Focusing on Eyes for Bicycle Safety

Philadelphia is one of the oldest cities in the U.S. along with NYC and Boston MA. Philadelphia was established in 1682, and as an inland city, its growth for over 300 years has been steady. In recent years, the city has been experiencing more growth, which means more vehicles and commuter bicycles on the older roads along with those riding for pleasure. In the downtown metroplex as well as the suburbs surrounding the downtown area, a recent focus on safety issues with the added traffic and the dated infrastructure has emerged.

The Office of Transportation and Infrastructure Systems and the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission have united in a safety initiative to make the legacy streets in Philly safer. The program is called Vision Zero, and it focuses on protecting pedestrians and bicyclists by redesigning intersections and sidewalks and adding more protected bike lanes. The safest protected bike lanes are those that are placed in between the sidewalk and the parked cars because the parked cars act as a barrier that protects the cyclist from the moving traffic, and Philly wants more of them. These parking protected bike lanes were introduced in California in 2017.

Research to Make Philadelphia Safer

Megan Ryerson is an avid bicycle commuter and a professor of city planning at the University of Pennsylvania, so she has been more than interested in the development of protected bike lanes. She would often ride her bike with her child on the back, and she explained that she was aware when she was biking in a safe territory or not by the way she felt, not necessarily by what she was seeing.

She didn’t have a way to verbalize her concerns, so she found a scientific way to measure safe feelings when she was on a “safe street.” Ryerson borrowed from technology by using the plastic shop glasses that were already being used in driving simulators and adjusting them to fit her needs. She accessorized them with two cameras, one facing forward and one facing to the back to “see” and record what goes on around a bicyclist.

Ms. Ryerson created a team of 10 cyclists and began using the glasses in October to capture certain data that a cyclist would normally be experiencing such as pupil dilation, head movements, and how long a gaze is randomly held as they cycled. Each team member must carry a laptop to store the data gathered. Ryerson was monitoring the environment through the glasses to collect as much scientific data as possible to translate into the experiences an average cyclist encounters without bike lanes.

Recent News on Vision Eyes

On December 5, Ryerson presented her initial information to the two agencies above, so the members could watch the vimeos and experience for themselves what an experienced cyclist feels in a high traffic situation. This in-your-face research is only in the beginning stages, but Ryerson believes that the research will help city planners with designing the streets in the safest way for commuter cyclists. Philly is leading most of the bike-friendly cities in putting safety first, and the result will be fewer accidents and fatalities.

After the death of a 24-year-old woman who was hit by a garbage truck while cycling in the bike lane on Spruce St., the city has committed to making the streets of Philly safer for cyclists and protected bike lanes are the best answer. After the city officials watched a few of the vimeos from the cameras on the glasses, they could see for themselves the added stress that is involved when a bicyclist is in busy traffic. The video shows continual back and forth head motions distracting them from their continual forward gaze and maintaining their forward ride.

Vision Eyes is a unique program in city development that is presenting phenomenal real-time research. It will be extremely helpful in transitioning the old streets of Philadelphia into safe, 21st-century, easily accessed streets for bicycle commuters.

Officially based in Sweden, the Vision Zero program is designed to bring traffic-related fatalities down to zero in every city they work in. Many major American cities have adopted Vision Zero including New York City and San Francisco. Anyone can check on Philadelphia’s progress at the city’s official Vision Zero webpage.