According to Joe Mulvey, the city’s IT Director, the city is purchasing WebQA mobile, which will allow bicyclists to report hazards from a mobile phone and get the info into the 311 system; he said we will be able to use SeeClickFix to report hazards as well (the system being used by Boston and Brookline and other MA communities).Right now, all messages entered into bikewise.org (a similar system we have encouraged people to use, although few are using it) are being forwarded to me and I then enter the info into the city’s 311 system. 311 does not provide geographic info, it does not categorize the information well, it often does not get results, and it’s also a duplication of reporting effort.The city is not going to give up 311 and replace it with another system – 311 works well for many categories of requests, especially for waste management, and it is viewed as highly effective by many residents. But we have to work with Joe to make sure that bicyclists’ needs are addressed. A missing utility cover on the road could cause serious injury to a bicyclist or worse, whereas a car might just hear a noise or need an alignment.
Once in a while, I have to drive. Bleah. Sitting in traffic. Being traffic. The idiocy of using fuel to propel a one-ton vehicle just to move my 150 pounds across town. (OK, and about another 100 pounds of baseball gear. I’m coaching little league.)
Here are things I noticed about bikers while driving today:
- Bikes go faster than me while I creep along in traffic. Uphill.
- Flashing bike headlights catch my eye in my passenger side-view mirror from about 50 yards away.
- Bikers without lights or safety vests blend in with the scenery: they are considerably less visible than cars, most of which drive with running lights or headlights in daylight.
- They pass me, and I never catch up to them again.
- They ride in the shoulder or the bike lane, straight and predictable.
- A few run red lights.
Here are things I noticed about drivers:
- They (and I) are impatient (inching forward, gunning engine after delay, honking)
- Very few cars stop on a yellow light, and at least one car runs through a new red light.
- When a bike lane plus a curb parking lane is wide enough to drive in, many cars will drive in it to pass stopped traffic.
- The road I was on (Beacon Street in Newton) is filled way beyond capacity; traffic was stop-and-go from Newton Centre to Hammond Street.
- Most cars (including mine) contain only one person.
My sample was limited, and my bias is obvious, but the conclusions are kind of inescapable. Driving is something we do because we feel like there’s no choice. (I had no choice today: I couldn’t have both worked a full day and carried 100 pounds of bulky equipment and my son to a field in time for a game.) Obviously, nobody likes sitting in traffic. And on heavy traffic routes, a bike is faster. In my case, about 20% faster, at least this morning.
My message to those who have to drive: maybe you don’t. Maybe you can get out of your bulky, slow contraption and climb onto a sleek bicycle, and get to work faster!
It’s final, and the math has been corrected. Here’s the final version of the Boston Cyclist Safety Report. And here’s the final version of the corrected chart showing various bike/car factors contributing to accidents:
Bikers, let’s take control of our safety:
1. Don’t “salmon” (ride against traffic)
2. Don’t run red lights and stop signs
3. Make yourself visible. I know, dayglo yellow just isn’t fashionable, not in any possible universe, and flashing lights are soooo middle-aged bike commuter. Maybe because I’m a dorky middle-aged bike-commuter, I just don’t care what I look like on a bike, as long as I’m visible. And maybe for the same reason, I think adding risk to your life for the sake of fashion statements is about as stupid as it gets.
Break out the Day-glo, the blinking lights, and the dorky helmets. We’ll all look dorky together, and we’ll all live to bike another day.
I thought just a little more analysis was warranted. (If you want to see what I’m talking about, look at yesterday’s post.)
Here are raw # counts based directly on charts in the report (pp. 43-44, for those who want to follow along – keep in mind that the City is working on a revision to correct math errors). I have combined a few items, because it seemed to make sense:
1. Top 6 bicyclist factors contributing to bike-car accidents
|108||Salmoning (cycling against traffic)|
|107||Running red light or stop sign|
|41||Failure to see car|
|33||Inattention, phone, electronics|
2. Top 6 driver factors contributing to bike-car accidents
|156||Failure to see cyclist|
|40||Running red light or stop sign|
|36||Inattention, phone, electronics|
A few things are worthy of note:
1. The top two factors involved in accidents are driver-related: dooring and failure to see cyclist. Together, these account for 353 of the 1091 accidents (32%) for which there are behavioral factors. Cyclists are a close second, though, with a combined 215 (running lights and stop signs, and salmoning) for the next two highest, for 20%.
2. Drivers account for 489 contributing behaviors, cyclists 392. I don’t think it’s worthwhile using this to find fault with drivers, but it’s equally clear that the report’s emphasis on cyclist faults was unwarranted. [If you're paying attention, you may have noticed more discrepancies. 489 plus 353 falls pretty far short of 1091. Where does the balance go? You're guess is as good as mine.]
3. Good news for cyclists: we can eliminate about 1/2 of our contribution to accidents by changing two key behaviors: stop salmoning, and stop running red lights.
4. More good news for cyclists: we can help eliminate a good number of driver causes as well, by
- leaving more distance between you and parked cars;
- not dodging to the right side of stopped taxis (taxis were disproportionately represented in dooring incidents, likely from passengers exiting);
- adding visibility: safety vests, bright colors, lights;
- riding predictably: pick a straight line and stick with it. (Weaving in and out of traffic was not listed as a contributing cause, but it is almost certainly a contributing cause to being invisible to drivers at critical moments.)
5. We need more detailed accident information. Many of these categories probably overlap. When a driver didn’t see a cyclist, was it because the cyclist was unlit and wearing black at night? Was it because the driver was more attentive to a cellphone? Was it because the intersection has poor sight lines?
6. The priorities of policy decisions initially based on the (flawed) initial report had to do with enforcement, especially of bikes running red lights. I hope Boston re-aligns priorities based on a better analysis of the data. For instance, the prevalence of dooring suggests a need for better bike lane design that accounts for the “door zone” adjacent to lines of parked cars. Likewise, if there are particular streets where salmoning (riding against traffic) is a major problem, it’s worth exploring whether a contraflow bike lane–a lane going the opposite direction of traffic on a one-way street–would add order that would reduce the number of collisions. In other words, as Boston re-examines the data, I hope they also re-examine it with a broader mind-set that includes not only directly addressing cyclist and driver behaviors with enforcement, but re-thinking the engineering of roads as well. Many of these behaviors could also be reduced with more sensible traffic patterns.
7. Speeding, really? I just can’t let it go. I cannot fathom how more cyclists than cars were described as “speeding” in accident reports. Here’s my best guess: the word “speeding” means different things for cars and bikes. For cars, it means exceeding posted speed limits. For bikes, it means exceeding speeds that caution might call for in certain circumstances. In other words, it’s a double standard. In a city where posted speed limits are often unsafe given the numbers of pedestrians and cyclists, what this data-point says to me: reduce the posted speed limits. How many of those driver-attributions of “didn’t see bike” really just mean that they didn’t see the bike in time to stop, but might have if they’d been going 25mph?
8. The other major finding in the report that comes as no surprise: a disproportionate number of cyclists involved in accidents are between the ages of 18 and 22. What about a concerted effort by the City and bike organizations and campus safety and security staff to educate students at MIT, Harvard, Northeastern, and BU (the big bike campuses) about bike safety? The major difficulty is the new influxes annually, learning high-risk behaviors from their hyper-hip predecessors. But a payoff with these populations would be huge.
On the face of it, it seemed like a bizarre claim: that bicyclists running red lights were responsible for close to 30% of bike accidents in Boston in the last 4 years. Yes, we keep hearing about the reckless, young urban cyclists who habitually run red lights… but 30%? But there it was in a full-color graph in the Globe reprinted from a City of Boston Report. Here’s the graph:
The thing is, it just ain’t so. Later in the report is a summary of the numbers from which those percentages were presumably drawn:
These numbers tell a rather different story from that graph: Note, first of all that, that dooring outnumbers bicyclists running red lights by more than a factor of 2, and that “Driver Did Not See Bicyclist” outnumbers “Bicyclist Ran Red Light” by nearly a factor of 2. So, a considerably more accurate picture emerges of proportions of accidents caused, in which drivers or passengers not seeing bicyclists (dooring is really a subset of not seeing a bicyclist) contributed to nearly 40% of accidents, while bicyclists running red lights accounted for only about 9.5%.
The Boston Magazine blog corrected its article late in the day on Thursday, May 16, owing to vocal complaints by Pete Stidman of the Boston Cyclists Union and Aaron Naparstek of MIT’s City Design and Development Group, who both caught the glaring math errors. The Boston Globe also ran a corrected graph in Thursday’s paper, but it’s behind a paywall, so I can’t share it.
You will see different %’s in the Boston Magazine blog: that writer calculated % based on all accidents; a helpful statistician named Matt pointed out in a Boston Cyclists Union Facebook post that you can’t put total accidents in the denominator if the numerator is limited to accidents with narrative labels attached – only about 1/2 (891) of the total.
And what in the world is up with that “Bicyclist Speeding” number? Twice “Driver Speeding?” Really? I don’t know about other cyclists, but when I really let loose on the flat, I top out at 30mph. Even in a 25mph zone, it’s hard to call that speeding.
We at Bike Newton would love to see you dust off your old bike and put it to use commuting and running errands or just pedaling around for fun… but if that’s not an option, let Bikes Not Bombs put it to use!
Bring it to Bowen School on Sunday, May 19, between 3:00pm and 6:00pm (Bowen School’s “Spring Fling” fundraiser) where Bike Newton will be helping Bikes Not Bombs collect bicycles. BNB requests a donation of $10 for each bike donated, to help defray expenses of transportation, storage, and repair.
If you’re not already familiar with Bikes Not Bombs, here’s what they do:
They re-purpose thousands of bikes every year, both for youth in Boston and people all over Africa, and they do it in a really novel, community- and skill-building way: youth have to earn their bikes by learning to repair them. They run a youth-staffed repair and bike shop in Jamaica Plain, and youth help prepare and ship bicycles to African villages. Obviously, they’re learning about far more than just bikes.
If you want to support this amazing organization by doing more than donating a bike, Nathan Aronow, Bike Newton’s Ride Coordinator, will be riding in their 26th annual Bike-a-Thon on June 2. Just click on “Sponsor a Rider” and enter his name on the form where it says, “Name of the Rider You’re Sponsoring.”
We’re kicking off the Monday evening rides season a little earlier this year, owing to this stretch of glorious Spring weather! Come join us for our inaugural ride on Monday, May 13 at the Newton Free Library main entrance (on Homer Street, near the bike racks). The ride departs at 6:00pm sharp, so be there by 5:45 to guarantee a spot. We’ll go to Echo Bridge on a 7.1 mile route on a mix of streets including Comm. Ave., Beacon St., Beethoven St. , and Quinobequin Road. At the mid-point, enjoy a stroll across Echo Bridge and/or creating great rhythmic echoes under the arch.
Click the map for route details:
All riders get a free Newton Bike Map, courtesy of Bike Newton!
Rides generally take one to one-and-a-half hours, so plan for enough time. Also, this early the season it’s a good idea to bring a light jacket, preferably bright or light colored; lights and reflective material are also wise, since the end of the ride will involve a low, glaring sun.
Anyone may ride as long as their bikes are in good working order, and they are confident they can handle a leisurely 7 to 10 mile ride. Children must be with an adult, all riders must wear helmets, and adhere to safety rules of the road.
One of the joys of biking with your own kid is watching how his skills and habits improve from year to year. He doesn’t wobble or swerve as much as he did last fall, which means he can bike on the street with supervision. I’ve also been inculcating good practices at corners–where to look for turning cars, slowing or stopping when the view is obstructed–and while biking along a stretch of parked cars: stay a bike-length away to avoid opening doors, watch for clues of movement, like taillights or wheels, watch for cars coming out of driveways… and he’s been showing me (and telling me while he’s showing me) that he’s adopting these habits. Yay! He’s not quite up to signaling a turn yet (the handlebars wobble a little too far), so I’m still sticking close.
One of the other joys is hearing how stuff Bike Newton was involved in still sticks in his memory.
As we came around Crystal Lake the other day, he said, “I love this part.”
I said, “Why, because of the view over the lake?”
He said, “Yeah, that, too, but really because I remember when they closed the road for cars and we biked here, and I love remembering that.”
OK, then. Hear that, guys? I’ve taken him biking all over the place: paths, trails, parks… and what sticks out in his head is the day he and the other bikers owned a road. Sounds like a major win. Let’s do it again.
Sometimes you can plan for it, sometimes you can’t. Sometimes a sickness in humanity causes the deaths of innocent people, and you stop and wonder what could have prevented it, and how you can go about your life the next day without dread, especially if the life of someone you know has been pushed off course.
But you go about the next day, and the next, and we all return eventually to whatever “normal” is for each of us. Most of us are good people. We outnumber the bad people 100:1, maybe 1000:1, or more. But most of the time, in our “normal” days, with mortality far away and annoyances and mundane tensions nearby, even if we’re kind of passively good, we forget to go out of our way to be good. On a normal day, I know I probably swear under my breath more often than I do a good turn.
There are a lot of really refreshing stories of heroism and goodness today that restore faith in humanity. As life returns to normal, hang onto those stories, and be good to each other. That’s ultimately what safety is all about: caring enough for the rest of humanity to go out of your way for them, even if it’s just a little out of your way, for a little thing.
Safety isn’t really about helmets and lanes and traffic signals and laws, though all that stuff is important. At it’s core, safety is a mindset. Another word for it is “care,” as in “take care.”
So, uh, Newton. It’s April 11. 3 weeks into Spring. Any idea when the street-sweepers will start making their rounds? How about the pot-hole crews?
If you follow this link to the Newton Street Sweeping Schedule, you might be able to shed some light on when we bikers can look forward to clear travel lanes. Or you might not. Here’s a list of major street repairs. I don’t know whether the list includes pothole repair or only total resurfacing jobs.