Thoughts on Ped/Bike Counting at SR-520 Trail and NE 40th St.

I (and likely anyone else biking, walking, or running) have long disliked (understatement) the crossing at 40th on the 520 trail.  The statewide bicycle and pedestrian count gave me an excuse to watch it for two hours as opposed to the occasional first-person crossing view.  Of course it was also good to be able to provide counts for this important intersection.

But first I had to set up.  Since my bike round-trips to work generally span multiple days (around run commutes) and I can’t take the big bike away from Michelle and the kids for that long, I was left to bring things with my normal bike.  I had thoughts of setting up something over the top, but laziness won so the only interesting thing to transport was a chair.  This was my first attempt:

This didn’t turn out so well.  Mainly, it’s not so clever to ignore the fact that a folding chair fold, or more relevantly unfold, and it also started sliding backwards.  A few more cords did the trick.  This picture was from the return trip:

The panniers turned out to be an integral part, blocking the chair from falling off either side of the rack.  Michelle asked why I didn’t just toss a collapsing camp chair into a pannier, and I’m going to stick with the reason that I wasn’t going camping.  Having this large thing strapped to the back of the bike turned out to be a fascinating (and wonderful) experiment.  I’m not sure whether it was different enough to actually get the attention of drivers or if they were worried it would fall off and scratch their cars, but I’ve never had anywhere near that much room while using the bike lanes on Old Redmond Road.  I would estimate an extra 3-4 feet.  In fact, I started to worry that someone would hit the center median and bounce back towards me.  Fortunately, that didn’t happen.

The thing that I was mainly interested in was whether my perception of danger was something specific to me (and, err, anyone else I’ve ever talked to about it).  And the answer is clearly no.  This intersection is terrible for people walking and biking.  Luckily there were no collisions.

In two hours, I witnessed 11 scary incidents.  At the time, I broke them down into what I called “near misses” and “uncomfortable” moments.  I didn’t have a strict definition, but the former were more “oh no” moments and the latter were “whoa, ok”.  In retrospect, I’m pretty sure in the “near miss” cases the person walking or biking had to stop because a car blew by, whereas in the “uncomfortable” cases, the driver stopped after starting on a collision path.  For example, Glen biked by:

If memory serves me correctly, the car actually was stopped.  It was the moment when the ped/bike signal changes.  All is calm in the intersection for a moment, so often drivers start right turns on red.  And one nearly did but then stopped.  My guess from the movement is that the driver took his/her foot off the brake but saw Glen before hitting the accelerator and stopped.  The car ended up slightly in the crosswalk.  I think my original terminology not calling this a “near miss” was incorrect; it was just a “near miss” with the collision avoided in a different way.

I didn’t have a lot of time to take pictures or videos, but I took a few.

Here’s a driver typing on a phone while partially in the sidewalk and considering a right turn:

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For bonus points, she was then talking on the phone while driving around pedestrians in the crosswalk on the onramp.

Here’s a typical example of “stops” before right turns on red:

Here’s blocking the box:

The bus was actually turning left, though it had to swing out so far that it looks like it is going straight.

And here’s a tandem riding in the lane on 40th:

I don’t like driving in that lane!

The other main thing I noticed is how inefficient the intersection is.  It’s bad enough that each person (and almost always one person) is surrounded by a vehicle taking a lot of space (“mostly empty metal boxes” as we call them) as well as buffer space between them, but the signal timings are terrible.  The transitions take a really long time, which of course are what lead to really long phases and a miserable experience for those on foot or bike.  I didn’t have time to do measurements while counting, but the next day in the morning I saw two cars go through the intersection in the last 25 seconds of a phase.  That’s the same utilization as the two of us that went through on the ped/bike signal.  The ped/bike phase only looks less utilized because we weren’t dragging 1-2 ton vehicles with us.

All done!

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4 thoughts on “Thoughts on Ped/Bike Counting at SR-520 Trail and NE 40th St.

  1. Thanks so much for posting about this. I’ve wanted to sign up to help but when the sign-up came around the last two years, my scheduled just felt too hectic already. I do want to help out with it sometime though.

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  2. I’ve done it twice: this year and 2012. The last two years were too busy with twins, but this year we really wanted to make it work, and each did a shift. It’s really fascinating to sit and watch what actually happens at an intersection for an extended period of time. I feel like I’ve learned a lot both times. There’s nothing like real data to help understand how things work.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: I Quit Bike-Commuting | The View from the Crosswalk

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