Megan S. Ryerson, assistant professor of transportation planning at the University of Pennsylvania, recently released results from her pilot study on bike safety in Philadelphia. While still in its initial stages, many believe Ryerson's research could help city leaders design safer bike-protected lanes.
Ten professional cyclists and ten average bikers took part in this study. All twenty of these participants wore hi-tech tracking glasses as they rode down biker-protected lanes and city streets. Every biker also had to bring a laptop around with them to collect data.
These tracking glasses are able to tell where a wearer directs his/her gaze and measure the dilation of their pupils. Usually doctors use these glasses to track the eyes of teenage drivers. All of the glasses used in this study were borrowed from the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
This pilot study began in October and ran through November 2017. Dr. Ryerson presented her finding to members of Philadelphia's Office of Transportation and Infrastructure Systems as well as the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission on December fifth.
In her presentation, Dr. Ryerson first contrasted how cyclists rode around the bike-protected lane on Chestnut Street and the unprotected lanes on Walnut Street.
Unsurprisingly, the bikers on Walnut Street had more focused forward gazes and a greater spread of eye and head movements. This all indicated that the biker was in a heightened state of agitation. By contrast, the cyclists on Chestnut Street checked for potential threats far less and had a more relaxed gaze.
Since cyclists tend to hunch over while riding, most of their videos were pointed downwards. Dr. Ryerson suggested painting lines inside bike-protected lanes to help cyclists plan ahead. She especially noted how all cyclists didn't notice when bike lanes shifted from the left to the right side of the street at 33rd and Chestnut Streets.
The Penn team hopes this data will help bring hard facts into the often emotional debates between motorists and cyclists. Ryerson and her colleagues know all too well how debates on bike safety issues can easily dismiss facts and rely on heated emotions. Earlier this year a 24-year-old biker was killed in a bicycle accident 11th and Spruce Streets by a trash truck. One of Ryerson's graduate students also had a friend who was killed while biking in San Francisco.
While the Penn team's data is useful, there's a great deal of work to be done to improve these results. First off, there are far too many variables to account for such as weather, lighting, signage, and lane markings. Ryerson needs some way to make direct correlations between how the bikers look around them and the risk of fatalities.
Safety experts also note that since all the study participants had to carry around heavy objects like laptops, these studies aren't accurate for the majority of bikers of Philly's roads. In response to this critique, Ryerson said she's applying for grant money to use wireless glasses.
To create a more controlled environment, the Penn team is now working on creating a "street laboratory" area near the University of Pennsylvania's Pennovation Center. This outdoor lab would measure approximately 23 acres. Ryerson hopes to be able to analyze the responses of hundreds of bikers here in the near future.
Jeannette Brugger, Philadelphia's bicycle/pedestrian coordinator, said the most important detail in Ryerson's report had to do with the intersection on 33rd Street. Although the sign that says where to change meets federal standards at four feet tall, Brugger agrees that it isn't enough to keep cyclists safe.
Overall, Ryerson said this meeting with safety officials was a great step forward. She looks forward to conducting more studies and working with local authorities in the future.