What’s behind city’s confidence in ‘crossbikes’? This research

Posted by on October 27th, 2021 at 3:57 pm

Taken from Frank Boateng Appiah’s paper.

What Portland’s crossbike markings lack in legal authority, they make up for in research.

After recently hearing a positive comment from PBOT Bike Coordinator Roger Geller about the effectiveness of these painted crosswalks for bike users, I heard about a study that backs it up. Now that I’ve tracked down that study, Geller’s confidence is much more understandable.

The study comes in the form of new research titled, Improving Safe Bicycle-Crossings at Unsignalized Intersections through Pavement Markings: Analysis of the City of Portland Innovative Strategy by Frank Boateng Appiah. Appiah completed the research as part of his work toward a Master of Science in Civil and Environmental Engineering at Portland State University. Among the thesis committee members who reviewed the work was noted bicycle researcher Christopher M. Monsere, who’s worked with PBOT on many bikeway innovations in the past including bike boxes and blue signal detection lights.

For this study on crossbikes, Appiah analyzed before and after video data of three intersections: NE Going at 15th, SE Salmon at 20th, and NE Holman at 33rd. At each location, his research showed significant improvement in the rate of car users who yielded to people on bikes. In addition to increased yielding rates, he also tracked the amount of times a bicycle user had to wait for cars to clear the intersection. (Waiting is a key metric, because research shows when people are forced to wait too long, they are more likely to break the law or make a bad decision.)

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Here’s what he found on yielding behaviors:

At NE Going and 15th, before the crossbike was striped drivers would yield at a rate of 48% and 61% (from the near and far side of the intersection, respectively). After the crossbike markings went in, those rates shot up to 91% and 95%. At NE Holman and 33rd driver yielding went up from 38% and 36% to 77% and 82% after the treatment was installed. At SE Salmon and SE 20th drivers only yielded 21% and 11% of the time before the crossbike went in, rates that doubled for the near side and tripled for the far side afterwards.

When it came to how many bicycle users had to wait for drivers to clear the intersection, the crossbike markings also had a big impact: At Going and 15th, bicyclists on the near-side of the intersection would wait for cars 52% of the time. That was slashed to just 9%. At SE Salmon and 20th, the rate of bicycle users who had to wait for cars was reduced from 79% to 60% on the near side and 89% to 67% on the far side.

Another bonus of the bike markings Appiah noticed was that they helped orient riders into a safer spot to wait that gave them a more efficient path to cross.

While some Portlanders remain skeptical of these markings because they have no legal authority (unlike the crosswalks they’re painted next to), this research will likely make crossbikes even more popular with PBOT, who clearly sees them as a relatively quick and cheap way to improve the bike network.

Delve deeper into the research by downloading it here.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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Yex
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Yex

Love the “crossbikes”. How do we get them to have legal standing?

Clem Fandango
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Clem Fandango

I don’t doubt the research, it matches my experience with many of these intersections, I just think its due to the fact that drivers don’t know that cross bikes are not legally binding. Is pretending to make things look illegal that aren’t how we’re managing the city now?

Psmith
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Psmith

Why does it matter? If drivers think they legally have to yield, and so they are yielding more, that seems like an improvement for bicycling.

brad eidelson
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brad eidelson

Drivers (and police) have been “pretending” that legally-designated crosswalks do not exist in every intersection in the state for years now, contrary to law. They’ve been “pretending” that speed limits are merely advisory, not mandatory. So yeah, that’s how we’re managing the city now.

squareman
Subscriber

At NE Going and 15th, before the crossbike was striped drivers would yield at a rate of 48% and 61%

My issue is that before or after the cross-bikes went in, drivers on NE 15th have zero obligation to yield to cyclists waiting to cross the street, but they have 100% obligation to yield to pedestrians (bike mounted or not) in the crosswalk. So, I’m still not going to cross when I’m behaving as a vehicle and one driver yields their ROW because it does not guarantee that the other drivers in another lane will stop. If I get hit, I’m at fault for not yielding the ROW to the driver in the other lane. Nope! Not going to do it. I like the law working on my side in the case of a collision. It’s bad enough how the cards are stacked against us even when we are totally within our rights. I’m not about to start gambling with gray areas to boot.

If it gets codified into law, then perhaps I’ll treat them like a crosswalk. Until then, I ignore the crossbikes as having any special meaning because they don’t.

Gary B
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Gary B

I’m not sure what the issue is. Everything you say is of course true, but the data show that drivers *do* stop even though they don’t have to. So no, you shouldn’t just proceed into the intersection expecting a driver to yield. But if they do choose to yield in both directions (which they sooner. Isn’t that a good thing?

squareman
Subscriber

More often than not, everyone could clear the intersection sooner if everyone would just go when they’re supposed to. More often than not, I’ve seen one lane stop and the other not. So while I’m sitting there waiting and the other guy who stopped for me is waiting, I have to wait for that second lane to clear before I can go. Had the first guy gone with his ROW he wouldn’t even be a factor and both he and then I could go sooner.

I’ve also had a rather different scenario happen. I’ve been on NE 15th and biking and someone stops for the Going bike traffic, yielding their ROW. Am I supposed to yield my ROW as a cyclist at that point too? This is also among the multitude of messy gray areas that PBOT has created. If there was a clear law about it, then the action would be clear.

FDUP
Guest
FDUP

Personally, as a cyclist or pedestrian I’d rather wait for the traffic to clear and go after all the motorists have cleared the intersection than have them stop and wait for me so I have to cross in front of them, the former is much safer.

Psmith
Guest
Psmith

That’s a very “vehicular cyclist” type of attitude. I think most people would approach this like any pedestrian would, which is that you signal your intention to cross, you wait until it’s safe to cross, and then you cross. The legalities shouldn’t really matter. What matters is whether it’s safe to cross. The idea that someone should sit there stubbornly not crossing, when every car in every lane has stopped for you, is patently ridiculous. You’re letting the legal system dictate your behavior to an extreme degree at that point.

Todd/Boulanger
Guest
Todd/Boulanger

Jonathan – you may want to refine or add a bit of detail per your lead in text “What Portland’s crossbike markings lack in legal authority…”, as I understand the point you are making (state case law may not yet know how to judge these crossings when a civil case is done)…but some readers may infer that PBoT’s use is “illegal”.
PS. Thanks for adding the report link as I could not find it otherwise.

 
Guest
 

I’ll be frank: while this research article is interesting, shame on PBOT for saying that this means crossbikes are working. This research says nothing about safety; rather, it talks about yielding rates. Unlike the case at crosswalks, where drivers must yield by law, a larger percent of drivers yielding at crossbikes does not make these crossings safer, and instead can easily cause the exact opposite effect of decreasing safety.

If a driver in one direction yields (despite having the right of way) and the cyclists starts across, but the driver in the other direction fails to yield (as is allowed by law), then a collision will occur. In that case, these crossbikes actually would decrease safety and result in more collisions. And if a novice cyclist does not know the law and think that these crossbikes give them the right of way, then they will be in for a rough time when they’re both injured and at fault for the inevitable collision that will happen. In contrast, without crossbikes, the novice cyclist will not falsely believe that they have the right of way.

Either make it mandatory for drivers to yield at these (like I’d prefer), stop using them entirely, or signalize all crossbike intersections. This middle ground is horrible for the safety of both novice cyclists, those coming from the vast majority of cities that do not use crossbikes, or those who just don’t know that crossbikes do not give the right of way.

FDUP
Guest
FDUP

I have three problems with this: (1) the way the X-bikes are installed they are often not in the proper position on the roadway for cyclists (IMO too far right), (2) usually the cyclist has a stop sign and the motorist doesn’t (e.g. NE 15th and Tillamook; I’d rather have the driver go through the intersection and pass behind them, often motorists who stop actually have the right of way and it’s confusing! Plus, larger vehicles can block the view of the motorists behind them, this problem only gets worse on multi-lane roads), and (3) I’m not sure the X-bikes have any legal standing (if you know of a case where they’ve been tested in court and prevailed by all means speak up!).

So I would be really cautious about assuming you have the right of way. My personal MO is that if I already have my foot down I usually wave the motorist through, but if I’m still on the pedals I might take advantage of the situation. Plus I don’t always ‘follow directions’ if I don’t like the road positioning of the X-bike. And if you’re actually facing congested bumper to bumper traffic on the cross street it becomes pretty easy to slip through as long as you’re willing to assert yourself a little bit.

Scott Kocher
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Scott Kocher

This research may be enough to go to the legislature and get crossbikes legal standing. An addition to the vehicle code directing drivers to treat bikes in a crossbike the same as a ped (or bike) in a crosswalk would be simplest. Maybe with the minimum of tweaking to account for the differences. I vote The Street Trust go do that ;). The other possible piece would be getting the state traffic engineer (presumably via the Traffic Control Devices Committee) to include them in the Oregon Supplement to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. That might boost adoption statewide. But it seems like a lower priority than getting driver duties defined in the ORS since they’re already on streets. So many things to do. Who is making a list?

Another Engineer
Subscriber
Another Engineer

What would the legal standing be though? Are cyclists required to stop before proceeding – how does this get complicated with the Idaho stop? Is there safe stopping sight distance for a cyclist? Seems a lot simpler to accept that the intent is to give cyclists the right of way here and use standard engineering tools like flipping the stop signs. If cut through is a problem install a diverter.

idlebytes
Guest
idlebytes

Are cyclists required to stop before proceeding – how does this get complicated with the Idaho stop?

It would be no different than a pedestrian approaching a crosswalk. They’re not required to stop at a stop sign but they are required to yield to other vehicles already in the intersection or so close to the intersection that entering it would create an immediate hazard. How the Idaho stop law is currently written would be sufficient to cover this.

Fails to yield the right of way to traffic lawfully within the intersection or approaching so close as to constitute an immediate hazard;

https://oregon.public.law/statutes/ors_814.414

Another Engineer
Subscriber
Another Engineer

I may be misunderstanding you, I am generally curious if there is a fix to the Right of Way rules for crossbikes.

Using the Idaho stop language would be insufficient because it assumes the cyclist doesn’t have the Right of Way but you’re implying it should work like a crosswalk where the cyclist would get the Right of Way once they’ve indicated they want to cross. If you combined these rules then the cyclists Right of Way rules assuming they face a stop sign and conflicting traffic does not would be yield to vehicles until you’ve entered the intersection at which point vehicles yield to you which is not safe.

If it were written in a way that cyclists never received Right of Way due to the crossbike then the rules would be no different than if the crossbike were not present.

idlebytes
Guest
idlebytes

The only requirement that the stop sign has on the cyclist is that they shouldn’t enter the intersection if cross traffic is already in it or close to it. If a driver is stopped before an intersection the stop sign has no application to the cyclist. No one is in the intersection and the cyclist entering the intersection wouldn’t create an immediate hazard because the driver is stopped.

All you would need to do is require drivers to give the right of way to cyclists waiting at a cross-bike.

qqq
Guest
qqq

Here’s the question I’d like to hear PBOT answer: A person riding their bike proceeds across the intersection in a crossbike. A driver hits and badly injures them. The driver claims they had the right of way because the crossbike is meaningless legally. The person hit says they were in a crossbike so they had the right of way. The person hit turns to PBOT and says, “Tell them that I had the right of way”. What does PBOT say?

Dan
Guest
Dan

PBOT says “nope, you’re out of luck” and the cyclist is on the hook for their own medical bills, repairs to the car, and the driver’s therapy. It’s a bad approach that only works because no one knows what they’re supposed to do…though I’ve observed an alarmingly large number of cyclists seem to believe they have the right of way at crossbikes.

Steven Smith
Guest
Steven Smith

You guys are funny.

cmh89
Guest
cmh89

I’m now even more confused. Taking a look at these intersections in Google Maps, the bikecrossing is aligned with stop signs. For example, traffic on NE Holman has stop signs and traffic on NE 33d does not. Motorist and cyclists using NE 33rd shouldn’t yield to traffic on NE Holman. NE 33rd traffic should ONLY yield to pedestrians crossing NE 33rd.

So PBOT is stoked that these bikecrossings are encouraging motorists to yield ROW when they shouldn’t be? What in the hell are these things. JM- could you get someone from PBOT to write an article talking about what bikecrossings are? They don’t give the ROW so why should traffic yield to them?

It’s at best going to create to confusion because some motorists believe you need to yield, and others know that you don’t. I don’t yield to bikes at bikecrossings when driving because I’m not supposed to and predictability on the road means safety.

idlebytes
Guest
idlebytes

JM- could you get someone from PBOT to write an article talking about what bikecrossings are?

They already have:
https://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/585677

As far as what you said below goes:

It’s only a matter of time till a cyclist dies in a crossbike because they thought they had ROW and the oncoming traffic didn’t stop.

It seems a bit over the top. Pedestrians have the right of way in crosswalks but they don’t have the right to just jump into the road when a driver can’t stop in time and are encouraged to make sure the driver is stopping or wait till they have stopped before entering the road. The legal status of these doesn’t change the common sense we are all expected to use when walking, biking or driving. If entering an intersection will cause a collision you yield regardless of the row.

Another Engineer
Subscriber
Another Engineer

My contention with this is you need to account for speed. A pedestrian and driver navigating this situation is different than a cyclist travelling at 15mph and a driver travelling at 20 mph.

idlebytes
Guest
idlebytes

Drivers navigate yield signs and uncontrolled intersections at higher speeds. There’s no reason to think cyclists couldn’t manage them as well. That’s effectively what’s being required here.

I don’t get the hang up. You slow down until you’re certain the other person will yield the right of way to you sometimes that may require you to stop and sometimes the other person doesn’t see you so you have to wait for the next person to stop.

Another Engineer
Subscriber
Another Engineer

The sight distances in most of Portland are inadequate for uncontrolled four way intersections. I’m personally not a big fan of the large number of uncontrolled 3 way stops either. The minimum leg length for a sight distance triangle at 15mph is 70′. If we take 20th and Salmon as an example this is violated on every corner but the one with the parking lot. It is therefore not safe to be uncontrolled, one party should be stopping. Hence why I advocated for stop signs on 20th instead of a cross bike.

See page 14. https://cce.oregonstate.edu/sites/cce.oregonstate.edu/files/12-4-intersection-sight-distance.pdf

soren
Guest
soren

A pedestrian could run through the intersection at 12 mph.

Both pedestrians and people rolling have the responsibility to slow down and cross an uncontrolled intersection with due care.

squareman
Subscriber

As a matter of fact, in order to have the pedestrian’s right of way while mounted on your bike and using a crosswalk, if there are cars present, you must enter the crosswalk at no more than a “normal walking speed” (which is the exact verbiage of the ORS).

soren
Guest
soren

As a matter of a fact, pedestrians operating at dangerous speeds in a crosswalk are also violating the law. The difference you are hoisting your petard on is so small as to be negligible. Moreover, in the vast, vast, vast majority of cases it is not the speed of the vulnerable traffic user that results in homicide but rather the speed of the potentially-lethal “cage” driver.

squareman
Subscriber

I don’t know why you think I was arguing with you. I was agreeing and support your previous statement. Only there is no specific ORS verbiage about pedestrian speed entering a crosswalk other than not to do so abruptly as “to create a hazard” and that the ROW has been asserted as soon as you or an extension of you enters the roadway; whereas bikes have the specific verbiage of “no faster than normal walking speed” which is rather ambiguous and subjective (but is certainly objectively less than running speed).

soren
Guest
soren

Runners use crosswalks and we trust them to have some modicum of self-preservation but so many here are arguing that people on bikes are incapable of the same self-preservation.

I personally view the “but someone might think they have right of way” to be a form of concern trolling. People who walk or roll through cross walks/bikes with any regularity in this brutal cage-centric society understand that their “right of way” is a sad and malicious joke.

squareman
Subscriber

Still in agreement. Yup.

soren
Guest
soren

Apologies for not getting that…I’m accustomed to disagreement when it comes to crossbikes.

cmh89
Guest
cmh89

I have seen that page, I just mean what the actual intent of the crossbike is. If the intent of the crossbike is really to “The green cross-bikes, together with the white crosswalks, are to make it clear to people driving that this is a location where there may be many people walking and biking across the street.”, that means this study that is being cited should make clear to PBOT that crossbikes do not work for their intended purpose and create confusion as to has ROW.

So is the point to get motorist to incorrectly yield more often or is to make them “aware”, whatever that means?

Pedestrians have the right of way in crosswalks but they don’t have the right to just jump into the road when a driver can’t stop in time and are encouraged to make sure the driver is stopping or wait till they have stopped before entering the road. The legal status of these doesn’t change the common sense we are all expected to use when walking, biking or driving. If entering an intersection will cause a collision you yield regardless of the row.

Sure, but our ‘common sense’ is different based on how we are crossing the road. When I enter a crosswalk as a pedestrian, knowing I have ROW, my only considerations are 1. Can the motorist see me and 2. Do they have time to stop. That’s it. I don’t worry about whether or not the motorist has to come to a complete stop. If they do they do.

When I cross a street like NE Holman across NE 33rd on my bike, my considerations are 1. Can the motorist see me and 2. Do I have time to cross the intersection without causing the traffic that has ROW to come to a complete or nearly complete stop. .That’s true of whether I’m driving or biking. That’s how it works. Traffic on NE Holman, car or bike, must wait until there is a gap in traffic on NE 33rd to cross.

These considerations are important because it effects motorist behavior. If I’m driving down the street and I don’t see any pedestrians at an intersection, I’m not slowing down. If a cyclist thinks I’m going to treat them like a pedestrian when they aren’t one, they might enter the intersection assuming I’m going to prepared to stop as I would be if I saw a pedestrian, they’d be wrong.

Pedestrians in general are use to entering the street with traffic much closer than motorist and cyclist are when crossing major roads. I’ve seen this exact situation with my own eyes multiple times at the Crossbike @ Alberta and Michigan. One side stops, cyclist tries to go, and the other side doesn’t stop. It doesn’t help that we don’t daylight intersections either.

If PBOT wants these stupid Crossbikes to confer ROW, make it law and then educate people. It’s still a terrible idea but at least you are counting on traffic to do the wrong thing to keep people safe.

soren
Guest
soren

The absolute horror of experimental traffic control signals/markings that are soon codified into law (e.g. traffic signals, marked crosswalks, and … soon marked crossbikes).

PS: I believe unmarked crossbikes should have legal standing, just like unmarked crosswalks.

qqq
Guest
qqq

“…that are soon codified into law”.

As you said in another comment, crossbikes “have been around in various forms for almost two decades”.

The “related posts” section above links to a Bike Portland article about crossbikes coming to Portland, and the issue of getting the law to recognize them. It’s from 2011.

soren
Guest
soren

the soon was tongue in cheek as it took many decades for railway-signal-like traffic signals to become legally recognized.

even though i believe that the brouhaha over crossbikes is a tempest in a teapot, i will definitely savor their eventual legalization!

Edgar Derby
Guest
Edgar Derby

I think the commentators here are operating under some erroneous assumptions. As I understand it, based on this article, the “crossbike” is not illegal, it’s just not an officially, bureaucratically recognized traffic marking. Now, this does not mean that drivers have carte blanche to plow you over. They still have an obligation to avoid you. Plus, if you are hit by a car while using a crossbike, the existence of the crossbike HAS A BEARING ON THE FACT OF WHETHER OR NOT THE DRIVER WAS EXERCISING A DUTY OF DUE CARE. So there is no downside to the crossbikes, and plenty of upside.

soren
Guest
soren

Nice handle and excellent comment, teapot thief.

J_R
Guest
J_R

What about the “due care” of the bicyclist whose obligated to stop at the stop sign (since there is other traffic) and yield to the motorists on the main street who under the “bureaucratically recognized traffic marking” officially and legally has the right of way? What about the driver in the other lane who reasonably believes that the stopped motorist is simply waiting for traffic before he makes a left turn?

There’s a lot of downside to crossbikes due to the legally ambiguous nature of crossbikes.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

If you roll out in front of a car in a crossbike and they hit you, a responding officer can easily charge you with failure to yield, since you had a stop sign and they did not. They might not, but they definitely could, and many of them are biased against cyclists.

squareman
Subscriber

Nobody has said that the cross-bike is illegal. But using them to infer that a cyclist has ROW is incorrect and has been the entire debate here.

Kevin Geraghty
Guest
Kevin Geraghty

A fundamental principle of good traffic flow is that in every situation of potential conflict each party should know who has priority. Who yields to whom? One of my persistent beefs with Portland drivers is that many do not seem to know these rules, or are not disciplined or attentive enough to observe them. Neighborhood two-way stops are an example. Car on a cross street, with stop sign, comes to a stop and then pulls out into the intersection impeding traffic which has no stop sign, and clear right of precedence.

Without some regulatory or legislative rule-making, cross-bikes create a situation with no clear rules of priority. They feed the failings of our current driving culture, which is already pretty bad. Caveat cyclist.

Evan
Guest
Evan

Does the study properly control for other changes? At 15th & Going, I think they added bike-crossing signs and improved the median dividers at the same time. How do we know the change in yield rates was due entirely to the crossbike pavement markings?

I’m also concerned about the double-threat possibility brought up by other commenters, and the distinction between yield rates and safety. Is there any analysis to show reduction in collision proxies like close calls or quick stops after these interventions?

As an individual rider, I continue to expect every driver to break every law all the time, and keep moving or start moving at any time.

squareman
Subscriber

The median existed before the cross-bikes were painted.

TakeTheLane
Guest
TakeTheLane

I would much rather see a stop sign instead of a cross-bike. Both may be better.

I frequently cross N Skidmore at N Michigan (1 block west of Mississippi) heading north. Traffic is frequently heavy and fast. I never know if I am going to make it across before the next car comes zooming up to the intersection. Even if they begin slowing, there is no way to know if they see me, or are getting ready to make a turn while failing to use their signal, for example. With a stop sign and cross walk, they would much more likely be coming to a stop. Then the rules are more clear.

Steve C
Guest
Steve C

As others have said, I don’t like the seeming intentional ambiguity of crossbikes as they are currently implemented. And I worry about the underlying lack of legal ROW for cyclists that are confused by this ambiguity.

What I see is crossbikes being implemented at crossings where the lack of a crossbike would clearly indicate the traffic on the main road has the ROW, unless a pedestrian or cyclist acting as a pedestrian* is crossing. The crossbike has the effect of tricking cyclist and kind motorists into thinking they need to stop when they aren’t legally required to. I think this is going to get someone killed and the driver is going to go free because they weren’t legally required to stop.

In a more rule following culture, where vagueness may result in people driving and cycling more carefully, this treatment may work. But our road culture is, to quote Colin McRae, “When in doubt, flat out”.

*I believe the rule is riding in a crosswalk at a walking pace?

Keviniano
Subscriber
Keviniano

Perhaps off-topic, but with so talk much in the comments about the ambiguity of cross-bikes and how that can only lead to bad outcomes, I think of the “shared spaces” efforts in Europe, where ambiguity has been intentionally woven into street design. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VUbsFtLkGN8&t=9s

qqq
Guest
qqq

It would be interesting to know how the laws work in those examples–who has the legal right of way among the various users in various situations?

That’s a good, balanced video. I’m a big fan of ambiguity in things like woonerfs/shared streets, when they have characteristics that the video mentions are needed for safe ambiguity–primarily slow traffic.

My concern with crossbikes isn’t so much that there’s ambiguity for users in who has the right of way (although there clearly is some) but that the law is UNambiguous in that they don’t convey right of way to users who may think they do.

Vince
Guest
Vince

Could be interesting to pick, say 20 people, half cyclists and half drivers, show them an intersection with these markings. Them ask them how they as road users are supposed to act when they come to an intersection with these markings. I expect you would get 20 different answers.

Yex
Guest
Yex

I like the “crossbikes” and although they do increase the % of cars yielding it is not even close to what the PBOT states. Maybe they used a pink bike with high powered strobes, 3 noise makers and a handlebar mounted howitzer for their study?

Steven Smith
Guest
Steven Smith

PBOT didnt’ do the study. It was done as a Master’s thesis at PSU. People biking through were not subjects. They were just people biking through the intersection.