Preventing Bicycle Fatalities at US-36 and Violet

Ghost Bike at Violet and US-36 in North Boulder

Two bicyclists have been killed at the intersection of US-36 and Violet Avenue since 2009. The most recent was TJ Doherty, on July 24th, 2012. Both cyclists were headed southeast on US-36, and were hit by cars traveling northwest, making left turns onto Violet. In this area US-36 is just outside of Boulder’s city limits, in the county, but it’s the Colorado Dept. of Transportation (CDOT) that’s responsible for it. Looking at the aerial view below we can explore why this intersection might be particularly dangerous for cyclists.

Northwest bound vehicles on US-36 have a dedicated left turn lane, and no obligation to stop before making their turn. The angle that Violet Ave. makes with the highway is quite oblique, meaning that it can be taken at high speed, and because US-36 has a speed limit of 55 mph in this area, cars often will take it at high speed if they don’t see any oncoming traffic.

From a southeast bound bicycle’s point of view, there’s no obviously correct place to be on the road, if they’re planning to proceed through the intersection. The shoulder on the west side of the road narrows to a few inches, and it’s to the right of a right-turn-only lane. If you ride all the way to the right, you risk a vehicle turning in front of you onto Violet. Your intent to continue through the intersection is also unclear to oncoming traffic. Most cyclists instead take a position that’s well within the right turn lane, to prevent right-turning vehicles from passing them and immediately turning right in front of them. However, this lane position still leaves their intent ambiguous to oncoming traffic. Alternatively, you might choose to straddle the line separating the through travel lane and the right turn lane. This makes the bike relatively visible, and more clearly conveys the intent to continue through the intersection, at the expense of potentially sandwiching the cyclist between right turning vehicles and very fast moving through traffic. If the cyclist instead chooses to behave exactly like a motor vehicle, moving into the through lane of traffic, the very large difference in speed between the bike and the other vehicles in that lane creates a hazard. Thus, there’s no right place for a cyclist to be on this road if they’re planning to continue through the intersection.

When we combine the unavoidable ambiguity of the through cyclist’s intent with the very high left-turning speeds of oncoming traffic, we have a recipe for disaster. A recipe which has killed two people in three years.

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Coal Finance for Climate Activists

I’ve been in New York since Monday for a short workshop on the finances of the coal industry and coal burning utilities.¬† It was put together under the auspices of the NYU Law School’s Institute for Policy Integrity.¬† The audience was mostly grassroots campaigners from all over the country — people working to shut down coal mining and coal based power plants for environmental reasons, both climate related and more traditional pollution.¬† The two day program included panels of utility specialists from rating agencies Moody’s and Fitch, Bruce Nilles from the Sierra Club’s Bloomberg funded Beyond Coal campaign, as well as financial analysts from UBS, Bloomberg New Energy and Jeffries.¬† Tom Sanzillo, the former comptroller of the state of New York, gave us a run down on how to read a utility company’s 10-K.¬† Several community leaders in successful fights to keep new coal plants from getting built told their stories too.¬† All in all, it made for some strange bedfellows.¬† It was great overall, and I think pretty much everyone learned something.¬† Here’s what I remember learning.

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Revisiting Junction Place, the TVAP and Multi-Way Boulevards

Antisocial Facades

Last fall¬†I and other representatives from Community Cycles participated in a discussion with the city and various stakeholders regarding upcoming redevelopment along Pearl Parkway.¬† I wrote about the experience and the Transit Village Area Plan (TVAP) more generally from the perspective of a human-powered urbanist.¬† Mostly, we looked at different possible streetscapes for Pearl Parkway between 30th and the railroad tracks.¬† The property at 3100 Pearl Parkway is slated to be developed in the near future, as a 320 unit rental apartment complex, and as one of the first major developments in the area plan.¬† The city is interested in experimenting with novel street treatments in order to try and make the place special and attractive. ¬†Community Cycles got involved largely because the TVAP “Connections Plan” had, with minimal fanfare, superseded the Transportation Master Plan (TMP) and removed the bike lanes which had long been planned along Pearl Parkway in favor of off-street only infrastructure.¬† We felt that this change was not necessarily in the best interest of cyclists, and wanted to ensure that whatever did end up getting built would be safe and efficient.

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Can competitive cyclists help the face of bike advocacy?


Tim Johnson, apparently a prominent cyclocross racer, recently got into bike advocacy.  Says he:

Bike advocacy is about as far away from ‘cool’ as one can get.¬† It’s a world full of recumbents, Day-Glo yellow, helmet mirrors, wool and tweed; the stereotypes that make self-important racers and hardcore enthusiasts cringe.

I’ve often been confused by the question “Are you a serious cyclist?”.¬† I don’t own a car, and bike virtually everywhere I go.¬† I’ve spent a year or so cumulatively living on my bike touring.¬† In eastern Europe, in Mexico.¬† To my mind, this makes me serious.¬† But not so in some other minds.¬† To many it seems that only competition can make one “serious”, and I just don’t understand.¬† But then, I’ve never watched a SuperBowl either.

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Why I Won’t Be Turning Off Any Lights for Earth Hour

A GOOD (Magazine) summary of why Earth Hour is lame.¬† First, it’s symbolic — turning lights off for an hour has a negligible effect on your (and the globe’s) energy consumption.¬† Second, the symbolism (which is all it’s got) totally sucks!¬† Want to be environmentally sound?¬† Then sit shivering in the dark.¬† Great.¬† Widely publicizing an action which is both unnecessary and turns people off (ha!), isn’t gonna win any hearts or minds.¬† It just reinforces the needlessly “hair shirt” vision of “green” that most people have.

Better Bicycle Marketing in Boulder a la Cycle Chic

I’ve been talking to friends and co-conspirators about how best to do bicycle propaganda marketing.¬† There’s a tendency in Boulder — as well as more broadly in the US — to market transportation cycling on the basis of its environmental, health, economic, and even political benefits.¬† These benefits are significant, and are part of why I and many others who already ride, do so.¬† However, I don’t think that means they’re the right way to reach the other 99% of the US population (or even to the other 90% of the Boulder population).¬† To use this rational, functional framing is to use the marketing techniques of the 19th century, which often assumed consumers to be rational beings, making their purchases on the basis of the relative functional merits of the products on offer.¬† Some people behave rationally, in some purchases, but since the mid 20th century most corporations (and many governments) have realized that this is not actually the best way to move product.¬† Ever since Edward Bernays, marketing and public relations has largely been about evoking an emotional response and associating your product with the aspirations of the consumer, regardless of whether those aspirations are attainable or pure fantasy.¬† Most people with an analytical background are irritated by the idea that logical rhetoric and rational argument are not the best ways to convince people of something.¬† I’ve seen this issue come up repeatedly with public science communication, especially in the context of climate change.

Irritating or not, this seems to be the way most people work, most of the time.¬† If we want cycling to become something everyone does, we have to work with people as they are, not as we wish they were.¬† The benefits of the bicycle will be realized if lots of people decide to ride, regardless of whether they’ve made that decision rationally.

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Bike League Board Chair Resigns

Bill Hoffman just resigned from the board of the League of American Bicyclists, and based on what he has to say about it, I'm glad he did! He's apparently upset that the League is now advocating policies which will encourage more utilitarian cycling, better separated infrastructure for bikes, and generally getting *more* people on bikes, growing their base, instead of just pandering to the self-described "enthusiasts" that have made up their membership throughout the recent decades of the Bicycle Dark Ages in North America. Thank you for resigning Bill… I think I might just become a member of the League as a result!

Links for the week of March 19th, 2010

If you want to follow my shared links in real time instead of as a weekly digest, head over to Delicious. You can search them there easily too.
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Stop framing transportation and bicycles as identity politics

Hello Mr. Mason,

I just read your article For the Danes, city planning is all about the bike.¬† As a daily bicycle user and advocate in automobile dominated southern California, I couldn’t help but be disturbed by the tone which was set in the first two sentences:

From his second-floor office overlooking a Baltic-fed canal, Andreas Rohl ponders a daily question: How can he make life hell for the car drivers of this Scandinavian capital? Mr. Rohl, you see, is the bicycle program manager for the city government of Copenhagen.

Based on the quotes you took from him throughout the rest of the article I have a hard time believing that this is really how Rohl thinks about his job. ¬†It seems like a much more North American perspective on bicycle planning to me. Making these the first words in the article creates an antagonistic lens through which the reader sees all the examples you point out of resources being shifted from cars to bikes, especially if the reader uses a car as their primary means of transportation, as I suspect most of your Canadian (and US) readers do. ¬†It would be a very different article if instead you’d said “How can he make life easier for the bicycle riders of this Scandinavian capital?” ¬†(I’m really curious, do you primarily drive, or ride a bike to get around?)

When there is a finite resource that has to be shared between cyclists and cars, such as lane width or timing priority on the “Green Wave” streets, a rational transportation planner would ask themselves “How can I allocate this resource between the competing modes to most effectively meet my transportation goals?”. ¬†What cities like Copenhagen and Amsterdam and Groningen have decided, I think correctly, is that quite often transportation goals can best be met by
allocating more of these finite resources to bikes than we do in the US and Canada.  In an urban environment, per unit transportation utility, bike infrastructure is much cheaper than automotive infrastructure to build and maintain.  The vehicles it supports (bikes) are also cheaper, safer, quieter, do not pollute or rely on imported fuels, and contribute to the health of the general population, reducing health care costs.  Parking for bikes takes up an order of magnitude less real estate and money, making multi-modal public transit much more feasible.  All of these are functional, dispassionate reasons to shift planning priorities toward bikes and away from cars.

The antagonistic framing that your introduction sets up, and which unfortunately also permeates a great deal of bike culture and bike advocacy in the US, does not help anybody make rational, dispassionate transportation decisions. ¬†It encourages the reader to pick a side. It turns transportation choices into issues of identity. ¬†Am I a driver, or am I a cyclist? ¬†Really, we’re all just people trying to get somewhere, and I think the Dutch and the Danes understand that better than anyone, as your final sentence makes clear.

Zane Selvans

CC: Andreas Rohl (Copenhagen Bicycle Planner), Mikael Colville-Anderson (Copenhagenize), Dale Benson (Caltrans District 7 BAC)