Saturday, January 30, 2010

at least two things to like about the 2030 plan

of course i wanted to post a photograph of myself holding the "build it" logo to facebook, etc., like all the cool kids are doing. but i thought: okay, maybe i had better read the plan first.

the entire plan document can be downloaded in not exactly bite-sized chunks or in its 32.2MB entirety from PBoT's website. for me, the important stuff is what exactly are they proposing to put on the ground and to what extent will i be required to use it if i find it not to my liking (as for example the green box).

the first thing that strikes me in reading through the plan is the repeated emphasis on "separated in-roadway bikeways," meaning, cycletracks and buffered bike lanes, on roads on which motor traffic volumes (not speeds, but volumes) are high.

on lower volume streets, the plan talks in terms of "shared" facilities, including bike boulevards and "signage and markings" (presumably including "sharrows," though these are nowhere mentioned except in appendix D, among a catalogue of "best practices," including pretty much the kitchen sink), and "advisory" bike lanes with dashed striping, which would in effect create a single lane down the middle of a narrow sidestreet for motor traffic, with bikes to the sides. very low volume and low speed.

[there is also a somewhat disturbing insistence on treating off-road, multi-use paths as part of the "bikeway system," to the extent of recommending that the phrase "off-street path" no longer be used. newspeak.]

but when it gets right down to "strategic implementation" of the plan, it turns out that the "immediate" push (in the first five years) will be for more "shared" facilities, primarily bike boulevards. experimentation with cycletracks and other "separated in-roadway" stuff is treated as secondary. in terms of mileage, the proposed "shared" facilities outdistance the "separated in-roadway" projects more than two to one.

in the first five years.

in the outlying years, however, the proportion flips dramatically, so that by 2030 fully half of what they are proposing to build will be "separated in-roadway." even though they acknowledge that these are experimental. so in theory they cannot know now how much of this they will want to build twenty years out.

but on another somewhat disturbing note, they twice refer to the green bike box experiment as a "success," though the data are not really in yet and seem at best equivocal. this may portend that the conclusions are foregone.

anyway, short term, more bike boulevards, more signage, maybe some sharrows. all good. that's one.

and then deep in part four, "programs to support bicycling," in section 4.2D, "implement enforcement practices that contribute to the safety and attractiveness of bicycling," they talk about "develop[ing] a strategy" among PBoT, the city attorney, the police bureau, other bureaus, and "community groups" (including whom?), quote:

to interpret unclear state laws pertaining to safe bicycling and develop possible legislative changes to clarify or improve existing laws, including the following considerations:

Safe passing distance
When a bicyclist may leave a bike lane
When a motorist may enter a bike lane
Stop sign requirements
Yield requirements
Bicycle lighting equipment
Culpability for non-reckless drivers

end quote.

i want to think this means, among other things, that PBoT is open to engaging on the question of repealing the far to right and mandatory sidepath statutes. at the very least, it seems as though PBoT is suggesting a reasonably clear policy of non-enforcement. there is some evidence that roger geller, at least, "gets" this.

in any event, i am grasping at this as the second of my two reasons to support the 2030 plan, and i intend to be vocal in pushing for implementation of section 4.2D.

so that's two.

oh, and in section 4.2B, "increase safety education," they talk about working with ODoT and the state legislature "to achieve local control in setting speed limits." that's actually three.

so, okay, yeah, build it.

Friday, January 22, 2010

the green box report

okay, so i went to this PBoT "bicycle brownbag" program yesterday, where these two PSU professors reported on their study of the so-called "bike boxes" that were installed at twelve intersections not quite two years ago.

jennifer dill directs the center for transportation studies at PSU, and christopher monsere is an assistant professor in civil engineering there, with a specialty in transportation. the study was funded in part by the city and in part by something called OTREC, which gets its money from the federal DOT.

the idea was to compare the behavior of bicyclists and motorists at these twelve intersections before and after the bike boxes were installed, to see whether the treatment actually reduces "conflicts."

nine of the twelve boxes are painted green, three are not, and they included two intersections in the study that do not have bike boxes, as a "control." they took a lot of video at these intersections -- over nine hundred hours --, and they paid some graduate students to go through a very small fraction of it, counting things like motorists (or cyclists) encroaching on the pedestrian crosswalks and so on. and looking for right hooks.

and before i get all snarky, let me say (1) i respect the effort, (2) these people have a lot of specialized training i do not have in how to design studies and analyze data, (3) etc.

there are deficiencies in the data, and dill and monsere readily admit this, and they readily acknowledge that they could not really draw any substantial conclusions from it, at least not yet. so it is unclear what the $72k in grant money has bought, apart from a lot of as yet unexamined video.

one threshold problem is that the "before" videos were taken january through march, while the "after" videos were taken april through june. obviously a lot more people on bikes in spring than in winter, and dill and monsere have attempted to correct for this through some weighting of the data, but what they really cannot adjust for with any accuracy is the (probable) fact that a higher percentage of people biking in winter know what the hell they are doing, while spring brings out the amateurs. just a thought.

another problem that could turn out to be a major difficulty in analyzing the data is that the videos do not show the signal phase, so in many cases the person who is tasked with coding "conflicts" cannot determine whether these are occurring as people are starting out of the light as it turns green or as they are rolling through on a light that has been green for awhile.

and a central problem, at least for me, is that the key metric, "conflicts," has not been defined. in response to a question i put to him, monsere confirmed that they just handed these videos to these grad students and said "flag anything that looks like a conflict to you," and then he and dill sifted through the segments the students had flagged and decided what was and what was not a "conflict."

and apparently the primary criterion was whether a motorist or a cyclist had had to brake suddenly or take evasive action. a lot of stuff the reviewers had identified as potential "conflicts" turned out, in monsere's view, to be a motorist and a cyclist "negotiating" who had priority.

anyway. a couple of not really "findings" but observations that dill and monsere have thus far derived from the limited data.

one: for the most part, cyclists and motorists seemed to understand what the boxes are "for" and how they are supposed to be used, though relatively few cyclists actually positioned themselves in the box proper, in front of through traffic -- and a fair number (myself included) simply asserted the travel lane, ignoring the box altogether.

two: there seemed to be a lower incidence after the boxes went in of motorists crossing into the bike lane ahead of the intersection, but a much greater tendency to cut the corner tight. to me, this says the boxes may actually be exacerbating that particular problem (if it is a problem), by positioning the motorist further back from the intersection and in effect inviting her to start the right turn from back there.

the box at southwest broadway and taylor seemed to present some special difficulty. this is the corner out in front of columbia sportswear. the "after" counts showed a lot more motorist encroachment on the pedestrian crosswalk. i am going to guess that this anomaly has something to do with the fact that the person reviewing the videos was unable to determine when the light was green, so you might see a motorist rolling forward to make a right and then stopping to allow the north-south crosswalk to clear.

but it could be something else. the right turn at that intersection is rather tight to begin with, as is the right turn two blocks earlier, at morrison. at both these intersections, i routinely pass on the left while a motorist is waiting for the crosswalk to clear. it is just possible that the only "solution" at these two locations (and probably a number of others) is simply to forbid motorists to turn right, period.

in any event. and i mentioned this to dill and monsere after the presentation. they need to define what exactly they are looking for in these videos, so that a third party (that's me) can look at their final report and say, okay, they identified the relevant stuff, or nope, they should have been looking for "x" instead.

and for me, the "x" they should be looking for is not just whether there were significantly fewer (or more) evasive maneuvers after the boxes were installed, but whether these mostly occurred during the green phase. which frankly seemed to be the case in the video clips they showed.

in particular, one clip shows a delivery truck starting into a right turn, presumably just after the light has changed, then hesitating as the driver sees a cyclist approaching in the green bike lane, but then the cyclist also hesitates, and the two of them go into a "you first," "no, you first" routine, with the cyclist finally pedaling through. this was presented as humor, but with the inference that this is actually how the box is "supposed to" work.

[note: in the same situation, i would have moved left (from a position already well into the travel lane), allowing me to pass on the left as the truck went into the turn. the advent of the box has somewhat complicated this rather ordinary maneuver for me, because the motorist will often go into the hesitation mode anyway. however, i am not really complaining, because hey, the motorist was forced to become aware of his surroundings.]

the intended function of the box is to move cyclists to the front during the red phase, taking them out of the right hook. but of course the box is still there during the green phase, with the striped lane leading in and a dashed lane leading out. so the box does nothing to discourage a cyclist from coming up alongside the line of stopped cars, arriving at the head of the queue just after the signal changes and the first car cuts the corner.

in other words, the right hook is to some extent an artifact of the far to the right dogma, here enforced by the striped bike lane itself directing cyclists to the right of the motor traffic, even where a right turn is permitted. if you must have a bike lane, the line should be dashed for the last hundred feet or so before the intersection, to allow motorists to merge right before making the turn and encourage cyclists to merge left, out of the right turn lane. and the far to the right and mandatory sidepath laws should be repealed.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


one of the items on the agenda at the bicycle advisory committee meeting last night was a report from lieutenant bryan parman of the portland police bureau traffic division on the fallout from the "disappearing bike lane" decision a few weeks ago.

as noted here in "hey, thanks for the paint," in december a traffic court judge tossed a ticket for failure yield to a cyclist in a bike lane because the crash occurred in an intersection, where the lane is not striped.

parman wanted to reassure the BAC that this was no big deal, not likely to happen again, the other three pro tem traffic court judges would probably not follow the ruling, maybe judge zusman himself would rule differently next time around, etc.

he acknowledged that another charge might have stuck, such as making an unlawful or unsignaled turn (which is actually a much less serious offense), or careless driving (which is considerably more serious), but he said the officer at the scene had discretion to issue what he thought was the appropriate ticket, and "we don't want to be piling on" the poor beleaguered motorist (his words in quotes, mine outside).

which is an interesting insight all by itself.

i asked parman whether there was any mechanism for review of these things before they go before the judge, maybe add in other charges to be sure something would stick, and he said no -- in fact, the city attorney's office is rarely involved in these matters at all: the officer who issued the ticket functions in effect as the prosecutor, on his own.

this tells me that there is a need for bike advocates to get in and provide some education to the traffic patrol. it is only slightly reassuring that the officer here knew there was some kind of statute involving failure to yield to a cyclist in a bike lane, but actually this may have blinded him to the idea that these other offenses could also have been charged. what tickets would he have written if another motor vehicle had been struck.

to bolster his case that the BAC need not concern itself with this quirk, parman mentioned that he and/or people from his department have had conversations with at least the other three traffic judges, specifically with reference to this case. and he mentioned that, y'know, charges can be amended up to the date of trial, and, um, we sometimes talk with the judge in advance of the hearing and kinda get a heads up if there is going to be a problem.

if the BAC took reassurance from this, all i can say is i found it disturbing. it sounds like parman is talking about a routine practice of ex parte contacts with the traffic court judges -- which, if it is going on, ought to be a scandal.

Monday, January 4, 2010

unfinished business

when i left st. louis to move to portland almost two years ago, there was at least one item still on my advocacy agenda there left unfinished.

on monday evening, january 28, 2008 at about 5:40 p.m. a motorist ran a red light at the intersection of broadway and cole, just north of downtown, and took out a guy on a mountain bike.

and fled the scene.

almost immediately people on the various bike listservs started pledging money to create a fund to pay a reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction, etc. both bikeworks, a nonprofit that operates an earn-a-bike program for at-risk youth, and the bikefed stepped forward to manage the fund. we put out a press release, and we snagged an interview on one of the weekend television news magazines. the mayor offered to increase the reward with $500 from his own pocket.

i retrieved a copy of the police report, which confirmed that the bicyclist had the light. he was still in the intersection as the light was changing, and apparently the motorist was watching the light change and sped up in order to hit the green running (and/or to pick off the guy on the bike). there were five or six witnesses, all of whom told the same story, and one of whom got a plate. one of the witnesses was driving a madison county bus that had a camera mounted on the outside that may have gotten pictures.

the victim suffered a broken leg, a broken pelvis, and a punctured lung. his name was not mentioned in the newspapers, and his address as given in the police report was that of a residential hotel where released sex offenders tend to take up residence. so we did not exactly have a sympathetic victim to work with. but still, hit and run, y'know?

it did not take the police long to track the plate. the weapon was a 98 yukon belonging to a levelle c. rose of 369 north 29th street, east st. louis, across the river in illinois, birthdate september 24, 1969. rose was arrested on saturday, march 1, 2008 on a charge of felony leaving the scene.

a secured bond of $25k was posted on march 6 by some outfit called hawkeye bail bonds. not clear what security was given. an arraignment was scheduled for nine a.m. friday, april 11. then on april 1, the prosecutor secured a grand jury indictment, and the case was reassigned to a different judge.

the arraignment was postponed a couple of times because rose did not have a lawyer. but finally a lawyer entered an appearance, and there was an arraignment on may 1 at which presumably rose pleaded "not guilty."

so far, so good. and right about here was when i left for portland.

a "case review" scheduled for nine a.m. thursday, june 12 was postponed because rose failed to appear. the bond security (whatever it was, possibly land in illinois) was called in, and a warrant was issued for his arrest. but then it turned out the reason rose did not appear was that he was in jail over in madison county illinois on an unrelated charge. i never did find out what that charge was.

[aside: the guy has a son with the same name, levelle c. rose, who was arrested on a charge of burglary at about the same time and is now in prison, leaving behind a fifteen year-old girl pregnant with his child. in june of 2009, that child, then five months old, was kidnapped by a seventeen year-old babysitter. the police caught up with her in fort wayne, indiana. she pleaded guilty to kidnapping and was sentenced to six years in prison.

[further aside: in may of 2009, levelle senior, the guy who took out the bicyclist, failed to show up to defend a paternity action in the city and was ordered to pay $50 a month child support to the mother of yet some other child.

[in short, nothing about this entire situation is pretty.]

[update/correction 01/23/10:

the alton-telegraph "police blotter" from may 28, 2008 clarifies that the person arrested for burglary "at about the same time" was the father, not the son. in other words, the "unrelated charge" on which rose was in jail in madison county was this burglary. the son is in prison for a different burglary.

end update/correction]

bond was reset at $20k cash only, and a second warrant was issued. trial was set for march 23, 2009. the prosecutor's office assigned a different lawyer to the case, a guy named luke anthony baumstark. on the day set for trial, rose's lawyer told the court his client wanted to plead guilty. the matter was assigned to judge margaret m. neill.

two days later, rose pleaded guilty to leaving the scene, a class d felony, maximum four years prison, $5k fine. judge neill suspended execution of sentence and put him on probation, subject to a requirement that he "obtain and maintain verifiable full time employment." she gave him credit for time served and ordered him to pay $46 to the victims compensation fund. presumably the prosecutor, baumstark, agreed to all this.

of course, full time employment is not all that easy to get and hold in the current economy, and on november 5, papers were filed with the court alleging that rose had violated the terms of his probation. bond was set at $1k cash. rose was re-arrested on december 11.

on december 17, judge neill entered an order reducing the bond to $300 cash, and this was promptly paid by someone named janet wright. so rose is out again, facing a pretty hefty sentence, and with only $300 at stake if he goes to ground.

a hearing the probation revocation is set for nine a.m. february 5, 2010 on the sixth floor of the civil courts building (the older one, with the pyramid on top). needless to say, i cannot be there, but it might be good to have some transportational bicyclists visibly present in the room and to have some public statement distributed beforehand.