Repeating Mistakes and Expecting Different Outcomes

Background Reading



Quote from the article:

These gaps reflect a distinctive challenge of designing and building bike lanes in Los Angeles: Logical routes require the cooperation of multiple agencies and municipalities. The Santa Monica Boulevard bike lane, for example, can’t grow without the backing of Caltrans and Beverly Hills. Located as it is between huge swaths of L.A., Beverly Hills is a keystone, but community support to create a single east-west route through town just doesn’t exist. “The city has thrown cyclists to the dogs,” says Mark Elliot, a Beverly Hills resident who was educated as a city planner and runs the Web site “The present policy is just built around trying to speed regional traffic through town as quickly as possible, and there’s not really a safe place to ride.” A lengthy public discussion about extending the Santa Monica Boulevard bike lane through Beverly Hills was tabled by the city council, then killed in committee deliberations in July. Here and all over the region, cyclists must wait for safe places to ride—and pray they don’t get hit.

Faith will get you only so far. Data from the Beverly Hills Police Department indicate that injuries involving cyclists in that city were up 33 percent in 2014 over the previous year. It’s worse in L.A., where there were almost 1,500 accidents involving bikes and cars as of August. That’s only marginally less than August 2013 figures. Often a cyclist is lucky if the driver even stops. A report assembled late last year by the Los Angeles Times found that between 2002 and 2012 the number of hit-and-run incidents involving cyclists rose 42 percent, while more than 5,600 riders were injured during that period. The LAPD has closed only 20 percent of hit-and-run cases between 2008 and 2012. Ted Rogers, a copywriter who since 2009 has operated the popular blog Biking in LA, has compiled stats of his own, and he’s determined that a staggering 31 cyclists died in Los Angeles County last year. (By comparison, New York State had 45 such deaths in 2012.) In the first half of this year the data are fairly encouraging: According to Rogers, fatal incidents involving cyclists are down 18 percent in L.A. County from the same period in 2014. “I’m not sure why the numbers are trending this way but suspect the publicity surrounding the passage of a three-foot law has helped make drivers more aware,” says Rogers, referring to state legislation that took effect last September requiring drivers to give cyclists a wide berth or face a fine. “The bottom line is that it’s safer but not safe enough.”


Everybody I know is constantly talking about safety as if it were just another ‘protected bike lane‘ away. And yet when we read articles like the one above we learn that as the number of cyclists rises (generally as a result in the expansion of bicycle infrastructure) the number of injuries and fatalities rise along with the increases in cycling traffic. Why is that?

To put it another way, if you were offering a vaccine for a given disease and you brought in an additional number of doses in anticipation of an outbreak, would you expect the number of reported cases to go down or up? Well, what we are experiencing in virtually every city where infrastructure gets installed is an increase in the number of injuries and fatalities. And along with that we see the never-ending complaints about the behavior of automobiles.

So How To We Get Off This Merry-go-round?

The first step is to isolate the bicycles from the cars in one of two ways:

  • Limit the ‘speed differential‘ to a point where both classes of vehicle are on an ‘equal footing‘.
  • Separate the traffic of the majority of cyclists onto ‘cycle tracks‘.

What makes for the toxic mix of bicycles and cars is the ‘speed differential‘. We have this same problem on MUPs. If bicycles race along on the Chicago Lakefront Trail at something upwards of 20-25 miles per hour they limit their own ability to react to the movement of pedestrians and joggers up ahead. There is a ‘closing rate‘ which if large enough means that two wheeled vehicles cannot steer around a target without either inuring themselves or the target.

The Dutch understand the problem and limit the presence of bike lanes to streets where the speed limit is no more then 30 kph. When this is done they eliminate most parking with the exception of back-in parking that is slanted. By doing this they keep cyclists out of the ‘Door Zone‘.

Why Do We Tolerate Such A Large Speed Differential?

One of the aspects of the ‘speed differential‘ is that the faster vehicle begins to see its trajectory as inviolate. This is the ‘Tyranny of Speed‘. If you are a cyclist who is ‘amber gambling‘ you have no doubt experienced this.

Up ahead is a crosswalk. Pedestrians are ambling through it and your speed is such that you would prefer to ‘avoid losing your momentum‘. The light for you is now red. And the pedestrians are crossing right in front of you. You aim directly at the closest one knowing that with respect to him you are the ‘stable trajectory‘. If he keeps moving you will hit the spot where he ‘used to be‘.

If you want everyone to feel safer you need to ‘limit the speed differential‘. If all parties are moving at the same relative top speed no one has a right to assume a more ‘stable trajectory‘ than the next fellow.

Complete Isolation Has Its Perks

For moving massive numbers of people without the messiness of bike lanes, the Dutch resort to ‘cycle tracks‘. The trick here is to isolate the trajectories of bicycles altogether from motor vehicles. This approach is massively expensive. But it has its perks:

  • Cars are allowed to travel on streets where their speeds are higher than when in the presence of ‘bike lanes‘.
  • Cycle tracks‘ mean that bicycles are not part of the normal signal control plan of streets.
  • Bicycles that have been isolated in this manner in fact travel through hubs that lie above or below the grade level of traffic. They limit the delays associated with the slower moving bicycle traffic.
  • Bicycles encounter roundabouts which mean that they can move continuously while negotiating the move to a new ‘spoke on the hub‘ of bicycle traffic.

Our Current Efforts At Advocacy

Those who consider themselves the voice of the Urban Cycling Movement are often reduced to the incessant reporting of collisions between bicycles and motor vehicles and reporting the incidences of death and or injury. Of what real value is this approach?

Take for instance a situation in which women were being physically abused by their spouses. This could be in any town or village on the face of the globe. Reporting each Monday that number of names of the women beaten or even killed is not resolving the problem. It is bearing witness to the problem, but does not resolve the problem.

This is essentially what passes as advocacy right now on countless forums devoted to the Urban Cycling Movement. The problem it creates is that there is a distinct isolation of deaths and injuries of cyclists who happen to have been jogging or walking home from the grocery store but were hit and even killed and not by a motorist but by a cyclist. Suddenly we have to decide which death is worth bearing witness and which is not.

We Are Patients Who Are Not Seeking Out Specialists

Backwards bike lane: Good news: Cleveland is now installing buffered bike lanes. Bad news: it’s painting the buffer on the wrong side.

Backwards bike lane: Good news: Cleveland is now installing buffered bike lanes. Bad news: it’s painting the buffer on the wrong side.

Obviously the problem depicted in the image above is troublesome. But it is not isolated. We are functioning at a level here in the United States that suggests that rather than turn to specialists we are doggedly trying to ‘reinvent the wheel‘.

The Dutch have street designs that they have been using for nearly 60 years or more. They work and they work well. And yet we have only one instance of a Dutch intersection in the whole of the United States. Why is that?

The Futile Spousal Abuse Approach

The problem of inept traffic design is everyone’s problem. I would bet that most motorists are unaware of the extremely conservative approach used by the Dutch in deciding where and how to install protected bike lanes. Instead each and every city it seems is in a headlong race to install as many miles of bike lanes as possible and not a single city among them is limiting the use of these lanes to streets with a maximum speed limit of 30 kph. Why is that?

Getting back to my previous example, it is not enough to simply report spousal abuse. There has to be a means of actually detecting whether a given approach to the problem will actually work. Lanes are not the point of attack in resolving the problems on our streets. It is the intersection, dummies!

Until we stop merely reporting spousal abuse and instead employing an effective approach to resolving the problem women are going to be beaten and injured and even killed. The same thinking applies to cyclists. Wringing our hands and pointing fingers is not advocacy of the type that actually reduces or eliminates the problem.

Why is that so difficult to understand?