Thursday, January 1, 2015

Bike accidents in Cambridge, hard to say anything about intersections

Being a somewhat frequent bike commuter and a geo geek, I thought it would be interesting to look at the Open Data Discourse contest on designing better intersections.  I made a couple of maps using Google Fusion tables and then used QGIS, an open sources geo tool, to look at a specific intersection that I encounter on my commute home.  I usually avoid this intersection on the way in, mostly because Beacon Street in Somerville is a mess now, at least while they fix it up for a hopefully brighter bicycle commuting future.  By the way, Somerville Ave to Webster is now a fine route, especially since the city painted the bike lane not so long ago.

The intersection in question, Hampshire and Cambridge, is quite the intersection - a lot of cars use it and the length of exposure (at least on a bicycle)  from beginning to end is substantial.  I rarely have come into the intersection from Cambridge St so I can't speak to what a cyclist faces there but I do have strong opinions on heading into the intersection from the east on Hampshire.  First, you face a long column of cars in stop and go traffic, frequently leaning towards much more stopping than going.  This section is protected by a bike lane but there is active parking on the side, so there really isn't much room if someone opens their door without looking first.  I approach this section very cautiously, especially after sunset.  Once I get to the intersection,  I am stopped by the light.  I seem to rarely make this light and with the quick yellow light here I approach it slowly.  Once the light changes, everyone, car drivers and cyclists, have to be patient with the long line of cars heading E (or NE) on Cambridge St to run the red light.  This is likely a significant cause of the back up on Hampshire, since a good 5-10 seconds of the light is always wasted on the lawbreakers on Cambridge.

So my original assumption, of a narrow bicycle lane bounded on one side by frustrated drivers is clogged lane and on the other by parked cars, is a decent cause of car/bicycle accidents for a significant distance, commonly as far east as Windsor St, and bad behavior at the Hampshire/Cambridge intersection.  I made a map here, with only the car/bicycle accidents (object1 and object2 columns in the original data) and only for what I consider the heaviest commuting times (4-7PM, Monday through Friday) and here is what I see (the background is the Open Street Map layer available in QGIS):

Right click and open this is in a new window to enlarge the image.

The majority of accidents are where I would expect them to be but I don't know much more than they were car/bicycle accidents.  For instance, I fear dooring in the narrow corridor with stopped traffic but I also have experienced near right hooks many, many times.  All of these right hooks were avoided because I assume people won't stop (and they don't) but others may not be so lucky and less cautious.  I also don't know if the accidents at intersections in this area are east or west bound so they may be irrelevant to proving my hypothesis.  Finally, I know of accidents that don't appear in the data set and wonder how this affects the map.

I have only one suggestion, Cambridge should continue to make driving a less desirable option and make other options more viable.  Having as many cars on the streets as Cambridge has leads to slow driving which often leads to stress and bad decisions.  I don't know how of these play into the issue of this single intersection but I can say that none of those car/bicycle accidents had to happen and the intersection is over utilized.  Cambridge limits the amount of parking for newly developed workplaces but this still adds to the total number of people coming into Cambridge to work.  They somehow need to reduce the total number and that can be done only if there are viable options to driving.  That's something to work on with the MBTA and others.

Finally, I wish that a more complete data set was available.  Check out the NYC data available here:

This isn't a perfect data set but it does give contributing factors for one or more vehicles involved for many of the accidents.  This data set, and the Cambridge data set, could be vastly improved by a simple statement of what happened: a dooring, right hook, impact, or whatever.  Trying to improve an intersection without knowing how it doesn't work doesn't seem altogether possible to me.

You can download my version of the Cambridge data, with sunrise and sunset times, here:

The contest is over but it remains an interesting data set.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Closing up the year, goals for next year

It looks pretty likely that if I get to ride my bike one more time before the end of  the year it will be a short early morning or late night ride so it's pretty safe to say that I know how my cycling year went in 2014 now.

First, by the numbers ...

It was a very good year.  I rode 2982 miles so far and that could easily be 3000 miles in a couple of days.  This is the second highest total for me, ever. I rode my bike to work about 120 times, that's about 1,800 miles, or 60% of the all of my riding this year.  I rode almost 900 miles on my IF, all of that being pure recreation and usually faster than riding my Surly Cross Check.  I also rode my Cross Check about 300 miles or so.  Much of that involved dirt road rides of one sort or another.  Not bad for a busy guy.

Bike Commuting

If you remember, it was a cold winter in Boston in early 2014.  Because of that I didn't ride to work until a couple of trips in March.  Both of those rides were inspired by the errandonnee challenge.  After returning from a 10 day work trip that month, I started commuting somewhat regularly in April and kept it up through December.  I pushed my limits of fair weather commuting to light rain and cold temperatures and urban night riding.

At the end of daylight savings time in November, I promised myself that I would ride at least the first day, to see how I felt riding in the city in the dark.  I have some experience riding for recreational at night but commuting at night seemed a bit daunting.  It was fine, as it turned out, although I did get a flat that first Monday night.  The part of my commute that concerns me the most is the dark bike path, both because not everyone is lit or has reflectors on and security issues (there have been thefts in this section late in the evening).  A lot of T riders do have lights and that does help.  In any case, I found that I enjoyed the night ride although I am even slower commuting at night.  I'll quit bike commuting for the season once the roads are salted, unless I can get a bike that I am willing to either leave at Alewife or riding on the slushy and/or icy streets of Cambridge.  I'll miss it when it's gone - riding is much more pleasant than driving and it has to be pretty cold for me to not want to ride.

Road Riding

 This year wasn't as good as last year, when I was prepping for the Mount Greylock ride with Ride Studio Cafe.  I had a good start, until I had a major tummy ache in June, which slowed me down substantially.  I really enjoy riding my IF, which is, for me, a very fast bike.  I equipped it with a dyno hub so I could use it for road rides late in the season and I enjoyed a few early morning rides on it - hopefully there will be more next year.  The 900 miles of road riding I did this year pales in comparison to my only other 3,000+ year (in 2000) when all of my miles were recreational road rides.  But those days are gone for now with kids taking up a lot of my time.


I was again the Northeast Regional Office for the 2014 Coffeeneuring Challenge.  The chief coffeeneur and I added one new map to the set, which showed the shops where many coffeeneurs drank coffee or other allowed drinks.  I, of course, managed to not finish this year but it was fun trying.


I did my best but didn't finish since I was getting ready for a significant work trip.  But it is a great idea which got me on my bike earlier in the year than I otherwise would have.


Coffee and bikes?  I guess it is more than just my taste.  Thanks to Russ and Mike for advice on alternatives to a pump espresso machine and thanks to Grimbeur Bros for some great coffee.  And thanks to all of the shops I visited on the Coffeeneuring Challenge.

Special Events

I did several fun special event rides: the Diverged Ride, the Ride Studio Cafe Pioneers Ride, the  Honey Hundred, and the D2R2.  The Pioneers Ride was my longest ride of the year (and maybe of the last 7 years) and was a great test of riding in a group as well as navigating with a Garmin GPS unit.  The other 3 rides were largely dirt road rides on my Surly.  I replaced the commuter tires on my Surly with Clement USH tires, which was a great change.

While the following two rides weren't special event like in that they were solo rides, they do deserve special mention.  While on  the family vacation in North Conway, I did my favorite New England road ride, Bear Notch.  I also road over Hurricane Mountain Road for the second time.  The first ride is easy, with one short by very doable hill followed by a long largely downhill run back to North Conway.  On the other hand, the Hurricane Mountain ride was very easy for most of the miles, followed by one of the hardest climbs I have ever done.  It wasn't made easier by not being in very good shape but it was fun to try and see a sign at the top telling me that I just rode up a 17% grade.

Bike changes

I didn't replace or add bikes this year but I did make a couple of significant changes.  I changed out the rear wheel on the Surly after persistent issues with the 105 hub, which couldn't be fixed with a hard to find free hub body.  It now has a White Industries MI5 MTB hub laced to a Mavic 719 rim with 36 spokes.  I also went for a full time dynamo hub on my IF, a Schmidt Son Deluxe 32 hub laced to a Mavic Open Pro rim with 32 spokes.  It's great fun having easy lighting on the IF.

Add thanks

Overall it was a great year of riding and commuting and I thank everyone who I rode with, even if for just a few miles.  For a guy who leaves the house alone, I tend to ride with people for a few miles or longer when I can and I appreciate the lift and the camaraderie.  I also thank Ride Studio Cafe and Honey, and the volunteers) for organizing rides as well as Sandy Whittlesey (and all of the volunteers) for organizing the D2R2 and giving me additional route options.  And thanks to Hub Bicycle and Ride Studio Cafe for keeping my bikes running.

I get inspiration to ride from a lot of people who I either don't know or just met a few times, like Shoji, Matt Roy, Chip Baker, and Pamela Blalock.  It's nice to know that there are people much more focused on bikes than me.

With two young boys, my life is pretty constrained right now.  Getting out riding, even on a commute through the city, provides some measure of sanity and I'm pretty grateful for that.

Goals for 2015

I'd love to continue bike commuting as much as I did in 2014.  It really is the best way to get to work.  Last year I  started late and then had a decent number of days that I had to do two preschool/school/day camp drop offs and pick ups.  I don't have the bike for that although I can dream about a Surly Big Dummy or Xtracycle Edgerunner.  Maybe I'll get one a long tail in 2015 but that is hardly certain.  If I do, I'll be picking up the boys by bike when I need to.

I'm hoping for my long rides on my IF.  I may have to get back into my habit of 50 or 60 miles by 8:30 and it will be worth it if I do.  I'm hoping to get something like a Dill Pickle bag to extend my riding in marginal weather.   I'd love to be able to add or drop a layer and be able to comfortably add to carry it when not in use.  I imagine longer rides in the Berkshires.

I'm not all that into group rides but I'd love to do the Diverged, D2R2, and Honey 100 again this year.  I loved doing the highly modified D2R2 and heard from Sandy that I was hardly the first to mix up routes.  I really appreciated Sandy taking the time to help me modify the Green River Ride to include significant climbing and get away from the crowds on the main routes.

I would like to try a populaire or two but they would have to be later in the year than the April NER event.  I can't see myself having time to get in shape for a 200K or longer brevet, although the idea is appealing.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Bike accidents in Cambridge, MA 2010-2013 #2

I'm continuing to think about the "contest" from Open Data Discourse.  I managed to deal with the sunset data and also processed the data so I can geocode in QGIS.  First result: 4PM to 7PM, Monday through Friday.  Not unexpectedly, nearly all of the accidents are on the major commuting routes.  It thins out if you look at the same period but for after sunset:

If you look at the after work commuting hours after sunset, you see that most accidents are on Mass Ave and the major routes leading into, and in, Inman Square but the density is far less.

The short answer, so far: riding at night, on major commuting routes is probably a less than safe time and place to ride but accidents happen during daylight.

Sunset times were derived from here but I used only 2010 data, which is within 1 minute for times for other years.  I used this site for timing of daylight savings time for the 4 years.

The table is here, if you want to look at it directly.

See the first post on mapping bike accidents here.

Two thoughts about the data.  1) these are reported accidents only.  I don't have any idea of what accidents are not reported and there are certainly no near misses in this dataset and  2) I noticed a significant (so significant that I remembered it from 3 years ago) accident at the corner of Mass Ave and Vasser.  This accident was not in the data set.

More later.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Mapping Cambridge, MA Bicycle Accidents (1 of many), raw data

Open Data Discourse has a contest to best represent accident data in Cambridge, MA from 2010 to 2013 in an effort to improve safety in our fair city.  I'm interested in bicycle accidents although the data includes car/car and car/pedestrian accidents.  You can find their contest here, for now.  I downloaded the data and put it in a Google Fusion Table for now.  It looks like this:

There are 765 records.  You can see one errant point in Somerville, which is supposed to be at the intersection of Parker and Cambridge Streets (and this doesn't exist - I think this should be the intersection of Parker and Concord).  Clicking on the points show you the time and what "objects" were involved.  There is an object 1 and object 2.  I presume these mean that the object 1 crashed into object 2 but that isn't clear.  There are 26 cases of bikes crashing into other objects, including one case of a bike crashing into another bike and other cases where bikes crash into parked cars, among other objects.

The points were geocoded by Google, which is a feature of Fusion Tables.  When a street address is available, the point maps to the center of the nearby land parcel.  When the location is an intersection, the point maps to the center of the intersection.

I tried to include a heat map but heat maps produced by Google Fusion Tables can't be published (and added to a web page or blog as my map of the raw points is published here).  It doesn't tell you much you can't see here: the preponderance of bicycle accidents are on Mass Ave, Hampshire, Broadway, and Cambridge.  I was a little surprised about the stretch of Mass Ave west of Porter Square.  It doesn't seem all that dangerous.  I think I will take even more care when I am on that stretch of road.  One thing about the heat maps - the intensity is based on nearness of points and that is measured in screen pixels, not distance on the ground.  So if I could publish a map and add it here, you zooming in and out would change what I intended so not having heat maps is no great loss.

The next step for me is to parse the data and time field so I can map by location and time of day and day of the week.  I also need to calculate the time of sunset for a given year since darkness could be a factor in accidents.  I'll use this code from NOAA to make  the calculation.  I'll post more on this once I work through these next steps.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Coffeeneuring 2014 - DNF, again

A few weeks ago I was talking with Shoji about coffeeneuring on the ride to work.  We happen to cross paths and ride in together, although not all that frequently.  Shoji was a successful errandonneur this year but didn't plan to try to complete this year's coffeeneuring challenge.  As a dad with two young children, he couldn't count on always have free time on the weekends for the coffeeneuring challenge, although he is free to commute by bicycle, which he does every day.  It's relatively easy to finish the errandonnee if you are riding 5 days a week already (not that I finished this year's challenge) but it is another thing entirely to always be able to carve out alone time on the weekends when you have young children.  And so it was this year.  I missed the first weekend of coffeeneuring with a trip to Maine that didn't include bikes.  I made up that lost weekend with a second coffeeneuring trip on another weekend and had just one trip for this weekend.  And it didn't happen.  I could go out now for a cup of tea or a mulled cider but if I did it would violate one of my rules for coffeeneuring - it has to be fun.  And right now I have some energy for typing but not enough for going out in the cold.  Not that the cold and dark bother me but I do have to get ready for the work week and getting the boys out the door tomorrow.  So here is the record of my successful trips.  Maybe I'll earn an honorable mention.

Coffeeneuring 1 - Diesel Cafe in Davis Square, Somerville, MA.  This is one of my favorite places for coffee and hanging out. 9 miles.

Coffeeneuring 2 - An early morning ride out to Concord and Carlisle with a stop at Haute Coffee in Concord, MA.  Lights were required for this one. 43 miles.

Coffeeneuring 3 - A carbon nap for my son without the carbon.  We stopped at my current favorite coffee shop, Ride Studio Cafe in Lexington, MA. 15 miles.

Coffeeneuring 4 and 5 - A quick trip to Kickstand Cafe in Arlington, MA, taken the long way with a detour though trails in Belmont, the town to the south of Arlington.  Included is a quick trip to a Starbuck the following day after running errands in town. 8 and  4 miles.

Coffeeneuring 6 - Sofra Bakery on the Belmont/Cambridge, MA line.  This also included a detour through the same trails through Belmont but I got a little lost in the woods.  Sofra is a great place to stop for coffee and/or treats.  I never had breakfast or lunch there but it looks like it would be great.  11  miles.

While I didn't finish the challenge, I did work with the Chief Coffeeneur on the digital maps.  We added a coffee shop map this year.  Let us know if you participated in the challenge and want to add the shops you visited to the map.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Coffeeneuring #6 - getting lost in the woods

Coffeeneuring #6 is complete!  If you read my blog last year, or the results from the Chief Coffeeneur, you might recall that even as the New England Regional Office of Coffeeneuring, I wasn't able to complete the challenge.  I stand a better chance this year, with one weekend remaining in the challenge and only one more coffee shop to visit.  Or I could say, darn, only 1 more coffee shop that I get to visit, with my wife's blessing.  In fact, I'm hoping that my wife comes with me, and the boys, too.  I'm hoping for a combination of Union Square Donuts and Bloc 11, which I visited on last year's challenge, as my last coffeeneuring event.  Maybe I could ride there and they could join me via the van car.

I picked Sofra for this trip.  It's a fabulous bakery, specializing in Middle Eastern fair (although the owners are not from the Middle East, at least as far as I know).  They have a lot of savory options and while they call themselves a bakery, you can certainly get breakfast and lunch there as well.
Sofra is in Belmont, the next town over, and I decided to again ride through the trails on my way there.  I again used the Diverged ride route and decided in advance to avoid the steepest section, just above Snake Hill Road.  Just before the turn off I noticed, for the first time, an old water tower, probably connected to Maclean Hospital.  For an isolated spot, at least a half mile from the nearest road, it was covered in graffiti:

The top is capped with a conical roof, which I couldn't capture from below and couldn't focus on it from a distance.  It's colored with rust, above the graffiti:

Just beyond this was, I thought, the steep section.  And just before the steep section was a turn.  I think that's were I left the known route or maybe I already veered off since I didn't have the GPS route and I had only been on these trails twice before.  In any case, I soon found myself descending into the Maclean Hospital grounds.  The hospital is expansive and some of the buildings looked like there were in the middle of renovations:

There was also the new residential development that was built within the grounds after some lean years in the 1990s.  It was odd seeing the modern somewhat dense residential development surrounded in places by the older institutional buildings.  I didn't have a map (although I could have looked at Ride With GPS on my phone (I added a route, just in case I got really lost) but knew that the road I was looking for, Mill Street, lay to the north.  I was lucky that the path I followed led quickly to a road then I simply followed what seemed to be a one way road until I saw an exit sign, which did lead me towards Mill Street.  From there I followed Trapelo Road to Sofra.

Sofra was packed.  The line for ordering and waiting for your order was long but it seemed to move quickly.  I grabbed a seat but noticed that there were empty seats outside.  I considered that but I was lightly dressed and it was fairly cold so I stayed inside.  The coffee (a cappuccino) was fabulous and I had a savory and a sweet pastry:

I shared my table with a woman waiting for a friend and enjoyed some conversation, but also a relaxing few minutes on my own.  It had been a busy morning, with my wife away for an appointment and me playing with the boys while I raked up a considerable volume of leaves, hopefully most of what I need to do this fall.  I'd love to come back here for lunch some time.

I managed to find more trails on my way home, descending from Huron Avenue down the path along Fresh Pond, and then taking the bike path into Arlington.  It was a 12 mile ride with a decent amount of uncertainty about where I was and mostly very nice roads and trails.  Trapelo was the exception but there was a lot of room (seemingly enough for parking and a good bike lane) so it wasn't bad despite the traffic.

Miles for the ride: 12, miles for  the month: 58, miles for the year: 2621.

My personal coffeeneuring map (let me know if you want to do this for yourself):

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Coffeeneuring #4 2014 or a ride in the woods + coffeeneuring #5

A couple of weekends I had the chance to get out for a second coffeeneuring excusion on Sunday.  I believe I spent most of  the day getting the boys out of the house so my wife could work so she generously gave me an hour and a half to get in another coffeeneuring adventure.  I thought I would stay in town and try out Kickstand Cafe, which I rarely go to, but decided on a longer route to get there.  I had the Ride Studio Cafe Diverged 2014 route on my Garmin so I decided that I'd try to get on the route to ride through some woods in Belmont.  I had tried this route in the spring without the GPS and didn't get lost but thought I might increase my chances of getting home on time so the GPS would give me confidence in doing so.

This area is a bit of a ride from my house so I had to navigate hills, semi-urban streets and a Route 2 crossing to get there but it was worth it.  The trails, for the most part, aren't technical but there is one descent that I did in the spring but I balked on since the trail was now leaf covered and, again, I wanted to get home on time and get home without blood showing.  The Garmin route from Ride Studio Cafe had a nice cutoff to avoid the Concord Ave morass where it emerges from the underpass (below the commuter rail tracks) and eventually brought me to the Fitchburg Cutoff and Minuteman Path.  All in all, I think well over half of my ride was either on dirt trails or bike paths.

The Kickstand Cafe is a nice place for coffee, especially in the afternoon when it isn't too busy.  The room is big and there is bar seating overlooking the parking lot.  Well, at least you could see the sun.  There is minimal outdoor seating.  I suggest that they do a better job with bike racks, however.

I think I take a left here ...

A quiet trail through the woods.

The wetland along part of the Fitchburg Cutoff.

I stopped and chatted with Jeremy on his Rivendell Simple One on the Minuteman.

Coffeeneuring #5 - not much to say about this except that the challenge motivated me to get out of the house before last weekend's nor'easter .  I had to run an errand in the center of town and had time for a quick cup of coffee (as in a short, which is not on the printed menu).  I did get some trail riding by going out of my way but mostly is was an excuse to get out of the house for a few extra minutes that morning.

My well locked bike attached to one of the only two racks here.

Official proof for the coffeeneuring challenge.