Mighk has it about right

If you, one day, had to appear before a jury of your motorist peers, do you think wearing a beard would help you? I don’t. I would shave it off.

Would you call Mighk as an expert witness to help you? I don’t think I would.

Mighk has a tougher row to hoe than most of us do. He must dance between the engineers with their engineering degrees and their urge to “fix things”, and also answer to us ordinary folk who question the need for brilliantly  flashing lights to say that pedestrians have the right to cross “here” when they have the right without anything  marked or not flashing  to cross “there.”

And then I think about Chipseal in Texas. And I think about how I was “arrested”  (although it wasn’t called that because we don’t arrest minors in Florida) many years ago.

Chipseal listened to a judge that gave him some bum advice and told him a jury would understand what he had to say. They “understood” alright. He wore a beard, didn’t have a driver’s license and they stuck him in the “oddball” class and dealt with him accordingly.

Even when I was 15, I knew nothing I could say could save me from the “helpful” police when I was stopped for riding my bicycle. Hope may spring eternal, but not when it comes to being confronted by the police.

Truth be told, if I were Chipseal, I would just buckle under and ride where the police told me to ride just to get past the baloney.

I don’t envy Mighk. Chipseal’s path is clear. My path is clear. Mighk’s is not.

33 replies
  1. Keri
    Keri says:

    When I see some of the hideous crap that gets installed in other cities (whose names shall not be spoken), I’m grateful we have Mighk. It can’t be easy to walk the line between intransigent, motor-centric engineers and starry-eyed, kool-aid-drinkers. I wouldn’t last one day ’til lunchtime.

    Mighk is doing fine. And Orlando is on the cusp of some really great things as a result of work he’s doing.

    As for ChipSeal, if he was to capitulate, he would lose his right to travel in the manner he feels is safest. He has nowhere else to go, no other roads to use, no other vehicle. He must fight. My guess is, he got railroaded into a jury trial by a judge who knew the charges were bogus but didn’t want to rule against his small-town PD.

  2. Steve A
    Steve A says:

    Who you calling an “intransigent, motor-centric” engineer? As I recall, someone named “Keri” noted that engineers were overrepresented in cycling circles.

    Engineers accomplish the design specification in the most affordable manner they know how. The design specification is not usually set by them, but the political types that are their customers.

    Aviation is the same way – the customer wants fighters, we design fighters. They want bombers, we design bombers. They want life flight choppers, we design life flight choppers. In each case, we design the best we can.

    A transportation engineer is no different. They get told to design safe stuff for pedestrians and cyclists, they’ll do that. If it is prioritized in the specification, they’ll prioritize it. If, instead, they are told to “do something if you can” for pedestrians and money is short, well you can see how THAT would go. Any engineer that does otherwise has moved away from the profession into political advocacy, which is unprofessional.

    • Keri
      Keri says:

      Put down the coffee, Steve. You’ve once again come off half-cocked without knowing what I’m talking about. You don’t work in this arena and you have no idea the kind of roadblocks faced by people trying to get things done for pedestrians and bicyclists.

      It’s not about budget, it’s about throughput.

      • Ed Sailland
        Ed Sailland says:

        Tut, tut, tut. Steve A’s points are well taken, Keri, and your dismissive response further discredits your already shop-soiled arguments. Dance with cars, by all means, if it amuses you to flirt daily with death, but don’t presume that only ignorance or cowardice prevents others from following your questionable lead. Some cyclists prefer to be guided by evidence rather than ideology, and not everyone is as keen as you are to end his (or her) days in a Stryker frame. De gustibus…

        Changing tack now: Can I assume from Eric’s brief post that ChipSeal has achieved the martyrdom he worked so hard for?

        • Keri
          Keri says:

          Hmm. I’m missing the reference to ignorance and cowardice in my writing.

          My above comment had nothing to do with vehicular cycling. It was about the difficulty of creating access, safe crossings, etc. for pedestrians and bicyclists against a system geared toward throughput of motor vehicles.

          Steve was reacting because I said the word “engineer” in a negative frame. He is an aerospace engineer.

        • ChipSeal
          ChipSeal says:

          Tut, tut, tut. Steve A’s points are well taken, Keri, and your dismissive response further discredits your already shop-soiled arguments.

          Good job at making a specific objection. The clarity of your position has enlightened all of us, I’m sure! Did you spend a lot of time forming your argument?

          Dance with cars, by all means, if it amuses you to flirt daily with death, but don’t presume that only ignorance or cowardice prevents others from following your questionable lead.

          To quote a wise and sage man: “Vehicular cycling techniques have not been tried and found difficult. They have been presumed difficult and not tried.”

          — P.M. Summer…
          …paraphrasing G.K. Chesterton

          Some cyclists prefer to be guided by evidence rather than ideology,

          This was a stab at humor, right? I have frequented many forums discussing best practices in traffic. The only ones who have been excluded from the discussions (That is, silenced because of their reasoned articulation of their positions) have been folks advocating bicycle driving. It is funny how you project your side’s behavior onto us!

          and not everyone is as keen as you are to end his (or her) days in a Stryker frame. De gustibus…

          My, what extraordinary powers you have, seeing the deepest desires in other’s hearts! You seem to have an exceptional inability to understand others motivations- even when they are expressly articulated to you! Evidence based point of view indeed!

          Do people die while operating bicycles? Yes. But that does not mean that it is dangerous. People die in bathtubs too, for that matter. Scofflaw bike riders survive for years while performing behaviors even you would blanch at.

          With a death rate of less than 800 people a year, and the ad-hoc manner of reporting the details of them, there is no reliable “evidence” to point to that would support your position or ours. All we have is our own experience and the reports from others experience. (A growing and robust data set, by the way. With video!)

          Having said that, bicycling is not dangerous in any of it’s forms when compared with the far more dangerous common everyday activities that we never consider as even being hazardous. But some behaviors on a bicycle are clearly safer than others. Driving one’s bicycle following the traffic rules is chief among them.

          To equate operating a bicycle on the roadway with a desire to be killed exposes either ignorance or ideological blinders. You are simply spewing hateful, slanderous propaganda that says more about your character than it carries your argument.

          Changing tack now: Can I assume from Eric’s brief post that ChipSeal has achieved the martyrdom he worked so hard for?
          Hmmm. The straight-forward and clear explanation of my motivations are simply lies? You are a piece of work. It took four years and 12, 000 miles for me to finally be ticketed for my consistent behavior. Yeah, all that in order to be a martyr for the cause.

          To Eric: If you saw may face without a beard, you would understand why I wear one! 😉

    • P.M. Summer
      P.M. Summer says:

      I heard the head of the Texas Department of Transportation’s Fort Worth District (a fine P.E.) publicly describe sidewalks along thoroughfares as “vehicle run-off zones”, claiming that was their primary function (and that was how they wanted them designed).

      The thought of pedestrians along a thoroughfare/urban state highway (“on-system”) was something he hadn’t even considered, even though his department was charged with providing sidewalks along these facilities.

    • JohnB
      JohnB says:

      “They get told to design safe stuff for pedestrians and cyclists, they’ll do that.”

      AHA! I don’t know if this was an intentional slip or not, but this statement seems to hit one of the engineering bias nails right on the head. If an engineer is told merely to design “something safe for bicyclists”, what does that mean to him or her? Bike lanes? Bike boxes? Sharrows? Wide outside lanes? Bikes May Use Full Lane signs? All of the above are regularly claimed as a good solution to bicyclist safety.

      Sure, most of the time, the design spec is more specific than “something safe”. Yet, many of us have experience with engineers whose idea of bicycle traffic safety is largely centered around as much separation as possible, and their design execution reflects it.

  3. P.M. Summer
    P.M. Summer says:

    Funny how guilt and self-loathing work. Everyone likes to talk about bicycles being the key to green transportation, but they don’t want to actively pursue that goal. Rather, they are waiting for someone to roll out an expensive (very expensive) red carpet to invite them to ride a bicycle for transportation… provided they only want to go where they are allowed to go.

    When a cyclist like Keri or Chipseal decides to take matters into their own hands and just ride in a legal and competent behavior, treating their bicycle as the efficient transportation tool it is, “cycling-surrender-monkeys” come out of the woodwork to attack. Why? How does Keri, or Chipseal, or Mighk (or the bogeyman John Forester) demonstrating how safe it is to operate a vehicle threaten other cyclists, whose view of bicycles may have more to do with a recreational device than as a transportation tool?

    Could it be embarrassment? Guilt? self-loathing?

    History is full of members of various minority groups (in the transportation scheme, bicyclists will always be a minority group in Western society… at least pending The Apocalypse) who turn in their brethren to secure an extra measure of easy comfort for themselves.

    Competent transportational cyclists show how easy it is. Fear-based cyclists can’t tolerate that demonstrable truth, because it threatens them with exposure.

    VC advocates often talk about the “cycling inferiority complex”, and fear-based cycling advocates sneer at the term. It’s not an insulting term, nor is it pejorative. It’s a description of a point of view (bicycles and bicyclists are intrinsically inferior to other vehicles and vehicle operators) that governs much of the public discourse. It’s also the common-ground for fear-based cycling advocates and for anti-cycling motoring interests.

    • Mighk
      Mighk says:

      While “cyclist inferiority complex” may be an accurate term, it still implies that the person has some sort of character flaw, and people don’t respond positively to that.

      I much prefer the term “traffic cycling taboo.” It shows that the belief comes from the dominant culture — which it ultimately does — instead of from the individual.

      The “common sense” (in the most original sense of that term) of cycling is that small, slow and vulnerable users and large, fast and massive users cannot safely share the same roadway. This “common sense” isn’t based on any objective data, but on experiencing large vehicles passing fast and in close proximity while on a bike (because they’re hugging the edge) — a scary experience for many — and hearing sketchy fatality reports on the news. People conflate the scary feeling of being passed close with the fatality stories and assume the former is the cause of the latter, when more likely the death involved some other violation of the basic rules of traffic.

      Other factors come also into play for different individuals when forming their beliefs about what constitutes safe cycling: do they bike? — are they so bound up in advancing a particular agenda that they ignore important evidence? — the list goes on.

      Few planners or engineers have a thorough understanding of cycling. They likely never received training on proper cycling practice or on how crashes happen. Few actually bike, or if they do, it’s in the same Pedestrian On Wheels (aptly acronymed POW) fashion as most of their constituents.

      Let’s put our focus on TEACHING. Teaching not just average Jane/Joe citizen cyclist, but the engineers, the planners, the cops, the elected officials. We need to figure out ways to get them to want to join us for real bike rides (not police escorted parades in which they learn nothing).

      • JohnB
        JohnB says:

        Hear, hear! Great words, Mighk. I’m going to adopt that “traffic cycling taboo” in place of “cyclist inferiority complex” immediately. (Purge those Foresterisms! [With all due respect to him.])

        And although I’ve heard “Pedestrian on Wheels”, the acronym never occurred to me! 😮

      • Keri
        Keri says:

        I’ve said before that it’s wrong to beat the person for what the culture has done to them. I think that fits into Mighk’s comment about the cycling inferiority complex. The average person who gets on a bike needs our help and encouragement. Bludgeoning them with CIC isn’t helpful.

        That said, I have no problem with using the term to describe cyclists who viciously turn on other cyclists who are trying to empower others, or who are standing up for their right to the road. That’s how PM was using it.

  4. andrewp
    andrewp says:

    It was once pointed out here (I’m stealing this from someone) that many of our problems are not “hardware problems” but “software problems”. Not to beat up on Engineers as a group, but they are in the hardware business.

    Trying to get back to Eric’s post and Keri’s first comment — Mighk’s job is tough when he has to fight off “hardware” solutions to a problem that may be better solved with “software” (e.g teaching, as Mighk last pointed out).

    • Mighk
      Mighk says:

      To continue the hardware/software analogy …

      The engineer needs to know the hardware requirements of the software. If he doesn’t understand the operating system — or at least trust that the people who developed the operating system know what they’re talking about — he may not provide the right hardware.

  5. Steve A
    Steve A says:

    Per Keri’s initial comments, my first reaction was only to object to the “motor-centric” part. Then I thought about the Jaguars hiding in the back garage. Hmm.

    I’m sure there are transportation engineers who have forgotten good engineering principles and have become advocates, just as I know aircraft structures engineers that have become advocates of particular approaches, but in many cases, those traffic engineers are acting under real or imagined direction of department heads whose technical knowledge and social inclinations may be rooted in a different era.

    I have no formal training in traffic engineering. However, I am confident that I could design safe pedestrian and bicycle facilities if I were so charged, because I DO take an engineering approach to solving problems. It’d take me much longer than a good traffic engineer, because I’d have to do a lot more research that was part of his/her training, but ultimately the results would probably be very similar, at least if he took HIS job seriously.

    WRT Ed’s comments, I could accuse Keri of many things, but not of any of those he does. I also don’t think you can conclude anything about Chip from Eric’s post. Whatever else one might say about Chip, he is his own man.

    WRT Keri’s second comments, I rarely drink coffee after 8PM, and I have known many competent and professional traffic engineers (purely by coincidence, my dad is a civil engineer). I have no basis to comment on any traffic engineer operating anywhere around Orlando.

    BTW, Mighk, engineers ARE also in the software business as well. A major effort we make in aerospace is to improve training of pilots, crew, and maintainers, and to reduce their error rate. Human Factors engineering is a major field and taken quite seriously, at least by serious engineers.

    Perhaps the REAL problem is the ground transportation system isn’t approached with safety and ease of use by all road users as anything more than an afterthought. In reality, I think Keri and Mighk and I are pretty much in agreement that an integrated approach with education as a major factor should be obvious to all. To that, I’d add that collisions and other crashes should be investigated seriously to determine root cause and corrective action, which is not usually the case currently. Serious investigations would put an end to dangerous, but popular cycling aberrations and would drive appropriate education. If the aviation industry were treated like the road/vehicle industry, nobody in their right mind would fly anywhere.

    • Keri
      Keri says:

      Steve, The motor-centric thing was a reference to traffic engineers who only care about throughput of motor vehicles and don’t regard other modes as worthy elements of the transportation system. They are the old guard, but still very much a roadblock in many places — specifically for helping pedestrians who simply cannot safely cross the kind of roads they are building. This is a serious problem in our metro area.

      As a competent vehicular cyclist, I can handle any motor-centric design they care to throw at me, but I do have some concerns for the effect the high-speed multi-lane arterial designs have on other users.

      Another example: In a visit to another city, I observed a road with a wide (13+ft) travel lane next to a narrow (4ft) bike lane. I asked why, with all that available pavement, more space was not given to the bicyclists. The answer was, because the city traffic engineers won’t do more than the minimum required for a bike lane. It’s all about the cars. These kinds of stories are common among planners who try to create a better environment for bicyclists and pedestrians.

    • Mighk
      Mighk says:

      Steve: I didn’t mean to imply that engineers (generally) don’t take “software” into account. But many in the traffic engineering field are bound up in a belief system that says roads are built for and owned by motorists, and it blinds them to the real needs of non-motorized users. Even when these engineers attempt to do good by non-motorized users, their bias often keeps them from thinking clearly.

  6. Steve A
    Steve A says:

    I admit I have had engineers who thought in a similar crippled fashion. With proper counseling, most got a lot better. A few could not be put on jobs where more was demanded than what they could do. Good management does not put such in a position where they can endanger people. Even a bad engineer can be put to work numbering pages.

    BTW, it is not a good idea to make a bike lane too wide. There is one bike lane along one of my routes home that is seven or eight feet wide. Motorists use it as an auxiliary passing lane when someone up ahead is waiting to make a left. There is an optimum width for a bike lane. I know that PM noted this is covered in the traffic standards, but don’t recall offhand just what that width was.

    • Keri
      Keri says:

      So I’ve been told. I haven’t seen any bike lanes that wide, so I can’t relate personal experience. But I suspect the difference between the minimum and too wide is significant enough to improve sight lines and comfort. IMO, the bike lane in question was completely gratuitous, making its narrowness all the more offensive. As you’ve often said, worse than benign neglect. “Thanks for shoving me into the gutter, please don’t do me any more favors!”

      • MikeOnBike
        MikeOnBike says:

        I used to find the wide outside lane + narrow bike lane design somewhat insulting. But there are some advantages to doing it this way: The debris accumulates in a narrower space. That leaves a wider, probably sharable, amount of clean pavement.

        The alternative to a too-wide bike lane is to paint it with two stripes.

  7. Laura M
    Laura M says:

    I think Steve A makes excellent points that it’s not always the engineers that are the problem, but the department heads (usually, wait for it, ENGINEERS) that make decisions about roadway design. They’re the experts and the client, so what they say goes. The politician is usually only in office for 4-8 yrs, whereas a city engineer may be employed for 20 or more years. The elected official defers to the engineer.

    I had a city engineer joke once that pedestrians were frangible, therefore it was okay to allow them on sidewalks adjacent to roadways. But some trees weren’t. I will often joke about it too. Pedestrians don’t kill, but trees do.

    Keri’s point about roadway design being focused on through-put is spot on. Roadway design decisions are generally made based on budget (open drainage vs. curb and gutter) and maximizing roadway capacity. They get paid handsomely for that P.E. behind their names. They can blame their clients and politics, but at the end of the day, they put their name on those plans and they certify them.

  8. Eric
    Eric says:

    “They’re the experts and the client, so what they say goes.”

    That needs to be writ large. In most situations, the client charges the engineer with a particular task, but when it comes to traffic engineering, that “client” IS THE CITY ENGINEER and he charges the politician with coming up with the money to pay for his design.

    Not much unlike what Frank Lloyd Wright did to his clients which bordered on criminality. Difference was that Wright was the expert and people got bragging rights when he was “done” which, when you think about it, the traffic engineer is as close as he was to being done.

    Still, all his roofs leaked.

    • Keri
      Keri says:

      Yup, exactly! That’s the mentality.

      The argument from that engineer isn’t that bike lanes wouldn’t increase safety (true) or that bicycle drivers are better off claiming the right lane and making predictable traffic movements there-in (true). Those would be valid arguments based sound reasoning. Instead it’s the car-centric danger mythology that it’s too dangerous for bikes on that road (false).

      • Eric
        Eric says:

        I wonder if that is what he really said. Most engineers are trained now not to say such non-PC things like that.

  9. John Forester
    John Forester says:

    I refer to the comments made about the engineering process, in which the engineer designs what the customer orders. It is one thing to design for safe traffic operation by cyclists, which it was claimed that that engineer could do. It is another thing entirely when the engineer is required by his political superiors to obey the bicycle facility designs in the authorized manuals, none of which were designed with the intention of reducing car-bike collision and, furthermore, were designed on the basis that the users would be incompetent as drivers. Of course, the average American cyclist is incompetent, and the political program is to make facilities that are particularly attractive to the cycling-ignorant incompetent bicycle rider.

    I doubt that we will ever produce a system that is safe for such persons. And, if we did, most competent cyclists would probably have reasonable reasons for shunning it. The engineer is in an ethical dilemma; obey the orders, or do the right thing.

    • Keri
      Keri says:

      John, I agree wholeheartedly that that is the case where a competent engineer is ordered to install a bikeway which (as most do) defies the rules of the road for vehicle drivers. We’re seeing a somewhat different thing here in that (as shown Todd’s link above) many engineers refuse to recognize bicycles as vehicles and strongly believe they do not belong on the road among cars.

      To be totally honest, in the case of Todd’s link, that would work to my advantage because a bike lane would not be foisted on me (regardless of the bogus reason given).

      All that is somewhat secondary to the problems with helping people cross the street safely. Pedestrians suffer far more that bicycle drivers in an environment built for speed and throughput with no other considerations. Even bicycle drivers suffer when we cannot connect networks of desirable low-volume roads across a 6-lane artery because adding a traffic light would reduce throughput.

    • Eric
      Eric says:

      The complaint that I hear most is that motorists are incompetent, thus other users must be protected from them.

      Although there is no evidence that I am aware of to prove that stricter licensing requirements produce better drivers, I do have proof that the licensing requirements for cars and trucks have been reduced dramatically.

      I can cite several examples which would promote driver incompetence such as the elimination of driver’s education in Florida high schools and the elimination of tests for drivers of trucks that weigh less than 28,500GVW.

      It sound ridiculous, but someone can now drive a straight truck that is 45 feet long and 11 feet wide and 13 feet high without ever taken a day of formal training and only passed a driving test using a car on a closed course, so long that the truck doesn’t transport hazardous chemicals.

      Those licensing requirements were dropped in part because it was said that the roads were so much safer than they used to be. Engineers proved it.

      In my mind, as a group, the traffic engineers have over promised that they could deliver safe roads without the need of education and enforcement. Both of those things being expensive and unpopular, the pols were happy to drop them, as long as the pols were able to raise the money to feed the engineering machine, because that was the bargain. We will deliver safer roads if you are willing to pay double the price of the old ones.

      Engineers wrote “the authorized manuals.” The rest of us could only stand back and gawk. What could we say? We are not experts. It was and still is out of our hands.

      To say that the engineers are now constrained by what they wrought is correct, but that is what happens when they over-promise.

  10. Steve A
    Steve A says:

    John Forester makes a valid point in that it is a quite different task to design to minimize the risk of the typical American person on a bike than to design to facilitate the passage of an assertive cyclist operating vehicularly. In some cases, one or the other design objective might have to be sacrificed to facilitate the other. Given the relative numbers, I’m glad I’m NOT a transportation engineer. I’d probably come down on the side of less risk for the uneducated many, knowing that the few can adapt to the inferior conditions and that there are no realistic prospects that the many will be educated anytime soon. Keri, Mighk, and I may not like operating around unsafe facilities, but we will adopt riding to suit the conditions. I feel fortunate that such a Catch 22 is not necessary in aerospace.

    • Eric
      Eric says:

      Quote from a 2008 GAO report:
      “Recent data indicate that runway incursions, which are precursors to
      aviation accidents, are growing. Although the number and rate of
      incursions declined after reaching a peak in fiscal year 2001 and
      remained relatively constant for the next 5 years, they show a recent
      upward trend. From fiscal year 2006 through fiscal year 2007, the
      number and rate of incursions increased by 12 percent and both were
      nearly as high as their 2001 peak. Furthermore, the number of serious
      incursions where collisions are narrowly or barely avoided increased
      from 2 during the first quarter of fiscal year 2007 to 10 during the
      same quarter in fiscal year 2008.”


      It can be quite challenging to drive a truck around in a large airport at night especially if you have to go to an area you are unfamiliar with.

  11. Laura M
    Laura M says:

    I don’t think there needs to be special roadway designs to make bicycling safer, I think our society needs to show restraint when it comes to widening/constructing roadways so that they are ‘safer’ overall. But that won’t happen if it means motor vehicles are slowed down or impeded due to congestion or number of signalized intersections.

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