Green Bay, Wisconsin
Peter Flucke, President - WE BIKE
Bicycle tire in a drain grate.
Road conditions such as potholes, debris, drain grates, cracked or uneven pavement, railroad tracks, and overhanging vegetation can cause bicyclist crashes by disturbing the delicate balance between rider and machine. These hazards may contribute to falls which account for 50 percent or more of bicyclist crashes. Road hazards also may result in crashes with fixed objects, other bicyclists, or motor vehicles if a bicyclist swerves to avoid a hazard. Collisions between bicyclists and motorists are usually the most serious. More than 90 percent of bicyclist fatalities occur in crashes with motor vehicles (Baker, et al, 1993). In 2003, 622 bicyclists were killed and 46,000 injured in reported crashes with motor vehicles in the United States (National Center for Statistics and Analysis, 2003 data). Road hazards increase the chances that a bicyclist will be involved in a crash.
In addition, bicyclists tend to avoid roads and trails that they feel have unsafe or otherwise uncomfortable riding surfaces. Decreased bicycling may result if more acceptable routes are not available.
Bicyclists are often reluctant to report road hazards because they do not know how and they often believe that the necessary repairs will not be made even if reported. It is often difficult for cyclists to identify which jurisdiction has maintenance responsibility for a given section of road such as the city vs. the county.
Road crews seldom are trained to identify and repair bicycle road hazards. They are typically better at dealing with hazards for motorists. However, by the time something is hazardous for motorists, it has long been a danger to bicyclists. For example, a 1.3 cm (0.5 in)–wide crack in the road that runs parallel to the direction of travel is sufficient to cause a bicyclist to fall, but will not present a problem to motorists (California. Dept. of Transportation, 1995).
The Road Hazard Identification Pilot Project was developed and tested for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. Local sponsors were the Village of Howard and the Bay Shore Bicycle Club. The project was based on similar “spot improvement” programs in Seattle, WA, Chicago, IL, and Madison, WI. The goal was to develop a system which could be used by public or private entities to easily and inexpensively facilitate the identification and repair of bicycle road hazards. Such a system improves bicyclist safety and enjoyment as well as cooperation between bicyclists, road crews and decision-makers. The greater Green Bay, WI, area consisting of six municipalities within Brown County was chosen to pilot test the project. Before the pilot program there were no organized efforts, either public or private, to identify and repair bicycle-specific road hazards. Municipalities in the pilot project area ranged in population size from 1,400 to 96,000.
The pilot project ran from June through September 1995 in the greater Green Bay, WI, area. Road Hazard Identification postcards were distributed to the public through bicycle shops, bicycle clubs, recreation departments, county, city, and village offices. These cards were used by bicyclists to report hazards. After a card was completed it was mailed (at the sender’s expense) to a central location where the hazard identification information was entered into a specially designed computer database. The database allowed the hazard to be tracked by the project coordinator from the time it was reported until it was repaired. The database also assisted in identifying which jurisdiction was responsible for repairs, and in creating hazard reports which were sent to affected jurisdictions. Following data entry, the card was given to a trained volunteer who checked the card and hazard for accuracy and validity via a site visit. Two weeks after hazard reports were forwarded to jurisdictions, repair status updates were requested. The project coordinator contacted jurisdictions personally for subsequent status reports.
Prior to the implementation of the pilot project, a computer program was developed for tracking hazards, volunteer inspectors were identified and trained, public works directors and the County Highway Commissioner were consulted, and specialized bicycle road hazard training was offered to each jurisdiction involved.
Road Hazard Cards were tabulated to determine the number of hazards reported and the repair status of these hazards. Hazard inspector activity was analyzed, and bicyclists, inspectors and public works supervisors were surveyed about the project.
During the four-month pilot project, 120 hazards were reported. Of these, 23 were repaired or deemed unrepairable. The “unrepairable” designation usually referred to minor streets that were in overall rough shape but that were not scheduled for resurfacing for several years. The other common situation was where a sheet of concrete road surface had risen up or subsided and because of the excessive cost of repair, the repair would not be made until the situation became much worse or, more likely still, when the entire road was replaced. (Without major road work, 67 were scheduled for repairs and the remaining 30 were working their way through the system at the time the pilot evaluation ended.)
Twenty-four different bicyclists reported hazards during the pilot project. Reporters tended to be experienced bicyclists, often commuters, who reported hazards primarily on busy, narrow collector and arterial streets.
Positive outcomes of the project as reported by the project coordinator, public works supervisors, hazard inspectors and bicyclists were:
There still are several areas of concern which need to be further addressed:
A formal system for identifying road conditions that are hazardous to bicyclists is important for improving bicyclist safety and enjoyment. Once established, the Road Hazard Identification Project proved to be an inexpensive and effective means of identifying and facilitating the repair of bicycle road hazards. This program, or a similar one that incorporates bicyclist and professional training and input, would be valuable in any community.
The main costs of developing the program are project coordinator training and research (about eight hours), computer database setup (about eight hours), inspector and public works trainings (about three hours) and advertising (about three hours). The project coordinator spent about two hours per week on the project, and public works supervisors spent about the same amount of time.
Funding for the project was provided by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Safety using Federal Highway Safety (402) Funds. The total cost of the project, including development and the pilot test, was $9,615.
1144 Hawthorn Rd.
Green Bay, WI 54313-5812
(920) 497-3196 (fax)
Bicycle/Pedestrian Safety Program Manager
Wisconsin Department of Transportation - Bureau of Transportation Safety
4802 Sheboygan Avenue
PO Box 7936, RM. 951
Madison, WI 53707-7936
(608) 267-0441 (fax)