It's no secret that L.A. streets can be dangerous for bike riders, but are there certain roadways that pose more of a risk than others? Researchers at MIT's Media Lab want to help answer that question through a new city mapping project called You Are Here.
Launched just a week ago, the project will release one map per day for the next year, with the ultimate goal of having 100 different maps for 100 different cities. The team's first installment maps police bike accident data from 2012 in cities like Los Angeles (click on the map for the full version):
The map then pairs accident data with Google Maps street view images in an effort to highlight potential hazards and danger areas within the city's bike infrastructure.
Sep Kamvar, Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at MIT and head of the project, says he first conceived of this idea after moving from San Francisco to Cambridge, Mass. In particular, he noticed that the sidewalks in San Francisco were much wider and more comfortable to walk on than sidewalks in Cambridge.
"I felt like when I was walking along these narrow sidewalks, I was shoulder to shoulder with cars, and I felt that I was just a little bit more stressed out. I realized that there are thousands of little, subtle design decisions that happen in a city, and those effect city life," Kamvar told Take Two. "I thought it would be nice to map all of these little stories that make up the entirety of life in a city."
The team chose to tackle bike accident data first, because of the demographic trends occurring in cities throughout the U.S. as more people choose to make their homes within the city.
"As you see more density in urban cores, the private automobile becomes more problematic. There’s been investment into traditional public transportation systems, but by and large they've been expensive and a lot of time to put into place,"said Kamvar. "So what you've seen organically is you've seen a rise in car share programs or ride share programs and an increase in biking as a mode of transportation. We were just interested in seeing how the current infrastructure has been supporting this increase in number of bike commuters and what it can do to make things safer."
What can this data tell us about L.A. bike safety?
While the data show which streets have the most bike accidents — Olympic Boulevard has the most, 72 accidents, followed by Venice Boulevard, with 63, and Sunset Boulevard, with 55 — there are still many questions that remain.
For one, why do certain streets have a higher number of accidents? Is it an issue with infrastructure, or are there just more people using the bike lanes?
Eric Bruins of the L.A. County Bicycle Coalition said that, despite these unanswered questions, data visualization projects like You Are Here help distill dense city data into consumable bits for the community.
"These types of maps are really helpful tools to help us tell a story of how we move around Los Angeles," Bruins told Take Two. "The crash data is definitely one part of that story, although what we don't necessarily have is a good idea of how many people are riding on these streets."
For example, why does Olympic have the most bike accidents?
"Olympic is kind of an intimidating street. It's big, it's wide, and it's fast. But one of the interesting things is that it was actually one of the few major streets that was not included in the city's Bike Master Plan," said Bruins. "I don't know whether that's a function of not that many people ride it or whether it's one of the few streets the city decided to leave to the cars."
It's unlikely that this map will push city officials to reexamine their bike plans for Olympic Boulevard, but it could help advocacy groups and cyclists understand where the accidents tend to happen. That can lead to more focused outreach efforts to raise awareness for bike safety and alternate routes.
"Los Angeles is really a gridded system, so sometimes the best route isn't necessarily on the major streets, but there might be one or two blocks over," said Bruins. "One of the key things the city is about to start working on is a network of neighborhood streets that connect with each other to create citywide bike routes that are on the side streets that are really comfortable for families and kids to ride."
In addition, the city is implementing a comprehensive signage effort for bike routes. The signs are in production now and should be going on the streets in a few months.
What do you think of this map of bike accidents? Where do you think the most dangerous streets are? You can add a pin to this KPCC map and mention it in the comments below.