Is there a member of the ITE who will stand up against bad road designs?


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.


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. 

flattr this!

About Steven Vance

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

    Are you intentionally pretending to be oblivious to the efforts the City is putting into on-street bikeway design?

    • Steven Vance

      No. But without any mention of it, I’m referring to the competition in the city’s own departments that prevents good designs from making their way to the pavement.

    • Steven Vance

      A door zone bike lane should never be installed again, unless the unsafe outcomes of that design can be mitigated in other ways, like lower practiced automobiles speeds and an intense and effective awareness of “dooring”.
      A bike lane should never end before it reaches an intersection line. If that means removing parking, so be it. We didn’t have the parking meter as a barrier before 2010, so why didn’t bike lanes installed prior to then consistently reach the intersection line?

      • John

        So let’s say a 44 foot wide street is being repaved. There are two parking lanes (7 feet each), two minimum width travel lanes (10 feet each), and two bike lanes (5 feet each). Let’s say there’s no funding to rebuild the curbs and drainage to narrow the sidewalk to install buffered or protected bike lanes. The street is an important collector, so it can’t be one-way. There are lots of local businesses, and neither they nor the Alderman will support removing parking from one side of the street. You would want to remove the bike lanes when the street is repaved because it’s too narrow for buffered bike lanes? That doesn’t seem better to me.

        It seems you are an idealist and you lack an understanding that sometimes compromises are required. Complete streets don’t mean just protected or buffered bike lanes. They mean balancing the needs of all modes. In the new CDOT hierarchy, bikes are third priority after pedestrians and transit. But sometimes nobody gets the amount of space they would like. The sidewalks are too narrow for the pedestrians, there is no buffer for the bikes, there isn’t enough parking for the businesses, there are too few travel lanes and no turn lanes for the cars. It’s the way it is.

        Also, sometimes a left turn lane is a more beneficial safety improvement than an extra 100 feet of bike lane.

        • Steven Vance

          The left turn lane is more beneficial to whom?

          • John

            Total crashes and injuries

      • Walk Eagle Rock

        I agree with this, it’s something I’ve tried bringing up with LA engineers and planners. I wrote a blog post about what I felt is out-dated bikeway design (about how we handle bike lanes and left turns)

        I’ve argued that if we drop bike lanes leading up to intersections, why not at least sharrow that portion? Only counter to this is cost.

        • Steven Vance

          In Chicago, with dropped lanes, there’s sometimes a sign that says “shared lane yield to bikes” and there’s often one sharrow. One. For 100-200 feet. It should be blanketed with them.

  • Betsy m

    interesting blog + piece. Would encourage you to make your illustration a bit clearer (and same for commenters and comments); am having a bit of difficulty deciphering it. I’m not an urban planner, but a graphic designer who works often with architects, reads about bike issue lots, so am not completely unfamiliar.

    I know I might not be your number one demo but I think these sorts of arguments are stronger when interested in being more accessible.

  • Pingback: Fatality Tracker: Would a better bike lane have made a difference? | Grid Chicago

  • Pingback: Fatality Tracker: Cyclist avoids dooring and falls under wheels of semi truck | Grid Chicago

  • Pingback: Safety of biking hasn’t changed, only our realization on what it takes to improve safety | Grid Chicago