Monday, August 31, 2015

Ban Bicycles, Wheelchairs & Scooters From Motorgate Helix Ramp For Safety Says Roosevelt Island Residents Association Public Safety Committee - Prudent Safety Measure Or Overreaction To One Accident In Many Years?

Reported last July 16:

A bicycle rider was injured in a collision with a car on the Motorgate Helix Ramp to the Roosevelt Island Bridge last Monday July 13.

and at the request of the Roosevelt Island Operating Corp (RIOC):
... The issue of bicycle safety on the helix ramp was discussed during the Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA) July 14 Public Safety Committee (PSC) meeting.

The PSC unanimously voted to recommend closing the Motorgate Helix Ramp to bicycle riders....
Following up on its July 14 meeting, the RIRA Public Safety Committee (PSC) unanimously passed this resolution recommending that bicycles, wheelchairs and scooters be banned from the the Motorgate Helix Ramp during the PSC's August 11 meeting:
Resolution that Bicycles, Wheelchairs, and Scooters Be Banned from Helix Ramp

WHEREAS the helix ramp is a narrow roadway for two-way motor vehicle traffic;

WHEREAS the helix ramp has limited-distance sight lines as it spirals between the bridge deck and street level;

WHEREAS visibility is sometimes limited by sun-glare;

WHEREAS there is no leeway on the ramp for vehicles to swerve to avoid hitting a bicycle or a wheelchair or a scooter;

WHEREAS a bike lane or a sidewalk cannot be added to the ramp;

THEREFORE, the Public Safety Committee of the Roosevelt Island Residents Association hereby resolves that all bicycles, wheelchairs, and scooters be banned from the helix ramp."
The resolution will be debated during RIRA's September 9 Common Council meeting. Even if the resolution is approved by the RIRA Common Council, RIRA has no power to implement such a ban. However, RIOC could use the RIRA resolution as an indication of Roosevelt Island community wishes to ban bicycles from the Helix Ramp and implement such a ban.

Last Thursday afternoon, I saw bike riders safely going up (with helmet)

and down (without helmet) the Motorgate helix ramp.

Commenting on the July 16 bike helix safety post, these residents react to RIRA recommendation banning bikes from the Helix Ramp.

So I guess what PSC is saying is that the Helix is inherently unsafe with cyclists because automobiles can't be trusted to drive slowly enough to not run over cyclists? Brilliant governance.
How is it that nobody has commented on the fact that the double-striped yellow lines in the middle of the Helix roadway (to separate lanes of vehicular traffic) are practically non-existent? Perhaps RIOC should first tackle this problem for existing automobile traffic before we start commenting on bicycle safety.
Mick Girl:
With Cornell Tech coming to RI, we are going to have more cyclists on the island. Signage is a start, but the bigger issue is influx of traffic & people. Has anyone addressed that? More Red Buses? More frequent Red Buses? Ferry? Eliminate parking on all of Main Street & add a shared bike lane? This is the bigger picture...more student population will mean more bikes, this should be looked at from a long term standpoint.
Roosevelt Commuter:
If safety is your main concern then driving slower is the best way to make sure you're driving safely, whether the issue is pedestrian, cycle, or auto safety.
Yet Another RI'er:
Close the helix for bicyclists instead of enforcing road rules so both parties can use it? What a hell of an approach is that? Typical island reaction to problem solving.

The bridge is already very bicycle-unfriendly... I guess we are another step closer to banning cycling on Roosevelt Island.
Frank Farance is a RIRA PSC member who thinks the Helix Ramp is currently unsafe for bicyclists. He is critical of Bike NY's use of the Helix Ramp,
Mr. Farance shares this video of Bike NY riders going down the helix ramp

and asserts:
I have serious safety concerns about how Bike NYC operates on Roosevelt Island, and I have made a video showing the poor practices of your instructors here. I saw children be led in a line down the Helix Ramp, which is unsafe for cyclists. I then spoke to the two instructors, neither of which had proper training on Bike Safety. And when I pointed out the safety problems, one of your instructors said: there wasn't a law against it, so if I have problems with their unsafe practices, then I should go get the laws changed. Both are not competently trained because they don't understand bike safety....
Bike New York is irresponsible in their teachings to kids, such as riding the Helix. This is unsafe, and now will have kids thinking this is safe to do. The instructors lack knowledge about safety, they are poorly trained, and have poor attitudes towards safety.According to RIOC/PSD staff, Bike New York has had these kids come down the ramp in the mix of CEMENT TRUCKS and other large vehicles....
According to Bike NY representative: 
The safety concerns surrounding the helix ramp have been brought to our attention and we are working on this issue with RIOC.
I asked Mr. Farance:
Why is it unsafe for bicycle riders to use helix?

The video suggests that as long as there is proper lighting and vehicles go at a slow speed, the helix should be safe for bicycles.

Also, the lack of visible stripes separating the up and down lanes for portions of the helix may be a significant contributor to helix safety issues.

Why not fix the lane stripes before drastic remedy of banning bikes?

I am aware of only the 1 recent accident on the helix ramp for many years.

Have there been others?
Mr. Farance replied:
Several reasons why Helix is unsafe. Here's how those children can get run over, see pic for details.

Honestly parents, with traffic situation & nowhere for children to go, do you want you children riding in this middle of this? Of course not.

I've calculated the white car to be traveling at 20 fps (feet-per-second), which is approx. 13.3 MPH. Use standard brake distance formulas (15 fps deceleration, 1 second recognition time, 1 second reaction time), it would take 53 feet for this car to stop, which is the distance of the three children in front of the car. Because there is oncoming traffic, there is no room to move to the left to avoid the cyclists, and for the cyclists, there is no room to move to the right. So if one of those three children were to lose control (a bump, etc.), they would likely be run over by the white car.

All that happens in a split second.

Another reason it is dangerous is that the bicycle path is at a stress level of 5, as per the City's bike path stress methodology, which requires "expert" level cyclist skills. Obviously, the children don't have expert level skills, thus this particular patch of roadway (Motorgate Helix Ramp) is dangerous for their skill level.

Another reason it is dangerous is that there is not enough clearance for vehicles to pass the bicycles.

Another reason it is dangerous is that the children are riding 2-3 abreast towards the bottom, rather than single file.

In summary, just because the video does not show injury, it does not imply it is safe.

Also, you ask "Also, the lack of visible stripes separating the up and down lanes for portions of the helix may be a significant contributor to helix safety issues". The safety issues shown here are not attributable to a lack of lane stripes -- both cars are in their lanes, yet it is unsafe.

There have been some motorists/cyclists who thought this was a one-way ramp, so I agree that line strips should be added. However, regardless of the obvious 2-way traffic and the requirements to stay to the right, cyclists still proceed in the wrong direction. Lane striping does not fix that behavioral problem.

As for only one accident in many years, Good Safety Methodology doesn't require ANY accident to take a response: all it takes is being informed of a safety problem ... unfortunately, accidents are a main method of discovering a safety problem, but there is no requirement that one needs a history of accidents before taking action. Imagine if that were true: the parent complaining loudly that their child were injured when the safety problem was already known ... would you be telling that parent "well, we need at least 3 serious accidents before taking any action".

Aside from that not making sense, that is not how safety practitioners work, such as the National Transportation Safety Board ... no need to wait for an actual accident to take corrective action on a safety issue.

I have confirmed with RIOC that this is their position too: no need to wait for more accidents to address a safety issue.
If bicycles, scooters and wheelchairs are banned from the Motorgate ramp, they will have to use the Motorgate elevators or stairs

to and from Roosevelt Island. Another option discussed was to create a path through the Motorgate garage to access Roosevelt Island to and from the Roosevelt Island Bridge rather than from the Helix Ramp.

Will bike and scooter riders, including food delivery bikes and scooters coming from Queens to Roosevelt Island, use any of these alternative options to the Helix Ramp?

RIRA member Mickey Rindler adds:
The proposal to ban Bicycles from the Helix put forward by the RIRA Public Safety Committee is a MISGUIDED idea coming from people who know little about bicycles or bike safety. The RIRA Common Council should be supporting measures that promote the safety of ALL residents, including bicyclists, pedestrians, and motorists.

I have ridden my bike and driven my car on the helix hundreds of times and I know precisely what the dangers are. If the committee had bothered to ask cyclists who use the bridge and helix, they would have learned that we are uniformly against such a restriction. We don’t want to be protected by people who think they are doing the right thing. The fact that this ban is being promulgated because there was a single recent bicycle accident on the helix whose circumstances remain obscure is absurd. Accidents have been few and very far between.

What bicycle riders want is IMPROVED SAFETY on the Island. There are ways to ensure that both vehicles and bicycles can use the helix safely. I note that:
  • Descending the helix from the R.I. Bridge is as safe as riding on any city street where vehicles and bikes share the roadway. There is excellent visibility and cars and trucks know to keep their distance and go slow. I have never seen anyone fall off their bike (or wheelchair for that matter and I’ve seen many go down and a few go up — including one just last night).
  • Riding up the helix is more problematic as drivers ascending behind the bikes cannot see around the curve. However, there are solutions like pruning the tree in the center of the helix and removing the guardrail on top of the concrete barrier going up. 
  • The elevator, especially on weekend afternoons when people have carts and groceries, is extremely slow when you have two bicycles — I would say an average of 3-4 minutes slower than riding. If there are more bikes, there are long delays.
  • Most importantly, many bicyclists will IGNORE the signs and RIDE ON THE HELIX anyway. Motorists who mistakenly think there are no bikes on the road will be LESS alert to bicycles, INCREASING THE POSSIBILITY THAT SERIOUS ACCIDENTS WILL OCCUR.
  • A BETTER SOLUTION is to post signs saying BIKES SHARE THE ROAD and paint SHARROWS on the pavement. 
Mayor Bloomberg did not submit his proposal for bike lanes and shared roadways to a vote of motorists or pedestrians — no doubt a majority would want bikes banned from roads altogether. The same is true if you allow Islanders who don’t cycle or the disabled to vote on whether bikes should be allowed on our promenades. 

Most disturbing to me is that banning activities that have been going on for decades sets a dangerous precedent. We should also be concerned that, God forbid, a pedestrian may be seriously hurt by a bicyclist somewhere else on the Island. I can easily envision that the PSC and RIOC will want to ban all bicycling. Instead, the CC should be working to support our cycling community and to ensure that such a scenario never comes about.
Proper signage will help insure safety. The traffic sign at foot of helix ramp indicating a 10 mph speed limit and allowing bicycles

is now gone.

Will the traffic sign be replaced?

More comments on Helix Ramp bike safety issues at this previous post.

UPDATE 9/1 - Very good article from Streetsblog on this subject:
... There are ideas on the table to make biking on the Roosevelt Island bridge safer. Banning bicycles should not be one of them....
including informative comments.