Be Prepared To Dump Your Movement and Its Allies

Red-light cameras began proliferating at suburban intersections in 2009 with the justification that they would prevent crashes.

The same year, the Illinois Department of Transportation raised the dollar threshold necessary to report property damage crashes from $500 to $1,500.

In one fell swoop, reported crashes shrank statewide by 30 percent — from an average of 413,235 a year to an average of 287,718, IDOT officials said.

How much of the credit for reducing crashes should go to red-light cameras?

To answer that question, the Daily Herald analyzed 55 intersections in 29 suburbs using IDOT reports to determine how valuable red-light cameras are at reducing collisions, the main rationale for issuing $100 tickets to drivers.

At first glance, the data shows crashes decreased at 85.5 percent of suburban intersections after red-light cameras were installed.

But a closer look at cameras installed after 2009 at 14 suburban intersections shows their success rate is much lower. In the majority of cases, crashes dropped before the cameras were put up, coinciding with the 2009 IDOT change, and then rose after the cameras were installed.

The 2009 shift isn’t the only problem in trying to objectively analyze red-light camera data. The Daily Herald’s analysis also found an inconsistent system of reporting crash data to IDOT and lack of public access to statewide data.

That’s why a number of experts and good government groups are calling for greater transparency and reforms in how crash data is reported.

I’m not here to persuade the Urban Cycling Movement of just how true these reports might be. I know from past experience that changing the minds of zombies is nearly impossible. But I will ask you to suspend judgment on the veracity of the various claims made by the muckraking media types and the journalistic lapdogs who have come to the defense of the use of red light cameras.

Let’s just look at this problem from a completely objective vantage point. Here are some questions that need answering:

  1. If you have a product which ‘works‘ why would you need to bribe anyone to use it?
  2. If you feel that competition between ‘red light vendors‘ is what caused the bribing how do you explain that?
  3. Presumably the red light cameras will ‘all‘ yield the same results on the very same street intersections. So a bribe would be unnecessary. You could simply offer to install your cameras with a guarantee that they will bring in a given amount of annual income and will show a predictable drop in loss of life or injury.
  4. Why do the data show accident increases following the installation of cameras following 2009? This does not seem in keeping with the stated value of such cameras.
  5. Why do the data show a drop in accidents prior to the installation of the cameras?
  6. What does it say about the ‘integrity‘ of those who took the bribes and those who still defend the use of these cameras?

One thing I would guard against is the notion that the Urban Cycling Movement has any credibility where so-called remedies are concerned. What we have are assumptions which (at least with regard to red-light cameras) are difficult to prove. What is beyond doubt is that the city was making money on the installation and operation of these cameras without necessarily reducing collisions and thus increasing safety.

The same sort of caveat should be offered regarding the value of ‘protected bike lanes‘. The supposed assumption is that bike lanes reduce not only collisions between bikes and cars, but bikes and pedestrians and bikes with other bikes. But data time and again (most recently the Governor’s Report) we learn that the incidence of collisions is not going down, but rather up.

And instead of trying to understand the problem with our assumptions we simply decry the fact that others are exploiting our vulnerabilities. To me this means we are a ‘sham‘ movement that is a bit like ‘Faith Healers‘ of the Elmer Gantry variety. We seem to demand loyalty and adherence to our doctrinal errors regardless of how flagrant they seem to be.

Ninja Riders Glorified

Ninja Riders Glorified

And when necessary we simply adopt what we once denied to be true with a simple line of admission that we were wrong. That has happened most recently with regards to using lights and dressing in bright clothing.

Re-examining Our ‘Blind Spots’

Recently I came across an email in which the writer was suggesting that placing a 2-way bike lane along North Avenue from Oak Park to Elmhurst! The idea probably makes the ‘True Believers‘ pant with excitement. But the real problem here is that ‘bike lanes‘ are not iPhone apps.

We were given the impression a few years ago by the Active Transportation Alliance that somehow putting in ‘bike lanes‘ would made a difference for everyone in the Transportation Landscape. They were supposed to help keep drivers and pedestrians safer. They don’t and probably never will.

What they lack are the kinds of ‘prohibitions to bad behavior‘ that an app provides. Yes you can create a barrier-protected bike lane which will keep out most drivers who should not be there. But you cannot prevent bicyclists who want to do stupid things at intersections from acting out their aggressions on both pedestrians and motorists.

In fact intersections are the Achilles Heel of the entire notion of bicycle infrastructure. We need protected intersections along with bike lanes. Otherwise we are like football player who have on cool looking uniforms but no padding under them and our helmets lack padding as well.

We must have infrastructure that has been tested under laboratory conditions. And that testing has to occur here and not merely be imported from Bicycle Heaven to our shores without questions. And when we find that our ideas do not work, we should openly acknowledge the fact and seek to find ways to remedy the problems.

This continual head-up-our-anal-orifice act is getting a bit tiresome. It might seem cool to be loyal to the movement in the face of criticisms, but it is not honest. We have to be as dispassionate as scientists in the laboratory. If bike lanes do not work, what does? Do we need training? And if training will help, what should it consist of?