Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Crash map compares safety of bicycle boulevards

Posted by on April 19th, 2007 at 4:13 pm

A story I posted yesterday led to interesting comments about bicycle boulevards. We also looked at bike crash data with City traffic safety guru Greg Raisman.

Putting those two things together, I thought I’d share a chart from PDOT that makes it clear that bicyclists are safer on streets that the city has designated and designed as bicycle boulevards.

In this case, 10 years of DMV bicycle crash data has been plotted on a map of southeast Portland. The map compares a major arterial street (SE Hawthorne) with two of the oldest and most successful bicycle boulevard streets in Portland (SE Lincoln and SE Harrison).

“Ten Year Bicycle Crash Summary between SE 12th and SE 39th”.
Map courtesy PDOT
Click to enlarge (176KB JPEG)

According to City of Portland Bicycle Coordinator Roger Geller, Title 16 of the City Code defines a bicycle boulevard as:

“A roadway with low vehicle traffic volumes where the movement of bicycles is given priority.”

It’s maps and stats like these that have transportation planners and bicycle advocacy groups like the BTA so excited about bicycle boulevards.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

  • peejay April 19, 2007 at 11:20 pm

    That’s why it’s soooo great that the PPB wasted all thaeir time and resources last Wednesday on the Ladd Circle enforcement. Brilliant!

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  • Burr April 19, 2007 at 11:21 pm

    There is no way to tell from that map if those crashes on Hawthorne involved cyclists riding along Hawthorne, or cyclists trying to cross Hawthorne.

    Anyway, if the city had changed the lane configuration on Hawthorne from the four substandard width 9.5′ wide lanes currently in place, to two lanes in each direction plus center turn lane and bike lanes, as proposed in the early 90s by the BTA, and strongly suggested by the classification of Hawthorne as a bike route in the current Bike Master Plan, this map might look a little different.

    It seems like you are suggesting that cyclists shouldn’t be riding on Hawthorne, Jonathan. The standard should really be that all streets are bike routes and all streets should have safety and access improvements that improve conditions for cyclists.

    Cyclists use streets like Hawthorne for the same reason motorists do – they are direct and convenient, and access desired destinations like commercial shopping districts, etc., without a lot of stop signs or out-of-direction traffic.

    If you are on the bike boulevards and want to access businesses on Hawthorne, it requires a significant amount of out of direction travel. And if you were commuting on Hawthorne last Wednesday, you wouldn’t have recieved one of those $242 tickets in Ladd’s Addition.

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  • Jonathan Maus April 19, 2007 at 11:26 pm

    “It seems like you are suggesting that cyclists shouldn’t be riding on Hawthorne, Jonathan.”

    I think you’re jumping to a conclusion. I definitely do not think cyclists should be excluded from any road.

    Don’t you remember I was the one who spoke up when that crazy ODOT proposal surfaced that would have banned bikes on freeways 😉 !

    I’m just sharing some information because I thought it went well with some earlier posts and discussions.

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  • Burr April 19, 2007 at 11:28 pm

    After looking at that map in more detail, it appears that most of those crashes on Hawthorne occurred at intersections, which leads me to believe that a substantial number of them involved cyclists trying to cross Hawthorne, rather than cyclists riding along Hawthorne. It can be a very difficult street to cross for both cyclists and pedestrians.

    I would argue once again that it is erroneous to conclude that cyclists shouldn’t be riding on Hawthorne, but rather, that Hawthorne should be made safer for cyclists.

    In fact, the current installation of curb extensions along Hawthorne (particularly in the south side of the street between SE 12th and SE 28th, where cyclists are moving slowly in the uphill direction)does just the opposite. The curb extensions tend to force cyclists out into traffic, making cyling less safe on the Boulevard, rather than more safe.

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  • Burr April 19, 2007 at 11:32 pm

    Jonathan – poorly explained maps and data like this can be used to manipulate results, such as pushing to limit cycling on Hawthorne. Given that the current lane configuration on Hawthorne is unlikely to change anytime soon, the best thing for cyclists safety on the Boulevard would be the installation of Sharrows.

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  • Jonathan Maus April 19, 2007 at 11:36 pm


    I understand your concern with these maps. I agree they are not perfect.

    But I’m not aware of anyone trying to “limit cycling on Hawthorne”.

    I’m interested in your sharrows idea… has that been brought up at the PBAC yet? if so, what was the response?

    My hunch is that the motor vehicle speeds are too high for sharrows on that street…

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  • Kat Iverson April 19, 2007 at 11:42 pm

    Without information on numbers of cyclists on each of the streets, this map can’t actually make any safety comparison. It shows that 81% of the crashes are on Hawthorne. If more than 81% of the cyclists use Hawthorne, then statistically, Hawthorne is safer.

    Then there is also the complication of the fact that most of the crashes occurred at intersections. The map doesn’t tell whether the cyclists were traveling on the east/west streets that are being compared. Some of the cyclists may have been traveling north or south, and their crashes are irrelevant to the comparison of Hawthorne to the other two routes.

    A further intersection complication is that in general, most crashes occur at intersections. Since Hawthorne has more intersections than either of the other two routes, if all else were equal, one would expect more crashes on Hawthorne.

    This map is way too simplistic to demonstrate anything of any significance. It even points this out for innumerate readers. It also says that 53% of the crashes were the cyclists’ fault. If all cyclists learned how to drive their bikes legally and safely, the crash rate would drop considerably without any special facilities or engineering.

    For instance, if curb extensions force you into traffic, then you aren’t driving is a safe lateral position. In a 9.5 ft. lane, the safe position is the center of the lane, unless motorists are trying to squeeze by you. In that case, the safer position is closer to the left lane line. Curb-hugging invites motorists to squeeze by.

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  • Todd B April 19, 2007 at 11:45 pm

    Well given we (the motoring, walking, and bicycling public) are still stuck with a 4 lane Hawthorne…substandard in all its equality (a road all but the merchants love to travel on) …

    ..How about installing speed cushions on the outside lanes and adding sharrows. It will help to bring down the travel speeds for better road sharing with bikes and people parking…where the friction is. Leave the inner lanes for faster through traffic. Think of the outer lane as a mini-frontage lane.

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  • Jack Bog April 19, 2007 at 11:51 pm

    The map is very informative. Are there similar maps for the rest of the city? PDOT should post them all.

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  • Jack Bog April 19, 2007 at 11:54 pm
  • Burr April 20, 2007 at 12:01 am

    “For instance, if curb extensions force you into traffic, then you aren’t driving is a safe lateral position. In a 9.5 ft. lane, the safe position is the center of the lane, unless motorists are trying to squeeze by you. In that case, the safer position is closer to the left lane line. Curb-hugging invites motorists to squeeze by.”

    I personally am fully aware of this, but this is much easier for a cyclist to do in the westbound downhill direction than in the uphill eastbound direction, where speed differentials between cyclists and motorists are much greater.

    Just watch how cyclists ride eastbound on Hawthorne. Parking could have been removed from the south side parking lane on the steepest part of the hill between SE 23rd and SE 28th, where the parking lane is relatively lightly used, and this space on the roadway could have been restriped as an uphill climbing lane for bikes, without changing the current lane configuration. Installation of curb extensions prevents this from occurring and also prevents cyclists from using the empty parking as a de facto climbing lane, by forcing them out into traffic at each intersection with curb extensions.

    For example, curb extensions are only being installed on one side of the Boulevard at SE 27, near the crest of the steepest part of the hill, and they are being installed on the south side of the street rather than the north side. This is really bad engineering design, and it’s being built right now as we discuss this.

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  • Kat Iverson April 20, 2007 at 12:18 am

    Even without curb extensions and parked cars, the parking lane is not a safe place to ride because of the risk of being right hooked at every intersection. Banning parking, then stripnig the lane as a bike climbing lane is no better because that still creates the same right hook danger that exists on every bike laned road.

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  • Alan April 20, 2007 at 8:36 am

    Thanks for the map. That big red dot at 16th & Hawthorne scares the hell out of me, b/c I have been going through that intersection several times a month for many years and I’ve had my share of close calls (see below).

    It’s important not to misinterpret that big red dot. I bet most/all of the accidents have involved bikes CROSSING Hawthorne there (that’s what I’m doing), not traveling on Hawthorne. I wouldn’t connect this dot with the other Hawthorne accidents. The map would be a lot more useful if it used different color dots for bikes traveling on a street and bikes crossing a street.

    Why is that intersection so dangerous? 16th isn’t a straight shot N&S – you have to travel about 20 feet E/W to cross Hawthorne. I’ve seen a lot of “crazy” maneuvers from cyclists as they approach this intersection from different directions, dart out into traffic from the wrong side of the street, etc.

    I said that I’ve had my share of close calls too, but never while crossing, only while waiting!!! 16th on the south side is extremely narrow and cars like to make high speed turns from Hawthorne into 16th that sometimes leave only a few inches (or not!) between them and a cyclist waiting for the light to change. The “smart” cyclist would pull out of the street and wait on the sidewalk, but I doubt that I will change my habits any time soon.

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  • GW April 20, 2007 at 9:10 am

    I advocate not riding on Hawthorne, it’s annoying as a bike rider and just as annoying as a driver. Is it really that hard to go a couple blocks north or south of Hawthorne to SAFER streets with LESS traffic? Seriously, so many people ride east bound on Hawthorne, skipping the Ladd Street route coming from downtown…its not that hard. This isn’t going to change anything, but I feel better now. Thanks for listening.

    Now with all the construction and curb extenders going in, its just going to get worse.

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  • Helen Wheels April 20, 2007 at 9:31 am

    Most bikers ride slow enough that I don’t see how arterials benefit them unless they need a thru street. They could get where ever they’re going just as quickly on side streets. It’s sort of a safety hazard in summer when intersections are clogged with fair weather bikers who haven’t the foggiest clue about moving over to let others pass.

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  • pdx2wheel April 20, 2007 at 9:59 am

    Why is it so hard for cyclists to stay off the busier streets (speaking from an east side bias: Hawthorne, Sandy, Burnside, etc) and use streets parallel to them? Particularly if there is no dedicated bike lane. So it takes a couple minutes more (maybe), but in end you get there with less stress (to us and the car drivers) and (arguably) a lesser chance of close calls (whether accidentally or intentionally by cars). Sometimes, the longer route is the better route.

    As far as the crashes along Hawthorne being at intersections implying people being hit crossing…I highly doubt that is a very significant portion of those crashes. More than likely, a majority of the reported accidents were caused by a cyclist travelling along Hawthorne and a car off or on to Hawthorne and in front of the cyclist’s path. Because Hawthorne is so busy, and because motorists tend to look for other motorists, but not those of the two wheel variety (whether bicycle, scooter, or motorcycle), intersections tend to pile up the four wheeler vs. two wheeler encounters. This has been shown in the Hurt Report for motorcycles (20+ years old, but not much has changed other than more traffic), and is without a doubt the same for bicyclists. No matter what route you take, you have to watch the intersections.

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  • pdxMark April 20, 2007 at 9:59 am

    I find some of the critiques of the crash data map in these comments pretty unconvincing.

    First, most bike/car crashes occur at intersections – as illustrated by the crash data along the bike boulevards. It is possible that some of the crash data along Hawthorne relates to cyclists crossing the street, but the same critique applies to crash data along the bike boulevards. Absent some actual data, rather than random “what-ifs,” the proportion of street-crossing crashes ought to be proportionally the same between Hawthorne & non-Hawthorne streets. From that perspective, the glaring significance of the data is that the are several times more bike crashes on Hawthorne than not on Hawthorne.

    As for relative numbers of riders, I have to say that from my commuting along SE Salmon and visiting stores on Hawthorne I see many times more cyclists on Salmon than on Hawthorne. True, this is just anecdotal data, but that is what I’ve seen.

    Believing that bikes deserve full and safe access on Hawthorne doesn’t mean that one can ignore clear data indicating that Hawthorne as it exists is a relatively unsafe place to ride.

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  • pdx2wheel April 20, 2007 at 10:00 am

    Meant to say:

    “More than likely, a majority of the reported accidents were probably caused by a cyclist travelling along Hawthorne and a car turning off or on to Hawthorne and in front of the cyclist’s path.”

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  • Elly April 20, 2007 at 10:12 am

    If you’re used to driving or taking the bus, it IS intuitive to bike on Hawthorne — I did, and hated every second of it, for a long time before a friend, or maybe it was my first free bike map, showed me quieter streets that went through and had decent crossings at major roads. I’ve seen other new cyclists choose Hawthorne as well. Maybe that’s a part of why there are so many more crashes on major streets. Such is the importance of the bike maps and bike buddies. And of designing streets and signage with bike trips in mind — which is happening now more and more. Yea Portland!

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  • Jeff April 20, 2007 at 11:18 am

    Alan —

    Part of the problem at the intersection of 16th and Hawthorne is that, if you’re heading South on 16th, and you want to trigger the light, you need to cross the street to press the button on the NE corner… there is no button on the NW corner, where a cyclist could just press the button and stay in their lane. I see a lot of riders swing out across the oncoming lane and ride up onto the sidewalk there, so they can hit the button at the crosswalk…. it’s not really clear whether riders are meant to use the pedestrian signal there, or should just treat the intersection as a stop sign.

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  • Martha S. April 20, 2007 at 1:56 pm

    Oooo… I had not heard of the proposal to change the lane plan on Hawthorne (even if it hasn’t exactly been embraced by the community as a whole). I work on Hawthorne and regularly ride out to Mt. Tabor (either on Hawthorne or on salmon/taylor; depending on how icky traffic is). With the current construction up and down the boulevard the right lane is blocked quite a few times along the length of the street. I can’t say that I mind this, as most cars simply stay in the left lane and 90% of the time I feel absolutely no pressure from them and am comfortable using the full right lane. I’ve observed that car traffic seems to flow just fine in one lane, until someone needs to turn.

    Seems like a bike lane going each direction, a full car lane going each direction, and a car lane would ultimately make for a far more comfortable drive/ride. My only worry would be the increased chance, as a cyclist, of getting doored. In the current configuration drivers seem to be very careful to make sure no one is there before they open their door, as a passing car easily take said door clean off. (and then there would be the insurance, and nobody likes that) Being stuck between a lane of steady traffic and a row of parked cars does not make for a safe or relaxing ride.

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  • nick April 20, 2007 at 4:55 pm

    In response to a comment earlier about the possibility that cyclist are hit at intersections while attempting to cross Hawthorne:

    I have been hit 3 times. Each time, I was hit while traveling on a busy street, and the car was attempting to turn left across my path or turn right into my lane.

    Anecdotal, yes. Enlightening, possibly.

    I am sure many of you have seen this, but it bears repeating: ist-socrates.berkeley.edu/~fajans/pub/pdffiles/StopSignsAccess.pdf

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  • Ian Clemons April 21, 2007 at 2:37 pm

    Responding mostly to Alan at post #13: I agree that the intersection at 13th and Hawthorne is very dangerous. I cross it often to take my 2 kids to school on our Xtracycle. I always get up on the sidewalk and trigger the pedestrian signal. It’s safer and you can control traffic which I like.

    Although I agree with posters that all streets should be safe for bikes, I think reason should lead you back to the Bike Boulevards. I can’t let my idealism cloud my tendency for safety, especially when I’m trying to raise two biker kids. They need their Dad (me) more than a quasi political statement. We will gleefully ride on Hawthorne when and if it’s safe.

    -Ian Clemons

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  • Suburban April 21, 2007 at 6:40 pm

    Even if a crash happens mid block, it is most always reported and recorded as closest to intersection X. Kat Iversons powers of logic are awesome- Thanks!

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  • Lenny Anderson April 23, 2007 at 1:30 pm

    The irony is that the highest number of Hawthorne crashes is at 16th where a so-called Bikeway crosses the arterial…a very common situation everywhere in town.
    It would be easy to sign the right lane on Hawthorne for buses, bikes and local traffic with “right turn only, except buses and bikes” at each signal plus sharrow markings. Except where the climbing lane is needed eastbound, the right lane could handle this mix pretty well. And no more pricey tickets from the cops at stop signs.
    Amsterdam would just put a street like Hawthorne on a “diet”…a al the BTA proposal in the 90’s. We have so far to go.

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