by Sarah Mirk : portlandmercury – excerpt
One of the biggest safety problems for bikes and cars sharing the road is right hooks—drivers turning right crashing into cyclists, especially at busy intersections. Since 2008, Portland has tried to stop right hooks by painting green “bike boxes” at 11 problem intersections.
But do the boxes actually make cyclists safer? Just this year, Portlander Kathryn Rickson was killed at an intersection with a bike box on SW 3rd and Madison and many people have complained that the bike box on NE Couch is still a right hook zone. A 2010 study found that the bike boxes make cyclists and drivers feel safer at the intersections, but we’ve never had hard data on whether the boxes actually reduce the number of crashes.
Until now. Yesterday, the city released a depressing letter (PDF) to the Federal Highway Administration that shows the bike boxes may have actually doubled the number of crashes.
In the four years leading up the installation of the bike boxes, there were 16 right hook crashes at the problem intersections involving bikes. In the four years since their installation, the intersections had 32 right hook crashes involving bikes.
The vast majority of the new crashes—81 percent—occurred at just four of the eleven intersections, at SW 3rd and Madison, SE 7th and Hawthorne, SE 11th and Hawthorne, and NW Everett and 16th. At the other seven intersections, right hook crashes slightly declined.
What appears to be leading to the new crashes in that people are biking through the intersection faster, overtaking cars that are turning right. While the bike boxes have been good at stopping right hooks when both the car and bike are starting up from being stopped at a light, 88 percent of the crashes happened at a “stale” green—not from a dead-stop but from a turning car striking a cyclist who’s in motion, pedaling down the block and through a green-lit intersection. That’s the kind of crash that killed Rickson this spring… (more)
If you read the comments you will see that there are a lot of different attitudes about this among the cyclists. This is a good time to stop the street changes while the issue is reviewed and other ideas are considered that are less costly and less disruptive. That is if you want to solve the problem of making biking safer instead of forcing people onto bikes.