IDOT mapping tool helps identify unsafe locations for cyclists to travel

IDOT mapping tool helps identify unsafe locations for cyclists to travel

  • Potholes, broken pavement and other roadway issues are just some unsafe conditions that can be identified as part of the state's Vulnerable Road User Safety Assessment.

    Potholes, broken pavement and other roadway issues are just some unsafe conditions that can be identified as part of the state's Vulnerable Road User Safety Assessment. Courtesy of Ralph Banasiak

 
By Ralph Banasiak
Along For the Ride
Updated 5/19/2023 11:37 AM

I've heard this cycling complaint too often: "Someone's going to get hurt here unless ..."

Thanks to an interactive GIS mapping tool, one can now do something besides bellyache, courtesy of the Illinois Department of Transportation.

 

Background: IDOT, like all other state DOTs, must conduct a "vulnerable road user" (VRU) safety assessment by Nov. 15. Required by the 2021 federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act), it's a response to the national increase in injuries/fatalities of non-motorist road users.

At a March 30 IDOT webinar, Todd Schmidt, Safety Mobility specialist with Federal Highway Administration's Illinois Division, identified VRUs as any roadway users not in motorized vehicles: Bicyclists, pedestrians, skaters, wheelchair users, anyone "biking, walking or rolling," motorcyclists excluded.

Per Schmidt, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data shows over 38,800 lives lost in 2020 traffic crashes, the highest since 2007. Bike fatalities increased 9.2% that year from 2019, pedestrian fatalities up 3.9%. 2021 estimates look bleaker: bike fatalities up 5% over 2020, pedestrians up 13.2%.

Nonprofit Safe Routes Partnership reports while walking and biking comprise 12% of transportation trips nationally, pedestrians and bicyclists constitute 20% of fatalities.

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Illinois statistics are gloomier for pedestrians than cyclists. Engineer Juan David Pava, IDOT's Safety Programs Unit chief in the Bureau of Safety Programs and Engineering, informed webinar participants over 15% of traffic fatalities statewide involve pedestrians. Fatalities increased over 37% from 2013-2020.

Among Illinois cyclists, serious injuries, including fatalities, dropped 29%: 484 in 2015 to 345 in 2020. Serious 2020 pedestrian injuries, including fatalities, numbered 941.

VRU Safety Assessment is intended to study where/when these fatalities/serious injuries occur in each state. Quantitative analysis will incorporate annual IDOT crash data, traffic engineering data (intersection density, walkability, etc.), plus census tract-based equity data that reviews disparities in disadvantaged communities.

Interactive GIS mapping tool enables anyone biking, walking and rolling to identify unsafe Illinois roadway conditions, like these "pinned" locations in the metro Chicago area.
Interactive GIS mapping tool enables anyone biking, walking and rolling to identify unsafe Illinois roadway conditions, like these "pinned" locations in the metro Chicago area. - Courtesy of Illinois Department of Transportation
User input mapping tool

Besides macro-level data, IDOT requests cyclists and pedestrians offer their own individual experiences using the interactive GIS mapping tool. It enables VRUs, like you and me, to "pin" a specific Illinois map location, briefly noting what makes it unsafe.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Pins may specify an unsafe intersection, crosswalk, median, etc., that one frequents. Likewise, pins may identify locations one avoids due to perceived risk.

"No one knows our roadway facilities better than the people who use them," Pava said. In introducing this tool, he encouraged participants to share it "with anyone you think may be able to provide valuable input. This project is seeking completely grass-roots, crowdsourced data.

"The tool isn't meant for crash data," Pava continues, rather for "input of areas for potential safety improvement or a perceived need for safety improvement. Partly, its purpose is to help us identify VRU risk areas that we may not be able to capture looking just at crash data."

Pinned user data isn't restricted only to roadways under IDOT control. IDOT hopes to collect information about all public roadways: Neighborhood streets, state roads and everything in between.

Pava said, "We plan to do a statewide evaluation of all public roads, applying the same analysis to all."

Available now to mid-June

In under 10 minutes, using the tool, I dropped three "pins" at spots maddeningly familiar and frustrating. One is a roadway maintenance issue, the other two, bicycle facility requests. Safety-pinning categories also include accessibility, dangerous driving, pedestrian facility request and transit access.

A free-form comment box lets one explain why a location seems risky. Be smart when commenting. Precision and brevity add value and impact. If emotions hijack your comments, you'll undoubtedly exhaust the space.

How will IDOT vet user input?

"People taking the time for adding input are very likely entering valuable data," Pava said. "We are putting a lot of weight into email validation, though not everyone will provide an email address. We will also spot-check pinned data using a sample size to be determined."

While the tool is available until mid-June, IDOT may extend tool access depending on volume of entries collected. It may also see life in some form after the Nov. 15 deadline.

Two more project webinars are scheduled. A series of June meetings will discuss preliminary data analysis: Downstate urban communities at 9:30 a.m. June 7 (register at tinyurl.com/vru-urbanized); downstate non-urbanized communities at 1:30 p.m. June 7 (tinyurl.com/vru-non-urbanized); Cook County at 9:30 a.m. June 8 (tinyurl.com/vru-cook-county); collar counties at 1:30 p.m. June 8 (tinyurl.com/vru-collar-counties).

Questions regarding the tool or the overall project? Contact DOT.VRUSafety@illinois.gov.

Mechanics from Warrenville's Recycled Cycling Bike Shop do safety checks on bikes at the city's annual bike rodeo in 2021.
Mechanics from Warrenville's Recycled Cycling Bike Shop do safety checks on bikes at the city's annual bike rodeo in 2021. - Courtesy of Kristin Youngmeyer
Warrenville Safety Rodeo

The 17th annual Warrenville Bike Rodeo rolls from 9-11 a.m. Saturday, May 20, outside city hall as a free family-friendly event organized by the city and Warrenville Park District.

Helmeted participants can test their biking skills on the safety rodeo course, have Recycled Cycling Bike Shop mechanics safety-check their bikes, and get helmets safely fitted by Northwest Medicine. Chicago's Working Bikes, refurbishing bikes for underserved communities since 1999, is accepting gently used bike donations.

Participants will enjoy numerous giveaways: bike bells, T-shirts, and Dairy Queen treats. Two youth bikes will also be raffled.

Sketchbook Taproom & Brewery will host cycling "Tales from the Trails" July 9. Story submissions are due May 22.
Sketchbook Taproom & Brewery will host cycling "Tales from the Trails" July 9. Story submissions are due May 22. - Courtesy of Charlie Saxe
Trail tales

Skokie Bike Network hosts a free July 9 storytelling event with original trail tales about life on two wheels at Skokie's Sketchbook Taproom & Brewery, 4901 Main St.

Stories will be bike-themed, family-friendly (PG-13) and limited to eight minutes. Anyone can submit a story -- no need to be a network member, Skokie resident or even a cyclist.

Deadline for story submission, written or audio/video, is May 22 via email to skokiebikenet@gmail.com. Check Skokie Bike Network's Tales from the Trails for more information.

• Join the ride. Contact Ralph Banasiak at alongfortheridemail@gmail.com.

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