Too much talking, not enough documenting

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I took this photo for several reasons: to show a sidewalk reconstruction project that forces people to walk in the street; to show that people bicycling will advance from where I took this photo to the location across Grand Avenue to get a “head start” on cycling across Halsted Street to Milwaukee Avenue. 

Or doing.

I talk to a lot of people about cycling in Chicago and they’ve good stories to share. Stories about positive experiences they’ve had, about negative experiences, or of problems they’ve seen others encounter. I always encourage people to do something about this experience. My advice almost always involves them documenting it in some way; things like reporting a bike crash to the police, even afterwards, or taking a photo of a major pothole. I might suggest they write down their thoughts to share privately with close friends. Or it might be as simple as calling 311 to report an abandoned bike.*

There are lots of things that we want to change. Keeping track of what they are can help focus energy on making that change happen. (That’s why I carry my camera with me at all times outside my home.) One way I’ve started to document and share is by writing about the good and “needs improvement” parts of Chicago transportation on my new blog, Grid Chicago.

If you cycle in Chicago, I implore you to attend the Streets for Cycling planning meetings – the first one is December 10th – so you can express your concerns and desires. There are one hundred other ways to be involved in supporting a change in Chicago, and I might be able to link you one you’re interested in.

Note: The CTA has started several online efforts to collect feedback from and communicate with customers, but they’ve always collected feedback through their email address, [email protected], where they always respond. These new efforts are Facebook, Budget Ideas, and Twitter.

Let’s do this for bike crashes: I guess I’ll start a bike crash documentation project right now (January 5, 2012). Write up a report and share me a link, or leave a comment on one of these pages:

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Another person bicycles across Grand Avenue to get that head start. 

*These are all things I do, but I encourage everyone to think creatively and do what interests them.

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About Steven Vance

Enthusiast for urbanism, bicycling as transportation, and open data. Building a bicycle culture in Chicago.
  • DanSwick

    What is your opinion on cyclists trying to get a head start at these 3-way intersections? I personally find it a bit irritating, especially since I’m sure it diminishes the image of cyclists in the eyes of nearby motorists. However, I think I remember you mentioning that you support the “scramble” crosswalk concept because infrastructure should accommodate the needs and behavior of those it is designed to serve. Does the same apply to cyclists at these kinds of intersections?

    • Steven Vance

      There are two kinds of six-way intersections: Ones without islands (like the one in the photos, Grand/Halsted/Milwaukee), and ones with islands (like the following intersection at Chicago/Ogden/Milwaukee, which happens to have the most crashes of any intersection on Milwaukee). 

      When cyclists are moving ahead to the other side of Grand Avenue, you could say that they’re following the crosswalk and that it has a “WALK” signal (you can see this in the photo). At this intersection, it seems pretty safe to advance to the other side of Grand Avenue. Drivers turning from Halsted onto Grand should be looking out for people crossing the street and yielding to them. 

      The same behavior happens frequently at southbound Milwaukee at North/Damen in front of Starbucks. 

      As far as wanting to change cyclist behavior in Chicago, this is very low on my to-do list. I’m trying to get more people to bike with lights

      • BlueFairlane

        I always come to your posts a month or two late … I’m slow.

        I tend to avoid the behavior described here except in very rare circumstances. I think it’s a very dangerous practice at an intersection like Chicago/Ogden/Milwaukee, and is one reason accidents happen so frequently there. (I personally have seen bicyclists being loaded onto ambulances there twice.) I don’t think it’s nearly as unsafe at Milwaukee/North/Damen, but I don’t see that it serves much purpose, either. I often see people headed inbound roll past me so they can stop right next to Damen. The placement of the light makes it difficult to see when it goes green from that spot, though, and there frequently are cars still backed up into the intersection when the light turns. The bicyclists have to wait for those cars to move on through the intersection before they take off, when I’m already pedalling through North knowing the cars will be gone by the time I get there. I usually pass the bicyclists at full speed while they’re still just getting started.

        In my experience, there’s sometimes an issue at Grand/Halsted/Milwaukee in which vehicles turning onto Grand sit in the middle of the intersection and then run the light, making it dangerous for bicyclists who wait. If looking at the particular cars there I get the feeling that this might happen, I’ll move on ahead at that intersection. But I don’t do it all the time.

        • Steven Vance

          I’ve been reading more about the Dutch Sustainable Safety principles, and one of the principles is recognizability:
          “Road users should know which driving behaviour is expected of them and what they can expect from others. In a sustainably safe traffic system, road users should ‘automatically’ drive as is to be expected. Generally, people make fewer mistakes when engaging in automatic behaviour, than while driving using reasoned actions.
          The desired driving behaviour can only be incited with a uniform road design which is well tuned to it. Drivers need to recognize the road type and automatically behave accordingly. This must be the case for the entire road network: not only the other road users’ driving behaviour should be predictable, but the road course as well.”
          Another principle is “homogeneity”. That is, “This means that vehicles with large differences in mass, speed, and direction must be physically separated from each other. For example, cars and vulnerable road users are incompatible, and so are lorries and other vehicles, or motor vehicles driving in opposite directions. Conflicts between these vehicle types will almost inevitably have a severe outcome. With separate infrastructures or dual carriageways this type of conflict can be prevented.”

  • AKA60643

    Having a camera along for the ride and documenting problems can make all the difference in finding solutions.  Getting good photos has helped me to get action in situations where nothing short of a photo could adequate describe that situation.

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