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Friday, August 21, 2009

Signal Timing and Pedestrian/Bicyclist Safety

Signal timing can be a great thing. It can move automobiles and bicyclists more efficiently through the city while also providing for a safer, more predictable traffic patterns for pedestrians. In order to achieve this success and a safe right-of-way for automobiles, bicyclists and pedestrian then this timing needs to be done at the right speed. What is that speed though?


In New Haven, CT they are moving forward with a signal timing project that will keep downtown speeds there between 25 and 30mph. But many Complete Street advocates would argue that 25mph is too fast. Studies have shown that a pedestrian hit at 20mph has a 5 percent chance of death, while a pedestrian hit at 30mph has a 45 percent chance of death. These findings have led to many cities looking towards urban traffic speeds in the 15 to 20mph range (bicyclists travel around the 12mph mark).


Personal experience makes me say that posted speed limits do very little to manage speeds. Signal timing does seem to work out of the appeal avoided stop-and-go traffic. Urban environments, when well designed, also will naturally reduce traffic speeds in most cases. This is a reaction of mental comfort levels for drivers. When there are lots of people around, buildings and other structures close to the street, and plenty of things to observe drivers tend to naturally slow down - self-regulating in a way.


With that said there are streets in Cincinnati that are in need of reduced traffic speeds. Aside from the typical residential streets that people always seem to clamor for lower speeds, what streets would you like to see made safer for bicyclists and pedestrians by reducing traffic speeds? My top pick would be the Calhoun/McMillan network. The parallel streets are complimentary of one another and both have large pedestrian and bicyclist volumes. Due to their straight orientation, one-way traffic flow, limited traffic-calming designs, and lack of a completely built out urban streetscape the speeds are very high and very unsafe for anyone other than automobile drivers.

12 comments:

Jason McGlone said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jason McGlone said...

Being a daily cyclist downtown, I'd argue that it's also worth the effort to educate drivers and cyclists on how to manage one another, as well. Many of the streets around town don't have bike lanes and many drivers overtake cyclists unsafely (dangerously, in fact) and tend to get scared when they're around. On the flipside, many cyclists weave through traffic, ride on the sidewalks, or ride the wrong way on streets--it can be pretty insane.

As speeds go, 20 mph seems like a happy medium in Cincinnati. An experienced cyclist (on a road bike) can easily maintain 15mph going up a reasonable grade, and could keep up with cars on flat ground.

University area would be a good place to start, as well as Downtown. It seems to me that it'd be more difficult for traffic to handle a timed signal system in an area that isn't laid out in a grid, though I could be totally wrongheaded about that snap assessment.

Radarman said...

Roxanne Qualls has Calhoun/McMillan at the top of her list for taming. She would like to return them to two way status and make them complete. She needs all the support she can get.

Randy Simes said...

I'm not sure how I feel about two-way conversions. On Calhoun/McMillan it would seem to work, but I'm not sure I see the gain on streets Downtown. Other traffic calming measures would seem to do the trick and maintain the fewer conflict points at intersections that are produced by two-way streets. What does everyone else think though?

Nathan said...

I agree Calhoun/McMillan, I'd also add the bottom of Clifton Avenue and Ludlow/Hamilton Ave to that list. This is a small neighborhood that apparently in everyone's way towards someplace else. Walnut street downtown too.

I like the idea of switching streets downtown to two-way downtown. It's such a mess anywhere from the highway towards the business district from 2nd street to 7th. You often just end up going in loops around city blocks clogging up the streets. But that's a shared space issue, not a speeding one.

Dave Rolfes said...

Couldn't agree more with Jason regarding the education effort. As cycling becomes a more popular mode of transportation, both drivers and cyclists need to know the rules of the game. There are too many cyclists, downtown especially, that use sidewalks or go against traffic. This only tends to confuse drivers more when they see me on the road and moving with traffic.

As for Randy's point in the article, the area around UC campus is ripe for this change. As that network of streets has become more of a part of campus it only increases the need. Downtown Cincy could use it, as could the street grid in the northernmost part of NKY.

N/A said...

The best way to slow traffic is to make all roads two way. One way streets turn into mini-highways and are extremely unsafe to pedestrians. ;)

UCstudent said...

Cincinnati suffers from a lack of east west thoroughfares. Making Taft/Calhoun & McMillan would exacerbate this blunder in city planning. Downtown streets were all two way fyi.

UCstudent said...

errrrrrr making them one way that is

Mark said...

Maybe bicyclists don't cause a majority of accidents between themselves and automobiles but how many automobile to automobile do they cause? Many times you see them riding two and three abreast taking up the entire link on a two lane road. This causes vehicles to have to cross the names of the opposing lane of traffic to pass them.

Bicyclists need to remember that there are laws that apply to them as well as automobiles! They need to stop at stop signs and red lights just like everyone else, things I have seen them ignore many times.

Quim said...

^uh, if you can't pass safely, don't pass. That's not he cyclist's fault.
Remember that with traffic lights you get lurching, unexpected accelerations as motorists run the red lights.

Jeffrey Jakucyk said...

I cycle around the city all the time, and quite frankly I don't view the speed limit (or the actual traffic speed) to be any factor. What IS a factor is the width of the street and how it's used. If it's a 4-lane road (i.e. 2 lanes in each direction) with no street parking, that's the best situation. On a road like that, a cyclist can and should just take the right lane and let (make) cars pass in the left lane. Staying too far to the right only encourages cars to not change lanes and pass too closely. When there's an extra lane for passing, then that's what other vehicles should use. Kellogg Avenue near Lunken Airport is a good example. It's a road used heavily by cyclists, and the speed limit is 40 or 45.

However, there aren't a whole lot of roads like that on bike routes. Most of the City's 4-lane arteries do allow street parking, at least during restricted hours. This is where it gets a bit complicated. On some roads, such as the reconstructed portion of Eastern Avenue/Riverside Drive near the Montgomery Inn Boathouse, they designed the road with "wide outside lanes." This allows room for parked cars AND a bike in the right lane without putting the bike rider too close to the parked cars and potentially deadly opening doors. Unfortunately, most 4-lane roads have fairly narrow lanes, and this makes riding a bicycle more difficult, because you have to choose between riding in the left lane most of the time (and pissing off drivers) or weaving in and out of the right lane around parked cars and risking cutting off a car and having them hit you. It's also much more likely that you're squeezed between traffic and parked cars, very much in the dangerous "door" zone.

For this reason, I would actually prefer keeping McMillan and Taft as one-way roads. They both have only 4-lanes, so unless no street parking is allowed (good luck with that one!) they'd be no better than Reading, Glibert, Linwood, or River Road if they were made two way. As they are, a bike can take up one lane, and cars still have two or three others left to choose from. The downtown one-way roads are a little more difficult, because you generally can't stay in the right lane due to it becoming a right-turn only lane.

Also, dedicated bike lanes, such as you see on Victory Parkway or Gilbert Avenue near downtown, are generally a bad thing. The ones we have are very short, and they just vanish without a trace, dumping riders back onto a regular lane. Even worse, on the two aforementioned streets, there's merges and turnoffs for cars that cross the bike lanes at shallow angles, making them that much more dangerous. When there's a bike lane, other vehicles assume that all bikes must stay in them, regardless of the fact that they tend to get strewn with gravel, broken glass, and other garbage. The wide outside lanes stay cleaner while still allowing room for cars to pass bikes safely. MLK east of Reading Road is a good example of this.

So unless speed limits are reduced to 10 or 15 mph, which would be nearly impossible, motorized vehicles are going to pass bicycles. The roads need to be conducive to doing that safely. Making one-way roads into two-way roads may actually make them more dangerous for cyclists, even if the speed limit is lowered. Just my 2¢

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