CategoryBicycling

Here’s how to fix the right-hook problem at Kinzie and Jefferson

Kinzie runs east-west, side to side in this Google Street View image. The ideal viewing angle between a motorist and bicyclist is 90 degrees, which is possible for the eastbound cyclist (from right to left) and the northbound motorist (pictured, in the white car). The eastbound motorist turning onto southbound Jefferson has an acute view angle to the cyclist and motorists typically believe they can make the right turn before it could possible harm the cyclist. Making the street one-way would mitigate this right-hook problem.

Kinzie runs east-west, side to side in this Google Street View image. The ideal viewing angle between a motorist and bicyclist is 90 degrees, which is possible for the eastbound cyclist (from right to left) and the northbound motorist (pictured, in the white car). The eastbound motorist turning onto southbound Jefferson has an acute view angle to the cyclist and motorists typically believe they can make the right turn before it could possible harm the cyclist. Making the street one-way would mitigate this right-hook problem.

Make Jefferson Street a one-way street going northbound so no more motorists will turn right onto southbound Jefferson and right-hook bicyclists going east on Kinzie Street.

It’s that simple. It should have been done four years ago when the Kinzie Street protected bike lane was created from a road diet (4 to 2 conversion). Instead, I get reports like this one. In fact, this exact scenario has played out several times since the lane’s inception, including with a truck in the first weeks after the lane opened.

I was traveling eastbound in the bike lane on Kinzie Street. A car was traveling in the same direction, but did not yield to me as it turned in front of me. I had my attention on the car in advance in case it did something like this, so I had sufficient time to slow down and avoid running into it as it turned to the right in front of me.

I’m glad this person was experienced enough to avoid the crash, but we can’t expect that bicyclists and motorists have the right experience when traveling within the city.

A two-way Jefferson isn’t necessary to provide access to the parking behind the residential building here because access can be gained from Canal (a two-way street) and the two-way driveway leading from Canal.

If maintaining Jefferson as a two-way street is imperative, then we can make some really intense infrastructure – intense by Chicago standards – and create a neckdown and raised intersection so that only one direction of traffic can cross the bike lane at any time. If there’s a northbound motorist waiting to turn onto Kinzie from Jefferson, and there’s a motorist on Kinzie wanting to turn onto Jefferson, then the Kinzie motorist would wait for the Jefferson motorist to turn.

The raised intersection is an additional traffic calming measure that also improves pedestrian accessibility.

What sucks about the state of infrastructure in the United States is the lack of understanding and knowledge about atypical designs (limited and rare examples of practical applications across the country) and this leads to deficient implementations of designs proven to work millions of times a day elsewhere.

The person who submitted this Close Call suggested more signs or a flashing overhead light. Yet those are tools that don’t actually require the motorist (or the bicyclist) to react in any way, whereas a piece of infrastructure – concrete, asphalt, and their topography – does more than just remind or encourage.

I would go so far as to suggest a policy that sets a target reduction in signage in the city, because eliminated signage must be replaced by the appropriate infrastructure. The best example? We have a law in Chicago where, if there’s a sign saying so, you cannot park a car within 20 feet of a crosswalk.

Get rid of the sign – they’re so ugly – and the need to pay attention to it by building a bumpout with a bioswale. Not only have you enforced the “no parking” regulation now until the concrete crumbles, and given pedestrians a shorter walk across the roadway, you also add stormwater infrastructure that reduces the burden on our combined sewer system.

Use Turf to perform GIS functions in a web browser

Turf's merge function joins invisible buffers around each Divvy station into a single, super buffer.

Turf’s merge function joins invisible buffers around each Divvy station into a single, super buffer –all client-side, in your web browser.

I’m leading the development of a website for Slow Roll Chicago that shows the distribution of bike lane infrastructure in Chicago relative to key and specific demographics to demonstrate if the investment has been equitable.

We’re using GitHub to store code, publish meeting notes, and host discussions with the issues tracker. Communication is done almost entirely in GitHub issues. I chose GitHub over Slack and Google Groups because:

  1. All of our research and code should be public and open source so it’s clear how we made our assumptions and came to our conclusions (“show your work”).
  2. Using git, GitHub, and version control is a desirable skill and more people should learn it; this project will help people apply that skill.
  3. There are no emails involved. I deplore using email for group communication.*

The website focuses on using empirical research, maps, geographic analysis to tell the story of bike lane distribution and requires processing this data using GIS functions. Normally the data would be transformed in a desktop GIS software like QGIS and then converted to a format that can be used in Leaflet, an open source web mapping library.

Relying on desktop software, though, slows down development of new ways to slice and dice geographic data, which, in our map, includes bike lanes, wards, Census tracts, Divvy stations, and grocery stores (so far). One would have to generate a new dataset if our goals or needs changed .

I’ve built maps for images and the web that way enough in the past and I wanted to move away from that method for this project and we’re using Turf.js to replicate many GIS functions – but in the browser.

Yep, Turf makes it possible to merge, buffer, contain, calculate distance, transform, dissolve, and perform dozens of other functions all within the browser, “on the fly”, without any software.

After dilly-dallying in Turf for several weeks, our group started making progress this month. We have now pushed to our in-progress website a map with three features made possible by Turf:

  1. Buffer and dissolving buffers to show the Divvy station walk shed, the distance a reasonable person would walk from their home or office to check out a Divvy station. A buffer of 0.25 miles (two Chicago blocks) is created around each of the 300 Divvy stations, hidden from display, and then merged (dissolved in traditional GIS parlance) into a single buffer. The single buffer –called a “super buffer” in our source code – is used for another feature. Currently the projection is messed up and you see ellipsoid shapes instead of circles.
  2. Counting grocery stores in the Divvy station walk shed. We use the “feature collection” function to convert the super buffer into an object that the “within” function can use to compare to a GeoJSON object of grocery stores. This process is similar to the “select by location” function in GIS software. Right now this number is printed only to the console as we look for the best way to display stats like this to the user. A future version of the map could allow the user to change the 0.25 miles distance to an arbitrary distance they prefer.
  3. Find the nearest Divvy station from any place on the map. Using Turf’s “nearest” function and the Context Menu plugin for Leaflet, the user can right-click anywhere on the map and choose “Find nearby Divvy stations”. The “nearest” function compares the place where the user clicked against the GeoJSON object of Divvy stations to select the nearest one. The problem of locating 2+ nearby Divvy stations remains. The original issue asked to find the number of Divvy stations near the point; we’ll likely accomplish this by drawing an invisible, temporary buffer around the point and then using “within” to count the number of stations inside that buffer and then destroy the buffer.
Right-click the map and select "Find nearby Divvy stations" and Turf will locate the nearest Divvy station.

Right-click the map and select “Find nearby Divvy stations” and Turf will locate the nearest Divvy station.

* I send one email to new people who join us at Open Gov Hack Night on Tuesdays at the Mart to send them a link to our GitHub repository, and to invite them to a Dropbox folder to share large files for those who don’t learn to use git for file management.

Meet Chicago’s newest street view fleet: bikes

Bicycle holds an iPhone to take street view-style images

This position gives the smartphone an unimpeded view of the street but prevents the user from manipulating it.

I first used the Mapillary app on iPhone last fall, in August, and I uploaded one photo, of my arm, which I can’t delete from the website. I uploaded a couple more photos from a street in Roscoe Village in November.

This week, though, I uploaded 500 photos from a three mile journey on California and Milwaukee Avenues in Chicago – streets that no one else had photographed for the Mapillary street view service.

Mapillary is an open source (sort of) street view service, originally developed in Sweden, which allows the public to contribute photos taken with their smartphone app.

What’s “sort of” about Mapillary being open source is that it appears that the company owns the photos once you upload them. People are free to use the photos to edit OpenStreetMap, or publish elsewhere – for personal use only – with attribution that adheres to Creative Commons 4.0. People who want to use the photos in a commercial application must subscribe to a pay service.

Mounting an iPhone to a bicycle

I took the jump from contributing nothing to uploading a whole lot because I bought an iPhone mount for my bicycle. After months of research – okay, chalk it up to my being lazy and it being really cold outside – I settled on the DgRock Universal Bicycle Mount from Amazon for $9. I was perplexed that there was a gap in choices between this decent $9 product and the next group, hovering around $30-40.

After three days of use, I’m satisfied, despite limitations that are present in all mounts I surveyed. The DgRock mount is solid, barely moves even as the bike bounces along Chicago’s pothole-ridden streets, and securely holds the iPhone with a strong, spring-loaded grip. It’s universal in two ways: it holds nearly any smartphone (it probably can’t hold one with a screen 5″ or larger) and it attaches to most bicycle handlebars.

The first day I used the DgRock mount Mapillary complained with a red icon that it couldn’t get a proper fix on its location and therefore it wouldn’t start photographing. Fine, I was in downtown Chicago where connecting to GPS satellites can be hard. I figured the wifi positioning system that all smartphones and tablets use would suffice.

There are problems with the mount, but I think these apply to all bicycle smartphone mounts: When the phone is in position to take photos, meaning its horizontal and level to the ground, you can’t see the screen. That’s because the screen, mounted on the handlebars, is much lower than your eyes and faces vertically, instead of angled towards your face. The only way around this, I believe, is to either get an upright bicycle (like my WorkCycles Fr8) or an adjustable lens (I can’t find any).

Smartphone mount holding an iPhone on a bicycle

This position allows the user to manipulate the smartphone but you cannot take street view-style images.

The possible position angles of the smartphone when held by the mount was my main concern as I was shopping on Amazon: The mount need to have the flexibility to position the smartphone so its rear camera could be level with the ground. Smartphone mounts, though, are made to put the device in a position to be used and viewed frequently by the bicycle rider – it was unclear if many of the other smartphone mounts could accommodate the street view angles requirement.

The DgRock has no issue moving the iPhone into the right position, as you can see in the photos from my journey (or scroll to the end). Its issue, though, is that you have to put the smartphone in “backwards” so that the claw covers up part of the screen. I call it an issue but it doesn’t disturb the mount’s primary purpose when using Mapillary – the phone still has a clear view of the street.

Even with an upright bike like mine, though, it’s difficult to see the screen. I believe that Mapillary can actually design its app to help overcome this physical limitation.

Using Mapillary

The Mapillary app has improved greatly since the first version. It allows you to delete bad or undesired photos before uploading, and it has a simpler interface to go from opening the app to making your own street view. There are a couple changes I think would improve the user experience and lead to more contributions.

I would like to be able to turn off the screen while using Mapillary to save battery life. I think that the screen could fade to black and a small white dot or halo appears frequently to remind you that it’s working. I’d also like it to chime when iOS throws the “low storage” warning. Otherwise I may be riding along, thinking Mapillary is capturing the street, when iOS had actually run out of storage 10 minutes ago.

Study recommends designing bike paths for bikes, not for sharing

running and bicycling on the lakefront trail

Some parts of the Chicago Lakefront Trail have a 2-foot wide side path designed for pedestrians but the study reviewed very cases where bicyclists crashed with pedestrians. It’s unknown if this side path results in fewer crashes than the parts of the Lakefront Trail without it. Photo: Eric Allix Rogers

The Active Transportation Alliance posted a link on Facebook to a new study [PDF] in the Open BMJ from December 2014, a free peer-reviewed “version” of the British Medical Journal, and said it “conclusively shows separated space reduces crashes and the severity of injuries when crashes occur”.

The posting was in the context that bicyclists and pedestrians using the Lakefront Trail should have separate paths. I agree, but there’s a problem in how they stated the study’s support for separation.

I wouldn’t say that the study “conclusively” shows that bicyclists would fare better on paths without pedestrians. The study reviewed fewer than 700 crashes in two Canadian cities. Only 11% of those crashes occurred on multi-use trails and only 5.9% of the crashes were with a pedestrian or animal (the two were grouped) – this sample size is too low from which to draw that kind of conclusion.

The study didn’t report the association (correlation) between crash severity and pedestrians. The authors didn’t even recommend that bicyclists and pedestrians have separate paths, but instead wrote “These results suggest an urgent need to provide bike facilities…that are designed [emphasis added] specifically for bicycling rather than for sharing with pedestrians”.

While I don’t discount the possibility that separating bicyclists and pedestrians in off-street corridors will reduce the number of crashes and injuries when those two user groups collide, it’s imprudent to call this study “conclusive” when linking it to the measure of crashes between bicyclists and pedestrians.

The study’s primary conclusion was that bicyclists crash more often when there are high slopes, fast moving cars, or no bike lanes and the authors recommended that bike infrastructure be built for bicycling. That’s a solid recommendation and I recommended that you sign Active Trans’s petition advocating for separate facilities in the North Lake Shore Drive reconstruction project.

We’ve already found all the ways to make bike lanes safer in the 43rd Ward

Michele Smith, 43rd ward alderman seeking re-election, responded to Bike Walk Lincoln Park’s addendum questionnaire about active transportation issues in that ward (which also includes part of Old Town).

“We must continue to explore different ways to make our bike lanes safer given the narrow width of our roads.”

I would discuss these points with her:

1. The number of ways to make bicycling in bike lanes safer is very small. The two biggest problems are car doors and people parking their cars in the bike lanes. I don’t know Smith to have supported building the only bike lane type – a protected bike lane between a car parking lane and the sidewalk – currently in our city’s roster of possibilities that mitigate either of these problems.

2. The problem “given” isn’t the narrow width of roads. Streets in the 43rd Ward range in all sizes, from the very small one-way brick streets to the 4-6+ lane behemoths of LaSalle Boulevard, North Avenue, and Clark Street. The problem is one of allocation – storing things or keeping people moving. Again, see the lack of Smith’s support in the previous point. (No other candidate touched on this either*, and one pitted sidewalks against bike lanes, as if that was the choice that had to be made.)

Despite four years of Bike Walk Lincoln Park’s advocacy to redesign Clark Street I know of not a single person hired or a curb moved – aside from a lonely pedestrian island at Menomonee Street, peanuts compared to what’s been discussed as needed – to improve conditions for walking, bicycling, and transit use on this important connector that is currently a barrier for those modes.

* BWLP asked about moving parking spaces around and Alderman Smith mentioned that the city faces financial penalties when removing metered parking spaces from revenue service, even if temporarily. This is true, but she ignores that the city doesn’t do this on a permanent basis and instead finds unmetered spaces in equal-revenue-value locations that can be swapped.

Eight dead cyclists, but red light cameras are the worst

Streetsblog Chicago reader David Altenburg left a salient comment this morning in response to the final tally of cyclists killed in Chicago last year after being hit by cars.

David's comment about cyclist fatalities and red light cameras

David’s comment about cyclist fatalities and red light cameras.

He wrote, “Is there any evidence that those cyclists who were killed were also issued improper tickets from red light cameras? Because if there is, then maybe we can get the current crop of ‘progressive’ mayoral candidates to give a shit about them.”

In 2013, three bicyclists died in car crashes, a fluke, because if you look at RedEye’s chart the annual average of bicyclist fatalities is 6 people. (There was a fourth cyclist death in 2013, but that was a train crash with the Brown Line.)

The City of Chicago should implement filtered permeability immediately at Green Street and Milwaukee Avenue

This is not a bikeable block

The multiple threats to bicyclists, to pedestrians, and to motorists, are pervasive in the depicted scene. There is low visibility for turning motorists which in turn causes them to encroach on the right of way of other street users, including other motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians.

This single image shows everything that is inefficient and dangerous to bicyclists and motorists about the intersection between north-south Green Street and diagonal Milwaukee Avenue in River West. Motorists should be physically blocked from entering or exiting Green Street at this point because of the danger inherent in the current intersection design. The block of Green Street south of Milwaukee Avenue is so insignificant to the driving network that no other design intervention should be implemented.

The situation depicted in this photograph demonstrates why the City should implement filtered permeability and close this entrance of the Green Street/Milwaukee Avenue intersection to motor vehicle movement. While motorists would be barred from entering or exiting Green Street here bicyclists would still have access to Green Street as part of the low-stress bicycling network of which Green Street is a part, between Milwaukee and Van Buren Street in Greektown.

I first wrote about this problematic intersection in June on Streetsblog Chicago and it remains an issue. One of the two motor vehicles ahead is blocking part of the bike lane while the second threatens to enter it. The bus on the left prevents the bicyclist in the bike lane from maneuvering around either vehicle. The photo below shows the situation from a different angle, that of the motorist wanting to turn left.

The vehicle operator on the left – a bus driver, in this case – has stopped the vehicle because they can occupy the intersection with the vehicle, or leave it open. Essentially, the bus driver has stopped to “let” the motorists on Green Street proceed across Milwaukee and further north into Green Street or turn left onto Milwaukee. Their movements would, again, put the bicyclist in danger, and put themselves and other motorists in danger because they are making nearly-blind turns into faster moving traffic.

The threats to the motorist are as limitless as the ones to the bicyclist (although the bicyclist will experience much greater injury if the threat is realized). As the motorist is paying attention to other motor vehicle traffic the bicyclist is coming down this bike lane – yep, I took the photograph – and is additionally obscured by the line of parked cars on the bicyclist’s right, and is in the shadow of the bus and the buildings. It’s like there’s a perfect storm of blind spots.

The quickest way to implement a system of filtered permeability and raise the significance and safety of the Green Street and intersecting Milwaukee Avenue blocks within the low-stress bicycling network would be to install a series of large planter boxes that prevent motorists from entering or exiting Green Street but allow bicyclists to filter through the planters.

And skip any traffic impact study. Not a single parking space will be lost or be made inaccessible with the implementation. A traffic study is not an experiment, but has practically been a foreboding document that has only ever said “things will be different”. (A good plenty of them have also suggested adding multiple $300,000 traffic signals.)

I read on Streetsblog USA recently about Pittsburgh’s new protected bike lanes:

“Instead of asking people to judge the unknown, the city’s leaders built something new and have proceded to let the public vet the idea once it’s already on the ground.”

Chicago maintains a Silver bike-friendly commenting ranking, yet my initial analysis shows that our metrics are below average among other Silver communities after which I’m led to believe we’re undeserving of the medal. Safety is a citizen’s number one concern when considering to use a bicycle for transportation and it will take an expansion of the low-stress bicycling network – currently not a priority – to deserve the current ranking or achieve anything higher.

Two bicyclists take different routes around this driver blocking the bike lane with their car

This photograph depicts a nearly identical situation but from the perspective of the motorist on Green Street approaching Milwaukee Avenue. Two bicyclists have taken two routes around the motorist blocking the bike lane with their vehicle.

What’s up from Europe: how much is car-free when cycling on a Dutch intercity path?

I posted this photo of Daniel riding with me from Rotterdam to Delft and Justin Haugens asked, “Was this a bike path the whole way?” and added, “[This] would be similar to my work commute.” He rides on the Chicago Lakefront Trail from Rogers Park to South Loop, but must ride off-path from Morse to Ardmore and about Monroe to Roosevelt.

Daniel lives in Rotterdam and works in Delft. The Dutch Cyclists’ Union’s (Fietsersbond) Routeplanner says the shortest path is 11.47 kilometers, or 7.12 miles. We took the short route on a Saturday, but chose the scenic route on Sunday (the day I took this photo) so Daniel could show me the airport, underground high-speed rail tracks, and various geographic features along the way.

I responded to Justin:

It was a dedicated bike path for probably 90% of the way. The thing about Dutch intercity cycle routes is that they separate cycle paths from car paths when the two modes can’t safely share. They can’t safely share when there’s a desire for moving cars quickly or moving big autos (like trucks and buses).

So, there were some points on this journey when the cycle-only path merged with a local road or a service drive [the case in that photo, actually, which you can see better here], but even then the cyclist always has priority and rarely are the junctions configured/signed so that the cyclist has to stop (not requiring the cyclist to stop is a way to make cycling a convenient mode).

In the Netherlands connectivity of bicycle-priority ways is as important as the infrastructure used. When I first visited the Netherlands, in 2010, I arrived in Amsterdam from Bremen, Germany, and rented a bike the next day. I was personally shocked that morning when I rode upon streets with conventional bike lanes (these would be the ones in door zones in the United States) on some streets.

Why was I shocked? I came to the city under the impression that all bicycle infrastructure were cycle tracks, meaning a bike path between the roadway and the sidewalk, on a level slightly above the roadway and below the sidewalk. Since then I’ve learned a lot more about why the Dutch cycle so much and how the bicycle is sometimes used more often than public transit and automobiles.

On our journey from Rotterdam to Delft we must have ridden on every kind of bicycle path the Dutch have designed. These photos sample what we encountered.

The route followed an arterial road for the first portion, but we turned off after only about a mile.

An RET metro train follows the cycle path for a portion of the route we took.

This was my favorite part of the journey to Delft: we came across a shepherd, her two sheep dogs, and her flock of sheep grazing on the bank between the cycle path and the creek.

I’m no longer in Europe but I’ve kept the title prefix, “What’s up from Europe”. Read the other posts in this series

Bike lane mileage is the wrong metric for your city to publicize

Sometimes I tweet things that get pretty popular and then I need to go into more details. Case in point:

Which I followed by tweeting:

Knowing how many miles of bike lanes you have has little importance in determining if I’m going to bike in your city when I visit, or if I’m considering moving there, or if I want to add you to a “bicycle friendly cities” list.

What’s more important is how much the number of people bicycling on those bike lanes has changed. This number will reflect the quality of your bike lanes. Are they still in good shape or have they faded a lot? Do they connect to each other to create a network, or are there gaps that increase the stress of a route? How have you treated the bike lane at intersections, the place where a conflict and crash is most likely to occur?

Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin touched on these points in his recent critique, one of the few worthwhile articles the Tribune has published in the last year about bicycling, by interviewing an organization that tries to make it politically palatable to build unconventional – in the United States – bike lanes.

“Chicago has made incredible progress over the last few years,” said Martha Roskowski, vice president at People for Bikes, a Boulder, Colo.-based advocacy group. But, she added, “Chicago also has a ways to go.”

That’s saying it nicely.

Addressing the gaps in the city’s network of protected bike routes, Roskowski said: “People evaluate a potential bike ride on the basis of the weakest link, the scariest part of the trip, which might be a really busy road you have to ride along or across. People have tolerance for a little bit of that. But if it’s sustained or if it feels dangerous, they just won’t do it.”

Enter Close Calls, deteriorating bike lanes, bumpy pavement, and constant obstacles and you get Chicago’s ridiculously low bicycle commute to work numbers.

Since Emanuel took office in 2011, Chicago has installed 52 miles of protected bike lanes [it’s only installed 16 miles of protected bike lanes], which use a variety of means — plastic pylons, striped pavement markings and non-curbside parking spaces — to separate bikes from vehicles. That brings the city’s total bicycle lanes to 207 miles.

That’s cool that we have 207 miles. How many miles of streets without bike lanes do we have? It’s 4,000 and some change minus 207.

Why doesn’t Mayor Rahm Emanuel talk about how many people have taken up bicycling since he took office, or how many more trips Chicagoans made (and where) because of those 52 miles of new buffered and protected bike lanes?

He can’t say how many people are riding their personal bikes because the city doesn’t track this.

Conversely we can track Divvy bike-share use down to the minute and the company announced that Saturday, May 24, they had their most trips ever. Only to be eclipsed by almost 4,000 more trips on Sunday, May 25 (helped in no small part by the Bike The Drive event where people can bicycle on a Lake Shore Drive that’s closed to vehicles).

In another blow to good data for Chicago, Divvy will only be releasing trip data twice a year, while Citibike in New York City will be publishing it monthly, an improvement of Capital Bikeshare’s quarterly data releases.

If you’re not tracking who’s using your infrastructure, will you be able to know if the people you set out to attract have come out?

Welcome to the Land of No

No bike riding!

The Lincoln Park Zoo has a Nature Boardwalk at the South Pound near 2000 N Cannon Drive. Each venue has their own signs listing the rules for their respective properties.

Each sign employs a different symbol to communicate the same thing – bicycles cannot be ridden in the parks – but their designs take two approaches.

One says no and the other says yes.

  • The Zoo’s symbol uses the color red, a line slashed over a bicycle, and “Please do not:” text to prohibit the activity of riding a bike.
  • The Pond’s symbol uses the color blue and suggests walking your bike, accompanied by the text, “Please walk your bike”.

Please walk with your bicycle. 

Bicyclists – and drivers for that matter – are constantly being told no. Might there be a friendlier, more positive way to communicate rules?


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