Monday, January 25, 2010

The myth of cycling "collisions"


Michael Helmquist of Bike NOPA had the kind of cycling accident the other day that is a lot more common than being hit by a car: "Last Saturday morning I hit a pothole and lost my grip while biking on Mississippi Street. (The hole was one of those smooth dips in the pavement, a not readily noticed depression). I fell and in the process fractured my right elbow." Ironically, as he points out, the accident happened while he was riding with other cyclists looking for potholes on city streets that can be a serious threat to cyclists.

Bike messenger/writer Robert Hurst has written eloquently about the danger of potholes:

To cyclists, potholes are both an annoyance and a real danger. A really bad pothole can pinch a tube and put a flat spot on the rim. More seriously, potholes can finish off critical components that are on the verge of failure---faulty forks, cracked steer tubes, stem bolts. A surprise pothole might cause the rider to stack painfully against the stem, fumble the bars, and just plain wipe out hard ("The Art of Cycling," Hurst, page 46).

A neighbor of mine, also a middleaged guy, had a similar accident recently, though his was caused by a streetcar track. Hurst also writes about rail tracks as a hazard to cyclists:

Ask around among any group of experienced cyclists, and you will find that more than a few have been felled by a railroad track. The most dangerous tracks are of two basic types: wet tracks and diagonal tracks. Railroad tracks that are both wet and diagonal to the cyclist's direction of travel are probably the most unforgiving of all possible forms of surface obstacles. Riders who wreck on such tracks report being slapped to the ground in a split second...Railroad tracks cause quite an ugly brand of fall. The rider doesn't have time to get the arms out or prepare in any way (Hurst, page 53).

In its cycling accident reports, the City of San Francisco lumps all cycling accidents together as "collisions," leaving the false implication that most cycling accidents involve other vehicles. Hurst writes about this falsehood, too:

The majority of cycling accidents are embarrassing solo incidents, with the cyclist sliding out on turns, stacking it up after ramming potholes, curbs, and other obstacles, or just generally losing control. Collisions with motor vehicles are potentially more damaging but account for no more than about 15 percent of all cycling accidents (Hurst, page 161, emphasis added).

The SFBC's favorite bike safety instructor, Bert Hill, tells us that 45% of all cycling accidents are "solo falls" and that only 18% involve another vehicle ("Mission: Not Impossible," Paul McHugh, Feb. 17, 2005, SF Chronicle).

John Forester has also written about cycling accidents: "When you mention cycling accidents, most people assume that you mean car-bike collisions, because this is the only kind they worry about. This is wrong, because car-bike collisions account for only about 12% of cycling accidents" ("Effective Cycling," Sixth Edition, John Forester, page 262).

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Bike people push $390 million bike path

The bike people, including the SF Bicycle Coalition, continue to push for a bike path on the West Span of the Bay Bridge, even though it could cost as much as $390 million. The notice below on Streetsblog of course doesn't mention the potential price of that addition, because it doesn't matter to the bike people how much it will cost. If it was $390 billion, they would still support it.

Rally to Support Bike/Ped Access Across the Bay Bridge
by Bryan Goebel on January 23, 2010
When: January 27, 2010 9:00 am
Where: MTC Metro Auditorium 101 8th Street Oakland

From Streetsblog contributor Janel Sterbentz:
On January 27, the Bay Area Toll Authority (BATA) will vote on a bridge toll increase that has the potential to complete the multi-modal pathway from the East Bay to San Francisco. Now is the time for you to come to the meeting to support the West Span Bicycle Pedestrian Maintenance Pathway. If you can't make it to the meeting write your representatives today and tell them to make the Bay Bridge the world-class structure it should be---one that offers access for all types of users to the entire Bay Bridge, not just half of it. Please arrive by 9am as the room may fill by 9:30. Fill out a speaker card and hold a sign/banner. We will have talking points for you as a handout. We need you to speak to how important this facility is to you and to all. You may hear objections that they lack the power to fund the path now: a process is underway to clarify this and restore their power if need be. We want them to take the strongest action possible to ensure the West Span path opens with the East Span, for shore-to-shore access.

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