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.

New York City’s Transformation

NYC bike rackOver the past decade New York City has been transformed from a hardscrabble city where motorists practically had the run of city streets (perhaps our greatest public space!) to a hardscrabble city where those of us who walk and bike have at least a fighting chance to survive. And while the playing field is not exactly level, the transformation of high-profile thoroughfares suggests the problem is recognized. With appropriate policies, better enforcement and continued infrastructure improvements, we’ll at least put non-motorists back on the scoreboard after a century+ shutout by motor traffic interests and an ongoing assist from unaccountable policymakers. Continue reading

Bike Sharing Comes to Moscow

Moscow bike share program infographicIf Moscow can bring bike-sharing to the masses, certainly Beverly Hills can too, right? After all, Moscow’s crowded streets and scant enforcement make this city no more a candidate for safe cycling than Beverly Hills. But the challenges there are greater: Moscow at nearly one thousand square miles is more than twice the size of City of Los Angeles yet shares our region’s enthusiasm for wide boulevards and road-borne carnage. Yet change has come: the Mayor committed to reduce greenhouse-gases with natural gas transit and an active-recreation agenda. With a bike share hitting city streets, is Moscow the latest great metropolis to signal a bicycle renaissance? Continue reading

Bike Lanes & Backlash, NYC Style

Prospect Park Bike Lane imageThere is an epic battle brewing in New York City over a humble bike lane along Prospect Park in Brooklyn. For a city that’s added a couple of hundred miles of bike lane in a few years, it’s curious that this new, protected bike lane (which displaced car parking off the curb, at right) would precipitate such a major brou-ha-ha. After all, Prospect Park is a post-gentrification neighborhood that is native terrain for cyclists and their ilk – locavore foodies, big-name fiction writers, ‘beard hats’ wearers (google it) and no small number of reporters for NYC-based global news outlets. Continue reading

NYC Invests in Cycling

Map of bike-friendly NYC BridgesNew York City has really stepped into the forefront of planning for alternative transportation. It is laying down bike lanes like nobody’s business. It’s opening more riverfront to pedestrians and cyclists than I’ve ever seen in my life in the Big Apple. I(See the map at right.) NYC is closing sections of main thoroughfares like Broadway and opening pocket parks seemingly every day. And not least, it is making available more information about how to cycle safely and park your ride securely than perhaps any other city outside of the Northwest. New York is the big Magilla of cities and increasingly it’s setting the nation’s big-city cycling agenda. Indeed it is succeeding in innovating new approaches to active transportation across the five boroughs where policymakers have in the past literally paved the way for non-motorists.
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