Tagpolice

Illinois will finally begin tracking dooring bike crashes

Governor Quinn made a rule change today requiring Illinois police departments to record dooring-type bicycle crashes on the SR-1050 motorist crash reporting form, according to Jon Hilkevitch of the Chicago Tribune. The announcement will be made tomorrow.

Apparently, Gov. Quinn read the Chicago Tribune’s article on March 21st about how the Illinois Department of Transportation could not and would not collect information on dooring crashes. I first wrote about this data deficiency on March 11.

For now, responding police officers will have to write DOORING next to the bicyclist’s name on the crash reporting form (the Chicago Police method was to write DOORING on a second piece of paper and record this data internally – IDOT would not accept the second page). The Tribune article explains that IDOT already ordered a bunch of new forms and won’t make a new order until 2013 at which time the form will have a checkbox making this process much simpler.

I would like to thank Governor Quinn, writer Jon Hilkevitch, Amanda Woodall, the Active Transportation Alliance, and all who contacted IDOT asking for their reporting standards to be changed to record dooring crashes. This means that next year you’ll see bike crash maps with a ton more dots – those of doorings, unless we continue educating ourselves, family and friends about riding AWAY from the door zone.

Why collecting this data is important

From the article:

[Active Transportation] Alliance officials said dooring accidents are common, basing the conclusion on reports from bicyclists. But without a standardized statewide reporting system, there has been no way to accurately quantify the problem or pinpoint locations where such accidents frequently occur and where modifications to street layouts would help, alliance officials said.

“We hope to use the data to obtain funding for education safety so drivers as well as bicyclists know what the risks are and what the factors are to create safer roadways,” said Dan Persky, director of education at the alliance.

Ride out of the door zone. Illustration by Gary Kavanagh.

Bike crash reporting tool: I receive a response to my FOIA request

UPDATE 12-15-10: I forgot to add that the letter stated that the Freedom of Information Act doesn’t require the responding agency to create new datasets or records where one doesn’t already exist. This means that if what you ask for doesn’t exist in their databases or file cabinets, the agency is not about to filter or search through existing data to create a custom set for you.

I continue to prepare to create a bicycle crash reporting tool (or web application). Here are the previous posts. Readers have sent me many great suggestions and concerns about how to create it, what data to use, and how to present such data. I don’t expect to begin any demonstrable work on this until mid-January when I return from my 21-day European vacation.

Today I received a response letter from the Chicago Police Department regarding my recent FOIA request for bicycle crash data.

This was disappointing: “After a thorough search, it was determined that the Department has no existing record responsive to your request.” I thought, “that doesn’t seem right. They don’t make reports on bicycle crashes?”

Police respond to a bicycle crash in Newberg, Oregon. Photo by Matt Haughey.

The letter later states, “The Department  does not currently possess a record which aggregates bicycle crash data.” Ah, this means something now. It seems that while the Chicago Police Department does make reports on bicycle crashes, it doesn’t keep a running tally or stored database query which it can use to produce the data I want – what I want would require a little more work, I guess.

The final paragraph does recommend that I contact the Illinois Department of Transportation Division of Traffic Safety’s Crash Reporting Section, where the police forward their reports. It turns out that I already received crash data on IDOT and I’m “playing around with it” using Google’s Fusion Tables.

I want to make a crash reporting tool

UPDATE 12-01-10: Thank you to Richard Masoner for posting this on Cyclelicious. I have started collecting everyone’s great ideas and responses in this development document.

Hot off the heels of making my “Can I bring my bike on Metra right now?” web application, I am ready to start on the next great tool*.

I want to create a bicycle crash reporting tool for Chicago (but release the source code for any city’s residents to adopt) along the lines of B-SMaRT for Portlanders and the Boston Cyclist’s Union crash map based on 911 calls.

I’d rather not reinvent the wheel (but I’m very capable of building a new web application based in PHP and MySQL) so I’ve been trying to get in contact with Joe Broach, the creator of B-SMaRT, to get my hands on that source code.

Not exactly the type of crash I’ll be looking for. Photo by Jason Reed.

I want the Chicago Crash Collector (please think of a better name) to have both citizen-reported data, and data from police reports. I just sent in my FOIA request for police data to the Chicago Police Department, but I’m not holding my breath for that.

For a fair division of commuting space

UPDATE: Transportation writer Jon Hilkevitch (“Hilkie”) published an article today about crosswalk enforcement in Chicago based on a new state law the Active Transportation Alliance helped pass that removes ambiguity about what drivers must do when a person wants to cross the street (they must STOP).

But I’m updating this post because he also writes about the crazy pedestrian situation I describe below at Adams and Riverside. I’ve quoted the key parts here:

The situation can be even worse downtown, where a vehicles-versus-pedestrians culture seems to flourish unchecked. Simply walking across Adams Street outside Chicago Union Station at rush hour can feel like you’re taking a big risk, as pedestrians dodge cars, buses and cabs and then must maneuver around the panhandlers and assorted vendors clogging the sidewalks near the curb.

It’s a mystery why such mayhem is tolerated by city or Amtrak police. The highest volume of pedestrian traffic downtown is right there at Adams and the Chicago River outside the station, according to a study conducted for the city.

“The cabdrivers have no concern with pedestrians trying to cross Adams in the crosswalk,” said Richard Sakowski, who commutes downtown daily on Metra from his home in Oswego. “They cut in front of other drivers cursing and yelling, pull from the center lane to the curb and stop in the crosswalk, not caring who they might hit. It is a very dangerous situation that the city does not care about.”

Chicago officials disagree, yet they have for years studied the problems around the downtown commuter rail stations without taking major action.

The city has received more than $10 million in grants to develop an off-street terminal on the south side of Jackson Boulevard just south of Union Station to address traffic safety issues and the crush of taxis and buses vying for limited curb space, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation.

“No timetable yet, but construction could begin in the next few years,” CDOT spokesman Brian Steele said.

Read the full article.


Every weekday afternoon in Chicago, over 100,000 people need to get to Union Station and Ogilvie Transportation Center to get on their Metra trains and go home. If you’re watching them walk, it seems like they don’t have enough room. The multitude of private automobiles with a single occupant and the hundreds of taxicabs also traveling towards these train terminals block the tens of buses that are trying to get commuters to the stations or to their neighborhoods.

Let’s look at Adams Street between Wacker Drive and Riverside Plaza. Riverside Plaza is a pedestrian-only thoroughfare (privately owned) alongside the west bank of the Chicago River and connects both train stations.

People “wait” to cross to the south sidewalk on Adams Street at Wacker Drive because they want to get to the entrance of Union Station. I use wait lightly – they creep out into the street and jog across whenever there’s the slightest opening (against the crosswalk signal).

Those who didn’t cross Adams Street at Wacker Drive now have to cross at Riverside Plaza. Thankfully, there’s a timed signal here for the crosswalk that stops traffic on Adams Street. It doesn’t always work because taxi drivers park their cabs on all segments of Adams Street here, sometimes on top of the crosswalk stripes themselves.

Take a look at the data (from the City of Chicago Traffic Information website):

  • 41,700 pedestrians, walking in both directions, were counted on Adams Street immediately west of Wacker Drive in one 10 hour segment, between 7:45 and 17:45, in 2007.
  • 14,300 vehicles, westbound only, were counted on Adams Street immediately east of Wacker Drive in one 24 hour segment, on September 20, 2006.

For simplicity, divide the number of pedestrians in half to get the actual number of people walking toward the train station in the afternoon. 20,850 commuters walk on Adams Street to get to Union Station. But trains don’t stop at 17:45. There are several more leaving every 5-10 minutes until 19:00. So add a couple more thousand pedestrians. Imagine that a couple hundred of them will be walking in the street because the sidewalk is crammed (I haven’t photographed this yet).

Now for vehicles. We don’t know how many are delivery trucks, taxicabs, or buses were counted. Only two bus routes come through here. (On Madison Street, in front of the Ogilvie Transportation Center, there are twelve bus routes and fewer walkers.) Some of the vehicles are turning right or left onto Wacker, so we can probably decrease the quantity that’s actually passing by the same count location as the pedestrian count.

Spatial mismatch

So now we know a little bit more about how many people, and by what mode, travel on Adams Street between Wacker Drive and Riverside Plaza. Walking commuters have little room (so little that some choose to walk in the street) on their standard 10-14 feet wide sidewalks and motorized vehicles get lots of room in four travel lanes. Then, the vehicles that achieve the highest efficiency and economic productivity are delayed by the congestion, in part caused by the least efficient vehicles.

Is the space divided fairly? What should change? What examples of “transportation spatial mismatch” can you give for where you live?

Is Chicago ready for Tokyo-inspired elevated pedestrian bridges at intersections? Las Vegas has several of these, as well as every Asian city with a few million residents. I first brought this up in the post, World photographic tour. Photo by Yuzi Kanazawa.

Witness appeal

In London and Greater London (but not the City of London), when the Metropolitan Police want the public’s help in their investigations of incidents and crimes, including traffic collisions, they erect “Witness Appeal Signs” near the scene.

“We are appealing for witnesses.” Singapore also uses these signs.

It seems in 2009, though, the Metropolitan Police banned the use of the signs except for traffic collisions. Some research indicated that the public perceived that, due to the presence of the signs, crime in the neighborhood was increasing. The Daily Mail article quoted one officer to say:

“They were placed where the crimes actually happened, so were very much targeted at people who might have seen something. Now that source of information has been cut off…”

The signs are placed and designed in such a way to be seen by people walking, biking, and driving near the scene of the incident.

How effective is this small sign posted on a pole compared to a bright Witness Appeal Sign in London?

I suggest that American police departments, Chicago’s included, look into installing similar signs for the most severe traffic collisions, starting with a bilingual “witness appeal sign” for the hit & run crash in Pilsen that killed Martha Gonzalez.

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