Tagtraffic

How high (and low) expectations can make traffic safer

I have low expectations of fellow Chicagoans who are moving their vehicles on the same roads I cycle on. I expect that every door will fling open in my path, causing me to be doored. I also expect to be cut off at any moment, and especially in certain places like at intersections (where the majority of crashes occur), bus stops, or in places with lots of parallel parking activity. Because of these expectations I feel that my journeys have been pretty safe. My low expectations cause me to ride slower, ride out of the door zone, and pay attention to everyone’s maneuvers.

This is another post inspired by Traffic: Why we drive the way we do (and what it says about us) by Tom Vanderbilt. From page 227 of “Traffic”, about expectations :

Max Hall, a physics teacher in Massachusetts who often rides his collection of classic Vespas and Lambrettas in Rome, says that he finds it safer to ride in Rome than in Boston. Not only are American drivers unfamiliar with scooters, he maintains, but they resent being passed by them: “In Rome car and truck divers ‘know’ they are expect not to make sudden moves in traffic for fear of surprising, and hurting, two-wheeler drivers. And two-wheeler drivers drive, by and large, expecting not to be cut off.”

The scooter drivers have high expectations, and it seems that they’re being met.

This all plays nicely with the “safety in numbers” theory about cycling: the more people who are riding bicycles, the more visible bicycling is, and the more aware a driver will be around people who are bicycling, and the more they will expect someone on a bicycle. Awareness means caution.

It’s difficult to gauge the safety of cycling in Chicago as we’ve no exposure rate: we don’t know how many people are cycling how many miles (nor where).

A cyclist waits for the light to change at Milwaukee Avenue and Ashland Avenue. 

Exposure rate

Exposure rate in the sense I’m using it here means the number of times someone is in a crash or injury for each mile they ride. We know how many crashes and injuries are reported each year (in the Illinois Motorist Crash reports), but we don’t know how many miles people ride (neither individually nor an estimated average).

There was a limited household survey of Cook County residents in 2008 from CMAP, called Travel Tracker, that collected trip distance information for all trips members of a household made on all trip modes – I haven’t looked into this yet.

It would be highly useful if the Chicago Department of Transportation conducted ridership counts at the 10 intersections with the highest crash rates. And if the 10 intersections changed the following year, the new intersections would just be added to the initial 10 to track the changes of the initial 10. This would be one step closer to being able to determine a “crash rate” for each intersection.

Carnage culture needs to change

Updated June 5, 2011, to add new names.

If you ever read the comments under articles about a bicycle crash on a Chicago newspaper website, you’ll find the most hateful and misspelled vitriol about how bikers are horrible people and need to get off the road.

But bicycling poses no threat to public safety. Doing it actually enhances public safety and health. A recent study found that even though bicyclists inhale more pollution than people walking or driving, their lung capacity and health was such that they could “deal with it” better than people walking or driving. And if more people rode bicycles, there’d be fewer on-road injuries.

These are the people who need to get off the road:

Carlos Estrada, 42, of the 3600 block of Wisconsin Avenue, Berwyn, Illinois

A west suburban man was arrested on suspicion of DUI early Wednesday [June 1, 2011] — hours before he was to be sentenced for another DUI and more than 25 years after his license was revoked.

“Mr. Estrada has not had a valid driver’s license since September of 1985 and has been arrested several times in the past for driving while license suspended or revoked,” [Riverside Police Tom Chief] Weitzel said.

Chicago Sun-Times

Sandra Uher, 54, of Elgin, Illinois

A 54-year-old Elgin woman faces a little extra trouble with the law now, after she showed up drunk to her trial for her sixth DUI charge. The judge revoked bail and sent Sandra Uher to Cermak Hospital, part of the Cook County Jail. She could see six to 30 years in prison.

Daily Herald, via Chicagoist

Ryan LeVin, 36

On parole in Illinois, “A ‘millionaire playboy’ who killed two British tourists in Florida [Craig Elford, 39, and Kenneth Watkinson, 48] when his $150,000 Porsche jumped the curb will not go to jail, despite the fact that he fled the scene and lied to police officers about who was behind the wheel during the accident. Instead, he will pay cash restitution to the victims’ family, settling a civil suit on the condition that he not go to prison.”

Ryan LeVin, 36, will spend two years under house arrest in his parents’ oceanside condominium. LeVin initially denied driving the speeding car and pinned the blame on a friend. Illinois will seek to have his parole revoked and sent back to prison.

1st paragraph from Boing Boing, 2nd paragraph from Chicago Tribune

Kazimierz Karasek, 59 of Prospect Heights, Illinois

The driver of a semi truck who injured three dozen commuters when he turned into the path of a Metra train Friday [May 13, 2011] had accumulated more than 50 traffic citations since 1986 but hadn’t lost his license.

None of the infractions, including a 2000 drunken-driving arrest, triggered the suspension of the commercial driver’s license of driver Kazimierz Karasek, who was killed in the fiery wreck in Mount Prospect.

Chicago Tribune – They also have a map of the crash at Northwest Highway and Mount Prospect Road showing the string of events.

One of Kazimierz Karasek’s citations including driving the wrong way on a divided highway! There are hundreds of other people driving cars and trucks without licenses, on suspended licenses, and without the required insurance. That’s in addition to the hundreds of people who were not required to take driver’s education (in Illinois, people 18 and older are not required to take a formal driver’s education course). I am saying there are many bad drivers and many with poor or no education on how to drive legally and safely.

Yet we continue to let the drivers we know to be terrible at driving continue to drive and harass our cities and citizens. Those who take surface trains are not immune.

A Union Pacific locomotive tows the UP-Northwest Metra train damaged by Kazimierz Karasek’s stupidity, his truck, and its cement slab cargo. Janelle has more crash photos.

Chicagoland is not the only place where we witness this carnage and traffic injustices. Streetsblog NYC today reports that an “unlicensed, speeding, hit-and-run driver who killed an elderly Staten Island couple in 2009 has been sentenced to a maximum of five years in jail.” Nice, right?

Will this couple make it across Western Avenue safely? Photo by Joshua Koonce. In related news, the Chicago Department of Transportation and the Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Council will start the public planning process for the Chicago Pedestrian Plan. Find a list of meetings.

P.S.: Who still freaking drives around closed railroad gates?

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.

Traffic: It never ends

Automobile congestion on the Kennedy Expressway* (I-90/94), taken from the L tracks above Lake Street in Chicago, Illinois.

Other things that never end (a roundup of sorts):

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