Wednesday, March 14, 2012

It's the Design, Stupid.

I went for a spin around the River Trail loop this afternoon and came upon a bike-car crash in front of Episcopal Collegiate School on Cantrell:
Shaken up. And hurt.
There were some police people and others milling about and doing important things, so I tried to stay out of the way and didn't catch the cyclist's name. But, from what I could ascertain, she was riding east to west (away from downtown) trying to negotiate the crosswalks and pedestrian islands in front of the school when the light changed for the teachers and parents leaving the campus. A collision ensued.

The first thing that I noticed when I walked up to the scene of the accident crash was that the cyclist was blaming herself. Yes, it sounds like she could have avoided it had she done what the walk/don't-walk signs were telling pedestrians to do. However, this crash was not her fault (and nor was it the driver's). The real blame lies with the design of the intersection and road with their complete lack of any space for cyclists. The official River Trail route through this section forces cyclists to break the law by riding on the sidewalk and the wrong way down a one-way street, and the street design here encourages drivers to mash the gas pedal like they're out in the boonies instead in the middle of an urban space with mixed transportation modes.

Cantrell Road is 6 lanes wide just to the east and west of this intersection. That's about 75 feet, curb to curb. The posted speed limit is 40 mph, but it seems that most drivers treat that as a minimum rather than a maximum- not because they're evil law-breaking speed demons, but because the road design itself encourages faster speeds.

The green space between the sidewalk and the Episcopal School is about 20 feet wide. That's over 100 feet of total width to play with (including the sidewalks), yet some how no one could find room for cyclists. It makes no sense. We need to shrink the space for cars here, carve out ample space for bikes and pedestrians, and beef up the public transit infrastructure. And we don't need to do it by spending $15 million on a cantilevered bridge around Dillard's. There is plenty of space in the Cantrell right-of-way for good, 21st century street design.

Bad design.
 (image from the Google)
If we design and build for cars, then the result will be more cars. If we design and build for choice and balance in transportation mode, then people will make balanced choices. The second way is less expensive and pays off later with lower maintenance costs. Plus, traffic will still flow fine; there will be fewer injuries and death from crashes; we'll have less road rage; and maybe we can use some of that wasted surface parking in downtown LR for higher and better uses when more people are able to get there without driving. Heck, we might even improve our health. Simple. Easy. What're we waiting for?

Tom Ezell over at BACA wrote a great description of the design problems with this section of the River Trail and made this video. The spot where the crash above happened comes at 2:33 with general commentary about that intersection starting at about 2:15:

 (and lest anyone think otherwise, the title of this post has absolutely nothing to do with the crash victim. "Stupid" refers to the people who decide and continue to think that intersections like this are a good idea.)


  1. The city likes to play the river trail off as a commuter route but this intersection is one of the most dangerous in the city for cyclists during rush hour and other heavy traffic times for the school.

  2. Well, I got wind of a request from Metroplan that they intend to re=propose the same proposal for the next round of TIGER grants. This, after DoT called them and told them NOT to resubmit it, because it was a recreational project, and not really a transportation or commuting corridor.

    I'm not sure... I figure it won't hit my in-box until I step out of the Board and become more of a traveling man. I don't think they would _want_ me to write that letter, because I would word it very closely to the way TIm described it. I've beaten my head against the wall with the LR "bike planning" people for more than three years now, and have little to show for it but a sore head and feelings. They simply don't get it. They don't know how bikes and trafic fit together, and they're not interested in learning anything about it, or trying to improve themselves. It's just the same preconceptions, the same old fears, time and again. And it's their way or the highway should you disagree with them. Metroplan did a very nice statistical study of _where_ bike crashes occur around town, but have have made zero effort to undertand or study _why_ these crashes happen where they do, or to try to do anything to prevent or reduce them.

    Maybe someday they'll acquire a clue... but how many cyclists and pedestrians have to be hurt or maimed, or die, before the City realizes they might be able to do something to prevent it?

  3. I think the plan is to push (herd) all cyclists to the river trail once it's finished so that the city doesn't have to deal with them. Proof is in the design for the Broadway bridge. Cyclists can't use it to move about the cities of Little Rock and North Little Rock only to get from one side of the trail to the other. They believe that people who are serious about moving around the city only do that in cars. They believe that bikes are only recreation. They are wrong.

  4. $15 million on a cantilevered bridge around Dillard's?
    What in the world is that all about?

  5. Jeff- check out this post for a video of the proposed River Bluffs segment of the trail:

    It would be a great addition to the River Trail, but from what I've heard it is completely dependent on federal dollars. And as Tom mentioned above, the city of LR's first application was denied. It sounds like they're going to try again. While we wait for money from Washington though, nothing about the current situation is getting any better despite the existence of several more affordable solutions that might actually do a better job of connecting Points A to Points B for folks using the River Trail for more than just recreation.

    Tom & Joe- thanks for y'all's comments.

  6. Cantre.ll needs a Road Diet... not a $15 million bypass/wormhole