Tag: IDOT

Collecting the wrong information doesn’t help us plan well

The Illinois Traffic Crash Report (see scan below) has a field in the upper left titled “PEDV” which means “Pedalcyclist or pedestrian visibility.”

The possible entries for this field are the following codes*:

  1. No contrasting clothing
  2. Contrasting clothing
  3. Reflective material
  4. Other light source used

For my crash report, the police officer noted “1 – No contrasting clothing.” I don’t remember what I was wearing that night, so I can’t dispute that. I didn’t have lighting required by state law. I don’t know if the police officer would mark “4 – Other light source used” if I did. I’m not aware of what kind of guidance the report or data dictionary offers the police officer filling out the report; how is “contrasting clothing” defined?

Wearing contrasting clothing is not required by law. Using a headlight while bicycling at “nighttime” is. The light will be more effective than any kind of clothing in increasing the visibility of the bicyclist.

The crash report should note the bicyclist’s compliance with state law, not whether or not their clothing choice may have been a contributing factor in the crash (which the presence of this code on the report implies). I took the photo below last night when I was wearing a black jacket and gray jeans. It doesn’t appear very contrasting – but I was in compliant with state and city laws about lighting at night.

My clothes may blend into the night, by my blinking light surely doesn’t.

Collecting information on lighting law compliance could help cities and police better plan education and enforcement initiatives. It can give us information on crashes that we wouldn’t otherwise have, like how many crashes involved cyclists who didn’t have the required lights. Or where a lot of crashes occur even though a high percentage of cyclists involved there had sufficient lighting.

Illinois cyclists had a big win with the inclusion of doorings in state-provided crash reports. I think the next change should be to record information on compliance with lighting laws. If you need a good light, try this one from Planet Bike.

*This information comes from the “2004-present person codes” data dictionary from the Illinois Department of Transportation.

My television interview about dooring data

Last week you heard me on WGN 720 AM talk about bicycling in Chicago and my bike crash map.

This week you’ll get to see me talk about bike crash and dooring data on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight program. It comes after a rule change announced on Sunday: the Illinois Department of Transportation will begin collecting crash reports for doorings. Previously, these were “unreportable.”

WTTW reporter Ash-har Quraishi came over to my house Thursday to ask me about what kind of information the crash data I obtained from IDOT includes and excludes.

Improvements in store for the Damen-Elston-Fullerton intersection

Updated May 2, 2011, with additional comments and concerns.

The City of Chicago plans to make major changes to the intersection of Damen-Elston-Fullerton. They revealed a lot of these changes and invited the public to learn more and make comments on the current proposal at an open house event Wednesday, April 27, 2011, at the Wicker Park-Bucktown library.

What is now actually three, closely-spaced intersections with six legs (two of them skewed), will become three, distantly-spaced intersections at right angles.

Why is this being done?

  • The closely-spaced intersections “encourage poor decision making.”
  • Small radii makes it difficult for trucks to make turns.
  • The island and closely-spaced intersections makes for limited queue capacity which blocks the other legs.
  • There are a lot of crashes, over 400 in a 3-year period. That’s over 7 per week.

So what’s the solution?

The Chicago and Illinois Departments of Transportation, and project consultant Benesch came up with 4 alternatives.

  • Enhanced “no build” – no improvements, but modernize signals didn’t address safety or delay. [In infrastructure project planning, there’s always a “no build” alternative to which the other alternatives are compared.]
  • Fullerton tunnel, or underpass. A majority of Fullerton traffic would bypass the intersection, but the surface intersection would still have same conditions outlined under “why.” Additionally, there are many utilities under the intersection that would all need to be relocated. It would take 3 years to build. For the length of the tunnel, surface traffic on Fullerton could only make right-in, right-out turns.
  • Overpass. A majority of Fullerton traffic would bypass the intersection, but the surface intersection would still have same dismal conditions. This has the same turn restrictions as the underpass – this and its imposing aesthetics could impact economic development (the presentation didn’t say whether the project designers expected this to be positive or negative).
  • And there’s the “preferred alternative.” It has wider sidewalks, larger turn radii, and “safer bike accommodations.” Delays would improve from up to 7 minutes to under 30 seconds.

Other benefits of the preferred alternative include:

  • Access to properties is preserved.
  • Simpler intersections means fewer conflicting movements.
  • A “new bike lane” (I disagree with calling it new – the project is preserving the existing bike lane, bringing it into the new route of Elston Avenue, or whatever the new street will be called).
  • Supports future economic development by having simpler traffic.

What’s the timeline?

  • 2011 – Finalize phase 1 engineering. Seek approval from IDOT and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Start the design process.
  • 2012 – While continuing work on the design, begin acquiring right of way.
  • 2013 – Finish design, and bid out project.
  • 2014 – Award project and begin construction.

The project is estimated to cost $32 million, with funds coming from the TIF Bank, grants from the FHWA, and the City’s own capital improvement funds.

Comment on the design until May 13 by emailing Bridget Stalla, the project manager who works for the City of Chicago. All emails to her about this project will go on the public record.

So what are my comments?

Lack of bike lanes

Currently there’s no striped bike lane for .26 miles on Damen Avenue between where it ends at the I-90/I-94 highway and railroad viaducts to where it ends on the hill to the bridge over the Chicago River.

The project does not add this bike lane, which I feel is much needed for the cyclists who deal with the congestion and tight spaces. I talked to Bridget and Colin Coad, a staffer at Benesch about this. Both admitted that a bike lane in this location was considered. It wasn’t in the current design because Damen Avenue must have two lanes northbound to keep the queue capacity and keep delays down. An animation showed the difference in delays between the existing and proposed intersection configuration. The delay reduction in the new configuration was very noticeable. This doesn’t preclude installing a bike lane.

An attendee asked Ryan Thady, who was explaining the animation, if Benesch had done analysis on a single northbound travel lane south of Fullerton Avenue on Damen Avenue. He answered, “No. If there’s one lane, there’s an increased delay.”

Colin said that a bike lane has always been under consideration and will be again under consideration. Bridget says she realizes there’s a need to reevaluate the bikes on Damen Avenue situation. “We need the two lanes to really make this thing work like it’s supposed to. We will look at extending the bike lane on Damen north of Fullerton [from the bridge approach to the intersection of Damen and Elston].”

I’m confused about “making this thing work like it’s supposed to.” After hearing this, I felt that I don’t know if it’s clear to me what this thing is supposed to do. I thought it was about improving safety and reducing delays. By having a bike lane, bicyclists’ safety will be improved and their delays will also be reduced.

Some bicyclists may be involved in collisions with motor vehicles here because they move against signals. The same is probably true for drivers who get into collisions: frustration and impatience and simply not knowing when you’ll have a turn may lead road users at this intersection to proceed when it’s not safe to do so (and against the signal). The project designers said that this intersection “encourages poor decision making.” With dedicated space, in the form of a bike lane, as well as simpler design and an expectation of when it will be one’s turn to go, bicyclists and drivers alike will better comply with intersection controls.

The plan does nothing to add bike lanes through the Elston or Damen intersections. The Damen bike lane currently ends 700 feet before the intersection. The Elston bike lane ends 400 feet before the intersection. That funny business needs to stop and we need bike lanes in Chicago that go THROUGH intersections, much like you see in New York City (example photo 1 and photo 2.

Complete Streets

My final comment, a quick one, is that the project made no mention of reduced travel times for those who ride the Fullerton or Damen Avenue buses through this intersection. We still have a long ways to go in accommodating, and caring about, our sustainable transportation modes.

Bicycle crashes are also not mentioned in the documentation, while motor vehicle crashes with pedestrians are. There were more crashes with bicyclists than with pedestrians in the 3-year period of 2007-2009 (12 versus 4). Bicycle counts have not yet been taken at this location; they should be conducted as soon as possible.

Complete Streets in Illinois needs to stop being a policy without any teeth and put into regular practice. Enough with just “considering” all transportation modes; we need to “provision” them.

Roundabout

Was a roundabout considered at this location? The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s Guide to Roundabouts (PDF) lists criteria on where to use roundabouts, including these which describe the intersections in question:

  • Large traffic signal delays
  • Heavy left turning traffic
  • More than four legs or unusual geometry
  • History of crashes involving crossing traffic
  • Traffic growth expected to be high and future traffic patterns uncertain or changeable [because Elston is a diagonal and near shopping, traffic volume will not change]
  • History of right angle crashes [this is true because of the confusing signal phases]

While three roundabouts may not be necessary, one should be considered at least for the Elston-Fullerton intersection, which has the most space available for such a facility.

Curve and wide road of New Elston Avenue

On “New Elston Avenue,” between Fullerton and Damen, there are two regular lanes and one bike lane in each direction. The widening of Elston was not justified. The high radius curve on New Elston Avenue on the east side of the project, and two regular lanes in each direction, will likely cause higher-speed traffic than bicyclists are used to on many roads on which they travel in great numbers. Automobile drivers speeding around the curve may enter the bike lanes. This is a good case for protected bike lanes at least on this part of the roadway. Thank you to A. Lottes for pointing out the curve to me.

Removing the  center island

Some commenters on The Expired Meter have suggested removing the tinny center island (as well as removing the second stop bar and signal every road user passes over) and converting it to a simple six-way intersection like Lincoln-Ashland-Belmont. While doing so may reduce delays or the number of crashes, it would probably fail to do both. I think it should be a considered alternative.

Queue backups caused by Fullerton-highway ramp intersection

The plan does not address the westbound queue backups that start at the Fullerton intersection with the I-90/I-94 highway ramp. Westbound drivers constantly and consistently block the Fullerton intersections with Damen and Elston while waiting to go through the signal at the highway ramp. This intersection is outside the project area but pivotal in its success at reducing delays, at least with the “remaining,” new intersection at Damen.

More information

The end of the presentation said that all exhibit materials would be on the City’s website, but I didn’t find all the poster boards, so here are most of them in my Flickr photoset. I assume they would be posted here.

Photos

A visualization of the crash history (only automobiles and pedestrian types included) at the intersection.

Bird’s eye view of preferred alternative.

Initial intersection crash analysis for Milwaukee Avenue

Slightly upgraded Chicago Crash Browser

This screenshot from the Chicago Crash Browser map shows the location of bike-car collisions at Ogden/Milwaukee, an intersection that exemplifies the yellow trap problem the city hasn’t remedied.

List of the most crash-prone intersections on Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago. Using data from 2007-2009, when reported to the Chicago Police Department. Dooring data not included on the bike crash map. I used QGIS to draw a 50-feet buffer around the point where the intersection center lines meet.

Intersecting street (class 4*) Bike crashes
Chicago Avenue (see Ogden below) 12 (17)
California Avenue 9
Halsted Street & Grand Avenue 7
Damen Avenue & North Avenue 6
Western Avenue 6
Ogden Avenue (see Chicago above) 5 (17)
Ashland Avenue 5
Diversey Avenue 5
Fullerton Avenue 5
Elston Avenue 5
Augusta Boulevard (not class 4) 5

Combine the six-way (with center triangle) intersection of Ogden, Milwaukee, Chicago, and you see 17 crashes. Add the 6 just outside the 50-feet buffer and you get 23 crashes. Compare this to the six-way (without center triangle) at Halsted, Milwaukee, Grand, where there’s only 7 crashes.

What about the two intersections causes such a difference in crashes? Let’s look at some data:

Ogden, Milwaukee, Chicago Halsted, Milwaukee, Grand
Automobile traffic Approx 58,000 cars per day Approx 50,000 cars per day.
Bicycle traffic Not counted, but probably fewer than 3,100 bikes More than 3,100 bikes per day*
Bus traffic Two bus routes Three bus routes
Intersection style Island; three signal cycles No island; one signal cycle

*Notes

Traffic counts are assumed estimates. Counts are taken on a single day, either Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. Bike counts at Halsted/Milwaukee/Grand were actually taken on Milwaukee several hundred feet northwest of the intersection so DO NOT include people biking on Halsted or Grand! This means that more than 3,100 people are biking through the intersection each day.

Intersection style tells us which kind of six-way intersection it is. At island styles you’ll find a concrete traffic island separating the three streets. You’ll also find three signal cycles because there are actually three intersections instead of one, making it a 12-way intersection. Also at these intersections you’ll see confusing instructional signage like, “OBEY YOUR SIGNAL ONLY” and “ONCOMING TRAFFIC HAS LONGER GREEN.”

These intersections are more likely to have a “yellow trap” – Ogden/Milwaukee definitely has this problem. The yellow trap occurs at that intersections when northbound, left-turning motorists (from Milwaukee to Ogden) get a red light but they still need to vacate the intersection. Thinking that oncoming traffic has a red light but are just being jerks and blowing the red light (when in fact they still have a green for 5-10 more seconds) they turn and sometimes hit the southbound traffic. The City of Chicago acknowledged this problem, for bicyclists especially, in summer 2013 but as of November 2014 the issue remains.

Here’s a more lengthy description of one of the problems here as well as an extremely simple solution: install a left-turn arrow for northbound Milwaukee Avenue. The entire intersection is within Alderman Burnett’s Ward 27.

Source and method

I can’t yet tell you how I obtained this data or created the map. I’m still working out the specifics in my procedures log. It involved some manual work at the end because in the resulting table that counted the number of crashes per intersection, every intersection was repeated, but the street names were in opposite columns.

Crash data from the Illinois Department of Transportation. Street data from the City of Chicago. Intersection data created with fTools in QGIS. To save time in this initial analysis, I only considered Milwaukee Avenue intersections with streets in the City of Chicago centerline file with a labeled CLASS of 1, 2, or 3.

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.

Using Google Refine to get the stories out of your data

Let’s say you’re perusing the 309,425 crash reports for automobile crashes in Chicago from 2007 to 2009 and you want to know a few things quickly.

Like how many REAR END crashes there were in January 2007 that had more than 1 injury in the report. With Google Refine, you could do that in about 60 seconds. You just need to know which “facets” to setup.

By the way, there are 90 crash reports meeting those criteria. Look at the screenshot below for how to set that up.

Facets to choose to filter the data

  1. Get your January facet
  2. Add your 2007 facet
  3. Select the collision type of “REAR END” facet
  4. Choose to include all the reports where injury is greater than 1 (click “include” next to each number higher than 1)

After we do this, we can quickly create a map using another Google tool, Fusion Tables.

Make a map

  1. Click Export… and select “Comma-separated value.” The file will download. (Make sure your latitude and longitude columns are called latitude and longitude instead of XCOORD and YCOORD or sometimes Fusion Tables will choke on the location and try to geocode your records, which is redundant.)
  2. Go to Google Fusion Tables and click New Table>Import Table and select your file.
  3. Give the new table a descriptive title, like “January 2007 rear end crashes with more than 1 injury”
  4. In the table view, click Visualize>Map.
  5. BAM!

I completed all the tasks on this page in under 5 minutes and then spent 5 more minutes writing this blog. “The power of Google.”

Better bike crash map now available for Chicago

I met Derek at a get together for “urban geeks” last Tuesday where he told me he was making a filterable/searchable version of my Chicago bike crash map using the Google Fusion Tables API. It essentially allows you to perform SQL-like queries to show different results on the map than one view. It’s possible to do this yourself if you open the bike crash map in the full Google Fusion Tables interface (do that now).

You can use it now!

New bike crash map, click through to view

Derek’s map has the benefit of great interface to drill down to the data you want. You can select a day, a surface condition, and the injury type. To download the data yourself, you’ll still have to access the full Fusion Tables interface.

Door lane photo and graphic by Gary Kavanagh in Santa Monica, California.

And since the data is the same as my original map, crash reports involving motor vehicle doors are not included. Here’s why doorings are excluded.

Why the Chicago bike crash map doesn’t show doorings

The data on the Chicago bike crash map comes from the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) after reports are made to the Chicago Police Department, but it’s missing certain types of crashes. IDOT currently will not collect data about doorings.

Some Chicago cyclists created this sticker to alert drivers and their passengers to the dangers of the door. “Someone opened a door and killed my friend.” This is version 1 of the sticker; see version 2. Photo by Quinn Dombrowski.

Here’s a summary of the process:

1. Police officers make the reports

Chicago police officers collect information on dooring (outlawed by MCC 9-80-035) because of a recent agreement with the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) – the importance of reporting doorings became a bigger priority after someone died after being doored on LaSalle Street in 2008.

When there is a dooring, Chicago police officers use an “Additional Units Form” in addition to SR-1050 (standard reporting form for Illinois motor vehicle crashes) and write “dooring” where the IDOT barcode would be on the Additional Units Form.

2. How the Chicago Police Department records it

When the Chicago Police Records Office sees that there’s no barcode they know they can’t send it to IDOT, but they see “dooring” and scan it for their own records (so they can provide it to crash parties later) and then email that number to the CDOT Bicycle Program. (There was a general order put out by CPD on this procedure and, yes, they actually send them– at least some of them.)

The CPD also knows that doorings, according to IDOT, are not a “reportable” crash. In addition to doorings, IDOT doesn’t consider the following as “reportable” crashes:

  • Any crash in which the first point of impact does not involve a moving motor vehicle.
  • Any non-injury crash which causes less than $1500 in property damage, unless one or more of the drivers was uninsured.

3. CDOT and Chicago Police Department connect

CDOT can then connect to the Police Departments records system, download a scan of the crash report, reads it and enters specifics into a tracking spreadsheet.

This is how dooring data is collected in Chicago because IDOT will throw away reports or attachments without barcodes. This should change. This process affects ALL cities in the State of Illinois but as far as I’m aware, only Chicago records doorings. It’s unfortunate that local agencies are forced to bear this additional task and provide special training for thousands of officers outside of statewide practices because IDOT doesn’t acknowledge the importance of this issue and revise its reporting policy.

Below is the SR-1050 form and you can see the IDOT barcode with the case number below it. The bike and pedestrian crash data I have from IDOT includes those case numbers.

Read more about doorings on Grid Chicago.

Trying out uDig, a free, multi-platform GIS application

ArcGIS is the standard in geographic information system applications. I don’t like that it’s expensive, unwieldy to install and update, and its user interface is stymying and slow*. I also use Mac OS X most of the time and ArcGIS is not available for Mac. It doesn’t have to be the standard.

I’ve tried my hand at Cartographica and QGIS. I really like QGIS because there’re many plugins, it’s open source, there’s a diverse community supporting it, and best of all, it’s free. I’ve written about Cartographica once – I’m not a fan right now.

My project

  • The data: Bicycle crashes in the City of Chicago as reported to IDOT for 2007-2009
  • Goal: Publish an interactive map of this data using Google Fusion Tables and its instant mapping feature.
  • Visualizing it: Added streets (prepared beforehand to exclude highways), water features, and city boundary (get that here)
  • Process: Combine bike crash data; reproject to WGS84 for Google; remove extraneous information; add latitude/longitude coordinates; export as CSV; upload to Google Fusion Tables; map it!
  • View the final product

Trying out uDig

In reaching my goal I had a task that I couldn’t figure out how to complete with QGIS: I needed to combine three shapefiles with identical table schemes into one shapefile – this one shapefile would eventually be published as one map. The join feature in fTools wasn’t working so I looked for a new solution, uDig, or “User-friendly Desktop Internet GIS.”

The solution was very easy. Highlight all the records in the attribute table of one shapefile, click Edit>Copy, then select the destination table and click Edit>Paste. The new records were added within a couple seconds. I could then bring this data back into QGIS to finish the process (outlined above under Project). I did use fTools later in the process to add lat/long coordinates to my single shapefile.

After adding more data to better visualize the crashes in Chicago, I noticed that uDig renders maps to look smoother and slightly prettier than QGIS or ArcGIS. See the screenshot below.

A screenshot of the three bicycle crash datasets (2007, 2008, 2009) with the visualization data added.

The end product: three years of police reported bicycle crashes in the City of Chicago on an interactive map powered by Google Fusion Tables, another product in Google’s arsenal of GIS for the poor man. View the final product.

*I haven’t used ArcGIS version 10 yet, which I see and read has an improved user interface; it’s unclear to me and other users if the program’s been updated to take advantage of multi-core processors. ESRI has a roundabout way of describing their support.

High-speed rail in Illinois, February 2011 edition

View a map of the places described in this article.

A friend of mine traveled by Amtrak’s Lincoln Service from Chicago to St. Louis in January 2011. He reported, “It’s extremely smooth north of Alton and south of Lincoln. You can barely even hear or feel that you’re on a train.” Track replacement as part of President Obama’s economic stimulus and high-speed rail plan is complete between Alton and Lincoln, Illinois.

Photo shows a Union Pacific work train next to new track in Carlinville, Illinois. Photo by Tim Carman, taken in November 2010.

The next track replacement phase will take place between Lincoln and Dwight, scheduled to be completed in Fall 2011. A December 2010 press release from the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) explains the next steps for the first state to begin construction on high-speed rail grants provided by American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA):

  1. Installation of new, enhanced grade crossing warning protection
  2. New cars and locomotives
  3. Station upgrades

Like all press releases, this one also seems to ooze idealistic endeavors by adding that the “public can expect to enjoy its first taste of 110 mile-per-hour train service when a 20-mile segment between Dwight and Pontiac is completed in 2012.” But this project has a high likelihood of being completed as described.

Read more posts on high-speed rail in Steven can plan.