A Response to Hainline, Steisel, and Weinshall

I am glad that my posting on the Prospect Park West bike lanes occasioned a serious and thoughtful response (see the comments).

I wanted to reply to a few points.

They write:

(1) PPW is not simply an arterial roadway between intersecting streets (as is the adjacent roadway inside Prospect Park, which, we have argued, would be a more appropriate location for a two-way bike lane). Rather, PPW borders high-density residential blocks—with a school and elder-care facility (on one side of the street) and entrances to Prospect Park (on the other). This means that on a less-than-one-mile stretch of roadway, thousands of residents and park-goers are continuously entering or exiting school buses, wheel-chair vans, taxis, or driveways, while dozens of Fresh Direct, UPS, Fedex, USPS trucks, moving vans, and other delivery vehicles are also blocking one of the two remaining traffic lanes. This requires that drivers in the blocked lane continuously shift into a single more-heavily-used traffic lane to avoid the blockage. And since this single lane is now narrower on a significant stretch of PPW, if not the entire street (as our measurements, pace Vanderbilt’s assertion to the contrary, clearly show), there is less margin to avoid car doors opening, drivers or passengers squeezing into their vehicles, parents lifting babies from their car-seats, cars edging into or out of parking spots, or side view mirrors extending from vehicles. These circumstances, rather than producing a “calming feeling,” are more likely to produce irritated impatience, at best.

I admit that the studies I referred to are for road types different from PPW; in part this is a necessity because of the rather unique nature of PPW itself. But I am interested here in their description of all the exiting school buses, UPS trucks, parents getting babies out of cars, Fresh Direct vans, etc. Given this huge amount of stopped traffic, and pedestrian activity, to my mind the most important safety benefit we could bring to those users is a reduction of the speeds on that street — which were typically well above the speed limit prior to the installation of the bike lane. Speed, and the violating of right of way — not lane changing and merging — is the root cause of the vast majority of serious traffic injury in New York City. As I’ve said repeatedly, drivers, in their ‘irritated impatience,’ have tended to use PPW as a high speed arterial to neighborhoods beyond Park Slope rather than the neighborhood street it should be. I will take an infinite number of bent mirrors over the lives or health of any one person.

In their second point, they note:

“In addition to the option of moving the lane onto the adjacent roadway inside the park, making the PPW bike-lane one-way is the other proposal we have made as members of “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes.”

I would take a one-way bike lane over no bike lane; but as a condition of that one-way status, I would call for a protected one-way bike lane, in the other direction, on Eighth Avenue, which suffers from some of the same speed problems as PPW.

They then note:

(1) Vanderbilt’s basic argument relies on the perception of increased safety that roadway users (drivers, bikers, and pedestrians) may have when more drivers and riders are using fewer and narrower lanes, because their awareness of other roadway users is heightened. But this perception of increased safety is not what users of PPW have experienced. In a self-selected survey of over 3,000 Brooklynites conducted by Councilmembers Lander and Levin, most people—bikers were the only exception—reported feeling less safe after the bike lane was installed (Ref. 2).

This misrepresents what I have said, and indeed highlights a problem: Perception of safety and actual safety in traffic are not always the same. When subjects have been asked to identify what they think are crash hot spots in certain locations, for example, they often choose places with low numbers of crashes, not the actual hot spots. When roundabouts are installed, it’s quite common for the local populace to protest that their safety has been compromised — when in fact, roundabouts, as have been documented in any number of studies, tend to make things safer for all road users. ‘Shared space’ experiments in Europe and the U.K. have shown a similar disconnect between perceived and actual safety.

But let’s stick to what we know: The actual numbers from PPW, which are now available, via the Brooklyn Paper:

“Crashes are down from an average of 30 in six months to 25, or 16 percent.

• Crashes that cause injuries are down from 5.3 in six months to two, a whopping 63-percent drop.

• Before the project, a crash was twice as likely to include an injury.

• Injuries to all street users dropped 21 percent.

The data also found that since the lane was installed last June, there have been no reported pedestrian injuries and no pedestrian or cyclist injuries from pedestrian-bike crashes.”

Granted, crashes involving pedestrians and bicycles tend to be underreported, but vehicle crashes, particularly involving injury, are not — and by this measure, the addition of the lanes has actually made for a safer environment for all road users. An increase in active transportation; a decrease in injury — I fail to see this as a problem.

This entry was posted on Thursday, January 20th, 2011 at 10:33 am and is filed under Bicycles, Traffic Culture, Traffic Engineering, Traffic safety, Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

10 Responses to “A Response to Hainline, Steisel, and Weinshall”

  1. Gary Says:

    The travel lanes on PPW remain the same width they were before the modification. There was originally a plan to narrow them but that was dropped. Those complaining that the road now feels less safe are proving the case for traffic calming. The new configuration does make the roadway feel more crowded. There is no denying that. That is of course the point. Drivers feel that road is less expansive and consequently feel “less safe” and they slow down, which ultimately makes the road safer for all users.

  2. eveostay Says:

    Great post. Besides being safer, PPW now also handles more commuters during the peak hours than it did before the bike lane was added.

    This news is from page 9 of the latest DOT report:

  3. thf Says:

    That perceived safety decreased for all users but bikers in the Councilmember’s study is not a correct interpretation of the findings. The survey was in fact not even broken down that way in the analysis.

  4. nick Says:

    Tom — You should know by now that when people say “safety” they mean “my convenience.”

  5. Marty Barfowitz Says:

    In a self-selected survey of over 3,000 Brooklynites conducted by Councilmembers Lander and Levin, most people—bikers were the only exception—reported feeling less safe after the bike lane was installed (Ref. 2).

    My god, these people are so awful, divisive and, well, just kind of seem to be lying.

    1. The Lander/Levin survey showed that the vast majority of the community believes this project is functioning well. Even among residents living between 8th Avenue and Prospect Park, the majority are in favor of the project and perceive the street to be safer.

    2. “Bikers” are not some separate, monolithic class of people who come from outside of “the community” and only transport themselves by bike. Every biker becomes a walker as soon as he or she gets to where they’re going and locks up their bike. I’m a biker but I also drive a car on PPW and walk (and I even used to take the bus before they got rid of it).

    Hainline and her politically-connected pals can try all they want to pretend that they are “the community” and cyclists are “the other,” but they increasingly must see that they hold a majority opinion and they do not accurately represent their own neighborhood or even their own street.

  6. Eric McClure Says:

    Marty Barfowitz meant “minority” opinion in that last sentence.

  7. Marty Barfowitz Says:

    Oh, whoops. Right.

  8. Kristen Says:

    Great post, Tom.

    These people just want to be able to drive too fast and park quickly, as they always have done—righteous huffing and puffing doesn’t fool many. Even they seem to know that’s impolitic to come out and say that they want these special privileges, privileges that are contrary to both the best interests of the neighborhood and the STATED desire of the majority of residents of that neighborhood. The DOT has been to Park Slope how many times? Seven? The Community Board process was open and lengthy. I do not know how many meetings Steisel, Hainline and Weinshall attended. The costs of the lane were low and now the results are proven. And STILL they crow.

    Not paying attention during the process and trying to use political and media clout to roll it back ex post facto? Well, that’s entitlement at its absolute worst.

    Change is hard for people so I think we are going to be hearing this crap until this generation goes to the great free parking structure in the sky (or to Florida).

  9. Geof Gee Says:

    @Tom … Minor complaint since I can use Google. For those of us away from NYC it really would be helpful for a map or some other aide to picture what the environment is like. And this is from a person who grew up in NYC and still visits family regularly.

    If anyone else is interested, I used these to refresh my memory and get myself up to speed …

    It should be no surprise that taking away a travel lane for autos produced slower travel and less severe injuries for all travelers. For my tastes, that represents a real improvement.

    But if we take this further, I wonder whether the “protected/obscured” two-way bike lane is really the way to go? Drivers seem to remain more aware of other cars than peds and bikes. Wouldn’t making this and surrounding roads bi-directional have a better effect on slowing motorized traffic? Then you could put bike lanes on the other side of parked cars — I often ride a recumbent while pulling a trailer with my kids, so this design really bothers me — making one (much) more visible at intersections, plowing/debris clearing more consistent, as well as give greater flexiblity.

  10. Lois Carsbad Says:

    Who are we to believe? 25 politically connected property owners or thousands of residents of all stripes?

    Let me see if I understand Hainline’s logic: “Self-selected” survey results are bad, but self-reported observational accounts of accidents are okay?

    She is a dean at Brooklyn College. That institution should be ashamed to have someone with such a fundamental lack of respect for the scientific process and a clear lack of knowledge about statistics on its faculty.

    I would have more respect for her if she simply admitted that she doesn’t like it and wants it gone. She’s entitled to her own opinions, but not her own facts. And the facts are in: PPW is much safer now than it was before for everyone.

    Shame on you, Louise Hainline.

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