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Sharing the road is one place to start. Why should one on a two-wheeled, muscle-powered device pedal along side a garbage truck with blind spots? Wait, why does an automobile even have blind spots? This enormous right-turn lane is one example of “dangerous by design”. 

Update October 5, 2012: For a great example on why I cannot – and why you should not – support bad road designs is this story of a fatal bike crash on a major biking “commuterway” in Chicago. We must stop building narrow bike lanes to the left of parked cars and we can be done with this type of crash for good.

The infrastructure as we have it in Chicago and many other American cities cannot support any increases in bicycling. The operation and design of our infrastructure creates a finite limit for the number of people who will bicycle on it. I’m not talking about how many people can use it, but how many people want to use it.

We’ve seen infinitesimal growth in the bicycle’s mode share for commuting to work, so small that the growth might not actually be growth at all because all the reported increases are within the range of error (the Census Bureau being the collector and distributor of the data). Our infrastructure is not safe, and that is what inhibits an increase in bicycling riders and trips that the City of Chicago, its mayor, its council, its officially adopted plans, and its people, desire. Until our roads are made safe, the cycle growth will remain minuscule or non-existent. The only other significant factor in promoting cycling is high gasoline prices, but even as they remain high, the cycle growth (or spike, seen in 2008) hasn’t returned.

It’s a small group of people who are designing and maintaining our roads. And they are the first group of people we listen to when we say we want safe roads. Instead of the people who’ve actually built safe roads.

The ITE is the Institute of Transportation Engineers, and, like many organizations, has a code of ethics. In their Canons of Ethics document (.pdf), there are at least two sections that require members to stand against bad road designs.

Section 1: The member will have due regard for the safety, health and welfare of the public in the performance of professional duties.

Section 11: The member will guard against conditions that are dangerous or threatening to life, limb, or property on work for which the member is responsible, or, if not responsible, will promptly call such conditions to the attention of those who are responsible.

A study in Portland, Oregon, found that 60% of residents wanted to bike, but had concerns about safety.

These residents are curious about bicycling. They are hearing messages from a wide variety of sources about how easy it is to ride a bicycle in Portland, about how bicycling is booming in the city, about “bicycle culture” in Portland, about Portland being a “bicycle-friendly” city, and about the need for people to lead more active lives. They like riding a bicycle, remembering back to their youths, or to the ride they took last summer on the Springwater, or in the BridgePedal, or at Sun River, and they would like to ride more. But, they are afraid to ride. They don’t like the cars speeding down their streets. They get nervous thinking about what would happen to them on a bicycle when a driver runs a red light, or guns their cars around them, or passes too closely and too fast.

American roads are dangerous by design. It’s time to fire the people who design them that way.

Year after year, roads in Chicago are ripped up, repaved, and restriped in exactly the same way that existed before. Miles of missed opportunities for safer roads. This essay says nothing of the lack of police enforcement of traffic rules, for which there is little empirical evidence. The essay may be updated from time to time, but I won’t be noting each change.

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An example of a better design: the buses and bikes don’t mix, and automobiles turning left cannot be passed by through-automobiles. Bicyclists are safer.