I went to Copenhagen, Denmark, in January 2011, and I was there for about 48 hours. I met Mikael of Copenhagenize, who lent me his Velorbis bike. I biked as much as possible, at all hours of the day, and I encountered a lot of the cycling infrastructure that makes it easy to bike and encourages the hundreds of thousands of trips by bike a day – even in winter!
This photo essay shows one of the ways you can design an intersection to facilitate safe right turns and through-maneuevers, for both people driving and cycling, as seen in Copenhagen. I’m posting this to show an alternative to the centered bike lane design common in Chicago that leads to many unsafe merge maneuvers that I mentioned yesterday in A tale of five bridges (first photo).
The driver of the white taxi on the left yielded to bicyclists going straight before making a right turn from the left lane to the right lane and enter the Kennedy Expressway ramp. Not everyone yields.
A centered bike lane and right-turn lane at Augusta Boulevard and Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago. It makes you feel trapped. There have been four crashes with five cyclists along the bike lane here over 4 years, starting at the beginning of the green bike lane, and ending at the intersection. See the last section for more details about these crashes.
I’m approaching the intersection of Amager Boulevard and Klaksvigsgade in Copenhagen. There’s a Street View map of this intersection at the bottom.
I wait behind another person on their bike in the bike through lane while drivers turn right in front of us. Look in the top right corner of the photo and you’ll see a miniature green light indicating that cyclists can turn right.
This photo shows a close-up view of the signal heads here: notice the smaller signal heads for bicyclists. The right-turn light is activated for both people driving and cycling. New York City and Portland, Oregon, both use bike signals to separate turning and through movements of bicycles and cars.
What about Chicago
Why do this? Separating the different vehicles and especially their movements creates a safer transportation systsem. The injury rate in Denmark is several times lower than in Chicago (or any American city for that matter), and their cycling rate is several times higher.
I look forward to the complete bike crash and safety report being written by the Urban Transportation Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago for the Chicago Department of Transportation. It will have more analysis than I could do on my own for Grid Chicago (see the crashes at these two intersections on this map). While I write a lot about crash data, analysis, and reporting, I do not think bicycling in Chicago is dangerous. I think being around cars and their drivers with limited driver’s education is dangerous. The crash data is useful because it helps point out where and why crashes occur.
Trying out new designs
If we are to meet our ambitious goal of cutting injuries in half by 2015, we should take road design more seriously. I’d love it if there was a “CSI” team that would investigate each bike crash and test changes to infrastructure design to reduce the likelihood of crashes there again. The essential factors that make cycling safe are increasing the number of people doing it, and building separated infrastructure. Cities around the world find that the latter, “building separated infrastructure”, has a major impact on the former. I don’t think Chicago experiments with different designs as often as many other cities.
Mayor Bloomberg of New York City announced December 29, 2011, that they’ve experienced an all-time low of traffic fatalities in 2011, a 40% reduction since 2001. Starting in 2007, the NYC Department of Transportation started rejiggering streets, building and rebuilding plazas, constructing 100+ miles of protected bike lanes, among other changes. See my post on The Chainlink for a brief comparison of traffic fatalities between our cities (hint: NYC 2010, 271 people; Chicago: 315 people).
From 2007 to 2011, bicycle trips into Manhattan have doubled. Manhattan was the location of the city’s first protected bike lane, on 9th Avenue. Traffic has slowed around Times Square. See these transformations in action with Streetfilms videos: Public spaces, complete streets, and Times Square.
Using bike-specific traffic signals
Bike Portland reports that bike signals at traffic lights will be able for implementation across Oregon. The City of Portland has been using them since 2004 on an experimental basis. According to the Portland Bureau of Transportation Signals and Street Lighting Division Manager, Peter Koonce, this is why they want them:
Providing an exclusive signal display recognizes the differences between motor vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians, and it separates bicycles from conflicting movements.
I just confirmed that if Chicago wanted to do this, it, too, would have to receive a “Request to Experiment” from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) because the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) doesn’t list bicycle signals as an approved traffic control device.
August and Milwaukee – Four of the five cyclists involved in four crashes here received injuries. One crash was a hit and run. The data reveals missing pieces and inconsistencies. For example, one driver was noted as going southwest prior to the crash, a direction that’s difficult to go in this intersection. Another one was going north. One crash record had “other” or “unknown” for driver condition, vehicle direction and maneuver prior to crash. It would be immensely helpful if the exact location in the roadway of the crash was in the data (crashes are marked as happening in the center of the roadway). Six additional crashes occurred more in the middle of the intersection and one near the on-ramp.
Elston and Milwaukee – The cause of a majority of the seven crashes here is “NA”, “Unknown”, or “Unable to determine”. One crash was a hit and run (remember our hit and run rates are very high). Seven people cycling were injured. The map and date was created using this “Crash Browser” I’m slowly developing, a precursor to the group effort I’ve mentioned a few times here.
Updated December 29, 2011: Added “Trying out new designs” section head to enhance that part of the article and added new text to this section to clarify my point about the need for different designs. Sectioned out the bike-specific traffic signals text.
Grid Chicago is a blog about sustainable transportation matters, projects and culture in Chicago and Illinois, by John Greenfield and Steven Vance since June 2011.
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Western & Ashland BRT: Pros and Cons - This webpage summarizes the project details and describes the pros and cons for each of the 4 bus rapid transit scenarios
Crash Portal - Exploring bike crashes in the City of Chicago and elsewhere
Bike 2015 Plan Tracker - Monitoring the status of implementing the 153 strategies in the Bike 2015 Plan
Chicago Bike Map app - Carry a beautiful Chicago bike map on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, along with numerous, helpful points of interest and resources
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