Tracking Hazards and Collisions: Maps and More Maps!

Bikeside bike map overviewThe infamous ‘mashup’ that plotted Bay Area rental apartments on a Google map a decade ago was just the beginning. Within reach of every armchair cartographer today is city data and the tools (like Google fusion tables) to bring complex datasets to life. We riders are among the beneficiaries! Because some smart folks have shown some ingenuity to map road hazards and crashes. Let’s take a look at some of the maps.

First let’s think about the importance of recording the collision. Jot details down at the scene before you forget them. Local bike attorneys sometimes provide branded pocket forms that remind us what needs to be noted; these cards prompt you to simply fill in the blanks. However you note them, details help you inform a crash official report (if taken) and later can provide an attorney with valuable information. The smartphone camera, a pen & paper may make the difference between bearing uncompensated property or injury losses and compensated damages. Remember: it’s all about documenting fault.

Santa Monica Boulevard hazards

Pavement heaves and moguls are obscured by shadow and sometimes camouflaged by debris because the city never sweeps this segment of Santa Monica Boulevard.

This is doubly important when it comes to a solo crash owing to unsafe street conditions. It it critical that you document the scene and any particulars should your attorney later want to approach the locality with a claim. Imagine you’re riding this hazardous stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard – which our city does absolutely nothing to repair – and you take a spill. Document it!

Then get the word out that there’s an unsafe road hazard or a dangerous intersection. And that’s where online interactive bikemaps come in!

Interactive Maps that Display Fixed Data

Boston Cyclists Union bikemap overview

Mapping was once reserved strictly for professional mapmakers with access to GIS. But with public crash data widely available (here via SWITRS database for example), we can use online tools to display sortable & searchable crash incidents.

A slew of maps have been produced. The Boston Cyclists Union has mapped incidents as reported by EMTs (right) while cyclist and planner Steven Vance has been plugging City of Chicago data into his own interactive map (designed by Derek Elder). These advocate-generated maps wouldn’t have been possible a decade ago.

Jackson Heights crash hotspot map detailThe advantage to mapping crashes is that we gain an overview not only of the magnitude of the safety threat on today’s roads, but real insight into the particulars of the crash. New York’s Crashmapper well-illustrates the magnitude of the danger by showing a ‘heatmap‘ of crashes through which we can drill down to unearth the crash data for a given location. So not only do we see how widespread are bike crashes across the city, but we can see how repeated crashes reflect a danger hotspot. Check out the crash heatmap (above right) of a largely-immigrant and bike-dependent neighborhood around Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights, Queens, for example.

Transportation Alternatives CrashStat bikemap overview

As for crash particulars, one of the better examples of filtering comes via NYC’s Transportation Alternatives CrashStat map (at left). The CrashStat map likely takes its name from the CompStat system used by the NYPD to track crimes citywide. So maybe it’s no surprise that this is a power tool for crash data.

Using incident filters we can view a variety of crashes by condition. In a city where 200,000+ pedestrians and bicyclists are injured every year, and over 2,000 deaths are recorded in the fifteen years of displayed data, the CrashStat map becomes a crucial tool for both advocates and everyday riders searching for a safe route.

The project is notable for its funding model: a grant from the New York State Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration helped to put this valuable tool online.

Interactive Maps that Log New Incidents

Another species of crashmap not only displays official data but allows riders to post their own crash experiences. Take the example from local transportation advocate Bikeside. It has created an LA Bike Map (pictured at the top) to both display reported hazards and to collect new incidents. As for display, the map not only gives a geographical overview of collisions and other hazards, but goes father than some maps by including bike thefts. And reporting a collision is as simple as using the report form.

Likewise, other cities have the benefit of similar mapping & reporting tools. New Orleans bike advocates, for example, have produced the Bike Easy interactive map.

But unlike other interactive maps, the LA Bike Map allows for viewing posted police reports (where uploaded) via the incident inspector. And for advocates who might want to view crashes in the aggregate, we can view incidents as a list report. If we have a hazard or collision to add, we can use the Bike Map’s It’s a valuable tool for our Los Angeles-area bike community.

Lastly, even the media is on this bandwagon. The Bay Area’s Bay Citizen won an award for producing an interactive map that lets the viewer dice and slice five years of data by violation type and by fault (with an added bonus of toggling the hotspots). The Bay Citizen bikemap also includes a crash report feature. Interestingly this interactive map is not advocate-generated but media-generated – anticipating the move of newspapers and online news organizations into the storytelling-with-data space.

What these maps have in common is reach out to respond to the need to inform the public – and policymakers – about just how widespread are bike crashes with their related injuries and occasionally deaths.

Reminder: Police Reports Often Slight the Rider

Aside

In a reminder of our own experience that police crash reports can be biased against a rider (even if following the law), Chicago Bicycle Advocate tells how CCTV video provides a necessary correction to the drivers story as parroted in the official report: “A man on a bicycle struck her vehicle and hit her windshield.” Lesson: Never trust a PD report to reflect your own account of a crash; always verify it.

When Transportation Officials Won’t Keep Us Safe, Should We Do It Ourselves?

Example of an elevated streets from the Netherlands

The elevated street is a marvel when done properly!

What are we to do when public-sector transportation officials and planners in their charge fail to create safe conditions for cyclists on public roadways? One answer is to take the reins guerrilla-style, like the Dept. of Do-It-Yourself (DIY) did to create bike lanes in NE Los Angeles. Another option is to democratize planning with DIY charrettes for hands-on participation to create the plans and programs that might just keep us safe. Continue reading