Tuesday, November 04, 2014

The governors' report on cycling safety


The anti-car bike movement hates anything that even suggests that riding a bike can be dangerous, which is why even talking about cyclists wearing helmets makes them uncomfortable.

The recent governors' report (Bicyclist Safety) on the increase in cyclists' deaths nationwide caused a flurry of tortured reasoning and elaborate semantic analysis at Streetsblog and Bike Portland (I made some comments on the Bike Portland thread. I know that talking to True Believers is a waste of time, but sometimes I can't resist.)

The report simply states the obvious: since more people are riding bikes, there are more fatalities among cyclists. But the demographics of those killed has changed:

Fatal bicyclist crash patterns have changed markedly. The percentage involving adults age 20 and older increased from 21 percent in 1975 to 84 percent in 2012. The percentage involving males increased from 82 percent to 88 percent during this period. Adult males comprised 74 percent of all bicyclist deaths in 2012. The percentage of deaths occurring in urban areas climbed from 50 percent in 1975 to 69 percent in 2012.

This is because riding a bike is mostly a guy thing, and they do it mostly in cities.

And this statement in the report pushed the usual buttons:

Lack of helmet use and alcohol impairment have been and continue to be major contributing factors in bicyclist deaths.

Wearing a helmet while riding a bike may be controversial in San Francisco, but it's no secret that most fatalities to cyclists are caused by head injuries:

According to a New York City study (Bicycle Fatalities and Serious Injuries in New York City, 1996-2005) "Nearly all bicyclists who died (97%) were not wearing a helmet," and "Most fatal crashes (74%) involved a head injury."

Other home truths in the governors' report:

However, biking has its own health risks when it occurs on roads shared with motor vehicles. Bikers (and walkers) are frequently classified as “vulnerable road users.” The biking community, however, is not comfortable with the term, preferring instead references such as “green” or “environmentally sound” (Cynecki, 2012). Yet because of differences in mass and the lack of a protective structure, when bicycles collide with motor vehicles, the risk is asymmetric. Bicyclists are susceptible to serious injury; motorists are not (Ragland, 2012). The elevated risk of injury to bicyclists when they encounter motor vehicles makes it important to identify and implement strategies to protect cyclists on the road. There is some evidence that bicycling has increased in recent years. But even with widespread encouragement, many will be deterred from biking if they do not feel safe (Jacobsen et al., 2009).

If, as I believe, cycling is intrinsically unsafe---they will always be "vulnerable road users"---encouraging people to feel safe in taking it up is irresponsible. And it's particularly irresponsible to encourage children to ride bikes on city streets, as City Hall and the Bicycle Coalition are now doing in San Francisco.

The Centers for Disease Control recognizes the special dangers of cycling:

While only 1% of all trips taken in the U.S. are by bicycle, bicyclists face a higher risk of crash-related injury and deaths than occupants of motor vehicles do. In 2010 in the U.S., almost 800 bicyclists were killed and there were an estimated 515,000 emergency department visits due to bicycle-related injuries. Data from 2005 show fatal and non-fatal crash-related injuries to bicyclists resulted in lifetime medical costs and productivity losses of $5 billion.

When discussing cycling and safety, the bike people first try to change the subject to motor vehicles, and then they reach for "infrastructure." If only there were more bike lanes, especially lanes separated from those devilish motor vehicles. The report addresses the issue and is generally supportive, with a caveat about space:

Roads were built to accommodate motor vehicles with little concern for pedestrians and bicyclists. Integrating motor vehicles and bicycles in already-built environments presents challenges. The most protective way to accomplish this is through total physical separation of bicycles and motor vehicles. Research confirms that “cycle paths,” which do this, provide the best safety (Teschke, 2012), but they are rarely feasible.

San Francisco is a good example of where separated bike paths "are rarely feasible," since their creation requires either taking away traffic lanes on busy streets or taking away street parking, which is a valuable and increasingly rare commodity in the city. (Making a separated bike path isn't really "feasible" on Masonic Avenue, either, but, in spite of neighborhood opposition, the city is going to do it anyway because BikeThink and anti-carism dominate traffic policy in City Hall.)

What the governors' report misses is that most cycling accidents don't involve motor vehicles. They are "solo falls," as bike experts point out. Fatalities among cyclists are relatively rare, a small percentage of the total number of cycling accidents, which makes the governors' report something of a red herring.

As that widely-ignored UC study found, however, "cyclist-only" accidents can cause injuries just as serious as what the study calls "cyclist-versus-auto" accidents:

She[Dr. Rochelle Dicker] and her colleagues reviewed hospital and police records for 2,504 bicyclists who had been treated at San Francisco General Hospital. She expected that most of these serious injuries would involve cars; to her surprise, nearly half did not. She suspects that many cyclists with severe injuries were swerving to avoid a pedestrian or got their bike wheels caught in light-rail tracks, for example. Cyclists wounded in crashes that did not involve a car were more than four times as likely to be hurt so badly that they were admitted to the hospital. Yet these injuries often did not result in police reports — a frequent source of injury data — and appeared only in the hospital trauma registry. Dr. Dicker is not a cyclist, but she said, “Lots of my colleagues do not want to ride after seeing these injuries.”

Even allowing for the city's radically flawed method of counting accidents, its annual Collisions Report (page 22) has noticed the relationship between the increase in cycling in San Francisco and injury accidents to cyclists, not to mention the fact that cyclists are responsible for many of their own injury accidents (page 24).

More people riding bikes means more people will get hurt in cycling accidents---and more people will be killed in some of those accidents.




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24 Comments:

At 7:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

While stopped at a traffic light in my vehicle, I witnessed a solo fall by a cyclist riding through the intersection. I pulled over and dialed for emergency assistance as the rider was in terrible pain and unable to get up. Within a minute, two cyclists joined and their first comments were "Who hit her?" and "Did you get the license?". They just assumed the cyclist was hit by a car, and as soon as they learned it was a solo fall they seemed to become much less interested in the incident.

 
At 8:34 AM, Blogger ChainWhipped said...

Yes. Bikes are so dangerous that you should expect to be hurt or killed riding them. Especially in big scary cities like SF and NYC.

NYC's bike share system doesn't even require helmets! Bikers rode 8.75 million trips in its first year and WITHOUT HELMETS! Do you have any idea how many people died?!

Oh, wait:
http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2014/05/30/nyc_citi_bike_zero_fatalities_in_new_york_city_bike_share_program_s_first.html

It turns out all those people are still alive, and only about 0.00012% of them managed to get hurt during their rides.

But I suppose New York City IS synonymous with traffic safety. I mean, they DID manage to keep traffic fatalities just under 300 total in that same year. NYC Drivers only injured around 11,000 pedestrians and only 183 of them died of their injuries.

Maybe the color blue is the key to staying alive. Or maybe the above analysis is a bit of a stretch.

 
At 8:50 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

You miss the whole point of my post, which is that fatalities are relatively rare for cyclists but injury is not. Where are New York's injury numbers for cyclists?

 
At 4:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2920084/

Conclusions

On average, the estimated health benefits of cycling were substantially larger than the risks relative to car driving for individuals shifting their mode of transport.

 
At 5:10 PM, Anonymous El Biciclero said...

Again, you say your point is that cyclists are more at risk from injury than death. We can say that about anything. That isn't a "point", it's just a fact. The real point you are making is that it is irresponsible to call cycling "safe". You aren't even saying not to encourage it, you just claim it is irresponsible to call it "safe" while encouraging it. Is that right?

So you claim it is irresponsible to promote a "dangerous and stupid means of transportation" as safe, but offer no solution as to what the responsible alternative is.

Is the answer to drive everywhere? Well, we could make similar claims about driving. In 2012, 33,561 people died from motor crashes (IIHS General Statistics). While I wouldn't consider that a red herring, according to the NHTSA, 2,362,000 people were injured that same year in motor crashes. So it seems the risk of injury also far exceeds the risk of death when using a car. Further, more than half of fatal auto accident victims died in "single-vehicle crashes"; does this show the "intrinsic risk" of driving a car? Yet schools have pick-up and drop-off plans to direct car traffic around their entrances; doesn't that encourage a very dangerous activity? I'd call it irresponsible NOT to make allowances for safe riding and walking to school, instead insisting on using a 4000-lb. SUV to transport a parent and a single child less than a mile so we can create a growling, smoking traffic jam that not only endangers children, but snarls traffic on surrounding streets every morning and afternoon. Because that's not stupid.

 
At 10:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Next time a measure like L comes around, keep quiet about it Rob. Your endorsement makes people vote against it.

 
At 9:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let me see if I have this right. You...
1. Don't think that bike advocates are willing to acknowledge or talk about the dangers of cycling.

2. Think that the street safety improvements that bike advocates push for are just some sort of spiteful political muscle-flexing.

Am I getting that right? What a strange narrative. Any possibility that the street safety improvements are to address some of the recognized dangers of cycling? Maybe?

 
At 10:16 AM, Blogger ChainWhipped said...

"She expected that most of these serious injuries would involve cars; to her surprise, nearly half did not."

So, in other words, it was just as she expected: the majority of cyclist injuries involved cars. (more than half being a majority).

Leaving out that fact,

Riding a bike is typically as dangerous as you choose to make it. Injuries that go beyond scrapes, bumps, and bruises can occur for individual riders. Mountain Biking is still considered "bicycling". Road racing is also "bicycling". BMX racing, Dirt Jumping, Track racing . . . all of these things can result in broken bones, dislocated joints, and sometimes even severed spinal cords (and all have a tendency to be "guy things"). All are also considered in studies such as the above to be "bicycling". None of these activities has a truly mass appeal (outside of spectatorship) and none of them really have anything to do with transportation.

If a report on the safety of airline travel included injury statistics from hang-gliding, air races, test-pilot mishaps, air show disasters, and the like, flying might not look like the safest way to travel - not even close.

This is error in such studies: including high-risk activities to skew the results and present a version of reality that was assumed from the beginning.

Just as walking down the sidewalk to 7-11 is quite safe compared to doing Parkour at a local construction site or free-climbing a rock wall, riding a bicycle down the street to your favorite cafe is extremely safe compared to riding down Mammoth Mountain at 40+mph on your bike of choice.

Eliminate potentially dangerous sporting pursuits from the studies, and a more common reality emerges. The common biker who rides from a to b is not usually interested in risking personal safety. The pursuit of the adrenaline rush or the need for competitive dominance isn't such a factor in basic transportation. The ratio of men to women changes. Age range widens.

In this more realistic context, whether you're walking to the Circle K in your flip-flops or riding to Starbucks on your Schwinn 3-speed, a careless driver is the most likely threat to your overall safety.

 
At 1:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rob, how does it feel to have every measure on which you took a stand lose in the election?

Is it sharp, stinging kind of pain, or more of a dull throbbing ache?

 
At 5:14 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

El Bicilero writes:

"So you claim it is irresponsible to promote a 'dangerous and stupid means of transportation' as safe, but offer no solution as to what the responsible alternative is."

You put "dangerous and stupid means of transportation" in quotation marks, but the post you link to has no such quotation, since it's about the risk involved in encouraging the city's children to take up riding bikes, which I do think is stupid and a danger to children.

I won't ride a bike because I think it's dangerous. The whole bike trip is being radically oversold by City Hall, which, oblivious of the dangers, sees it as a cheap way to deal with traffic congestion.

The real alternative to driving or riding bikes is pubic transportation, namely, Muni, in San Francisco. I don't own a car and walk or take Muni wherever I have to go.

Of course parents of young children aren't going to simply put them on a Muni bus to get them to school, especially if that school is across town. Hence, driving children to school is a safe, sensible way to go.

 
At 10:18 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"Rob, how does it feel to have every measure on which you took a stand lose in the election? Is it sharp, stinging kind of pain, or more of a dull throbbing ache?"

No pain at all. The only measures I took a stand on here were Propositions A, B, H, I, and L. I voted for Props. C (money for schools), E (soft drink tax), G (real estate tax), and J (raising the minimum wage).

I'm an old man who's lived through the US attack on Vietnam and the Nixon and Reagan regimes. This election is piffle, a mere blip on my radar screen, compared to those years. You have to learn to not take this stuff personally.

Your gloating---done anonymously, of course---is symptomatic of the creepy, juvenile, and intellectually deficient nature of San Francisco politics.

Naturally, you have nothing to say about this post.

 
At 10:30 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Anonymous writes:

"Let me see if I have this right. You...1.Don't think that bike advocates are willing to acknowledge or talk about the dangers of cycling. 2.Think that the street safety improvements that bike advocates push for are just some sort of spiteful political muscle-flexing. Am I getting that right? What a strange narrative. Any possibility that the street safety improvements are to address some of the recognized dangers of cycling? Maybe?"

No, you get it all wrong, probably because you haven't really read what I've written because it's too painful for you bike nuts to do that.

As the links in the post show, bike advocates are uncomfortable even talking about wearing helmets, since that discussion implies that cycling can be dangerous.

The reaction of Streetsblog and Bike Portland to the governors' report is an excellent example of this, with the outright denial and tortured semantic exercises to deal with a simple reality: as more people ride bikes, more cyclists will die.

But the real issue is injuries, not death, since only a small percentage of cyclists die in traffic accidents.

No, I don't think bike advocates are indulging in "spiteful political muscle-flexing" when they push for what they think are "safety improvements" to city streets. They are only doing what every special interest group does---pushing their agenda, which involves redesigning city streets on behalf of a small minority against the interests of the overwhelming majority of people that use city streets.

That bike advocates are unwilling to "acknowledge" the dangers of cycling is confirmed by your apparent unfamiliarity with that UC study, even though I linked both the study and a NY Times story on the study. One of the conclusions of the study: serious "cyclist-only" accidents were both just as common and just as serious as accidents involving motor vehicles. That implies that "infrastructure" is not a solution for "cyclist-only" accidents.

See also the exchange on the study I had with the Guardian's Steve Jones, who denigrated its significance, though his responses made me suspect that he hadn't read it carefully, if at all.

The big problem the city has with the study: it shows the city has a radically flawed system of counting cycling accidents, relying on police reports and ignoring a lot of accidents treated at SF General, which means that riding a bike in the city is more dangerous in a verifiable, quantitative way. That's what's so tough for you folks to deal with.

Speaking of the denial among bike advocates about danger and cycling, why hasn't Streetsblog or the Bicycle Coalition, or Jason Henderson provided the public with their analysis of that document? Neither has even acknowledged the existence of the study, let alone done any analysis for the public's edification.

This denial is also practiced by the city's media, since there's been no mention of the study there, either, even though the city has unofficially acknowledged its existence, as I've blogged about here and here.

On public policy debate, this city runs on GroupThink.

 
At 10:39 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Some functional links for the comment above: the city's acknowledgment that its method of counting cycling accidents is flawed here and here.

The exchange with Steve Jones here.

 
At 1:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

which involves redesigning city streets on behalf of a small minority against the interests of the overwhelming majority of people that use city streets.

Explain the 62% of the voting populace which agree with this idea, please...

And you didn't live through Vietnam. You ran away from Vietnam. You insult veterans to say you lived through it.

 
At 7:22 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

The problem with Prop. L, which I was pleased to vote for but had no role in writing, is that it wasn't focused enough on the Bicycle Plan and the Bicycle Coalition's influence on city traffic policy. The measure wasn't succinctly formulated; it read like something written by a well-intentioned committee, a consensus statement that didn't want to offend anyone too much.

But I'm impressed with the 38% that voted for it---more than 64,000 people! That's a pretty good base for the anti--anti-car movement in the city.

"And you didn't live through Vietnam. You ran away from Vietnam. You insult veterans to say you lived through it."

I didn't claim that I went to Vietnam, obviously. Another remedial reader. I wrote that I lived through the US attack on Vietnam and the Nixon and Reagan regimes in response to a commenter who seemed to think I would be in agony over the relatively trivial local election results.

I "ran away" from the Vietnam war by becoming a draft resister, though I thought briefly about going to Canada. The judge who sentenced me figured that the average draftee served two years and therefore I should serve two years in prison, which actually didn't seem unreasonable to me.

Should I have allowed myself to be drafted? That would have not only been impossible for me to do but it would have been ridiculous---even unprincipled---given my understanding of the issue: Vietnam was a colonial war the US took over from the French and simply rebranded as a war against communism.

 
At 7:31 PM, Anonymous Gregski said...

"Riding a bike is typically as dangerous as you choose to make it. "

This statement is typically as delusional as what we commonly hear from San Francisco bicycle evangelists.

Actually, riding a bike has inherently dangerous qualities that no rider can eliminate or mitigate. We travel at speed over a hard surface on a flimsy vehicle with protusions, thin-walled, easily-punctured pneumatic tires and rapidly-rotating sharp metal parts, wearing almost no protective armor for our skulls, bones and flesh.

Plenty of people take BART or Muni to work every day in all weather conditions, for decades, with no physical harm. But if anybody thinks she can ride a bike to work every day for decades in all weather conditions and never suffer personal injury she's a delusional fool.

And, as the UC study indicates, the danger is inherent even if cyclists were to have the pavement all to themselves.

 
At 10:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The measure wasn't succinctly formulated; it read like something written by a well-intentioned committee, a consensus statement that didn't want to offend anyone too much.

Dude - you sound like a hipster.

But I'm impressed with the 38% that voted for it---more than 64,000 people! That's a pretty good base for the anti--anti-car movement in the city.

Dude - you sound like Fox News.

 
At 10:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I should serve two years in prison"

2 years of free room and board. You're worse than those freeloading cyclists.

 
At 9:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What do you say to veterans who did their duty and served?

 
At 3:51 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Do you really think many veterans resent people like me who went to jail instead of going to Vietnam? I bet almost all Vietnam veterans wish they had never heard of Vietnam.

I was fortunate to live in SF in the early 1960s, and I liked to read. I quickly discovered City Lights Bookstore and started reading publications I'd never heard of, like The New Republic, The Nation, Minority of One, Liberation, and the National Guardian, to mention a few that come to mind.

That gave me an advantage over the rest of my generation's working class cannon fodder and may have saved my life. I had never even heard of the exemption for college students; I might have taken advantage of it if I had and skipped the prison experience.

Actually, when I decided not to allow myself to be drafted, Cuba was a much bigger issue than Vietnam. There was the Bay of Pigs invasion and then the Cuban missile crisis the year after that, which was what radicalized me. I couldn't understand why the US and Russian were threatening nuclear war over Cuba, one of the smallest countries in the world.

I then learned that it was all bullshit, that the US was wrong on Cuba, though the Russians were also wrong to put nuclear missiles in Cuba. Vietnam was easy to understand after that, since it was another example of the same kind of foolishness.

 
At 7:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

and may have saved my life

what does that matter, you wasted it anyway.

 
At 2:18 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

As opposed to yours, which is spent making chickenshit anonymous comments like this.

 
At 1:56 PM, Blogger Mark Kaepplein said...

Reality interruption for cyclists: While downplayed as a "cycling spill" by U2 band mates, it turns out that Bono sustained serious injuries with 11+ fractures (6 in compound arm breaks, 3, shoulder, 1(?) face, 1 hand). He had 5 hours of surgery on Sunday and another the next day. The crash happened in NYC's Central Park, where cyclists have killed 2 pedestrians so far this year.
http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/bono-intensive-therapy-bike-injury-20141119

 
At 1:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah. If I had a dollar for every person a cyclist killed in America every year . . .

Gosh, I'd have like six bucks.

26 people in the US have been killed by lightning strikes so far this year.

33,000-ish people die because of cars in the US every year, but sure, obsess about bikes.

 

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