Is bike lane safe???? 9/04/2008 17:10
The Boston Phoenix, August 2-8, 2002. 7.

A dangerous & now deadly bicycle policy
A host of good intentions, but a lack of common sense
BY KRISTEN LOMBARDI

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DOOR-ZONE DEATH TRAP: critics call Cambridge's aggressive installation of bike lanes next to aprallel-parked cars 'an experiment with human lives.'
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IN THE WAKE of Dana Laird’s cycling death last month, many people have pointed fingers at the motorist who opened the door of his black Honda CRV into Laird’s path as she cycled down Mass Ave, in Central Square. When Laird swerved to avoid the door, she was struck and instantly killed by an MBTA bus. Just last week, bicycle advocates and legislators responded to this ill-fated "dooring" incident by staging a well-attended press conference at the State House. At the July 25 event, Representative Anne Paulsen (D-Belmont), who commutes by bike to Beacon Hill daily, unveiled proposed legislation that would make recklessly opening a car door into traffic illegal, punishable by a $500 fine. The bill, she said, would give bicyclists injured by car doors the legal clout they need to sue motorists for damages. Paulsen was followed to the podium by a Cambridge firefighter named Paulo Marinelli, who proceeded to relay his own dooring horror story. While peddling down Mass Ave, in Arlington, he, too, smashed his bike into a suddenly and carelessly opened car door. His collision left him with a ripped rotator cuff and a badly bruised head. As Marinelli, referring to the bizarre circumstances associated with the Laird fatality, observed, "I was fortunate enough not to have been in the way of a bus coming. I count my blessings every day."

The proposed legislation seems well-intentioned enough, but it won’t prevent future dooring incidents. In Cambridge, at least, it’s also more or less redundant. Long before Laird’s death, the Cambridge City Council passed an ordinance that specifically forbade motorists to "open the door of a motor vehicle on the side available to moving traffic unless and until it is reasonably safe to do so," under which the black Honda CRV owner has already been cited. Even more important, pinning the blame on the motorist misses a crucial point: Laird died while cycling in a city-designated bicycle lane. And that naturally raises questions about the safety and appropriateness of the Cambridge bike lanes ― questions voiced by bicyclists and ignored by city officials for years now.

And that’s putting it mildly. On the e-mail listserv posted on the Web site of the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition, a Boston-based advocacy group, many cyclists have condemned Cambridge officials for building what they call a "death trap of a bike stripe" and for "herding cyclists into dangerous" and poorly designed bike lanes. In rather stark language, one cyclist takes aim squarely at Cambridge’s much-touted bicycle policies: "Responsibility for [Laird’s] death can only be placed on the City of Cambridge for encouraging unsafe (deadly) behavior on otherwise responsible citizens." Rather than the universal symbol for bicycle lanes (a mini bike in a circle stenciled to the pavement), the cyclist continues, "Maybe a skull-and-crossbones would be more appropriate."

Cambridge, it seems, has now found itself in a quandary. City officials have spent the past decade designing and implementing a bicycle program that features not only the installation of bike lanes, but also safe-cycling education and enforcement of traffic laws. It’s a comprehensive effort, meant to promote "the greater use of bicycles as an alternative to single-occupancy vehicles within the city," according to its own literature. As such, Cambridge has become widely known for its stellar commitment to cycling. But have these eager-beaver, liberal policies inadvertently paved the way for a cyclist’s worst nightmare?

TO BE SURE, the tragic death of Laird, an avid cyclist who had competed in marathons and triathlons before the July 2 accident, has legitimized years-old complaints about the Cambridge bike lanes. Ever since 1995, when the city began designating bike lanes, cyclists have argued that the conventional design ― two road-paint stripes with the bicycle symbol marked within ― doesn’t belong on every roadway. According to John Allen, a nationally recognized bicycling expert who helped found the Cambridge Bicycle Committee, in 1991, this design works best on wide streets with little parallel parking. He and other committee members have repeatedly warned officials not to build conventional bike lanes on streets like Mass Ave ― i.e., narrow roadways lined with parked cars ― because at any moment a motorist can open his or her car door and whack a cyclist flat. Installing a bike lane in the "door zone," as it’s called, only sets up cyclists for injury ― or, as demonstrated in Laird’s case, death. "When the city constructs a bike lane that instructs people to ride in the door zone," Allen claims, "it is responsible for the dooring problem to some degree."

Dooring collisions happen more often than you might think. In 1984, for instance, the Metropolitan Area Planning Council examined bike-car accidents in and around Boston, including Cambridge. It found that cyclists who had smashed into an "open door on the driver’s side of a parked car" accounted for 5.3 percent of all bike-car crashes in the area ― a percentage that was five times higher than the national average. The greater incidence of doorings in Boston, the study concluded, has a lot to do with its narrow, congested streets replete with parallel parking. Though the study didn’t measure dooring incidents in bike lanes (which rarely existed back then) per se, recent surveys do indicate that striping a lane in the door zone can lead to trouble. One 1999 survey of bike-car accidents in Santa Barbara, California, determined that 16 percent of cyclists had hit parked cars, up from seven percent in 1974. It attributed the rise to "the availability of bicycle facilities" ― or accommodations for cyclists ― "with on-street parking."

Such statistics became all too real once Laird collided with the open door of that Honda CRV, which propelled her under the rear wheel of a passing bus. (Although the Cambridge Police Department has yet to release its final report on the July 2 accident, news accounts have suggested that Laird might have nicked the door while swerving to avoid it, as opposed to hitting it head-on.) The fatality has served as a wake-up call for many cyclists whose attitude about bicycle lanes has been complacent. Wade Smith, a Cambridge Bicycle Committee member who has commuted by bike for 20-plus years, says he has long felt ambivalent about the city’s bike lanes. He rarely uses them himself. Yet he figured that the city "had its heart in the right place" by aggressively installing the lanes. When he heard about Laird’s death, he says, "The little bubble burst." For him, the issue has grown crystal clear: a bike lane isn’t just "an experiment in traffic control," as officials have called it. Rather, Smith has realized, a lane "is an experiment with human lives." He then adds, "I feel the days of making experiments with humans lives have got to be over."

Robert Winters, who publishes the Web site known as the Cambridge Civic Journal (www.rwinters.com), experienced a similar awakening. He stumbled upon the July 2 accident while walking through Central Square that afternoon. Winters happened to have his digital camera with him, and took pictures of the scene, which he posted on the Web. For him, the sheer horror of it all ― the fallen bike, the jarred door, the painted lane ― has, in his words, "lit a fire under this issue." Bike lanes, he now knows, are more than a civic-minded nod to the casual cyclist. "If you think of the bike lane as a safe space to ride, then you’re sadly, and perhaps even one day tragically, mistaken," he says.

Even staunch bike-lane supporters have had to think twice about city policies. Bryce Nesbitt, a Bicycle Committee member who describes himself as a "strong facilities proponent," says Laird’s death has inspired him to reconsider a design he had assumed was appropriate. Stirred by the accident, he has even gone to Central Square to observe how cyclists use the Mass Ave lane. His observations trouble him. "I watch novice cyclists ride right in the center of the bike lane," he explains, rather than toward the left side of the lane, which is outside the door zone. "There is a significant chance that this design can lead the cyclist down the wrong path."

These newfound critics find themselves paying more attention to Allen and others, who maintain that Cambridge officials have embraced bike lanes with such enthusiasm that they turn a blind eye toward safety concerns. When the city redesigns a road, it aims to install bicycle facilities, according to city policy. Facility designs include the more widely known bike lanes, as well as a host of other street treatments, such as sidepaths, wide outside lanes, contraflow lanes, and bicycle boxes. To date, most facilities in Cambridge are the conventional bike lanes. Oftentimes, officials try to shoehorn a lane onto the most narrow of residential streets, such as Harvard, Norfolk, and Ellery Streets. Sometimes, the lane seems to make no sense at all. The blue-painted lane at the intersection of Hampshire and Broadway, for example, instructs cyclists to ride on the right side of a right-turn-only auto lane. But then, cyclists must veer left ― in front of speeding motor-vehicle traffic ― to continue down Broadway. Although the blue paint is, in theory, meant to alert motorists to bicycle traffic, the lane’s actual path sets cyclists and motorists on a collision course.

Taking in the bigger picture, it’s tough to dismiss the criticisms. One former Cambridge Bicycle Committee member, who left the advisory group after disagreeing with bike-lane designs and who asked to remain anonymous, sums up the sentiment best: "People get caught up in this notion that bike lanes are so good. Lanes tell everyone the government cares about cyclists. We’ll encourage people to ride bikes and stop driving cars, and we’ll all be friendly and happy and fit. It’s like all [city officials] can see is this utopia."

IN MANY WAYS, officials do trumpet the virtues of bike lanes. In the literature about the Cambridge Bicycle Program, you can read about the many advantages of lanes ― including, ironically, the claim that they provide "bicyclists with a path free of obstructions." According to the city’s Web site (www.ci.cambridge.ma.us), in fact, one of the main reasons the administration has designated lanes is to "increase safety for bicyclists." Yet nowhere in the reams of online literature does the city mention the possible hazards for cyclists who ride in a lane in the door zone. Nowhere does it convey the message that these facilities do not guarantee safety.

It’s hard to know whether city officials would defend bike lanes so boldly today. Cara Seiderman, the city’s transportation manager who oversees bike projects, responded to the Phoenix’s interview requests with an e-mailed five-paragraph statement, in which she said that she and her colleagues "are deeply saddened by the tragedy." But she also stressed that all the Cambridge bike lanes "follow the same well-established national standards that are followed throughout the country." Seiderman continued, "City staff works closely with the Cambridge Bicycle Committee to review designs for each street and to take into consideration the experience we have on existing streets, as well as experiences around the country and world."

Seiderman points to national and international studies that have shown that bike lanes can actually promote safe cycling. Two California surveys conducted in the 1990s examined comparable streets with and without bike lanes in Santa Barbara and Davis. The studies found that bicyclists who rode in a lane were 30 percent less likely to ride against traffic than those who did not. As a result, the lanes reduced bike-car crashes by 31 percent in Davis and 14 percent in Santa Barbara. In Cambridge, meanwhile, the city has performed what Seiderman calls "some counts analysis" that determined that the Mass Ave bike lanes have cut in half the number of cyclists who ride on sidewalks in Central Square ― a politically hot topic in the mid 1990s, when city councilors banned sidewalk bicycling in Central, Harvard, and Inman squares, among other areas.

To hear proponents tell it, pointing the finger at bad bike-lane design seems as easy ― and misguided ― as pointing the finger at reckless motorists. Dooring incidents happen everywhere, they note, striped lane or not. On July 10, Cambridge police received three reports about collisions involving cyclists who were hurt when they smacked into car doors. All occurred on roads that offer parallel parking, but no bike lanes. This, proponents argue, only goes to show how the dooring problem cannot be defined as a bike-lane problem.

"It’s unfortunate that the Laird tragedy might turn into a referendum on all Cambridge bike lanes," laments Ken Field, a Bicycle Committee member.

Michael Halle, the committee chair, echoes this sentiment. When asked if the city, in its zeal to boost cycling, had installed bike lanes that compromise safety, he replies, "I would say the bike lanes at the point where Dana Laird was hit conform to federal guidelines, which is what people who design roads fall back on." He then adds, "It’s impossible to say that, had a bike lane not been there, Laird would still be alive."

This is not to say that Cambridge won’t consider changing its policies, however. The one thing on which defenders and critics agree is that the Laird tragedy requires re-examination of the safety of bike lanes. At its meeting last month, on July 10, the Bicycle Committee began discussing what the accident might mean for city policies. Some members, such as Smith and Nesbitt, have called for officials to remove all bike lanes painted in the door zone, including those on Mass Ave. Others have suggested modifying the conventional design by, say, marking a single stripe and a bike stencil beyond the door zone, showing cyclists where not to ride. Still others have recommended that the city create space for bike lanes by reducing traffic lanes or eliminating on-street parking altogether.

The debate has already led to results. Because of the Laird fatality, officials have put plans to stripe a conventional bike lane on the recently re-paved Hampshire Street, in Inman Square, on hold. According to Halle, the city intends to investigate how cyclists and motorists interact by videotaping how they navigate the unmarked road. The point of the exercise is to determine whether cyclists ride outside the door zone when there are no bike-lane stripings guiding their way.

Of course, what Cambridge will do beyond Hampshire Street is anybody’s guess. Seiderman, in her statement, maintains that officials "will continue to follow new research [on facilities] and consider new or innovative solutions where appropriate," and adds that "when we do find new guidance we are willing to make appropriate modifications." But some cyclists remain skeptical. After all, the city has already invested thousands of dollars to build bike lanes on as many as 20 streets, many of them of the traditional variety. If officials were to draft a policy that would ban striping lanes in the door zone, that would mean not striping lanes at all in certain areas ― which, it seems, contradicts the oft-repeated desire to encourage cycling. As Halle observes, "We should be doing things to promote cycling safety, but also promote cycling. That is a very tricky balancing act."

If Cambridge officials need a reminder of the harm that badly designed bike lanes can cause, they need look no further than the 400 block of Mass Ave, where a makeshift memorial honoring Laird stands. There’s something about the scene ― with its scrawled notes, wilted flowers, and red spray-painted outlines marking the crash ― that shakes the soul. Here, it becomes painfully obvious that Laird was not just another statistic, but a human being. Something else becomes apparent, too. As Smith, of the Bike Committee, bluntly puts it, "The real mitigating factor in Laird’s death is that it occurred in a poorly designed bike lane. On this, there’s no doubt."
http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2008/09/26/cyclists_pedal_into_arms_of_the_law/?page=full

Cyclists pedal into arms of the law
Cambridge riders find rules of road apply to them, too


By Michael Levenson, Globe Staff | September 26, 2008
CAMBRIDGE - He looked as carefree as can be, pedaling on his silver 18-speed mountain bike, wearing designer jeans and a black sport coat, a butterscotch leather handbag in his bicycle rack.

He had no idea that two Cambridge police officers were watching him from the side of the road with pads of tickets in their hands, waiting for him to break the law.

When the cyclist cruised through a red light, Officer Susan Kale stepped into the street, thrust out a hand, and waved him to a stop. Looking stunned, the man apologized and said he was new to town. Kale nodded and handed him a ticket - just a warning this time, though she could have slapped him with a $20 fine.

"Now you understand the rules of the road," she said firmly.

Many cyclists assume that they are exempt from the laws governing their motor-driven colleagues and have no cause to fear the officers who enforce them. The rules of the road, they say, are merely courtesies to be observed, or suggestions to keep them safe. Not so in Cambridge, where cyclists are increasingly being cited for any of dozens of violations, from running red lights or failing to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks to riding at night without a headlight.

Cambridge, which has built 37 miles of bike lanes, is contending with the flipside of its success in encouraging cycling. As the number of cyclists increases, police say they see more bikers blithely unaware that they are beholden to the same laws as drivers. The city has ticketed 952 cyclists this year (most of them warnings), up from 529 in all of last year and 718 in 2006.

Police say the unusual enforcement effort is an attempt to calm a war among cars, pedestrians, and cyclists, in which every side feels aggrieved.

"It's very frustrating for the officers because if you stop a bike, they say 'Why don't you stop a car?' " said Sergeant Kathleen Murphy, who commands the city's nine-officer bike unit. "If you stop a car, they say 'Why don't you stop a bike?' It's like 'Why me?' It's like children."

In 20 minutes on a recent afternoon, Kale and her partner, Officer Oswaldo Ortiz, ticketed 12 cyclists - roughly one out of every two that passed by them - for running a red light on Massachusetts Avenue in Central Square. They gave them each a warning, and reminded them that they have to obey the same laws as drivers.

"Just making sure you are aware," Ortiz said, handing a ticket to a young woman and advising her that she was wearing her helmet backward.

"Oh, yeah. Thank you," she said, before snapping it on properly and pedaling away.

Cyclists said they try to ride safely. But the notion of stopping at every red light, of observing every traffic law, flies in the face of the freedom that some say is inherent in taking two wheels instead of four.

"Obviously, you have to be courteous and responsible" and it is a "fine idea" for police to warn cyclists who skirt the law, said Mike McCaw, 29, who was ticketed for running a red light on his 1971 road bike. But fining cyclists could discourage them, he said.

"The traffic lights," McCaw said, "are there for cars."

Jack McCambridge, ticketed near MIT for running a red light on his bicycle, agreed, saying he brakes only in heavy traffic.

"I go through stop signs all the time and down one-way streets, but I certainly wouldn't want to be ticketed," he said. "Most Cambridge cyclists are much more responsible. I have my own rule of thumb, and that is: I ride safely."

McCambridge said police should focus elsewhere. "Get the Harvard and MIT kids who are jaywalking," he said. "They're much more dangerous."

Cambridge police are targeting bicycle "hot spots" where they receive the most complaints from residents. Central Square, home to the city's senior center, is one such locale, where bicycles are not allowed on the sidewalk. Some riders ignore the rule.

"Some of them cut right through" lines of seniors who wait on the sidewalk outside the center for buses, said Erna Benjamin, using a cane outside the center. "They're not supposed to be on the sidewalk, especially here where they could knock us over."

Cara Seiderman, the city's transportation program manager, said the number of cyclists on Cambridge streets has increased 70 percent between 2002 and 2006, the last year for which data are available.

Most cyclists, she said, ride safely and obey traffic laws.

"Ninety percent of the people are doing the right thing," Seiderman said. But, she said: "People notice the people who are doing something wrong. They don't notice the 90 percent or more of people who are doing things right."

City data show there were about 80 crashes between cyclists and drivers a year between 2004 and 2007. Seiderman said two-thirds of the crashes were caused by drivers failing to yield at turns and opening doors into a cyclist.

Cambridge started ticketing cyclists in 1996 to send a message that "bicycling is being taken seriously as a form of transportation," Seiderman said. Cyclists can be fined $20 for violating state traffic laws or a series of local codes, such as riding on sidewalks in neighborhoods at speeds "greater than a normal walk." The vast majority of cyclists were ticketed for running red lights, police said. The rest were mostly for riding at night without a light and failing to stop for pedestrians at crosswalks.

New York City, Davis, Calif., Eugene, Ore., Burlington, Vt., and Tallahassee, Fla., also ticket bikers, Seiderman said. Boston, which is trying to become a more bike-friendly city, has not targeted scofflaw cyclists because police say they are not a major problem. Most cities that lack the resources to devote officers to ticketing cyclists, and the ones that don't see bikes as a concern, look on with a mix of envy and amusement, said A. Wayne Sampson, executive director of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association.

"Only in Cambridge," chuckled Sampson, the former chief of the Shrewsbury police.

Cambridge police said they prefer issuing warnings and mostly reserve fines for the rude riders, like those who say: " 'You've got to be kidding me,' " Murphy said. " 'Why don't you get a real job? You're not the real police, right?' "

Most, she said, apologize and promise to ride more safely. She hopes they tell their friends to obey the law.

"People have said, 'Oh, yeah, when you come to Cambridge, you've got to watch out,' " Murphy said. "But some people don't care. They're going to take their chances, look out to see if there's an officer, and then they'll just skedaddle."
blueZ at 9/26/2008 12:23 快速引用
No, not at all!

At Porter Square, along Mass Ave, one day i was riding home after work. It was rush hour then. A woman opened her door all the way till the door was 90 degrees to the door without looking that i am on the side of the door.

And then, while i was getting through between two cars, the one on the left was parked along the street. and the one that is moving to my left suddently swirled to the left till there was almost no space for me to pass and stop. I tilted my whole body and bicyle to the right and managed over, if i shall fall to the right, i would damage the right car and if i shall fall to the left, i would fall to the moving car. Still I had a danger to be the sandwich.

The two occasions happened one after another at Porter Sqaure - that was when I realized it wasn't safe to ride bicycles to work.
wildcrane at 9/26/2008 12:33 快速引用
Not safe when you ride bike here. People did not pay attention to biker when they drive.
Mayrain at 9/26/2008 12:37 快速引用
Bike trail is safer than the road. I just did last week and it's much safer there. The trail road condition works better for bikes too, more flat and no bumps.
cathy2thousand at 9/26/2008 12:57 快速引用
cathy2thousand :
Bike trail is safer than the road. I just did last week and it's much safer there. The trail road condition works better for bikes too, more flat and no bumps.


we are talking about the bike path in the busy roads, not the minutemen bikeway. Minutemen bikeway is another story: bikers, runners, walkers and inline skaters blame each other there.
blueZ at 9/26/2008 13:18 快速引用
In China, Beijing at least, the bike path on many main roads are seperate from the auto traffic. In another word, there is a divider in between. So it is much safer than here.

However with the way the economy is going, does anybody think US would be able to invest in road constructions for a separate bike path?
cathy2thousand at 9/26/2008 13:35 快速引用
cathy2thousand :
In China, Beijing at least, the bike path on many main roads are seperate from the auto traffic. In another word, there is a divider in between. So it is much safer than here.

However with the way the economy is going, does anybody think US would be able to invest in road constructions for a separate bike path?


Car makers will not allow this to happen in the US. 衰
blueZ at 9/26/2008 13:40 快速引用
blueZ :
cathy2thousand :
In China, Beijing at least, the bike path on many main roads are seperate from the auto traffic. In another word, there is a divider in between. So it is much safer than here.

However with the way the economy is going, does anybody think US would be able to invest in road constructions for a separate bike path?


Car makers will not allow this to happen in the US. 衰


Car makers, tax payers, fatass, and many others who don’t bike, and who don’t agree.. well so if one really wants to ride one, be careful!

Or do what I just do, get a folding bike! Biking whenever I can and when it comes to difficult road, fold the bike and throw it in the trunk, drive!
cathy2thousand at 9/26/2008 13:57 快速引用
We, the daily commuters who rely on bike don't have this luxury... frustrated frustrated

cathy2thousand :
Or do what I just do, get a folding bike! Biking whenever I can and when it comes to difficult road, fold the bike and throw it in the trunk, drive!
pompano at 9/26/2008 14:03 快速引用
pompano :
We, the daily commuters who rely on bike don't have this luxury... frustrated frustrated

cathy2thousand :
Or do what I just do, get a folding bike! Biking whenever I can and when it comes to difficult road, fold the bike and throw it in the trunk, drive!


今天骑了吗? 崇拜
blueZ at 9/26/2008 14:08 快速引用
[quote="cathy2thousand"][quote="blueZ"]
cathy2thousand :
In China, Beijing at least, the bike path on many main roads are seperate from the auto traffic. In another word, there is a divider in between. So it is much safer than here.


关键应该教育drivers that bikers are their friends,not enemies。 Success
blueZ at 9/26/2008 14:10 快速引用
花700billion去救Wall Street那些stupid greedy bankers,这些钱可以修多长的bike trail啊。 frustrated
blueZ at 9/26/2008 14:11 快速引用
风雨无阻。

blueZ :
pompano :
We, the daily commuters who rely on bike don't have this luxury... frustrated frustrated

cathy2thousand :
Or do what I just do, get a folding bike! Biking whenever I can and when it comes to difficult road, fold the bike and throw it in the trunk, drive!


今天骑了吗? 崇拜
pompano at 9/26/2008 14:14 快速引用
pompano :
风雨无阻。

blueZ :
pompano :
We, the daily commuters who rely on bike don't have this luxury... frustrated frustrated

cathy2thousand :
Or do what I just do, get a folding bike! Biking whenever I can and when it comes to difficult road, fold the bike and throw it in the trunk, drive!


今天骑了吗? 崇拜


让我叫您一声大哥! 牛
blueZ at 9/26/2008 14:31 快速引用
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