I’ve been reading a lot of bike plans lately, and there seems to be a pretty wide variety of frameworks used by agencies to categorize bikeways. In particular, I’m intrigued by the variety of systems used by cities to create functional classifications for bikeways, and how some plans do or do not attempt to correlate bikeway facility class with functional class. This post is mostly just my personal notes, though I thought some folks might find it interesting. Below is a crude simplification of the plans I’ve been reading. Please let me know if you think I’ve missed something major.
Seattle Bicycle Master Plan
No clear functional classification, though some routes are in cluded in the Urban Trails and Bikeways System (more research needed to figure out what this means)
Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030
Major City Bikeways
Local Service Bikeways (all streets not included in one of the above two classifications.)
There is no relationship between functional class and facility type.
Minneapolis Bicycle Master Plan
Principal Arterial Bikeways
Minor Arterial Bikeways
There is an informal correlation between bikeway functional class and facility type, especially at the high end of the functional classification (Principal Arterials are exclusively trails, as grade separation is one of the criteria).
Plan does not establish a functional class, though it does establish an “Ease of Use” classification
Austin 2009 Bicycle Plan Update
Plan establishes Super-Routes “intended to serve as attractors to less experienced bicyclists”. Otherwise, does not establish a functional classification. Has also integrated “Ease of Use” into existing facilities map.
Richfield (MN) Bicycle Master Plan
The plan establishes the functional hierarchy (which it also applies to people and destinations), but does not apply the functional classification to any particular routes.
Rosemount (MN) Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan West Saint Paul (MN) Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan
(same consultant author)
The plans make broad recommendations about facility types that permits nearly any facility type on any functional class, with the exception that bike boulevards are not recommended for Main Routes
Edina (MN) Comprehensive Bicycle Master Plan
Priority Regional Trail
Plan does not establish a relationship between functional class and facility type.
Philadelphia Walk Bike Pedestrian Master Plan Pittsburgh Bicycle Plan Fresno Bicycle plan Red Wing (MN) Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan
No functional classification
I’m trying to determine whether a bikeway functional class is useful or if it is just an unnecessary complication that doesn’t really facilitate plan implementation. On one hand, it seems logical. On the other hand, as a resident of Minneapolis, the city’s bikeway functional class map doesn’t seem to have had any influence whatsoever in determining what is constructed or not constructed, and some of the designations seem a bit arbitrary and/or unnecessary. What do you think? Is a bikeway functional class a useful way to categorize bikeway facilities?
Streetsblog reports that B-Cycle bike share company is rolling out the B-Connected system that allows season pass holders from one city use B-Cycle systems across the nation.
From the post:
Beginning next week, annual memberships from this bike-sharing company will be honored in 15 cities where B-Cycle operates…
This is the first time a bike-share company has allowed members to use other cities’ systems when they travel without having to pay extra. Will Alta Bicycle Share follow suit? Alta already runs systems in Boston and D.C., with new ones set to come online soon in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Portland. A similar move could create quite a network.
This is a wonderful development. If I had the kind of job where I traveled for business, this would be enough to sell me a season pass in my hometown, even if I only really planned to use it while traveling. One would hope that eventually the operators of bike-sharing systems using the Public Bike Sharing Company technology (including those managed by Alta) can implement the same reciprocity policies. Eventually, we might even hope the two competing proprietors would be able to offer subscribers rides on each other’s systems. Perhaps what each proprietor loses in terms of strategic advantage they would recoup by bolstering bike-sharing nationwide.
Copenhagenize posted this video about a system called Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection with Full Auto Brake by automaker Volvo.
I don’t know any details about where or when the system will appear on vehicles in the wild, but it is certainly a welcome development that can’t come soon enough. The more we can do to remove stopping decisions from drivers the better. I have no doubt that computers will be more effective at identifying and correctly yielding to non-motorized users than humans are. I only wish the cyclist in this video wasn’t portrayed as being completely oblivious to surroundings, as it is just as likely to be deployed in a situation where the driver is oblivious to surroundings.
I wonder if widespread deployment of this technology would lead to brazen cyclists and pedestrians who make risky or illegal movements knowing that Auto Brake will stop the vehicles regardless of who has the right-of-way. I wouldn’t think so, unless it turns out that we are all savages after all, which I hope is not the case.
Reuben Collins is a traffic engineer behind Streets.mn – a blog dedicated to safer transportation – and says the best solution hasn’t been implemented.
“When you think so many households have video-game consoles that can detect pedestrians and pedestrian movements in our own living rooms, we should have this technology in traffic signals,” said Collins.
He says it’s possible for signals to sense when someone is in the intersection, but why sensors aren’t used, Collins believes, goes back to a culture centered around wheels more than walking.
“I am not sure all the agencies out there will have the resources to necessarily comply with this. This is not new guidance. It’s been on the books for several years and agencies are just now starting the process,” said Collins.
Some additional context for the quote that didn’t make the article is that there are a lot of reasons why Crosswalk Occupancy Detection hasn’t been widely deployed. Culture is one. Cost, reliability, and a lack of local experience with the technology are other reasons.
The popular children’s toy LEGO produces one set of blocks that allows children to reenact a bicycle crash. The set is called “Ambulance”, but the person needed medical attention has apparently just crashed a bicycle.
Lego City Ambulance Bike Crash
I would not have expected this from a company based in Denmark. At least all of the LEGO people are still smiling, so this must have been a particularly hilarious crash.
One of the most common crashes that occurs involving bicyclists on urban streets is the “right-hook”, or the crash that occurs when a right-turning motorist fails to yield to a through bicyclist traveling the same direction in a bicycle lane.
Engineers, Cyclists, and Lawmakers alike have long known that this configuration of right-turning motorists positioned to the left of through bicyclists is problematic, and there are a number of regulations and design standards in place to prevent or mitigate these challenges.
For example, current state law requires motorists to merge into the bicycle lane prior to executing a turning movement. Minnesota Statute 169.19 Subd. 1 says the following (emphasis mine):
(g) Whenever it is necessary for the driver of a motor vehicle to cross a bicycle lane adjacent to the driver’s lane of travel to make a turn, the driver shall drive the motor vehicle into the bicycle lane prior to making the turn, and shall make the turn, yielding the right-of-way to any vehicles approaching so close thereto as to constitute an immediate hazard.
There are also design standards in place that are intended to communicate these regulations to motorists and bicyclists. The AASHTO Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities (2012) allows engineers the option of using dotted lines at intersections based on engineering judement. The dotted lines are intended to indicate to motorists and cyclists the area where it is appropriate for motorists to merge into the bicycle lane. It also says the following (Chapter 4.8):
State vehicle or traffic codes should be consulted as well, as the presence of a solid bike lane line at the approach to an intersection may discourage motorists from merging before turning right, as required by law in some states. [...] In such cases, a dotted marking should be used or the bike lane should be dropped on intersection approaches where right turns are permitted.
The MnMUTCD also allows the optional use of a dotted line, though there is little guidance provided about when it is appropriate. However, the MnDOT Bikeway Facility Design Manual (2007) mostly avoids the question and simply recommends placing the bike lane to the left of right-turning motorists.
No Dashed Lines at intersection of Park Avenue & 31st Street.
This is not a perfect solution, primarily because we have learned that many motorists do not merge into the bicycle lanes prior to executing turns, and many motorists and cyclists are not aware that this is the current state law. In addition, some cyclists do not feel comfortable with the idea of motorists merging into bicycle lanes under any circumstances. Local agencies are not using a single strategy, and one will encounter bicycle lanes that are dotted at some intersections and not dotted at others, even along the same roadway.
At the same time, many communities, including the City of Minneapolis, are experimenting with markings referred to as “bicycle boxes” or “bike boxes” as a different potential strategy to reduce “right-hook” crashes. Bike boxes, which are typically only installed at signalized intersections, have many intended functions, but there are two specific functions relevant to the discussion of “right-hook” crashes. The first is that they implement an advanced stop line and often prohibit right-turn-on-red, which allows bicyclists to pull ahead of motor vehicles stopped for a red light and establish position within the motorists primary field of vision. The second is that they do not used dotted lines, thus discouraging motorists from merging into bicycle lanes before turning right. Instead, motorists are asked to yield to through bicyclists, then turn across the bicycle lane from the motor vehicle lane. This, it seems, is in conflict with current state law.
Typical Bike Box installation. Notice the white lines outlining the green box are all solid, rather than dashed. (image via Portland Mercury)
Bicycle boxes are not currently an approved marking in the MUTCD, and communities that wish to use them must request permission to experiment with the markings from the FHWA. The City of Minneapolis has done this for bicycle boxes that are currently in-place in at least one location (the Franklin Avenue/East River Parkway/27th Avenue intersection).
The City of Portland is currently experimenting with bicycle boxes in a number of locations as well. Sarah Mirk reported on the Portland Mercury Blogtown that the City of Portland recently provided the FHWA with a progress report of the performance of the experimental markings. Among the initial findings is that the number of right-hook crashes has increased at several locations where the experimental bike boxes are installed. Ms. Mirk provided the following commentary and summary of the memo to the FHWA:
What appears to be leading to the new crashes in that people are biking through the intersection faster, overtaking cars that are turning right. While the bike boxes have been good at stopping right hooks when both the car and bike are starting up from being stopped at a light, 88 percent of the crashes happened at a “stale” green—not from a dead-stop but from a turning car striking a cyclist who’s in motion, pedaling down the block and through a green-lit intersection.
The question of whether or not motorists should be instructed to merge into bike lanes is unresolved, and recent news articles indicate that the City of Minneapolis has requested clarification from the state legislature about the intent of the law requiring motorists to merge.
I’m probably not hiding my bias very well. Laws requiring motorists to merge into the bike lane make sense to me, both as a professional engineer and also as a cyclist. However, it’s also true that this safety strategy isn’t really compatible with some of the newer bicycle facility types (e.g. on-street two-way cycle tracks, bike boxes). As the range of bicycle facility types continues to expand, our directions to drivers on how to safely interact with bicyclists is also going to become more complex. The need for a more complex safety message is not an advantage, but it may be necessary.
A recent report by researchers Greg Lindsey, Kristopher Hoff, Steve Hankey, and Xize Wang from the University of Minnesota is available for download from the Center for Transportation Studies website here. The report is titled Understanding the Use of Non-Motorized Transportation Facilities, and it is a fantastic read for anyone interested in bicycle and pedestrian counts in the Twin Cities.
The report may be a bit academic for casual blog readers, but it is also surprisingly readable. Even if the discussion of statistics isn’t your cup of tea, anyone familiar with the Minneapolis cycling scene will appreciate that all the data used in this study was collected on local trails at locations even casual cyclists will be familiar with. You’ve probably even seen some of the counting technology on the trail side and may not have known what it was. This report is an excellent and accessible document that will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about bike counts and prediction models in the Twin Cities, including how accurate they are.
The report starts by giving a brief overview of various bicycle and pedestrian counting strategies, then explains which methods are in use in the twin cities (manual, induction loop, infrared).
If you’ve ever wondered how accurate the various automated counters are, take a look at Chapter 3. Turns out (spoiler alert!) that the data collected by the induction loops is all over the place (mean error of 45% at one location), but the infrared counters are pretty reliably undercounting by about 10%*. In addition, the induction loops are only collecting usable data around 80% of the time, while the infrared counters are collecting usable data about 90% of the time.
Infrared: 1 Induction: 0
Oh, and manual counts? About 1.4% error.
Chapter 4 is a smattering of descriptive statistics about the bike and pedestrian counts based on factors such as the presence of a bus line or roadway functional classification. There’s nothing groundbreaking about this info, but it’s certainly an interesting read. For example, the average estimated number of pedestrians on roadways with a bus route is 1,071, but the average estimated number of pedestrians on roadways without a bus route is 547. The report allows readers to draw their own conclusions.
Chapter 5 establishes procedures for creating daily (monthly, annual) bike counts based on a limited amount of field data. The authors calculate scaling factors that can be used to estimate 12 hour bike or ped counts based on only one or two hours of collected data. Here’s the short version: If you can only collect one hours worth of bike data at a location, your best bet is to collect data from 4:00-5:00 PM and multiply the number of bikes you count by 8.4.
This is just one of the cool graphs in the report. At this location, that loop detector isn’t doing too poorly!
They also compared weekend traffic with weekday traffic by creating a ratio (weekend/weekday) to estimate recreational vs. utilitarian trips on the Midtown Greenway. Generally, the ratios ranged somewhere between 1 and 2. The authors roughly associate weekend trips with recreational trips, which is certain to be somewhat true, but this is one of the sketchier assumptions the authors make in the paper.
July weekends at 3:00 PM is apparently the time to visit Lake Nokomis.
Chapter 6 is the real meat of the paper (and the real contribution to academia), which develops several quantitative models for predicting bicycle and pedestrian counts based on a host of other measurable variables. You’ll have to read the report to get the full effect, but the result is this graphic, which attempts to predict bicycle and pedestrian travel on Minneapolis roadways and trails:
The pedestrian model really seems to have missed the mark on the regional trail network, and the University seems underrepresented.
Readers, please take a moment to review this article if you have an interest in bicycle and pedestrian counts. In the comments section below, I’d love to hear some of your own thoughts about the study.
*Either I’m reading it wrong, or there is an error in the column headings for Table 3.4 (mean hourly manual count and mean hourly TMI count should be swapped)
The article mentions a number of new technologies that engineers are using to try to improve safety conditions for pedestrians in crosswalks (which includes cyclists).
Alarmed by the rising number of pedestrian deaths across Minnesota, cities are turning to catchy new, high-tech ways to keep cars and pedestrians from clashing in crosswalks.
From Brooklyn Center to Becker, almost a dozen cities are melting asphalt and brightly colored plastic in distinct markings stamped into the pavement. More cities are installing countdown timers that let pedestrians know how much time they have to safely cross. And Edina is one of the few cities in the Midwest with blinking orange lights embedded in a street to catch drivers’ eyes.
I’ve recommended strategies like these to clients on numerous occasions. The clients typically report that these strategies are effective, but of course, most clients do not conduct before-and-after studies to confirm this. The Strib article acknowledges that we don’t know to what extent these devices are effective:
Some experts caution research hasn’t proved the new markings are more effective at alerting drivers.
“Right now, they’re new and different and eye-catching,” said Sue Groth, state traffic engineer. “But are the motorists going to be looking at the pavement markings and not at pedestrians? Are they more effective is the question that needs to be answered.”
Whether the devices themselves result in a measurable safety improvement is one question. Another question is to what extent the benefits of these products are diminished as they become more widely deployed. Flashing lights at one crosswalk may raise driver awareness because they are unique. If flashing lights were installed at every crosswalk, the benefits of all installations may be diminished as they are no longer unique.
The article also touched on a pet-peeve of mine:
In St. Paul, city engineers say they haven’t seen a difference in incidents after special markings were put in at the Selby Avenue and Victoria Street intersection. Instead, they worry it gives pedestrians a false sense of security.
The “false sense of security” theory is largely unfounded, though it is widely repeated. Studies have shown that in certain circumstances, pedestrian crashes are higher at locations with marked crosswalks compared to similar locations without marked crosswalks. However, there is no evidence to conclude that this is because pedestrians are exhibiting riskier behavior where crosswalks are present. It may be the case, but this has not been demonstrated. For more on this topic, see pages 4-10 of this study.
Apparently there is some delay in the data being posted to the website, but counts are as recent as 24 hours. At this location, there were 1,307 cyclists counted on October 3, 2012.
This data is available at 13 locations in Boulder, though I can’t seem to find a list of these locations or a link to the data (if anyone can provide this link, I’d be grateful). Also, a bit of Googling suggests that Ottawa is using the same technology.
Minneapolis should have this. We’re already counting bikes 24/7 at several locations, the data should be made publicly available online so long as we are reasonably confident the data is accurate. And if we are not confident, it is worth the investment for better equipment.