A longer response to Egan

This is a more extended response to the letter from Boston’s Chief Civil Engineer responding to my comments about the Connect Historic Boston project.

My comments are at http://john-s-allen.com/pdfs/CHB_Comments.pdf and http://john-s-allen.com/pdfs/CHB_2014-03_comments.pdf

Mr. Egan’s reply to my letter is at http://john-s-allen.com/pdfs/egan_response.pdf. My shorter response to his letter is at http://streetsmarts.bostonbiker.org/2014/05/15/boston-chief-civil-engineers-reply-to-my-comments-on-connect-historic-boston/

Egan’s response is a non-response. I gave detailed comments, criticisms and recommendations. He did not reply to them.

In particular, Mr. Egan did not respond to my concerns that the project

• fails as a transportation project, because it degrades rather than improves access to the North Station transportation hub;

• addresses the downtown Boston urban area as a tourist attraction, rather than an urban hub, and does not provide direct and convenient routes for bicycle travel;

• nonetheless, the project, despite its name, fails to connect with some of the most important historic sites near its route;

• incorporates known hazardous designs: in particular, a narrow two-way sidepath on a sloping street (Staniford Street), which crosses a wide driveway; a bizarre, curved segment inside an intersection connecting the Causeway Street segment with the Staniford Street Segment; and bike lanes and “bike boxes” which encourage bicyclists to ride in the unsafe position to the right of right-turning motor traffic.. In the Boston area, the majority of fatal motor vehicle-bicycle collisions in recent years have been of this type.

• results in slow travel, delays and temptation to violate the traffic law for bicyclists as well as other travelers;

• Establishes a fixed pattern of segregated space, literally set in stone, which precludes modification to reflect future changes in traffic volume and modes;

• Could be redesigned to provide much better options.

All of these issues are addressed in my comment letters, so I won’t address them at length here.

Having attended the February 26, 2014 public hearing and May 15. 2014 public information meeting about the project, and based on my review of the Connect Historic Boston Web site and extensive Web searches, I can add:

• The project proponents claim that the project will increase bicycle use, but they have not offered any projections.

• Nor have they placed before the public any study showing the effects of the project on traffic volume and level of service for other travel modes. This is a major omission, because the lane reductions, more complicated movements at intersections, and increased signalization due to the project will result in very significant impacts.

• The project proponents have not placed alternative designs or routes before the public for review. There have been some design changes but only one design was presented at each public meeting.

• Though a stenographic record was being taken at the February 26, 2014 25% design public hearing, which I attended and at which I spoke, I cannot find the transcript online.

• As the February 26 design public hearing, no plans, but only conceptual drawings, were presented.

• Other comments besides mine were submitted following the February 26 public hearing, but I cannot find any online unless they were posted by commenters.

• At the May 15 meeting, which was sparsely attended, Mr. Egan asserted that the project had been subjected to extensive public review. Indeed, the project proponents have held a number of public meetings. However, publicity for the meetings was directed to local neighborhood groups and to advocacy groups which were likely to favor the project, lacking outreach to citizens and businesses in Boston and throughout the region whose interests stand to be affected by the project.

• Though detailed design drawings were on display at the May 15 meeting, the 25% design public hearing had passed, and this was not the design public hearing. Though a promise was made that the drawings would be placed online, I cannot find them online.

• A search on the Web sites of the Boston Globe and Boston Herald newspapers finds not one single article about the project – a news blackout. This is astonishing considering that the Globe has a reporter, Martine Powers, whose beat is to address transportation issues, and that the Herald has published incisive articles about the related development project at North Station. There was a single article on the Boston Magazine blog, following my suggestion to the reporter, but it only briefly describes the project without addressing any of the issues it presents.

• I have found no input from the MBTA or MassDOT into the design or review of the project, though it will have very serious consequences for travel on roadways, including for public transit, and as noted, for access to North Station.

• Boston Chief Civil Engineer William Egan cites and footnotes only sources which support the case he wants to make.

Let’s look at this situation more closely. Mr. Egan dismisses classic studies as “outdated.” These classic studies examine specifics of design and of crash causation. Their results have been confirmed by newer ones. He dismisses the research record while citing and footnoting documents which have been demolished as deeply flawed and biased, and misrepresenting others. The overall case he is trying to make is for facilities which can be called cycle tracks, without addressing the specifics of what is safe or unsafe about any particular design.

Let’s now go go through Mr. Egan’s footnotes one by one:

In his footnote #1, Mr. Egan cites the Kittleson & Associates Report (Washington DC),
http://ddot.dc.gov/page/bicycle-facility-evaluation, pointing out increased bicycle traffic volume on the 15th St NW left side cycle track. He does not mention the safety issue which the study raises. After installation, crashes increased from 20 in 4 years to 13 crashes in 14 months – over twice as many crashes per month. Taking into account the doubling of cyclist volumes, this represents an increase in crashes of 10% — contrary to his claim of safety in numbers. He also emphasizes the greater increase in bicycle traffic on this street in the evening rush hour – cherry-picking. Videos of actual riding conditions on this path are available at https://vimeo.com/album/1632204. These videos show numerous hazards, chaotic conditions at intersections, and that conflicts at intersections due to the separated bikeway lead to very slow travel unless bicyclists ignore traffic signals. Most did.

In his footnote #2, Mr. Egan cites the study Lusk, A. C., Furth, P. G., Morency, P., Miranda-Moreno, L. F., Willett, W. C., & Dennerlein, J. T. (2011). Risk of injury for bicycling on cycle tracks versus in the street, to the effect that there were 2.5 times as many bicyclists on cycle track streets as on streets without. This finding reflects not only the presence of cycle tracks, and cyclists’ belief that these were preferable, but also reflects the unfair selection of comparison streets (see comments on footnote #5) and the cycle track streets in many cases the made direct connections for through travel, while comparison streets did not.

In his footnote #3, Mr. Egan cites the work of Prof. John Pucher to the effect that bicycle crash rates decrease as bicycle use increases. It is well known that as the volume of traffic increases, risk per mile of travel decreases. This is an example of Smeed’s law, which has been known for decades, but is no justification for construction of facilities which fail to optimize safety: the proper safety comparison among facilities is for the same population on different types of facilities, and the safety in numbers effect has not been demonstrated with bicycle facilities (see comments on footnote #1). Pucher ranges widely in his citations, but he reveals himself as an enthusiastic promoter of separate bicycle facilities, gullible and unqualified to evaluate research, by his quoting Jacobsen’s study which includes an infamous descending hyperbolic curve due to faulty math, which gives the same results when fed totally random data, and a series of photos showing various types of vehicles parked in the street and describing the space they occupy as the space needed for travel, among other gaffes. These gaffes are in the document http://www.cts.pdx.edu/pdf/Pucher_PSU_talk_9-28-07.pdf, pages 24 and 30 and I have commented on the Muenster drawing: http://john-s-allen.com/blog/?p=7. More exensive critiques of Pucher’s work are found here: http://www.johnforester.com/Articles/facilities.htm

In his footnote #4, Mr. Egan cites a study referenced by Pucher, to the effect that a larger percentage of female cyclists is associated with a larger bicycle mode share. This does not make a case for constructing the project as designed; it only makes one for increasing mode share. The underlying assumption that women are a disabled population is degrading, and increasing the mode share does not make it ethical to provide facilities which are inherently unsafe.

In his footnote #5, Egan again cites the study Lusk, A. C., Furth, P. G., Morency, P., Miranda-Moreno, L. F., Willett, W. C., & Dennerlein, J. T. (2011). Risk of injury for bicycling on cycle tracks versus in the street. Injury prevention, 17(2), 131-135 as demonstrating a 28% lower crash rate for cycle tracks in Montreal, relative to comparison streets. Do the people at Harvard School of Public Health know what they are doing? If so, they are intentionally biasing their work. Flaws of the study include describing stretches of paths in parks and away from streets as cycle tracks, including stretches which had not been built yet in the reported mileage, selecting a multi-lane comparison street 10 blocks away with heavy, faster traffic for comparison with a cycle track street which is small and has light, slow traffic, examining short stretches which end just short of busy intersections, giving the length of one of the paths as twice as long as it is, halving its reported crash rate, and neglecting injuries to pedestrians. A detailed rebuttal and a link to the study online may be found at http://john-s-allen.com/reports/montreal-kary.htm. Another review reaching similar conclusions is at http://bicyclingmatters.wordpress.com/critiques/montreal-cycle-tracks/

Other opinions of the Montreal paths have come from Montreal cyclists and public officials. Here is a quote from an article which appeared in a Canadian newspaper, http://www.fpinfomart.ca/news/ar_results.php?q=6375221&sort=pubd&spell=1 :

Growing pains for downtown lanes; Although Montreal has 400 kilometres of bike lanes, there was and still is resistance to the recent segregated downtown one, Kate Jaimet [https://www.linkedin.com/pub/kate-jaimet/43/b12/7b1] reports.
Though cyclists say that biking in the dedicated bike lane is more pleasant, and makes them feel safer, than biking in traffic, [City of Montreal spokesman Jacques Alain] Lavallée [https://www.linkedin.com/pub/jacques-alain-lavall%C3%A9e/14/26b/b21] said there has been little change in the number of accidents since the path on de Maisonneuve was built.

Drivers making left turns on the street which is one-way for cars but two-way for bikes often complain that they have to look everywhere to make sure a cyclist isn’t coming. And recently a cyclist was killed by a bus while running a series of red lights.

Also see:

https://web.archive.org/web/20100630084707/http://communities.canada.com/montrealgazette/blogs/ontwowheels/archive/2010/06/26/dangerous-de-maisonneuve.aspx

During my nearly four decades behind the wheel, I learned the importance of defensive driving – always be aware of the positions of the cars around you, anticipate everyone’s next move before they make it, and even make sure a driver who’s stopped on a cross-street is looking your way before you pass by. When I drive, especially in urban areas, I’m at a heightened sense of alert. Call it a constant state of yellow.

Never did I imagine the absolute code red required for cycling. After years in the relative quiet and safety of a car, I wasn’t prepared for the skill, the reflexes, the 360-degree sensory awareness and slaloming abilities needed to navigate my way by bike between Atwater Ave and The Gazette offices on Peel St. I was no longer simply watching out for traffic or an occasionally inattentive fellow driver. I was now embedded in a circus. Pedestrians moving at one speed, cyclists at another and cars at still another, and each of the performers moving to a different set of rules and in different directions.

Not that I didn’t enjoy some of the thrill. But sometimes I just want to get from Point A to Point B without the high drama. That means without riding on the de Maisonneuve bike path downtown. One of my colleagues was hit by a car last year while cycling on The Path. The inherent danger, or inherent extra danger, on The Path is that the two cycling lanes in the centre of the city are headed in opposite directions, she pointed out. So a driver turning left from de Maisonneuve has to watch out for cyclists coming from the west and from the east. And watch out for pedestrians, of course, and other cars.

I’m happy to say that now, I’ve found my own enlightened path to work. I live in N.D.G. My morning commute gets into high gear along the pitted and cracked portion of the de Maisonneuve path out there, but once I reach Clarke Ave. in Westmount, I strike out on my own. I make a right on Clarke and take that down to Dorchester and to René Lévesque. It’s not only less congested, but it’s a quicker way to reach Peel St. The right-hand lane of René Lévesque is wide enough for a parked car and for me and my bicycle, even with both paniers filled, so I stay out of the lanes of moving traffic. My travel time from central N.D.G. to Peel St. is about 22 minutes, about the same time it takes to drive. And it’s a fun 22 minutes, with an elevated but not racing heartbeat.

Has anyone else quit The Path in favour of another route?

In his footnote #6, Egan cites Lusk, A. C., Morency, P., Miranda-Moreno, L. F., Willett, W. C., & Dennerlein, J. T. (2013). Bicycle Guidelines and Crash Rates on Cycle Tracks in the United States. American journal of public health, 103(7), 1240-1248 to the effect that bicycling on cycle tracks is safer than bicycling on roads. This study dilutes the data for cycle tracks like the ones proposed for Connect Historic Boston by including paths which have few or no intersections or driveway crossings. Using the authors’ figures, these have less than 1/10 the crash rate of the facilities which meet the definition of cycle tracks, but those which do have twice the average rate for bicycle travel. Links to the study, a careful rebuttal by Boston’s former bicycle coordinator, Paul Schimek, Ph.D and the authors’ reply may be found online at http://bicycledriving.org/sidepaths/bicycle-guidelines-and-crash-rates-on-cycle-tracks-in-the-united-states . Schimek has commented on the exchange: “Read my published letter about Lusk et al.’s latest paper claiming increased safety due to cycle tracks, and marvel at their response.”

In his footnote #7, Egan cites Teschke, K., Harris, M.A., Reynolds, C.C., Winters, M., Babul, S., Chipman, M., Cusimano, M.D., Brubacher, J.R., Hunte, G., Friedman, S.M., Monro, M., Shen, H., Vernich, L., & Cripton, P.A. (2012). Route infrastructure and the risk of injuries to bicyclists: A case-crossover study. American journal of public health, 102(12), 2336-2343. This study has been reviewed and debunked by John Forester,
http://www.johnforester.com/Articles/Facilities/Infrastructure%20&%20Injuries.pdf. The central problem is that the one facility described in the study as a cycle track is a bikeway on a long bridge separated by a Jersey barrier, with no cross traffic.

The authors of the study which Egan cites in his footnote #7 gave a presentation at the 2012 Velo-City conference in Toronto. I have posted comments on this presentation at http://john-s-allen.com/blog/?s=Teschke. The graphics for the presentation display the preposterous result that bicycle crashes were 2000% as high on streets without cycle tracks as on streets with them, although the study also reports that more than half of all the crashes did not involve a motor vehicle. There are other absurdities. Also, it is clear from the authors’ presentation at a conference that they do not understand the definition of a collision, or intentionally skewed their data by describing single-bike crashes as collisions.

Mr. Egan does not make his case. He does not answer pressing questions about the project, and none of the works he cites are credible.

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