Discover more from Green Leap Forward
Lowering/Insufficient Safety Standards
A Disconnect Between Lobbying/Advocacy Groups and Engineers
The image above is a mockup of a bicycle lane installed in an urban area from the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), a transportation lobbying group based in NYC with an interest in walking, cycling, micro-mobility and public transit over private automobile use.
NACTO publish a document called the Urban Bikeway Design Guide (Guide) which is an attempt to create a national standard for bikeways in cities. NACTO also tow the typical biking advocacy talking points, most notably that roads are too dangerous for bicyclists and they must be reworked to accommodate them. As a result, they engage in much of the fearmongering many bicycling advocates engage in which ironically creates a culture of fear surrounding the activity discouraging it for many folks. It also creates a dependency problem and encourages victimhood mindset, an “us versus them” mentality with other road users, and a dependency on the State and so-called “transportation professionals” who are just often, excuse my harshness - frauds and charlatans. A list of organizations and people who don’t meet this criteria are here.
The reality is far different from that - perceptions about bicycling safety are steeped in nearly as many misconceptions as nuclear energy. Often these special infrastructure treatments cause more harm than good to their intended user. (I highly recommend dropping a few bucks on the online Cycling Savvy safety course if you’re a bicyclist interested in this topic. CS teaches people how to properly assess risk, ride safely and legally in nearly any condition from quiet neighborhood to highly trafficked arterials. It’s a major paradigm shift for most who take their courses)
While the Guide has some okay things, it’s hardly a legitimate design guide for use by legitimate engineers and it has lots of notorious flaws that non-captured cycling safety experts have long ago proven are hazardous to the intended users - the bicyclists. The NACTO guide is far closer to a glossy magazine of wishes than a bona-fide engineering design standards document.
So, for those who aren’t steeped in bicycling safety issues - there is a notorious issue with the bicycle lane in NACTO’s image above: it’s installed in the door zone. The door zone is the area where a automobile’s door can open into the path of a passing bicyclist plus a foot or so past that.
Visually, this is what can happen when someone opens their door into the path of a bicyclist1:
Yeah, not good, is it? And the NACTO guide quite literally says this design is acceptable.
So, why install a bike lane there? No other road user is expected to operate in such an unsafe area. Unlike say a car, a bicyclist does not have a steel, fiberglass, and glass cage surrounding them to protect from an opening car door. Instead they are to assume, presumably per NACTO’s goons, that car occupants will always remember to look specifically for bicyclists before opening their doors. This logic flies in the fact of basic defensive driving principles which assume the worst case scenario - that the occupant won’t look.
A lot of people in this space know this as legitimate cycling safety experts have been pointing out for years have sounded such alarms and have asked for reforms to the design standards - but these calls are dismissed. And pro dangerous bikeway proponents have the Federal Government and most states on their side - dooring crashes involving bicyclists are typically not counted in crash statistics making the appearance they are not as common as they really are. So NACTO, et. al, insist legitimate cycling safety experts and advocates overplay the risk of dooring. To add insult to injury, most of the academic studies on bikeway safety are complete garbage - often written by fiat academic charlatans in Public Health who apply ineffective epidemiological models which are insufficient for understanding how any why the crashes occur.
The mental gymnastics NACTO folks and their ilk - which often includes a lot of government “engineers” and planners legally immune to the worst of their design problems - go through to defend defective bikeway infrastructure design is astounding. Other NACTO proponents and designs straight up deny physics, human nature, and basic traffic engineering principles taught in introductory undergraduate transportation engineering courses2.
NACTO and other groups touting special bicycling infrastructure are extremely loud and obnoxious in the cycling space, and it’s in their interest to install as much “bike stuff” as possible because after all it’s their business model. This has been the tune many cycling advocacy groups have been playing for decades - just build it, and they (more butts on bikes) will come, and somehow the urban Amsterdamnean Utopia will appear.
In the case of designing something that’s actually safe for the intended user often requires a more complicated and more expensive design. That flies in the face of building as much stuff as possible on the limited budgets often assigned to alternative transportation projects.
So, in other words, it’s really in their interest to ignore and bury such safety issues in the effort to build a greater volume of infrastructure.
Unfortunately this lowering of standards and neglection of shenanigans such as physics and human nature isn’t limited to bicycle lane designs. It’s also in the renewable energy sector. The notorious carbon accounting schemes, reliance on fiat subsidies, atrocious mining and supply chain issues aside, we turn to something perhaps often not thought of - structural engineering.
Utility Dive’s Ethan Howland published a remarkable article today about a handful of renewable energy advocacy and lobbying groups (Solar Energy Industries Association, American Clean Power Association and the Distributed Wind Energy Association) are trying prevent the implementation of new standards pertaining to their industry - specifically the design of solar and wind facilities. Their battle so to speak is with The Federal Emergency Management Agency or FEMA, an agency under the US Federal Government’s Department of Homeland Security.
When a disaster within the US strikes, FEMA are often the ones at the Federal level who respond with assistance often in concert with State and Local governments. FEMA also have a mandate in mitigating disaster risks including prevention and preparedness so it’s not unheard of to think part of their role involves ensuring a reliable and stable electrical grid from power stations down the transmission lines, substations, and finally the distribution system to customers.
FEMA wants the the designs of these renewable energy projects to adhere to a proposed set of stricter standards, boringly called Applied Technology Council Seismic Code Support Committee Standard # S76-22. This stricter set of standards is supposed to place wind and solar projects at the same level of risk category (Risk Category IV) as “essential service facilities.” One would think a wind or solar facility would already be classified as such being that they’re power generation facilities, but apparently that's not the case. Most notably, the issue is apparently mainly in areas that see hurricanes or snow. FEMA wish to see the structural design standards for such projects be able to account better for the loads seen in snow and hurricane events.
Hurricanes, for those who live under a rock, carry excessively high speed winds and countless amounts of rain. Snow seems innocent enough but can collapse a structure not designed to accommodate for such loads. It’s not unheard of for structural engineers to design for these types of conditions in areas where they are even slightly likely to occur and the profession is generally highly conservative in their designs. Nearly every other part of the electrical grid is or is in the process of being covered under some sort of structural engineering standards to accommodate for these risks.
Yet some of the renewables folks seem to want a pass.
As if that worked out well in the past:
(Note: storms such as the one that occurred in February 2021 in Texas occur roughly every 10 to 15 years. Wind turbines can be and are designed in other parts of the country to operate during winter storms)
Nevermind that winter storms often include periods of no wind and often block most sunshine from reaching solar panels. Hurricanes provide similar operational roadblocks. It would be ideal for each structure to survive such events and be ready to operate when needed when the event passes though.
The renewables advocacy groups stated in a letter cited in the Utility Dive article, “However, Proposal S76-22 is written by structural engineers, not grid reliability experts with experience in the core factors of grid resiliency and the interaction of the power generating facility and transmission and distribution systems; both of which are unrelated to structural design loads.”
This is typical in the advocacy world: “you are not experts in this field, we are, so stay in your lane.” NACTO and the bikeway advocates love to slap the “stay in your lane” argument on those who dissent too.
While it is true that structural engineers are not “grid reliability experts” per se, their work correlates heavily to the reliability of the grid. After all the damned structures need to stand up during and after a disaster. Other types of power stations must adhere to far stricter design standards. Substations, transmission lines, and even “simple” distribution lines are all under the radar of ever increasingly strict structural engineering standards too. Why do the renewables folks seem to think they can not only save the world from apocalyptic climate crisis with their technologies but also think they get a pass on adhering to structural engineering standards that likely pertain to the rest of the industry?
To be fair to the advocacy groups, adhering to stricter standards increases costs - both in the design (more engineering hours) and in construction will increase these costs, and they are in every way correct to be concerned about this change since after all they, much like the bike infrastructure folks want to build as much as possible. But on the other hand, the electrical grid is too important for cost or corner cutting. (They can just beg for more $ubsidies anyways, right?) Their arguments would be far more worthy of taking into consideration if they highlighted specific reasons for why, perhaps written their own structural engineers, as to why the proposed standards should not be implemented. If/when these structures fail, they fail at the moments they’re needed the most. In both short and long term, it’s the everyday person who pays for it too.
There are a remarkable number of parallels between the renewable energy industry and the bikeway advocacy “industry.”
Both rely on heavy support from the State, often via subsidies and the web of unaccountable bureaucrats. Both are highly utopian in nature. And while both have their merits (there are good renewable and bikeway projects out there!) they oversell themselves in terms of providing the solution. And both seek to lower standards, often flying in the face of physics, human nature, engineering ethics, and economics to attain their stated goals.
Both types of projects are of course going to be built, often at great expense, so let’s do them correctly the first time around.
It’s probably too late for the bike stuff though.
Bicyclist can crash directly into the car door or they can be just slightly outside the door zone and have their handlebar catch on the edge of the door which typically throws their bicycle and themselves out into the adjacent traffic lane. Dooring collisions can range from slight injuries to moderate and even death. I’ve personally reviewed hundreds of redacted crash report in the SF Bay area of doorings. They aren’t pretty.
The Woke religion thrives in this space as well so naturally any pushback from thought criminals or the like are met with the usual common-enemy identity politics. They especially dislike pushback from fellow bicyclists much like the woke hate it when someone of a sacred group speaks out of line with Woke Ideology.