Tuesday, May 17, 2016

ODOT to offer Alternatives to #WorkZoneWTF on Wednesday?

Maybe you will have a different reading of all this, be able to make sense of it, but when the ODOT press release about a Work Zone Safety event for people on foot and bike came across the newswire, my first reaction was: They've still got some things backwards.

A bit of a head-scratcher.

If you look at the configuration (above) in the press release materials, you see a high-speed, two-lane road with a temporary, plastic barricade system:
In early 2016, ODOT introduced a new category of bicycle-specific safety device – the “Bicycle Channelizing Device. ” It is a lightweight plastic barrier system that guides cyclists along a pathway, keeping them from entering into active work areas or coming into contact with workers or equipment.
It's an improvement on this, it's true:

A plastic barricade is an improvement
on these cinderlock footings (via BikePortland)
The plastic barricades have a narrower profile than cinderblock footings for chainlink fencing. But there's still the auto traffic on the right, and that road is rural-ish and high-speed, not a built-up urban street.

When I am out bicycling, and I encounter a work zone, my first thought is not "wow, gotta stay away from those bulldozers and back hoes." That's the obvious, easy part. Nope, the first thought is
Crap. Now the work zone is going to crowd me into the path of busy traffic, I don't have enough room, and I feel squeezed. I can't get enough separation from zooming cars. Crap, there are signs in the roadway. Now I have to watch for them and avoid an involuntary dismount. Crap. [insert stronger language]
And what I see in that picture from ODOT at top is still the "crap" and squeezage, a barricade that pushes me too far to the left, too close to zooming cars, and with no out on the right. There's even an asphalt patch that might conceal a discontinuity in paving surface big enough for a wobble or even that involuntary dismount.

The barricade may keep me from "entering into active work areas," but that's not the main problem.

The main problem is the zooming car traffic on the left and the squeezing. As I see it, the barricade should be to the left.

It's the zooming car traffic from which I need protection, not the work zone that needs protection from me!

It seems like there's a partial misapprehension of the basic problem here.

Compare the ODOT image to this guidance on sidewalks and walking from Seattle. That arrangement offers separation from the work zone as well as separation from zooming cars, with the barricade line shifted to the car side. That's what I'm talking about.

If the work zone requires protection from travelers by car, by bike, and on foot, those of us on foot and on bike still need protection from swervy and zoomy travelers by car.

Anyway, that's a lot of wind-up for the ODOT release:
Media advisory: Ride a bike or walk through a work zone—see how it works first-hand

Have you ever ridden a bike through a work zone? Sound daunting? How does ODOT protect bicyclists and pedestrians in work zones? Come find out! Bring your GoPros! Show the unusual perspective of riding through a work zone on two wheels.

WHEN: Anytime 9a-2p Wednesday, May 18
WHERE: On a road in front of an ODOT building in Salem: 4040 Fairview Industrial Dr. SE, Salem, OR 97302
WHY: To draw attention to the serious issue of distracted traveling in Oregon work zones; to demonstrate the types of work zone safety techniques and equipment ODOT pilots to protect all travelers in work zones.

Work zone statistics
A work zone crash occurs in Oregon every 19 hours, on average.
During 2010-2014, Oregon averaged 477 work zone crashes each year.
During 2010-2014, Oregon averaged 13 serious injury crashes and 7 fatal crashes each year.
4 out of 5 people injured or killed in a work zone crash are drivers or passengers.
This still looks like some weird false equivalence between distracted driving and "distracted walking and biking."

How serious, really, is "distracted traveling" by people on foot and on bike in a work zone?

The stats they cite are almost certainly all involving cars and failures by drivers, not problems with people walking or biking in a work zone.

All this remains a little baffling. Does it make sense to you? Can you explain it? And who is the target audience for the event? "Have you ever ridden a bike through a work zone? Sound daunting?" That's the rhetoric for some self-improvement seminar with fire-walking!

Clearly the audience here is not regular bike commuters, those who would be using the new work zone routing, and who contend regularly with work zones. Is it really for construction contractors? Or maybe to lure press who may not bicycle ever?

Even though the event is in Salem, it is possible that it is at least partially a response to the social media campaign #WorkZoneWTF, about which Bike Portland has written and around which the Portland BTA and Oregon Walks has organized some.

But if it is, it still doesn't seem like it all lines up. It is probably progress, but maybe it still needs some refinement.

If you go, and especially if you film it, make sure you attend to the experience of people walking and biking and less to any gee-whizzery from construction gadgetry and new-fangled plastic barricades.

4 comments:

Scott McCanna said...

PART 1: First, allow me to introduce myself. I’m a 48-year old avid cyclist and commuter. I’m an amateur bicycle racer and active member of the Oregon Bicycle Racing Association. I’m an active member of the Salem Bicycle Club. My wife is also an avid cyclist and commuter. I’m a professional civil engineer, licensed in Oregon. And, I’m the ODOT employee who developed and coordinated the live demonstration.
The opinions and statements made here are my own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of ODOT. This post was written on personal time using a personal computer.
Part of the work zone demonstration event was to showcase the efforts ODOT has made toward improving work zone safety for all road users – motor vehicles, pedestrians, ADA users and bicyclists. In my position with the agency, it is my responsibility to use my experiences as a road user, and my education and training as an engineer to bring new products, systems and practices to road users that hope to make our travel experience through Oregon work zones safer. That said, I think it is important that I point out a few items you’ve mentioned that may be in error or misleading to your readers.
First, the photo shown on the excerpt was from the Project Statement I drafted for ODOT. You state the photo is of a “high-speed, two lane road” that is “rural-ish and high-speed, not a built-up urban street”. In fact, this is a section of US 30 (aka NE Sandy Blvd.) and was taken within an active work zone between NE 122nd and NE 148thAvenues in the summer of 2012. This section of Sandy Blvd. is densely populated, includes multiple accesses to business and residences, bus stops; and, has a traffic volume of approx. 16,000-20,000 vehicles per day. I believe the posted speed is 35 mph. ODOT identifies a road as “high speed” if the posted speed is 45 mph or higher. While this may vary from agency to agency, I thought it relevant. Further, the photo was digitally enhanced – superimposing a mock-up of one potential style of “Bicycle Channelizing Device” (BCD) on the photo to convey an idea. This is not an actual live photo of the BCD in action.

Scott McCanna said...

PART 2: While I can’t speak to what you are thinking as you, yourself, enter every work zone, several factors were considered as part of the design and initial application of the Bicycle Channelizing Device (BCD). First, let’s address your issue of the available space between the cyclist and live traffic. The BCD (shown) is approximately the same width as a cone, or a tubular marker (aka “candlestick”) – including the black, rubber bases that give ballast to each cone, drum and candlestick. The BCD is, in fact, narrower than a plastic drum, or “barrel”. Because the intent is to use the new BCD to replace the traditional cones, candlesticks or drums as the means of separating bicyclists from the active work area, no additional space has been taken from the bicyclist on that side of their pathway. Depending on the available roadway width to begin with and the scope of work, maintaining adequate space for motor vehicles, bicycles and pedestrian traffic simultaneously, can be challenging. In the conceptual picture shown, cyclists would have had approximately 5-6 feet of ridable width – equivalent to some shoulder widths seen in urban settings. In the live work zone demonstration in Salem, riders had between 6 and 9.5 feet. The street used included three lanes (one lane in each direction, and a continuous two-way left turn lane). Traffic adjacent to the work area was shifted into the center lane, leaving the one closed lane and existing shoulder to divide up amongst the bicycle and pedestrian facilities.
Again, the photo in the excerpt was intended to introduce the BCD as an idea – as a means of introducing the device itself, and exhibiting one potential application. With each work zone being different, it is difficult to use a single photograph to represent all work zone environments and all possible applications. In fact, one additional benefit of the live demonstration was to explore and discuss ways to apply the device, design and construction details – and, to promote discussion over any flaws in the product itself and receive comments and input from road users who visited the site that day. Were you able to attend the event and see these devices in person?
Secondly, you mention placement of the BCD. The original impetus for the BCD was to keep bicyclists out of the work space. ODOT staff has witnessed a number of incidents where bicyclists have chosen to ride behind the cones within the contractor’s work space. This behavior creates sizable liability issues for both the Contractor and ODOT. Traditional channelization (cones, candlesticks, drums) does little to ensure cyclists do not enter the work area. However, a rigid, continuous barrier-style system – like the BCD – ends up being far more effective. Therefore, the BCD shown in the photo, and as used in the recent live demonstration, was intended to demonstrate that function. We have only begun looking at other applications for the BCD. One application we have explored is using the BCD both sides of the temporary bicycle pathway. In an urban area, where left turns by bicyclists are as common as those for motor vehicles, the presence of the BCD on the left side of the temporary pathway would likely preclude those movements. We are, however, considering the use of BCD on both sides of a temporary bicycle alignment in shorter, more critical areas where perhaps full control of the bicyclist movement is desirable or beneficial in the interest of public safety and sound traffic operations. Again, we continue to explore uses for this new, innovative device.

Scott McCanna said...

PART 3: In your comparison using pedestrian applications from Seattle, I agree with you that the idea of providing additional channelization for pedestrians is more critical. The primary difference is that Oregon (and other States) reminds bicyclists, though statutes and rules, when using a public roadway, they are similar to motor vehicles are expected to observe all applicable rules of the road. Bicyclists are encouraged to use traffic lanes, right and left turn lanes and other motor vehicle facilities, where practical and relevant. Pedestrians, on the other hand, are trained to cross at intersections. Because of these travel expectations for pedestrians, the rigid barrier systems for their use – the “Pedestrian Channelizing Device” (PCD) can be installed as a single, continuous system from one block to the next.
In addition to the presence of the work zone, channelizing devices, workers and “vulnerable users”, ODOT has developed and been implementing numerous speed control measures to further enhance the safety for everyone working in and passing through the work zone. Temporary Regulatory Speed Zone Reductions, Radar Speed Trailers, Temporary Portable Transverse Rumble Strips, Advance Flaggers, Temporary Work Area Lighting, Work Vehicle and Equipment-mounted Electronic Message Boards, and of course Overtime Law Enforcement, when available), are all in ODOT’s work zone traffic control “toolbox”; and, are being used to slow traffic, keep drivers alert, and improve overall work zone safety. ODOT has found that no one device is the be-all solution in optimizing work zone safety. It takes a system of devices – consistent in design, placement and application – necessary for meeting road user expectations, minimizing confusion, and maximizing compliance and safety.
Distracted driving is a serious concern not just in Oregon, but across the United States. Whether texting/using a cell phone, eating, drinking, adjusting the stereo, changing the display on your Garmin bike computer, even glancing at the beautiful scenery in Oregon – we have all taken our eyes off the road at some point. Believe it or not, cell phone usage by pedestrians is gaining ground on being a transportation safety concern in and out of work zones. I believe in China or Japan, they have built and striped out separate portions of the sidewalks – one half for pedestrians using their phone while walking, the other half for pedestrians who are simply walking! It demonstrates that opportunities for distraction are growing within our vehicles, but are also increasing among non-motorized road users.

Scott McCanna said...

PART 4: For the live demonstration, it was important to develop a work zone that would introduce all road users to these new devices. There were no preconceived notions of who would attend. ODOT was interested in feedback from anyone who was interested in attending – young, old, male, female, riders new to cycling, seasoned commuters, wheelchair users, pedestrians on crutches, walkers, joggers, cars, trucks, buses…any and all road users. Why? -- Work zones don’t have the luxury of being exclusive or selective of the road users who pass through them. Work zones don’t get to choose the “audience” when workers are adjacent to speeding traffic, or pedestrians are detoured around an excavation, or bicyclists diverted around a bridge joint repair operation. Our job, our duty, our passion is to accommodate all road users – only being selective based on their mode of transportation.
The live demonstration was an idea I dreamt up one morning in early March this year – thinking how best to showcase these new safety appurtenances and their interaction within a single work zone environment. I don’t typically read social media blogs – let alone respond to them. I obviously made an exception with you post, as I felt it import that I share this information with you and your readers so everyone would have another perspective to consider as they form their own opinions about what ODOT is doing with regard to bicycle and pedestrian accommodation in Oregon work zones. I was not influenced by any social media, or other advocacy or special interest groups. I was not pressured or assigned to host this demonstration. I asked for permission from my managers to host the demonstration. The devices used for the demonstration are all on ODOT’s current Qualified Products List (QPL), and were provided at no additional cost to the agency. I just thought it was a good idea – and a means to perhaps collect some input from the same road users for whom the devices are intended. Forty-seven comment cards were collected on the day of the event. We asked road user’s five questions related to their experience and perceptions of the work area, the layout, the safety, the function of the devices and how they felt as they travelled through the work area. Out of 5, the average scores for the four questions ranged between 4.7 and 4.8. Additional handwritten comments were collected regarding potential speed control measures, positive comments about the sturdiness and quality of the products used, and feedback related to the ease of making it through the work zone – by both bicyclists and pedestrians.
Photos and video of the event are available. Please contact me if you would like to see either or both. Thank you for the opportunity to post on your site and share this information with your readers. Sincerely, Scott M. McCanna, P.E.