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Report provided by Robert Winters,
Cambridge Civic Journal
|Since the Vassar Street matter has been mentioned several times now, here's the
chronology and some background materials. I apologize in advance for the length of this
post, but I thought some people might want to see some of the details.
Also including is the report of the Cambridge City Council's Public Safety Committee meeting of Oct 29 at which numerous contributors to this list testified.
City Council Order
July 29, 2002 - City Council order from Councilor Simmons, one of several introduced by various councilors at that time, quite possibly with the death of Dana Laird in mind
Order 18. Requesting the City Manager to confer with the Assistant City Manager for Community Development to study the possibility of changing to bicycle routes located between the sidewalk and parked cars. Councilor Simmons
Report from Community Development Department
Sept 9, 2002 - Report from Community Development Department in response to above order
In response to Awaiting Report Item No. 02-68, regarding a report on the possibility of changing to bicycle routes located between the sidewalk and parked cars, in the European model, Assistant City Manager for Community Development Beth Rubenstein reports the following
In some European countries, standard bicycle facilities include cycle "tracks," which are essentially grade-separated bicycle lanes, also known as "raised bike lanes." These are usually located between the street and the sidewalk, or between the parking lane and the sidewalk. This type of facility is primarily found in The Netherlands and Denmark. The tracks are one-way facilities on each side of the street and are clearly distinct from the sidewalk, with different paving materials, and an additional curb between the cycle track and the sidewalk. These countries do also use on-street bicycle lanes as a type of bicycle facility. Germany also uses a grade-separated bike facility, although often it is a marked travel path essentially on the sidewalk. While a cycle track is not the standard for bicycle facility design in the US, there are some examples, most notably in Oregon.
Advantages and disadvantages
Cycle tracks incorporate the convenience of riding on the street with the psychological separation of a barrier. They also have the advantages that motorists are not likely to drive or park in the bike area; novice bicyclists are more likely to ride in the cycle track, leaving the sidewalk for pedestrians; and there is potential for minimizing the likelihood of a "dooring" occurring, since most places drivers will park on the right hand side of the road and exit on the street side. However, since passengers will also be exiting vehicles, there needs to be additional space between the parked cars and the cyclists for them to be away from the car door zone. This usually means that the overall width needed to provide a cycle track is greater than that for an on-street bike lane.
Although there are advantages to the lanes, there are disadvantages to be considered as well. The most significant one involves safety, conspicuity and expectations of behavior. Motorists are not expecting to see cyclists emerge from behind parked cars and wont be looking for them. This is of particular danger at driveways and intersections; the danger is greater to the cyclist than to the pedestrian because of cyclists higher speeds and the inability of the cyclist to stop in the same way as a pedestrian. Most major roadways in Cambridge have many cross streets, where motor vehicle traffic will be turning and not expecting to have cyclists emerging from the sidewalk area.
In contrast, on-street bicycle lanes put cyclists in the same place where they would be on a street without bicycle lanes. With greater expectations of where cyclists will be, there is less likelihood of a collision.
Constructing cycle tracks require significant expenditure. This is because curbs need to be moved, and a new drainage system put in place to deal with drainage on the cycle track itself. In addition, the travel lanes and tracks must be paved separately. There are also additional maintenance costs required for cleaning and snow clearance; these would need to be done by different equipment than is used for the streets (would be similar to those used on sidewalks).
Cycle tracks in Cambridge
Although the safety and financial concerns about cycle tracks suggest limited applicability, there are circumstances where the cycle track may be safe and appropriate. For a cycle track to work, there needs to be good visibility and limited cross-traffic. This means few or no side streets or driveways, which is where the conflicts occur. With these considerations in mind, the City has agreed to the construction of this type of facility on Vassar Street. MIT has designed and will construct and maintain this facility; the first section between Massachusetts Avenue and Main Street is expected to be completed by the spring of 2003. The design was based on Danish and Dutch technical standards has been thoroughly reviewed by the relevant city departments and by the Bicycle and Pedestrian Committees. The design includes some traffic calming devices as well as special signing and pavement markings to call attention to the special facility. Vassar Street will enable us to evaluate the potential for the cycle track design in other locations in the city.
Oct 29, 2002 - Public Safety Committee meeting (report received Nov 25, 2002)
The purpose of the meeting was to discuss three bike safety issues
the possibility of changing to bike routes located between the sidewalk and parked cars, in the European model, and other ways of promoting bike safety
"dooring", the issues related to car doors opening into bike lanes
enforcement of laws regulating bicycle riding
Present at the meeting were
Vice Mayor Henrietta Davis, Chair of the Committee
Also present were the following members of the public from Cambridge:
Lorraine Lavoie, 929 Mass. Ave.
Also attending was
Vice Mayor Davis opened the meeting and stated the purpose. She invited Mayor Sullivan to speak first, since he had to leave to attend a School Committee meeting. Mayor Sullivan stated that almost ten years ago, the city redesigned its streets to include bike lanes. It is time to review the safety of the design again; residents have spoken to him about improvements in bike lanes. He thanked city staff for their work on the issue. Mayor Sullivan also commended the Bicycle and Pedestrian Committees for working together on the issue and noted that ten years ago, such cooperation would have been unthinkable. He believes there are enough intelligent ideas about bike safety in Cambridge that the city could be a model for other places. He stated that the goal is safer bike lanes, an issue always worth revisiting. Vice Mayor Davis asked everyone in the room to introduce themselves and then invited Cara Seiderman of CDD to make a presentation on the issues.
Ms. Seiderman indicated that Community Development staff researched European and American models in developing the current bike lanes and in exploring new models (Attachment A, September 9, 2002 Report of Beth Rubenstein, Assistant City Manager for Community Development on European-style bike lanes). First, regarding the European models, she described different types of bike lanes, or "cycle tracks", with a primary focus on Germany, Denmark and Holland. Cycle tracks are different from the lanes on streets or separate bike paths, such as old railbeds. Cycle tracks separate bike riders as far as possible from traffic; they are usually graded up or down from street levels, and marked or otherwise distinguished from the street and sidewalk, although some are located in streets. Ms. Seiderman also reviewed the pros and cons of these designs. They have the advantages of creating more separation from traffic for bicyclists, preventing cars from driving in the tracks, which are too narrow for cars, and reducing the risk of dooring by allowing only the passenger side of cars to open onto the tracks.
According to Ms. Seiderman, a big factor in the advantages of bike tracks in Europe is the fact that Europeans are better educated about bike safety and rules. The primary disadvantage and risk of bike tracks she identified for Cambridge surprise at intersections and driveways, and resultant accidents, occur where there is no public education and experience with how these tracks work. In those places, motorists and pedestrians will encounter bikes where they do not expect them. However, according to Ms. Seiderman, if there are clear rules about travel lanes, there is a better chance of success with tracks. Another disadvantage of cycle tracks is faster bike traffic, and this increased speed creates greater risk for pedestrians.
Ms. Seiderman stated that the city plans to be cautious in redesigning bike paths. According to Ms. Seiderman, the city plans to run an experiment with bike tracks. Taking advantage of the reconstruction of Vassar Street, with MITs cooperation, the city will create a bike track using Dutch and Danish standards; because there is only one intersection on the street where bikes will cross pedestrian paths, the risk of collisions will be minimized.
Regarding the issue of "dooring," Ms. Seiderman stated that this has become a high visibility issue because of the death of bicyclist Dana Laird in Central Square earlier this year and is in the forefront of the citys efforts to improve safety for bikes. At the same time, she emphasized that the city has to focus on the broad picture of street and bike safety and to understand what the most serious issues are. She noted that drivers education is lacking in terms of bike presence on the street. Educating drivers to watch for bikes is a particular interest of the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department. According to Ms. Seiderman, the most serious accidents occur when cars turn without seeing bikers and hit them. Dooring is not usually fatal. She identified more markings and more safety education as two ways of preventing fatalities. Her department is aware of research and experience in the U.S. and abroad on these issues and this information on safety improvements has been used in the citys designs.
Over the next few months, Cambridge will run a study on Hampshire Street to determine how to improve safety for cars and bikes. The study will include videotaping to identify traffic patterns, as well as education and outreach to drivers and bikers. Ms. Seiderman noted that statistics show that bike lanes increase safety.
Ms. Seiderman suggested several possibilities to prevent dooring using the process for annual parking permits as an opportunity for educating drivers, a safety campaign using decals, posters, the web and flyers, mailings to motorists, use of variable message boards for reminders such as night lights for bikes, and efforts to change the state law to require motorists to check for bikes before opening doors.
Vice Mayor Davis then introduced Superintendent DeGou to speak about enforcement issues.
Superintendent DeGou began by describing his observations on a 500-yard walk from the Post Office to City Hall in Central Square bikers traveling in the wrong direction and almost getting hit, no helmets, no illumination, and running red lights---a situation of incredible danger. He speculated that there might be an influx of new people in the city who are not familiar with the rules of the road here. He considers education vital, since enforcement alone may not solve the problems. According to Superintendent DeGou, one of the most serious problems is double parking in bike lanes, which is endless, since people want to make quick trips into stores. While he can try to assign someone at designated spots to move traffic, his experience is that even after police issue tickets and warnings, the problem continues to occur.
Councilor Murphy thanked everyone present for attending. He identified different components of the efforts to improve traffic safety design, enforcement and education. Regarding design, Councilor Murphy recommends looking at other communities for ideas, while realizing that it may be difficult to apply some ideas because of the Cambridges age and layout; the city needs to do its best in the circumstances present. For this, real- life study of the situation is important. Regarding enforcement, Councilor Murphy emphasized the need for meaningful fines, changes in state law and serious penalties for violations. On the issue of education and behavior modification, Councilor Murphy referred to Rozann Kraus ideas about an intensive education campaign for all street users, with sanctions as a fall back. According to Councilor Murphy, people need to understand the repercussions of their behavior, for example, that double parking can create a risk to the safety of other street users.
Vice Mayor Davis pointed out that Councilor Murphy had basically outlined the 4 "Es" of travel safety education, engineering, enforcement and encouragement.
Ms. Lavoie raised the issue of unsafe biker conduct. She commented that, although bikers are subject to the same rules as other vehicles on the street, they often violate them by running red lights and blocking crosswalks. In her experience trying to cross Mass. Ave. in Central Square, she is almost inevitably cut off by bikers running red lights. She has checked with Jeff Parenti at Traffic and Parking on whether bikers might have a green light, when a walk sign is on; he informed her that if the walk sign is lit, traffic has a red light. Ms. Lavoie also raised concerns about the ability of people with poor vision or other handicaps to cross streets safely since a collision with a bike can cause serious injuries. Her feeling is that there are too many inconsiderate bikers on the streets.
Mr. Nesbitt remarked that, as he was biking to the meeting, he was given the solution to the street safety problem by an SUV driver who yelled at him "get a car". He asked Superintendent DeGou how many citations were issued to drivers for various violations: double parking, no lights and parking away from the curbs. According to Mr. Nesbitt, double parking is an obvious problem, but the hidden dangers from the other infractions above are even worse. Superintendent DeGou did not have statistics on these.
Mr. Nesbitt stated that there can be significant improvements in safety, for example, with lights. Front lights on bikes are particularly important for visibility. Regarding bike tracks, he has lived in places with them and points out that they introduce conflicts at intersections, where bikes, pedestrians and cars meet at different rates of speed. Mr. Nesbitt does not think that tracks will help in Cambridge but that putting lights on bikes will, and that people will follow the leader on safety measures.
Mr. Rogers described his experience biking at night in France without lights; the police stopped him and required him to walk. He doubts that there have been any citations for no lights on bikes in Cambridge.
Mr. Levendusky stated that he has spent three years riding bikes, including in the city. He was hit by a car on a turn a month ago; in his experience, colliding with cars on turns is a more common problem than dooring. Bike tracks would only increase this type of accident by hiding bikers behind cars. Mr. Levendusky believes it would be safer to move the bike lanes further away from car lanes. Citing three bike fatalities in Boston and Cambridge this summer, he stated that what is needed is a concerted effort to educate motorists, publicity about accidents and enforcement of rules. His experience is that police are unsympathetic about bike accidents that are not dramatic. Mr. Levendusky also believes that many accidents involving bikes and cars are unreported. He urged the city to encourage people to report accidents, maybe through a campaign and heightened enforcement by the bike police; this could include undercover police. He has found many motorists to be gracious, but aggression from motorists is commonplace; they dont seem to understand how vulnerable bikers are and they misjudge the speed of bikes, which can move very fast. Mr. Levendusky pointed out that, as car and bike traffic increase, there will be more incidents. If the city does not improve enforcement, there will be more tragedies.
Superintendent DeGou heads the police bike unit, in addition to other responsibilities. While patrolling on his bike, he has been subject to rude behavior and agrees with Mr. Levendusky about the "me first" mentality that travelers have. He stated that the police are interested in more enforcement; he emphasized the importance of education as well. He stated that he takes bike/car accidents seriously and will investigate any reports. In response to a question from Ms. Lavoie about the police response if a biker hits a pedestrian, Superintendent DeGou stated that it should be reported for investigation and will be treated as an assault. Although there are difficulties in identifying bikes or riders, Superintendent DeGou is also in charge of the police investigative division and can apply its resources to bike accidents. Ms. Seiderman also suggested that people report endangerment by motorists on the citys Web site. Superintendent DeGou pointed out that bikes and cars are subject to the same $20 fine for running red lights.
Mr. Halle stated that the death of bicyclist Dana Laird in Central Square this summer raises issues of the need to focus on peoples safety and to understand peoples fears. He has been working with city officials to address these issues. He described the police bike patrols which ride 50 miles a day, which is important to understand the community issues. The patrols primarily enforce rules against bikers. Mr. Halle wants to expand their role to enforce the rules of the road with all players, so that the maxim of "same roads, same rules" applies. He admits that this is not an easy problem to solve, complicated by the lack of licensing and education for bikers, different backgrounds and attitudes towards biking, and the transience of the Cambridge community. In response to Councilor Simmons interest in the European model of bike tracks, Mr. Halle stated that the members of the citys Bike Committee disagree among themselves about shared or separate facilities for bikers. Mr. Halle reiterated several suggestions for improvements lights for bikers, more enforcement to encourage law-abiding behavior, and a study of real traffic behavior on Hampshire Street. According to Mr. Halle, the fact that there are so few bike/car accidents is fortunate, but that there is so little reporting is unfortunate. He believes that there is not enough data on the problem, and that there need to be more state efforts and education for everyone who uses the streets, perhaps through agencies such as the school department. Mr. Halle noted that after the bikers death in Central Square this summer, the Bike Committee wrote to the police asking for more enforcement, and observed more police efforts in the square. He also pointed to taxi behavior as another safety issue and stated that the police liaison spoke to cabbies about this.
Ms. Rasmussen stated that the Community Development Department plans to promote non-car use in a campaign in May 2003, and that, as part of this effort, she commits to work with the Bike and Pedestrian Committees and with city departments to focus on travel safety. According to Ms. Rasmussen, education is important but difficult, since people are given so much information to deal with. She will try to learn from other places what has been effective for them. She wants to ensure that the impact of the campaign is related to the effort; she has found it hard to get media coverage for public service, although this is the best way to reach people.
Mr. White considers Cambridge a great city, with sophisticated riders, a public and city officials who are concerned about safety, and the resources to address problems. Mr. White is amazed that people ride bikes without lights and that the bikes don't come equipped with such safety features. He suggests working with local bike schools and/or public officials to require safety features such as lights on bikes. Vice Mayor Davis remarked that Police Commissioner Watson is also interested in ways to require safety equipment as standard features on bikes.
Regarding "dooring", Mr. White stated that it is nerve-wracking to anticipate open doors when biking in the street. On 60- foot wide streets, two bike lanes, two or four car lanes, and two lanes for parking make for very congested conditions; he believes that something has to go. On the premise that its better to have one safe bike lane rather than two unsafe ones, he recommends redesigning streets to run one way and to include one wide bike lane, two travel lanes, and a parking lane. Mr. White also urged more enforcement against double parking and running red lights; he believes this is important to get the message to drivers that lawlessness will not be tolerated. Finally, he congratulated everyone for taking steps in the right direction on this issue.
Ms. Kraus thanked the city for its efforts. Speaking as a hard-core biker, she stated that there isnt a day without close calls when she is almost hurt. She also emphasized the importance of using the tragedy of Dana Lairds death this summer to improve the situation. Ms. Kraus son was injured by a driver who failed to stop; for years she has been involved in efforts to improve the situation, without seeing changes implemented. Ms. Kraus perspective is that the city should not wait any longer; it has the resources, intelligence and ability to educate people and needs to use the resources it has now. Instead of relying exclusively on public efforts, Ms. Kraus proposes a six- week project of education and enforcement using the following
enhanced current resources, such as police
school department early "travel education" throughout the city
Chamber of Commerce
warnings of serious fines and penalties
Mr. Kraus has studied the ways to change behavior and recommends this process as a way of "saturation in finite time." She envisions this project as a model for the state and beyond. Vice Mayor Davis noted that Cambridge Cable TV would be airing panel discussions with members of the community and public officials on bike safety on October 29 and November 3.
Mr. Hamman stated that bike and pedestrian safety are issues for the city and the state. Despite conflicts, he believes that we are all in the same boat of improving non-vehicular travel safety. According to Mr. Hamman, House Bill 2101 of last year, which concerns bike safety, will be revised and reintroduced in the state legislature this year. On a personal note, Mr. Hamman recounted how, on a 12-day biking trip in France, only one car honked at him and that was to say hello.
Vice Mayor Davis described a recent ride on a public bus on which the driver harassed a biker off the road. She reported this driver to the agency and urged other people to report dangerous conduct.
Mr. Tull was excited about being on the same page with other people on the issue of bike safety. Two years ago, he was injured by a car which was turning in traffic; because he was a new father then, he was particularly scared by his vulnerability. As he sees it, the main challenge for a biker is to be both legal and safe. In his experience, a legal biker is not necessarily a safe one. While he looks out for pedestrians, he actively breaks the law now in order to avoid busses and cars. He received a warning recently but still thinks it can be necessary to break the law for safety. Mr. Tull challenges the notion of more education as key. His opinion is that education alone will not be effective, that it is utopian to hope that everyone will be law-abiding. His own approach to bike safety is one that has not been mentioned attention to immediate interests.
Because he feels that police are not very concerned about most bike accidents, he also wonders if a separate phone line to report them would be useful. Based on his work in international dispute resolution, Mr. Tull suggested that option generation is critical, before focusing on solutions. Vice Mayor Davis exercised her prerogative as chair to urge Mr. Tull to obey the rules of the road, and reminded him that running red lights contributes to the tone of danger on the street. Mr. Tull responded that, when he has to make a quick decision on the street, he distinguishes between safety and stupidity and will do what he has to to be safe.
Mr. Sylvester offered his opinion that enforcement is on-the-spot education. Referring to the statistics in the October 21, 2002 report from Police Commissioner Watson on enforcement efforts against double-parking in bike lanes (Attachment B), Mr. Sylvester stated that it was discouraging to see how little enforcement there was. For example, he read the statistics to indicate that there were an average of seven bike violations per day in August 2002; warnings only were issued in over 70 percent of the incidents, and from January through September 2002, there were only 1.2 fines per day.
Mr. Moot asked several questions. First, he wanted an explanation of the different patterns in crosswalks and stated that both pedestrians and drivers need to know what they mean. His opinion is that the state needs some uniformity on crosswalk markings; on a related issue, he stated that video surveillance of cars running red lights would be useful in improving safety. In response, Ms. Clippinger, Director of the Traffic, Parking & Transportation Department, stated that whats important at crosswalks is the traffic signal. Pedestrians are only supposed to cross on the "walk" signal; if there is no signal, cars are required to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk. Different municipalities have experimented with different kinds of markings to identify the crosswalks, but all of the different street markings mean the same thing-they simply mark the crosswalk. Vice Mayor Davis confirmed that there are different costs to different kinds of road paint, which also explains some of the differences. Ms. Clippinger stated that Cambridge has been using zebra bars with plastic-coated paint to increase visibility and that this project doubled the pavement marking budget two years ago. Secondly, Mr. Moot asked if helmets were required for bike riders. Councilor Murphy stated that he had been involved in the issue of bike helmets when he worked in the State House, and that the legislature had only required helmets for bike riders twelve years of age and under. Next, Mr. Moot inquired if there were laws requiring bikers to warn pedestrians when they were about to pass; according to Mr. Moot, speeding bikes routinely zip by pedestrians on the river with no warning. Vice Mayor Davis stated that there are rules requiring a warning but that they are not followed. Finally, Mr. Moot inquired about the rules covering bikes on sidewalks; he said that he is unclear about these rules.
Ms. Dodds stated that she was a member of the citys Pedestrian Committee for five years. Based on her experience, it takes 15 years for good ideas to materialize. Noting that this is the sixth year of the combined Bicycle and Pedestrian committees, she said that the citys policy on bike and pedestrian safety is not constructive or effective. According to Ms. Dodds, there is a lack of consistency, so that people do not know whats expected and this makes enforcement impossible. She is not aware of any enforcement against bikes on sidewalks north of Porter Square. Illustrating the problems, she recounted a recent incident where a bike, a few inches away, sped by her on the sidewalk, and then almost collided with a car exiting a parking lot. Her observation is that the running of red lights is also on the increase. Ms. Dodds states that, since pedestrians generally have 17 seconds to cross a street on a walk light, they can lose time trying to avoid bikes that are running red lights and then find themselves in danger when the light changes. Referring to Mr. Halles statement that it was important to understand peoples fears, Ms. Dodds stated that the perils on the sidewalks from bikers are real, not imagined. She noted that there have been many injuries, some fatal, from collisions between pedestrians and bikes. According to Ms. Dodds, the "big bad wolf" is not just cars; bikers have wheels and speed, which make them dangerous.
Ms. Dodds wants more red light enforcement. She also seconded many of the suggestions from other speakers, including making lights part of the purchase of bikes, visible identification on bikes, and a distribution of lights to increase visibility and prevent accidents such as "dooring." Right now, pedestrians have no way to identify bikers who injure them. Ms. Dodds believes that since bikes are vehicles under state law, they should have identification.
Mr. Loutzenheiser made the following suggestions
On-the-road, in-your- face education with bright yellow "yield to pedestrians" signs and possibly signs about other dangers
Recognizing that streets are designed for cars and sidewalks for pedestrians, and that bikes as a third category of transportation have unique needs
Vice Mayor Davis thanked everyone for attending, and remarked that the meeting produced a lot of food for thought. Councilor Murphy stated that it was a testament to the city that it was having these conversations and that it must not lose the momentum for change from the death of Dana Laird this summer. Councilor Murphy urged the city to work on specific legislation for increased penalties and other changes. He looks forward to the Hampshire Street data and wants to make the city a safer place for everyone.
Vice Mayor Davis outlined the next steps on the issue, and the list of specific suggestions for action
Include bike safety in the citys "Go Green" month education
Intensive education campaign for bike safety
Legislation to require safety equipment on bikes
Set and enforce appropriate fines for double parking
Include bike and pedestrian issues in youth driver education
Include bike classes in school physical education
Encourage reporting and recording of bike and pedestrian accidents and make sure that city personnel are knowledgeable about procedures
City research about safe bike lanes
Follow up with the state caucus on bike and pedestrian safety issues
Investigate how to license bikes
Vice-Mayor Davis thanked everyone for attending. She also entered eight letters and e-mails she had received about bike safety into the record of the meeting
Attachment C, "A 200-pound slab of cycling arrogance", a Commentary by Katherine Powers
Attachment D, October 7, 2002 Letter from Ken Field
Attachment E, October 7, 2002 e- mail from Walter Willett
Attachment F, October 8, 2002 Letter from Bryce Nesbitt and Ilil Carni
Attachment G, October 8, 2002 e-mail from Wade T. Smith
Attachment H, October 9, 2002 e-mail from Jesse Gordon
Attachment I, October 25, 2002 e-mail from Bryce Nesbitt
Attachment J, October 28, 2002 e-mail from Gail Roberts
The meeting adjourned at 750 P.M.
For the Committee,
Vice Mayor Henrietta Davis, Chair
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