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Why so little dooring in Austin?

On July 28, 2002, I asked Fred Meredith, League Cycling Instructor and cycling journalist, who lives and works in Austin, Texas:

Why should the rate of car-door collisions be so much lower in Austin than in Santa Barbara, even though nearly half as much of the facility mileage (as described in the study) is BLWP? Are the streets just very wide so the bike lanes are not in the door zone? Is this angle parking rather than parallel parking? Is it very low-turnover parking? Or what, if anything, can you identify as being responsible for this low figure? Or is the study maybe just wrong somehow about the mileage on BLWP streets (or other streets with parallel parking), or the rate of car door collisions?

Meredith replied:

Well, John. That's a good question. I'd like to think that it has something to do with the fact that we have 4 LCIs in Austin, a cycling newspaper that tries to deal with the issues as they crop up, a large group of cycling activists (with a radio program on the local KOOP FM radio) and even our pro bike lane contingent gets stirred up when there is a proposal for lanes like the Cambridge accident scene.

In actuality, I think that the majority of the University area cyclists deal with lots of streets that don't allow at the curb parking. There is also probably the fact that there are two separate entities (maybe even three) where a dooring might be reported. There's the city police, the University police, and the county sheriff's dept.

We have an activist who writes a regular column for Cycling News and goes to the sources for injury and fatality statistics and then charts them on a map so that each year we can show in print where people are getting killed (both cyclists and peds). Besides the idiots who still try to cross the Interstate on foot, there are some "hot" streets and intersections in town.

In the past two years there has been a big push by the grass roots activists (some Gen X elements and other anti car, etc.) to have no parking signs put in all bike lanes. Of course the residential streets in the blue-collar neighborhoods are not going to stand for that. They have all converted their garages into rec rooms and their driveways into storage for the boat or the car they are working on so they need the street for parking.

Fortunately for Austin, two of the major north-south bike routes (by designation and by usage) are in up-scale neighborhoods where generally the only vehicle parked at the curb is the landscaper's truck.

These both have traditionally had bike lanes on them with reasonably good treatments (bike lanes discontinued before intersections and two car travel lanes indicated with paint into and out of the intersection and then a transition to one car lane and a bike lane on the other side of the intersection.

One of these routes, Shoal Creek Blvd (which does not have real "blvd" qualities over most of its length) has become an alternate commute route for cars trying to avoid a congested parallel freeway. The kids wanted no parking and wide bike lanes, but the residents wanted to maintain parking and slow the car traffic. The city was considering parking on one side of the street and bike lanes on both sides resulting in a Cambridge type situation in one direction, but not the other.

That plan got mixed reviews so Charlie Gandy [another Texas bicycling advocate] as a consultant came up with the alternative traffic calming treatment pictured in the July issue of Cycling News and "Guest Editorialized" by John Schubert in the August issue. It's a 6' parking, 4' bike lane, 10' travel lane arrangement in each direction. Worse dimensions than Cambridge, but with fewer actual parked cars at this time. That could change.

So, as you can see, I don't know the answer to your question, but can speculate.

Also, we don't fit the profile for our fatalities and serious injuries. MOST of our fatalities and car/bike injuries are coming from overtaking motorists rather than left turning motorists. True, they are mostly at night and involve cyclists without proper lights and reflectors and choosing the poorer of possible alternative routes (like going home from work at midnight past a bunch of bars). We have had a rash of daylight overtaking crashes in Texas over the past few years too. I'd be curious as to the total and accurate statistics for the state.

In a later message, Meredith indicated that in fact, Austin streets with parallel parking and bike lanes are very wide:

John, I don't know if this has anything to do with your previous question about Austin, but it is a big push for the bike lane advocates in Austin that there be no parking allowed in them and therefore, without extremely wide streets we have basically no bike lanes next to parking lanes. Mostly it's cars parked IN bike lanes and the program is working on that as evidenced by the email I just received below.

[e-mail addresses below have been altered to avoid harvesting by spam robots. Change "* at *" to "@" to contact these people.

Delivered-To: bikin-fred *at* macconnect.com
To: mdahmus *at* io.com, bill_canfield *at* mentorg.com
Cc: austin-bikes *at* topica.com
From: Stephen.Kreidler *at* ci.austin.tx.us
Subject: RE: BIKE: Shoal Creek bike lanes
Date: Tue, 30 Jul 2002 08:16:01 -0500
Reply-To: Stephen.Kreidler *at* ci.austin.tx.us

Linda and I have issued 182 citations in 2002 throughout the City to vehicles parked in no-parking bike lanes, blocking sidewalks, and blocking curb ramps. I have seem a dramatic decrease in cars parked in no-parking bike lanes since we initiated issuing citations in December of 2000. The Parking Enforcement Department also issues citations for parking in no-parking bike lanes, but most such bike lanes are outside their patrol areas. The Bicycle and Pedestrian Program staff are specifically responsible for all no-parking bike lanes, all over the City.

Colly Kreidler, Engineering Technician
City of Austin Bicycle and Pedestrian Program
Transportation, Planning, and Sustainability Department
1011 San Jacinto
Voice 512-974-7046
Fax 512-974-6385
Stephen.Kreidler *at* ci.austin.tx.us

Additional comments as of March, 2003, afte Fred Meredith visited Santa Barbara:

Since you used some of my previous speculative comments on your website in discussing dooring incidents, might I speculate further based on my more recent experiences in Santa Barbara county and (possibly) a better understanding of how Santa Barbara may differ from Austin.

There may well be a relationship between bike lanes and car doorings, but it need not all be because bike lanes encourage closer proximity to the parked cars. Though I believe that is a concern, especially in Austin with some of the rediculous interpretations and designs that have been proposed here.

I noted (during a recent two-week visit) that most bike lanes in Santa Barbara were much wider than Austin's and some could be ridden even two-abreast without being in the dooring zone of the parked cars. [Also, on Highway 101 between Santa Barbara and Oxnard, there is a bike lane which has an equally wide "no parking" lane to its right to protect cyclists from being doored by vehicles parked along the seawall next to the highway. Quite innovative for a p & p project. Now, getting used to riding just three feet from the 70 mph motor vehicles with all that vacant space to the right -- that was the challenge.

I suspect that some of Santa Barbara's high dooring statistics are a function of better reporting than Austin or maybe most other cities. Santa Barbara is very bicycle aware and I'm sure that Ralph Fertig, one of the activists with the Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition can probably throw some light on the matter for us. (His email is <sb-ralph *at* cox.net>.

We do know, from past history, that greater awareness can result in better attention to a situation and account for better reporting. All it would take is a person on the city council saying, "If we are going to put in all these bike lanes, we better start keeping track of bike accidents that happen in the lanes." I suspect that following through with that kind of mentality would account for big numbers -- possibly even doing some interpreting or lumping together bike lane and non bike lane incidents. You often find what you are looking for just like to a man with a hammer everything looks like a nail.

Cliches aside, I still don't know what factors are actually involved, but my own observations are that with Austin and Santa Barbara both having lots of bike lanes, Santa Barbara's bike lanes are for the most part much safer than Austin's. That flies in the face of the statistics and is the reason I suspect that something more is involved and it is probably worth pursuing to find the answer.

I replied to this message:

Your message not only raises the question not only of why the reported percentage of dooring collisions is low in Austin, but also of why it is so high in Santa Barbara if the bike lanes are so good. Are the crashes occurring on the streets with bike lanes, or elsewhere? Are cyclists ignoring the available width in the bike lanes and riding too close to parked cars? Are other types of crashes being underreported?

And Fred's response was:

Well, John, all I had to do was read your response and reread my post and some intuitively obvious factors revealed themselves.

Santa Barbara appeared to have more bicyclists per acre than I usually see in Austin (downtown and throughout the non-University part of town). Since I was there during the holidays, the university was not in session and traffic in that area was limited to some locals, bicycle transients and students with nowhere to go. In that light, I'm guessing that normal bike traffic throughout Santa Barbara is even higher than what I observed. My perception of Austin's bike traffic includes the University of Texas area and I still think that though Santa Barbara is smaller, it has more cyclists -- or persons on pedal vehicles.

Santa Barbara, even at Christmas, has a booming bike rental trade for tourists. Along the beach and for many blocks inland you can see lots of bikes ridden by marginally competent people -- tourists, I suspect. That too could contribute to Santa Barbara's high dooring incidence. Just considering the blvd, by the beach there is a busy flow of both cars and bikes. Some bikes on the paths, some on the street, and cars coming and going, picking up and letting off passengers -- ideal situations for dooring when untrained cyclists and out-of-town motorists are involved. I mention the visiting motorists since their home towns probably do not have comparable situations with so many bikes sharing space with cars in a very distracting environment like the drive along the beach.

Anyway, I don't know why it didn't dawn on me earlier that Santa Barbara's bicycle friendliness (yes, often in the form of lots of bike lanes -- miles and miles in fact) and the tourist trade could be responsible for some of the statistical disparity.


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