Saturday, February 9, 2008

Two bicycle items (plus one) at January 31, 2008, CTCDC meeting

Three items were on the agenda California Traffic Control Devices Committee (CTCDC) that were of interest to bicycling advocates:

1. The Committee considered a proposal to amend the policy of the Speed Limit Sign contained in the California Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). This applies to bicycling because one of the tools for improving traffic conditions for bicyclists is to control the traffic speeds. Here is the agenda item.

The proposal would clarify the procedures for Engineering and Traffic Studies (E&TS) to set the speed limit within 5 mph of the 85th percentile speed of free flowing traffic, providing that the speed limit could be set 5 mph lower if indicated by unusual conditions not readily apparent to drivers, but in any case not below the 50th percentile speed.

Several cities raised objections to the proposal based on the fact that speed distributions are typically so narrow that the first 5 mph increment above the 50th percentile speed may also be above the 85th percentile speed. Since previously the speed limit was set at the first 5 mph increment below the 85th percentile speed, they would be required to raise the speed limit on a substantial percentage of their streets.

The Committee asked about the leeway that police give in enforcing speed limits. I told them about a meeting I had with the Traffic Commissioner when I first started as Traffic Engineer for the City of Monterey in 1990 to go over our E&TS procedures. He said our procedures were fine, but then I asked him about the latitude he gave for speeding citations in his court. He said he gave 12 mph over the speed limit. I asked why such a large number, and he said that traffic citations are handled as criminal matters and the burden of proof was beyond a reasonable doubt. He said that there was considerable doubt about the accuracy of radar, and this doubt required a large latitude.

The Committee members were taken aback that the latitude allowed by traffic court judges was this large, but other traffic engineers in attendance corroborated my story. The co-chair asked if the 12 mph latitude applied to freeways with speed limits of 65 mph, and I had to admit that I did not know, because Monterey's highest speed limit was 35 mph.

I then said that we could think of speed enforcement as a team consisting of traffic engineers, police, and judges, but that although engineers were setting speed limits honestly and police were doing the best they could to enforce them, the judicial system was dropping the ball. I said that if the traffic court judges used a smaller latitude, then we would not be having this argument. I said that the judges were basing their decisions on some anti-radar propaganda, including the myth of a radar gun measuring a tree moving at 40 mph, and said that we need to educate the judges on the accuracy of radar.

During the next break, George McDougall, Statewide Radar Coordinator for the CHP introduced himself to me. He told me about the newest radar guns that take two readings, one of the vehicle and one of the ground, and then calculate the difference. This allows for enforcement from moving vehicles. It is also extremely accurate, certainly to within 3 mph.

The CTCDC approved the new wording, including the 50th percentile floor. This next goes to Caltrans which will make the decision of whether to include the wording in future editions of the CA MUTCD.

2. San Francisco applied for permission to install signs to warn bicyclists that motorists may be making illegal right turns. Here is the agenda item.

Jack Fleck, SF's Traffic Engineer, and Damon Curtis, Associate Engineer Bicycle Program, attended the meeting. Here is Mr. Fleck's presentation.

Mr. Fleck described the problem as bicyclists who pick up speed on this downhill part of Market are being right-hooked (my term, not his) by drivers making illegal right turns. His presentation contained pictures of no right turn signs, delineators (flexible cylindrical posts) and a concrete median to try to prevent motorists from turning right at Octavia. Despite all this, he said that some automobile drivers are slowing to a crawl and making the turn anyway in front of bicyclists who are traveling fast on this downhill and passing cars on the right that they do not think will be making an illegal right turn at Octavia.

He proposed two alternates for signs, one with wording that says: BICYCLISTS WATCH FOR PROHIBITED RIGHT TURNS, and the other that says: BICYCLISTS WATCH FOR CARS MAKING PROHIBITED RIGHT TURNS.

I had questions about the wisdom of having a bike lane at that location, particularly because bicyclists could not leave the bike lane to pass slow motor vehicles on the left because of the delineators and median. I recommended a wide outside lane instead to allow bicyclists to integrate with motor vehicles. Jack Fleck responded that the SFBC considered that idea but rejected it out of concern for cyclists who were not comfortable "mixing it up with traffic."

The CTCDC approved SF's request for experimentation, with the proviso that the experiment include several alternative schemes, including red light cameras to catch illegal right turns (which would be allowed by AB 23).

After I got home, I thought of a different legend for a sign from the one proposed: BICYCLISTS - NO PASSING ON RIGHT IN INTERSECTION, perhaps with a picture of a car making a right turn in front of a bicyclist, such as this sign on the Stanford University campus:

I think that the message BICYCLISTS - NO PASSING ON RIGHT IN INTERSECTION plus the picture above get the message across to the bicyclist exactly what the hazard is and what to do about it. If a car in the right travel lane is slowing down approaching Octavia, then anticipate that it is about to make a right turn and STOP!!!!

I have suggested to SF and SVBC that a sign with the wording and picture above be included in the experiment.

3. Caltrans presented its plans to address AB 1581 concerning detection of bicycles and motorcycles at traffic actuated signals. Here is the agenda item.

The CTCDC chair said that this was a discussion item only and that public input would occur at their next meeting on April 24.

Ahmad Rastegarpour from Caltrans' Electrical Systems Branch gave this presentation on Caltrans' plans.

Mr. Rastegarpour stressed the Caltrans emphasis on distinguishing bicycles from motor vehicles for the purpose of providing additional minimum green time.

Then Dr. Steven Shladover from UC Berkeley gave this presentation on bicycle crossing times.

Dr. Shladover's email transmitting his presentation contained the following proviso: "I would caution that these presentation slides were not intended to be a stand-alone document for general distribution and are not entirely self-explanatory, but were meant to be shown with a narration that fills in additional information not shown here."

Members of the CTCDC expressed alarm over the implications of Dr. Shladover's findings on traffic signal operations, particularly on the potentially large (8 sec was mentioned) all-red times.

I was not allowed to give the presentation that I had prepared, although printed copies that I prepared were distributed to the Committee.

Instead, I said that neither the bicyclist nor motorcyclist communities had been given an opportunity to provide input on Caltrans' plans. I said that I had given a presentation in October to the Electrical Systems Branch, but that Mr. Rastegarpour was not there that day, and that I had given a copy of the presentation to Caltrans during the November Bicycle Advocacy Summit with the Director. I pointed out that a member of the motorcycle community was also at the meeting (I had notified ABATE and AMA, and Chuck Pederson from ABATE was there). I said that there were errors in Caltrans' presentation, including their assertion that motorcycles were detected by existing loops.

The CTCDC chair then directed that a subcommittee be formed to work on the plan. Mr. Rastegarpour will chair the committee, and members will include representatives from the Cities of Los Angeles, Long Beach, (San Francisco?), along with representatives from the bicycling community (me) and the motorcycling community (to be selected).

Afterwards, Chuck and I spoke with Mr. Rastegarpour outside the meeting room. Mr. Rastegarpour asked me to call Ken McGuire and tell him about the formation of the subcommittee, which I did. I told Mr. Rastegarpour that I would be in Sacramento next Thursday for the CBAC meeting and Friday afternoon for the Bicycle Advocacy Summit, and requested a meeting with him on Friday morning.

No comments: