Friday, November 6, 2009

Columbus Installs Bike Box With Mixed Results

The City of Columbus is trying some new stuff with our bike infrastructure, most notable of which is the test of a bike box at the corner of North Broadway and Milton - the street route for the Olentangy Multi-Use Trail between Clinton-Como park and Whetstone Park.

Consider Biking's website talks about what a bike box is and how it should be used, noting that the bike box is sort of a controversial idea.

The intended use of the bike box is to eliminate the risk of the "right-hook" accident, in which a cyclist who is attempting to ride straight through an intersection in a bike lane is cut off or hit by a right-turning car, because the car was not paying attention to traffic in the bike lane. When traffic is stopped by the red light here, cars are supposed to stop behind the thick white line at the bottom of the green bike box, and bikes are to be allowed to ride up the right (in the green bike lane) and stop in front of the cars in the bike box.

It's an interesting solution to a common problem. Bike lanes are considered by many as dangerous because they invite the right-hook problem. Technically, a car is supposed to pull INTO a bike lane to make a right turn, looking to the right to make sure the lane is clear before doing so. But, obviously, most motorists (and especially motorists in Columbus, where bike lanes are not widely available) don't know this. So the bike box at this intersection, which has considerably more bike traffic than most places in town due to its nature as the bike-trail-connector, seems justified.

However... as this video taken recently by one of Columbus's League of American Bicyclists Cycling Instructors shows, many people (bicyclists and motorists alike) have no clue how to use it.


It's very obvious from this video that the simple fact of using engineering to create improvements is not enough. Cars park in the bike box, riders ride up the right when the light is green and cars are trying to turn, and cyclists still swerve off to the right to cross North Broadway in the crosswalk.

The "Six E's" of the League of American Bicyclists are as follows:

Equality – Legal: traffic law and legislation, including movements, access, equipment, uniformity

Engineering – Transportation: road and bicycle facilities development, design, and construction, and mobility and funding sources

Enforcement – Police and Courts: Equitable treatment of cyclists through citations and trials

Education – Schools and Smart Cycling™: Traffic skills education for the public, engineers, enforcers, and legislators

Encouragement – Public and private agencies: advertising campaigns, promotions, etc.

Evaluation – Public agencies: Measurement of the effects of the other Es using relevant research methods and testing.

The bike box measure is a use of "Engineering", and arguably "Encouragement." But it totally ignores the measures of "Education" - no one really knows how to use it - and "Enforcement" - no one appears to be monitoring this new measure to make sure it's used properly. And, arguably, it goes AGAINST the idea of "Equality" - it's putting the cyclists ahead of cars instead of making them equal by having the bikes line up as part of traffic.

It's an interesting idea, to be sure. And technically, it's capable of reducing the problem of right hooks. But it's not being implemented properly to do that very thing. Neither motorists nor bicyclists seem to have a handle on how to use it. It's clear that following all six E's is crucial for anything to be improved for cyclists.

Bike Box video courtesy of Patricia Kovacs.
All pictures property of Consider Biking.

People, not speed.

3 comments:

  1. The bike box “works” (so to speak) in the traffic light red phase, during the yellow or green phase, it fails just like any other bike lane. 
Here a is simple animation: Why “bike-boxes” fail http://cycledallas.blogspot.com/2009/08/why-bike-boxes-fail.html

    The example uses a large truck, but a utility, delivery truck or SUV with large blind spots or impatient driver will work against any naïve bike box or bike lane user.

    John S Allen writings:
    
Bike box rationales
    http://john-s-allen.co /blog/?p=11

    Comparing crosswalk and bike box
    http://john-s-allen.com/blog/?p=60

    Advanced Stop Line or “Bike Box"
    Extended article with research links.

    http://bikexprt.com/bikepol/facil/stopline.htm

    Remember "bike boxes" are experimental!

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  2. I think it's a matter of "horses for courses". Here in Melbourne, Australia we have many bike boxes. Their intention is to provide a safe space for cyclists to get ahead of cars, when the lights are red, so that the cyclists can be seen and not run over. They are not intended to provide protection from cars turning - just a headstart at the lights.


    When there is a long line of traffic and I've cruised up alongside them on the inside lane, a bike box gives me welcome protection when the lights change to green.

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  3. danc - This is great stuff - I've seen the CycleDallas video before but totally forgot about it when I wrote the post. I have more to say on this issue and will share that in a new post.

    Duncan - while in my heart I agree that cyclists and pedestrians need to be put first over cars, we're not quite at the point yet from a mindset of proper, safe vehicle management. I tend to be of the vehicularist mindset, and feel that bikes "fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles" (to paraphrase John Forrester). Adding infrastructure to put cyclists out of the way of cars is not the healthiest way to go, for anyone.

    Also, bike boxes were most certainly created to avoid the right-hook problem.

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