Sunday, October 31, 2010

Open letter to the City of Minneapolis

Earlier this week, a cyclist was killed in the recently redesigned bike lane on Hennepin Avenue in downtown Minneapolis.

Police said the bicyclist and a Quicksilver Express Courier delivery truck were southbound on 1st Avenue about 2:30 p.m. when the truck turned right, striking the cyclist in the intersection.

The cyclist was in a designated bike lane on the right side of the road as he approached the intersection, police said.

The definition of this type of accident, in cycling terms, is a Right Hook. The fact that it has a name shows that it's something that happens far too often. And in Minneapolis, not only is there the opportunity for a right hook, but a less common left hook as well thanks to several high use bike lanes located on the left side of one way streets. On my commute I ride past the ghost bike for Dennis Dumm, who was also killed by a truck while riding in a designated bike lane.

The City of Portland had a similar issue in 2007, when 3 cyclists were right hooked in designated bike lanes. Two died, and one was seriously injured. This caused Portland to install "bike boxes" at several intersections. A bike box is nothing more than green paint which allows cyclists to pull ahead at a light and have a spot that is visible and out of the blind spot of cars. Do they work?

Increasingly, the answer appears to be a resounding “Yes!” On the heels of that tragic autumn of 2007, there were no cyclist fatalities in Portland in 2008. Since then, there have been some cyclist fatalities in Portland—but there hasn’t been a single right-hook fatality at any bike box. Moreover, a study recently conducted by the Initiative for Bicycle and Pedestrian Innovation at Portland State University has confirmed that bike boxes work. Researchers found that both motorists and cyclists exhibit high rates of compliance and understanding about bike boxes, with motorists exhibiting an increase in the rate of yielding, and both motorists and cyclists indicating that they perceive the intersections to be safer with the bike boxes installed.

Minneapolis was voted the #1 cycling city in the United States this year. But, if something isn't done to make cycling safer, something as simple and cheap and effective as a bike box, that designation will seem somewhat hollow.


hereNT said...

I wonder at this, actually. There are bike boxes at several of the left turn one-ways on 1st, allowing the cyclist to move in front of the autos. This works in a situation where the cyclist arrives at the intersection while it is red, but not while it is green.

I don't know what a bike box would have done in the situations that you cite that resulted in these deaths. Both were when there was a green light. The thing that could have possibly helped is education on the part of the cyclist and the motorist. The motorist to understand the physics, and the cyclist to understand that turning sharply, not stopping is the proper response to the situation.

Not trying to start a flame war, but it just seems like a bike box would have done nearly nothing for either person.

Anonymous said...

The city is looking at bikes boxes; there is one at the newly redone intersection at E. River Road & Franklin.

Anonymous said...

I think what might have helped would be if there's markings IN THE INTERSECTION. MPLS always dashes bike lanes as they approach an intersections. Other places leave them solid to the intersection and then dash them through the intersection. Around here, we're invisible in intersections, where nearly all collisions happen. It's also interesting how the bike lanes disappear randomly even for driveways and such.

There's a "bike box" at 12st and 1st. It's a joke. Seriously, go look for yourself. Just a tiny 18" bike stencil in the crosswalk.

Nothing like this:

Jana S said...

I was left hooked a few days after this fatal crash, while riding downtown in the Park Ave bike lane. I had a green light and was struck at the intersection of Franklin Avenue by a driver who was coming from behind and thought they could "beat" me in turning left. I was going 18 mph and was fortunate to escape with banged up knees and sore muscles. The car sped away and though there were many eyewitnesses, no one saw the license plate number.

I attempted to file a police report so that there would be a record of the crash. So many car-bike crashes go unreported due to the cylist feeling ok at the time and a lack of clear protocol. The police officers did not write anything down, and didn't seem to care, since I didn't "look" injured and my bike wasn't mangled. I was advised by the police dispatcher to wait at the scene for an officer to file a report, and when the officers arrived they said that a report is actually filed when I talk to a dispatcher. I don't think this is true. It didn't appear that the policemen had anything better to do at 6:55 a.m., but they weren't interested in doing a thorough job. Unfortunately I was pretty shaken up and did not think to take down their badge numbers.