Wednesday, May 23

Twenty to One and "The Lost Post"

Posts on other blogs can cause us to reconsider things. Andy Cline, at Carbon Trace, made a post about clueless cycling behavior. It wasn’t the post so much as the combination of the post and observations that cyclists disobey traffic controls even when they know better, that caused me to ponder. You see, elements of this appeared in comments guessing content of what became “the Lost Post.” I found the comments amusing at the time, but they tie to what JRA called “Total Cycling Support.” Even the “twenty to one” in the “Lost Post” gives clues.
There is truth to newspaper comments claiming that “roads are for cars.” If you doubt it, drop me an email and I'll do a "Gruesome Threats" post. But I'd rather not. People on bikes FEEL it and it bothers them. They FEEL it even if they don’t get honked at, or harassed by a motorist police officer while operating safely and legally. The roads really ARE optimized to accommodate a uniquely dangerous major use – four-wheeled motor vehicle operation. Because these motorists mostly kill and delay each other, and have lots of votes, other users are rarely considered seriously, and are almost never considered as part of “real traffic.” In effect, others are marginalized by design. The “Lost Post” showed that to be true – even though it EXCLUDED any safety elements whatsoever. People on bikes or walking are at a disadvantage. If you doubt it, go push just about any crosswalk signal button. While you wait, wonder why the signal is at the corner instead of midblock. Now imagine that motorists are making free right turns, and there are mud puddles, and it’s windy. Feeling vaguely disadvantaged, many bike riders and pedestrians try to compensate in some way. It isn’t just motorists that don’t want to wait. I’m sure you can think of many examples. If not, speak up and I'll do a "blood and gore" due to people trying to live around cars post. But I'd rather not.

I have a major advantage over most cyclists when it comes to legally avoiding delay due to motor-centric roads. I KNOW how to trigger all the traffic signals along my commute route. I KNOW where to turn to avoid most of the stop signs (especially those at the BOTTOM of hills) that exist only to stop motoring excesses. I KNOW how to safely interact with motor traffic. And I get delayed twenty to one. Think what a person without that knowledge does – so they don’t get delayed even more. Good road design balances the needs and, indeed, the DELAY that various types of users experience. Good road design is rare in the US today. “Shared Space” is considered radical. While the current state of “Complete Streets” might be poor, it is an attempt to restore balance. We need to do better.

I don’t suggest that people should start ignoring traffic signals, shooting through crosswalks without looking, riding the wrong way, or all the other idiotic things people on bikes do (I am NOT a victim!), but I do suggest good road design should take the characteristics of various road users into account and balance things better. It isn’t entirely “bad” or “ignorant” people that are the problem. Motorized traffic IS different than non-motorized traffic and there is no excuse to let the designers hide behind a “same rules” mantra. Twenty to one says non-motorized users are being treated worse.

So, I recovered “The Lost Post” and repeat it below. Consider it in the context of whether horrid behavior of many pedestrians and bike riders might be worsened by a road AND educational system that marginalizes them. Sometimes, looked at a second time, data suggests a different story than we intended. Twenty to one was pretty simple to discover in my case, but in many cases, things are far worse than twenty to one – and the total time gets bigger the further you go.

"The Lost Post" March 2012

I apologize to my loyal reader, who wondered what I might be getting at when I posed the question:
"Has anyone out there really added up the time cost of stopping at a stop sign compared to nonchalantly riding through same?"

Perhaps noting that I had an ulterior motive got comments off on the wrong track. Perhaps I have been too strident in the past. For, you see, sometimes a question is EXACTLY what it seems. You see, this post is not hypothetical, as Pondero couched his theory. Then he and others talked about momentum lost and rhythm. Khal even touched on a hot button of mine when he used that "w" word. Well, all that goes into the hopper for a future post, but today, simply, this post is about who gets delayed - cyclists by motorists or motorists by cyclists.
What? You might ask, motorists are forever complaining about cyclists holding them up. Well, let's examine the facts.
FACT 1: Today, as usual, I didn't see any other cyclists or people on bikes on my commute. That means that any motorist that might have been delayed was only delayed by me. That keeps the motorist delay math simple. In total, we're talking about a second or less. If you live somewhere else - like Boston or Portland or Seattle, let's be generous and multiply the motorist delay by a factor of ten and count it as ten seconds.  (MAY update - COUNTING MOTORISTS waiting at stop signs for me, you might add as much as four seconds to my previous estimate - still a lot less than I bumped things up to. Ten seconds still seems safe.)
FACT 2: In saner moments, even most of the "more militant than average" motorists will concede that motorists are really more likely to get held up by other motorists than even the most offensive spandex mafioso. This is particularly true if you ask the motorist right after he/she comes off a freeway after a two HOUR stoppage.
In reality, besides the question I asked, cyclists are delayed (even if they do NOT obey all traffic directions) by many motor-centric road features. I do not pretend to come up with a complete list here, but all of the following apply to the commutes or other cycling of a LOT of cyclists and all are caused by motoring:

Short and efficient routes where cycling is banned (freeways and other roads) or effectively banned because of heavy and fast traffic. Many of these roads are paid for with my property taxes and not any sort of user fee.

Stop signs and stop lights that are only needed to keep motorists from crashing into each other or into innocent bystanders, or, increasingly, in a mostly futile attempt to keep speeds down. While compliance by cyclists might be better, the delay is still real.

Alternate routes taken by cyclists in order to avoid harassment or otherwise lower their stress levels. Paths are a common refuge, despite being somewhat riskier for falls than even MEAN streets.Regardless, these longer routes represent delay due to motoring.

Seriously, Little Ol' Me Delays ALL These Guys or Do THEY and Their Infrastructure Delay Me?
This morning, I tried my best to note all these delays. Now, keep in mind that after I bump up the delay I create by cloning myself, it totals ten seconds. First, my quickest route would have used the 121 Airport Freeway for a mile. Between the construction to widen it and the lurid news stories about pedestrians run over by multiple motorists (some being on-duty police in high vis vests), I took a delay of about 30 seconds necessary due to the motorists. Next, I encountered ten stop signs along my route. In reality, NONE of them would have been there except to keep motorist animal urges under control. Counting five seconds of delay at each would put me behind by 50 seconds more. That puts me up to 80 seconds. Third, I made a few route detours that further lower stress. The extra 0.2 miles adds an extra 60 seconds since I average about a mile every five minutes (what can I say, I'm no spring chicken any more). Now we are at 140 seconds. Stop signs are a big time waster. I hit four of the eight stop lights red along my route. I confess I didn't time them all, but the ones I did time led me to conclude a 20 second delay at each red was about right for a total of 80 seconds more. However, in fairness, if there were no motorists, I'd probably want stop signs so we have to subtract 20 seconds off - and add 20 seconds on for the green lights; leaving us at 80 seconds for a total delay of 220 seconds in order to keep my motorists safe. Hmm, I didn't mention it, but I also had another 20 seconds of direct delay since the motorists are slow off the line at left turn signals when in a line.

I think it goes back to Pondero's note in a previous post - there are a lot of motorists and so that makes a lot of comments about road hog cyclists. Votes do count. The majority do, however, forget that much of what is put on those roads delays other users who would not need those devices at all if motor vehicles were not so dangerous. Four of those ten stop signs I encountered were before the first traffic light and two were within a block of my house.

I don't begrudge all these delays that exist simply so motorists can "rule the roads;" it is part of the cooperative network that forms our road system. HOWEVER, the next time I hear some whiny, er, "perturbed" motorist complain about BIKES holding him/her up, I'll think back on this post, and smile mysteriously about a "delay ratio"over over 20 to 1 AFTER I bump up the "1."

cafiend said... I used to ride a route three miles longer, over a much higher summit, to avoid the highway on my ride home from work. The extra miles took longer than the same distance on terrain and pavement comparable to the highway. It was wonderfully peaceful but got me home too late for domestic harmony.
My two routes out of town even on the direct route are a big detour out a side road to avoid a section known for impatient motorists or a scoot out the rail trail with all its shortcomings, to reach the highway outside of town. All these delays have more to do with avoiding motorist friction than with a strong desire for more mileage or a particular enjoyment of the path.
On the UF campus in the mid 1970s, cars were forbidden. Masses of cyclists filled the streets between classes. Everyone just flowed. The only time I had a problem was when I created it by being a speedy jerk.
March 19, 2012 8:54 PM RANTWICK said... Great perspective. I think your plan to smile mysteriously rather than go on a rant along these lines is also a wise choice.
March 20, 2012 10:02 AM Steve A said... If traffic was war instead of cooperation, the vehicle of choice would be the one I posted about at: (photo of tank along my commute route omitted)


acline said...

Human choices are never context-free. So, yes, the traffic system must play a role in the choices we make. Those of us who (militantly) follow the rules are, in part, making choices based upon our desire to do more than just get from point A to B safely. There's a political element involved, too, e.g. taking back the streets, or at least fighting for a bit of them.

cafiend said...

The vast majority of people simply do not ride or walk. They don't want to have to develop a personal style or make political or sociological statements to get from place to place. They sense risk and inconvenience even if bicycling would get them through a congested urban center faster than in a car and present them with easier parking options on arrival. In less densely developed areas the motorist often does have a speed advantage. People drive because they want to make the trip as quickly as law and technology allow.

Slower traffic, especially meat-powered, needs to be accommodated in ways that do not impede motorist flow. Some people need to drive. Some motor vehicles (many, in all likelihood) will always need to get around. At the same time, bicyclists and pedestrians deserve to be accommodated with efficient routes to all destinations served by motorways. Wherever people go, they should be able to go by method of their choice. Build it. Then settle things n Israel and Palestine. Then you can break for lunch.

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