet we see that in New York City just the opposite effect has taken place. Either our ideas about Road Diets being “traffic calming” measures is misguided or we need to understand why they failed in this particular instance. StreetsBlog writes as follows about this practice used here in Chicago:

The Chicago Department of Transportation has added many miles of protected and buffered bike lanes across the city, but it can be challenging to find space for protected lanes on the streets where they are needed the most. CDOT has implemented “road diets” on several streets, replacing excess car lanes with protected lanes, which has the added benefit of reducing speeding and shortening pedestrian crossing distances. The Dearborn two-way protected bike lane, through the heart of the Loop, is the most notable example of this tactic.

— John Greenfield

Our cycling advocates offer up these explanations as Gospel Truth because that is what they are taught and thus believe. But unless they offer a bit more skeptical analysis of these so-called facts and/or ask for more proof we will continue to get “straw man” data from studies paid for and authorized by bicycle sales groups to help bolster the Urban Cycling myths about bicycle infrastructure which when they prove to be untrue or at least fail to be fulfilled leaves everyone either having to scramble for a good spin on the problem or ready to point fingers at anyone who questions authority. Bring it on guys. I can take it!

Now all of these explanations might indeed be right, but the fact is we promised a stain free carpet, no excuses. So we either deliver a stain free carpet or give the damned consumers their money back. And the next time our advertising department decides to use grandiose language strangle the bastard who offered up the first draft.

A Truth Commission Is What Is Needed

We really do not know if our Protected Bike Lanes will work in every situation. We do know that they are harder to build than we had imagined. We did a so-so job in putting together Dearborn Street. But the level of discontent from folks who have a vested interest in being pleased with it is far too high. Our “J. C. Powers” ratings for this stretch of showcase lane development is not really good enough.

We are acting as if having obtained the playbook from last year’s Super Bowl winners is enough to guarantee we will win it all this year. That is simply not a realistic approach. Simple things like really checking out the terrain and the problems of actually riding a stretch of newly created lane do not appear to have been done in all cases. There is no excuse for building the bike lane on Jackson and having the option to do a right turn onto Morgan be such a hassle. A rider approaching that intersection expecting perhaps a Bike Box finds none. And then is forced to do three left turns to get back onto Morgan to head south to the UIC campus. This is inexcusable!

Likewise having seasoned riders falling on grates specifically installed on the Dearborn Street bridge to avoid such falls is outrageous! It makes us look incompetent. And against the backdrop of being a city where you life is in jeopardy from gun play this is something that we can sorely afford. It is something that every true Chicago native must cringe at when they hear of another death. Adding to that our inability to get the really simple stuff like street lanes done in a safe and sound manner defies logic.

I would rather have nothing to write about each time I sit at this keyboard than to have my blood boil yet again when I realize that we are the victims of our own hyperbole. Tell the public the truth. They can take a level of uncertainty. They understand that when you enter a country like Iraq or Afghanistan you may not be able to walk out with all your goals in hand. Not having a lock on traffic safety is hardly a blip on the public radar, by comparison.

If we keep up with the “happy talk” people will eventually turn to the truth of another of the saying so our 16th President:

Stand with anybody that stands right. Stand with him while he is right and part with him when he goes wrong.
— Abraham Lincoln