May 20, 2010 Liz Borkowski, MPH 11Comment

This week is Bike to Work Week, and tomorrow is Bike to Work Day (the League of American Bicyclists lists events here). I wouldn’t have realized this if it weren’t for this Washington Post article; cyclists are common enough here in DC that I’m not sure I’d notice a small uptick in their numbers. What I have noticed, though, is that the overall number of cyclists seems to have increased, probably due in part to the city’s efforts to install more bike lanes and bike racks.

The Post article is accompanied by a database of 2008 bicycle fatality statistics. Only one cyclist was killed in DC that year – which surprised me, since I keep hearing horror stories from my cycling friends about being hit by car doors or having drivers try to force them out of lanes. Florida had the highest death toll, with 125 cyclists killed in 2008; of course, it’s hard to really compare numbers between states when we don’t know the size of their cycling populations.

Streetsblog’s Ben Fried takes a look at New York City’s numbers and finds that as the number of bicycle riders has increased, the number of bicyclist casualties has dropped – something that PL Jacobsen also reported in this 2003 Injury Prevention study. It seems that as drivers get more accustomed to seeing cyclists on the road, they adjust their behavior accordingly.

11 thoughts on “More Cyclists, Fewer Deaths

  1. the list of contributory factors is kind of confusing–when they list “inattentive,” do they mean the driver or the cyclist? Given the number of drivers with cellphones I see on the road, I’d be surprised if the number of accidents that occur during phone calls isn’t insignificant. I’ve never been hit, but I try to stay out of the “door zone,” and try to stay alert at any intersection, whether there’s a signal or not. And yes, I’ve encountered a few a-holes who were trying to squeeze me off the road.

    Actually, it’s pretty simple–the reason cyclists run lights and stop signs, and do all the other dumb things, is that there is almost no enforcement. I’ve gone through lights right in front of cops, and they don’t even blink. Cops on bikes! Nothing.

    My #1 pet peeve is cyclist who ride the wrong way. That really pisses me off. I’d like to see people get ticketed for that. But then, I also think that if a driver has an accident while using their cell phone, it should be treated like a DUI.

  2. I ride around town on a scooter, and often car drivers literally do not see me, no matter how clear the weather and unobstructed their vision. I will have the right of way, but a car will pull out in front of me or turn into my path. I hope that, as more scooters take to the road, drivers will expect to see them, and therefore WILL see them. Right now drivers don’t expect to see them, and by Cthulhu, they don’t!

  3. That ties in quite well with some of the more curious statistics I’ve seen, that show bicycle helmet wearing as quite surprisingly uncorrelated with actual injury rates. My take on it is that where people don’t cycle much, you’d be crazy not to wear a helmet, but in countries with a strong cycling culture it doesn’t greatly matter.

  4. I couldn’t get to the 2003 study without registering, so if I’m repeating, pardon me. Could it be that as numbers of bicyclists in a given area increase, the community begins to take cycling infrastructure seriously? The improved infrastructure (i.e. wider bike lanes, overpasses, enforcement) then leads to lower injury rates.

  5. my pet peeve is with drivers that insist on treating me as a pedestrian, no matter how much i try to ride by the wheeled-vehicle rules of the road.

    which is also why i blow through stop signs at intersections sometimes. if i try to stop like a car would, all too often i just confuse the drivers of any cars that might be stopped there with me, with the result that i end up having to get back on my bike again and go first no matter who had right of way. this actually wastes time, adds to frustration, and (because more people have less idea of what’s going on) increases risk all around.

  6. Moopheus: I was also confused by the way that data’s presented – and I couldn’t find an explanation of “factors,” either on the Post page or the NHTSA website. My guess is that they decide who was at fault, and then identify factors behind that person’s action.

    Patrick: Jacobsen didn’t really get into the infrastrucutre question, but I’m guessing that increases in ridership tend to go hand-in-hand with improvements in cycling infrastructure. More cyclists means more demand for bike lanes (etc), and more bike lanes will attract more riders. It would be interesting to know if there are places where cycling has increased but the infrastructure hasn’t been improved, and whether those places also see cyclist fatalities drop.

  7. @ Cath #3: fall off your bike several times (unrelated to motorized traffic) as I have and, if you survive, you will become a beliver in helmets.

  8. I wish I knew how to quit you, helmet. I know that a few ounces of styrofoam won’t do much to protect me if I get flattened by an SUV, I know that cars tend to drive more closely to helmeted than unhelmeted cyclists, I know that there are some kind of torsion injuries that are somewhat more likely to happen to helmeted than unhelmeted cyclists, and I know that you’ll probably see fewer injuries and deaths if all car drivers and passengers wore helmets than if all cyclists wore helmets. I know all this.

    But I also know that while I’ve had a few low speed falls where I saw it coming and ended up with nothing worse than a scraped elbow or knee, there was also the one time last summer when I slipped hard and fast on a wet railway track and smacked my head smartly on the ground before I was even aware that I was falling. Massive bruise on my hip, scrapes on my leg, and one tiny scratch on my temple. Without a helmet, I may have ended up with a concussion and certainly would have some big bruises and scrapes over the right side of my face.

    It’s dorky. I hate how it looks with the civilian clothes I wear almost every time I ride. But I keep wearing it.

  9. I don’t want to start a huge helmet or not debate, especially since I wear a helmet anyway! But I will very emphatically note that anecdata does not trump epidemiology. I do believe that culture is a massively bigger factor than protective gear. The story this is attached to supports the importance of culture.

    Personally, my own anecdata is that I have a hard time taking my bicycle helmet too seriously because I am so aware of what a real protective helmet actually feels like. I wear one all the time on my motorbike. Now THAT’s genuine protection! Also, I’ve cycled in Holland a lot, and no-one wears helmets there. (Except the serious racers, and that’s more for aerodynamics.)

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