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Bikexchange.com logo, link to Home        Washington Bicycling Hub - Spring '08      Bikexchange.com logo, link to Home 
Trio of '07 Developments Signal Better Cycling Ahead   

Intersections, School Routes, Trail 'Rideability' Highlight Year   
Impact on Roadies, Commuters, Students, Bikepaths

By Charles Pekow

Mr. Pekow, a seasoned Washington, DC journalist, provides Bikexchange.com with continuing coverage of national legislative news on bicycling issues. 

The year 2007 spurred some developments to improve riding safety and comfort that need further development in 2008. The advancements range from a guide to rate intersection safety to a national program to make it safe for children to ride to school to creation of a device to find problems on bikepath surfaces.

First of all, last year the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) released the Pedestrian and Bicyclist Safety Indices User Guide for planners and engineers to consider when designing crosswalks and intersections. 

The guide does not specify safety standards for crossings but serves as a tool for communities to evaluate which of their crossings need attention. It focuses on T and + shaped intersections – unfortunately not on more complicated ones where more roads converge, which tend to be the most dangerous. Nor does the guide deal with the issues of midblock crossings, roundabouts or highways with more than four lanes.

But it allows trained observers to develop separate safety scores at each intersection of a community for bicyclists turning left or right or riding straight through. The guide rates safety based on variables including presence or absence of bike lanes, number of lanes, traffic volume, number of lanes a cyclists must cross to make a left turn, parking, traffic signals, lane width, etc. The guide includes spreadsheet calculators to indicate relative safety based on the factors. It gets complicated, but an analysis of all intersections in an area could give planners and transportation officials an idea of where they need to concentrate efforts to improve safety, when combined with incident data and human observations of the corners.

Check out the guide at http://www.tfhrc.gov/safety/pedbike/pubs/06130/index.htm.

And more attention is going to reviving the lost art of getting children to bike to school, encouraging them to ride and making it safe through the two-year-old Safe Routes to School federal grant program to states. All states and the District of Columbia have complied with the law by hiring a full-time program coordinator. And most states had already developed guidelines for local communities to apply for grants to start bicycle and pedestrian education programs in schools or improve traffic safety around schools, according to the Safe Routes to School: 2007 State of the States Report, a project funded by the Robert Wood Johnson foundation.

Many of the states have already funded projects that are working, according to the report. Successful early projects range from a street re-striping project at Hillrise Elementary School in Las Cruces, New Mexico that got motorists to slow down and encouraged children to bike to work; to a day long event at Will Rogers Elementary School in Amarillo, Texas where more than 500 children and their families received safety tips on bike maintenance, helmet use, etc.

And far away from American schools and off the roadway intersections where an unfortunate bicyclist may collide with an auto – in fact, all the way across the Atlantic in Scandinavia  –  a new technology is in the works that could determine where to make rides safer and smoother. Safer and smoother, that is, for bicyclists who ride trails designed for non-motorized transit.

Last year, Swedish researchers suggested an improved and efficient way to measure conditions on bike paths – an instrument Scandinavians have been using to measure auto comfort and safety that could be adjusted for bicycles with existing technology. Swedish authorities still use human perceptions to judge the ridability of trails, a method that “may provide a lot of detailed information but (is) subjective and time consuming,” reports VTI, a Swedish research institute specializing in transportation. The Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute (SNRTRI) hired VTI to study the matter.

And not only are most trial inspections manual, they’re rare. Many local Swedish authorities don’t bother to do much bikeway checking and, the only national requirements in Sweden for roadway surfaces were designed for motor vehicles, VTI reports. Meanwhile, cracking, potholes, accumulated debris, buckling caused by tree roots, etc. take their tolls on the bikepaths.

In Sweden, road surface conditions factor in to about half of all cycling accidents that involve only one bicycle. One-bike crashes constitute four-fifths of cycling accidents in the country, prompting SNRTRI’s concern.

Swedish authorities have tried other machines to gauge bikepath surface but they often came up with results that didn’t match the reports of cyclists of their own comfort. Or they made matters worse by damaging the paths or required exorbitant amounts of time and labor to use. 

So VRI is encouraging adaptation and use of a machine with “profilometers” to measure trail conditions. The instrument, which apparently doesn’t have a name in English yet, operates from a small car riding over the trail, measuring conditions. It’s the best idea yet, VRI concluded.

Vejteknisk Institut in Copenhagen, Denmark invented the device, which measures irregularities in pavement surfaces and calculates how much a specific pothole or bump is likely to cause a vehicle to jump. The manufacturer hasn’t yet fine-tuned the device to consider the comfort level of the bike rider or the conditions of specific bikepaths. But Swedish transportation officials are successfully using the machines to spot problems for motorists on roadways.

Finally, a figure reported last year shows an area in need of great improvement. Cycling remains way at the bottom of the list when it comes to a method of getting to work. Back here in the USA, the Census Bureau announced that only about. .4 percent of workers petal to work while 87.7 percent drove. Kudos to Portland, OR, which let the nation in bicycle commuting. About 3.5 percent of Portland workers pedaled to work, more than eight times the national average.

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