Monday, April 21, 2008

Cycling is dangerous, especially for children

Sorry to see bike guy Greg Hayes hobbling into Cafe Abir on crutches this morning. Greg, an experienced cyclist, was hit by a car on his bike at the Market/Valencia intersection. Greg has strong opinions about road design, and he offered a few about the scene of his accident. 

But the point I insist on making in the face of vigorous denial by commenters to this blog: no matter how well-designed city streets are, riding a bike will never really be safe. Even if, God forbid, the Bicycle Plan is implemented down to its last traffic-snarling, anti-car measure, riding a bike will still be a risky way to get around the city---or anywhere else, for that matter.

The Bicycle Coalition's Bert Hill tells us that most cycling accidents don't involve another vehicle; they're "solo falls" due to something in the road, a pothole, equipment failure, etc.

Even the SF Bicycle Coalition's Leah Shahum sees the poor condition of city streets as a bigger danger to cyclists than other vehicles: “We now get more complaints about poor pavement quality than about car-bike problems.”

This is one of the few agreements I have with Shahum. I don't own a car, but I had to do some driving in the city last year, and I was shocked at the terrible condition of city streets, especially Geary Blvd., which was like driving on a washboard. At first I thought that this is typical of the city's anti-car policies: why make it easy for cars, aka "death monsters"? But a moment's reflection called to mind similar complaints by city cyclists, which are noted in the Bicycle Plan itself. While drivers can damage their vehicles driving on bad roads, cyclists can suffer serious injuries from the same conditions.

Given the acknowledged dangers, this makes it even more irresponsible of Shahum and the city to encourage children to ride bikes in the city.

American neurologists on children and head injuries from riding bikes.

It's one thing for politically-motivated adults to risk serious injury on bikes, but to encourage children to do the same is unacceptable.

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At 4:28 PM, Anonymous Oscar LaVargas said...

"will never really be safe"

ooooooohhhhh kaaaaayyyyy....

No one disagrees with you. I have to tell you Bob that nothing in life "will never really be safe".

At 9:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So It's Greg's fault for getting hit by a car because he was riding a bike? Why aren't drivers accountable for their actions with you Rob?

Why do you see driving cars illegally and unsafely as some kind of God given right and we lowly pedestrians and cyclists need to cower in fear and stay out of the way of the almighty car? Do you do this with everyone? The mugging victim at fault for being at the wrong place at the wrong time, the rape victim for dressing to sexy. Hold the people at fault accountable Rob, and that's not a cyclist riding a bike, that's a legal right.

At 9:55 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"No one disagrees with you"? Wrong, Oscar! I get a lot of outraged comments here about the observation that cycling is dangerous. The commenters usually want to discuss the dangers of driving a car instead, however.

Anon: Note that the post didn't discuss who was to blame for Greg's accident. When I asked him who was at fault, he was vague and said something about getting the police report. But the point I'm making is that it doesn't really matter who was at fault: something goes wrong while riding a bike, and it's the cyclist who gets injured, not the driver. Unless you think that all drivers are at fault by definition, since they are driving wicked motor vehicles.

At 3:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, bike improvements would make cycling safer, but we have an injuction against implementing the city's bike plan.

Odd, isn't it?

BTW, when a cyclist gets hit by a car it proves that CARS are dangerous, not that BIKES are.

At 9:08 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Your ideology---BikeThink---is a barrier to your reading and comprehension: we have no information on Greg's accident to apportion fault or to indicate that any "improvements" would have made any difference. And of course I don't say that bikes are dangerous but that cycling is dangerous, cars or no cars.

At 12:30 PM, Blogger John Spragge said...

Rob, I've demolished this canard more times than I care to count. We can't quantify the "danger" of cycling, because we don't know how many kilometres per year on average cyclists cover (bicycles not having odometers), so we can't accurately compare the danger of an accident incurred by cyclists with the danger of an accident incurred by driving the same distance in a car. But we can quantify the danger of the inactive lifestyle that driving promotes. Diet and inactivity (aka obesity) accounts for over a quarter of all premature deaths. All other things equal, switching to cycling from car use cuts your risk of premature death by a quarter.

As things stand, 57 people die in a car for everyone who dies on a bicycle, so I would suggest that the risk of an accidental death in a car at least comes close to the risk of death on a bicycle. The health consequences of driving, to the driver and everyone else makes cars by far the biggest killers. Not only that, physical inactivity diminishes quality of life in a large number of other ways, inducing, among other things, depression.

For that reason among others, anyone interested in the long term health and quality of life of young children will encourage them to cycle, cycle as safely as possible, but certainly cycle.

By the way, you have most recently quoted a radically incoherent source; their first sentence claims 130 people died, of whom 180 people died in collisions with cars.

You do not have to address these matters, of course, but I see no point in repeating the same claims over and over while never addressing the facts that refute these claims.

At 12:45 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Spragge: Of course you've "demolished" the "canard" about the dangers of cycling in your own mind but probably not in that of anyone else. You're an excellent example of the mind of the True Believer.

At 11:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cyclists may put themselves in danger of injury, but it's drivers who put cyclists in danger of fatality.

At 4:24 PM, Blogger John Spragge said...

Let's see... you dismiss the facts and logic I provide because I believe in the conclusion the facts and the logic point to. I "truly" believe cycling improves health and quality of life, and promotes longevity because the numbers I have access to say it does, the scientific evidence I have seen says it does, and my experience tells me it does. I "truly" believe that gravity pulls down for the same reasons.

Do you have any actual facts or logic to offer for your position? I'd prefer a source that does not include a howler like: "In 2002, 130 children ages 14 and under died in bicycle-related crashes. Motor vehicles were involved in
more than 180 of these deaths."

At 4:44 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

John: Yes, like a true pedant and fanatic, you pounce on that typo, while ignoring the other information on that site.

At 7:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Car accidents are the leading cause of death for children under 14, funny that's it's bikes and not cars that Rob believes to be dangerous.

At 8:36 AM, Blogger John Spragge said...

If a writer makes such an obvious error, how do you expect us to believe the other numbers they provide?

In any case, this fact sheet, like the other sources you provide, makes the same point: simply wearing proper gear (bicycle helmets) brings whatever risks of cycling do exist below the risks presented by other forms of physical activity. Given the harm that we know physical inactivity does, cycling increases a person's odds of living longer with a higher quality of life. None of the sources you have quoted (with or without errors) come close to refuting or even challenging that conclusion.

At 12:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find it really amusing that when John points out an error in one of the sources, Rob attacked him for being fanatical and pedantic instead of finding an alternative source that does not contain the error.

That certainly was just a type Rob, but how do we know it was the only one? How do you yourself know the other numbers in the PDF are correct and that the rest of it is accurate?

Your source has been discredited, but if you are correct then you should be able to find another source or contact Connecticut Children's Medical Center for a correction.

And while you're right that bicycles are dangerous, many things children do or exposed to are dangerous.

Is it also irresponsible to let children play baseball, soccer, or jump rump? If you object on safety grounds, then your target should be the automobile. According to the CDC, motor vehicles are the leading cause of death for children.

Your point here seems to be that children on bikes run the risk of injury by motor vehicles, which is not a problem inherent in the bicycle. The motor vehicle is the linking factor between children being injured on bikes and children being injured while riding as a car passenger.

At 9:56 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

I could have posted any number of sites about children and cycling injuries. Just enter "children and cylding injuries" and you'll get a number of sites. The fact that the site I linked has a typo in it is of little significance overall. I note that none of you BikeThinkers has addressed the typical accident I discuss in the post you're supposedly responding to: a cyclist is hit by a car, and guess who is seriously injured? I'll give you a hint: it's not the driver of the car.

At 8:12 PM, Blogger John Spragge said...

Rob, you wrote, in this very post: The Bicycle Coalition's Bert Hill tells us that most cycling accidents don't involve another vehicle...

Which point do you want us to address; your claim that cycling involves an inherent danger, or the argument that motorists endanger cyclists?

Nobody doubts that cars pose a danger: to their drivers, to passengers, and to other road users. We know how to mitigate the danger that cars pose to bicycles: they include dedicated bicycle lanes, lower speed limits, and above all more bikes on the roads. In a slight irony, the operation of the free enterprise system, which has San Francisco gas prices hovering around $4/gallon, may do more than anything the government can to get cars off the roads and to put bikes on them.

At 9:40 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

John: Your BikeThink ideology---like all ideologies tend to do---crowds complexity out of your mind. Of course both solo falls and motor vehicles are dangers for cyclists. Yes, more bike lanes and slower speeds are good for cyclists statistically but not in an absolute sense for an individual cyclist in a particular situation. In the Greg Hayes accident, I suspect Greg's risk-taking played a part in the accident, since, like a lot of bike people in SF, his dedication to cycling involves an unhealthy dose of thrill-seeking. I've seen him from the window of Cafe Abir peddling through the Fulton/Divisadero intersection without a helmet, and he admits that he wasn't wearing a helmet when the accident happened. Fortunately, his head wasn't injured.

Like a lot of BikeThinkers, you aren't a very careful reader of my posts on bikes in SF. Why not address Leah Shahum's comment on the dangers of poorly paved streets? And Bert Hill, who can be considered an expert on bike safety? If most cycling accidents don't involve other vehicles, even a city without cars wouldn't make cycling much safer. My point is exactly that: cycling involves a certain amount of inherent dangers that are all its own. (BikeThinkers: insert here change of subject to the dangers of driving and motor vehicles.)

Your fantasy about fewer vehicles on the streets of SF with former drivers of wicked "death monsters" turning to bikes is just that. Many people need and/or want motor vehicles, and, given the accelerating gentrification of SF, the notion that our gentry will even turn to bikes in significant numbers just shows how little you folks understand SF or the country you live in---or don't live in, as the case may be.

And there's this: SF progressives have been actually increasing the gentrification of the city. See Chris Daly's and Aaron Peskin's---and Ross Mirkarimi's---support for housing policy that favors the well-off: luxury highrise condos on Rincon Hill, UC's housing plan on lower Haight Street, and the Market/Octavia Plan, which will rezone thousands of properties to encourage market-rate housing density in the heart of the city.

Now some of these folks who can afford market-rate housing in SF will surely ride bikes, because this city has always been a magnet for whatever is politically-culturally-socially fashionable. Which leads to my conclusion re the Bicycle Plan: it's dumb to completely redesign city streets on behalf of nothing but politically fashionable behavior, aka riding a bike in a major American city.

At 9:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Yes, more bike lanes and slower speeds are good for cyclists statistically but not in an absolute sense for an individual cyclist in a particular situation."

Your logic is faulty. A statistical decrease in number of accidents does not mean cyclists are being injured less severely, but that fewer cyclists are being injured.

You concede the point more bike lanes are good for cyclists and for the, now fewer, cyclists who are injured it's likely cars hitting them at lower speeds will reduce the severity of injury.

At 9:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"In the Greg Hayes accident, I suspect Greg's risk-taking played a part in the accident, since, like a lot of bike people in SF, his dedication to cycling involves an unhealthy dose of thrill-seeking."

Wow, is there anything else you'd like to completely pull out of your ass?

At 9:52 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Of course riding a bike in SF often involves thrill-seeking behavior, something cyclists in SF rarely discuss. Anyone who lives along the Divisadero corridor sees this every day: cyclists speeding down McAllister, Fulton, Hayes, Page, and Haight. Mountain bikers are more honest about their motives for speeding along the fire trails of Marin, since speed and thrills are the essence of mountain biking.

At 11:51 AM, Blogger John Spragge said...

Rob, the central theme of your argument, that cyclists will inevitably injure ourselves, and therefore you find it "unacceptable" to teach or encourage kids to ride bicycles, just doesn't hold. While we can't determine the relative risk of any given trip on a bike versus a car, we do know that an active lifestyle reduces a person's chances for premature death by over one quarter, and can therefore conclude that a person who rides a bicycle has a better chance at living a long, healthy life, other things equal, than one who does not. Let me point this out again: this forms a central point of one of your arguments against the bike plan, and the objective data available (including the data you keep posting, when you post intelligible data) not only do not support it, they refute it.

Now, you do make peripheral points; I call them peripheral because, while I strongly support making cycling as safe as possible and I encourage cyclists to use safety gear at all times, a risk-taking cyclist whizzing bare-headed down a pot-holed street still has a better chance of living a long, high quality life than a couch potato following them in a car. Do I want the potholes filled? Absolutely. Do I want bike lanes? You bet. Do I urge my fellow cyclists to wear safety gear? Yes. All these improvements save lives, but none of them add as many years of high-quality life, on average, as the simple act of getting onto a bike from time to time.

At 12:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

what's really crazy is the thrill-seekers driving cars on oak and fell and everywhere in the city. it's nuts - they break the speed limit, they turn without signaling, they double park, run red lights, all in the name of thrill. these things ought to be outlawed!

At 1:58 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

John: For someone with such a know-it-all attitude, you aren't a very careful reader. My case against the city's Bicycle Plan, first of all, includes the crucial notion of doing an environmental review of the 527-page plan before its implementation on the streets of the city. This is what state law---and good public policy---clearly requires. Judge Busch agreed in his decision that upheld the injunction and ordered the city to do the study.

The point I make about safety and cycling is really a separate issue. If health and longevity are your main concerns, simply walking a lot more would provide real benefits without the dangers involved in cycling. The notion that the city is actually encouraging schoolchildren to ride bikes to school on city streets is stupid and irresponsible, not to mention the potential liability when the first kid is run over by a Muni bus or a car.

At 2:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone who lives along the Divisadero corridor sees this every day: cars speeding down McAllister, Fulton, Hayes, Page, and Haight.

The notion that the city is actually encouraging people to drive cars on city streets is stupid and irresponsible, not to mention the potential liability when the first kid is run over by a Muni bus or a car.

At 4:13 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Anon: You are evidently incapable of discussing cycling without changing the subject to cars. The dangers associated with motor vehicles are well known, but the city's bike people are in denial about the dangers of cycling.

At 5:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


While it was not you who first turned the conversation from bikes to cars, it has become a conversation about a wide number of dangers to cyclists, including cars. The last commenter adds nothing to the conversation by paraphrasing your own anti-bike rhetoric, but if you are seriously interested in the dangers of cycling you cannot ignore cars as part of the problem.

Keeping strictly to the danger of road conditions, your post makes the case for improving the condition of our roads.

Regardless of whether the city encourages cycling, cyclists are using these poorly maintained roadways and running serious risk of injury.

Drivers are endangered by cyclists swerving to avoid potholes, though they don't run the same risk of injury as those cyclists. Even if the city were to actively discourage cycling, keeping the roads well maintained to prevent cyclists injuring themselves is still prudent for the health and safety of everyone.

At 5:09 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Of course road conditions need to be improved, as I pointed out. And, as I also pointed out, the SFBC's own safety expert has told us that most cycling accidents have nothing to do with other vehicles; they are solo falls. Hence, the real question is---and this is the question posed by the Bicycle Plan---how far can/should the city go in accommodating its small minority of cyclists in a city where the overwhelming majority uses either Muni or cars to get around?

At 6:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I don't understand where the issue is here. Better maintained roads are good for everyone, pedestrians, cyclists, drivers and those us making bumpy trips on MUNI. Because cyclists face a bigger risk of injury, the safety improvement for them would be the biggest, but there are more people overall who'd benefit from a smoother ride.

You are very opposed to the SFBC agenda, but improved roadways line up with your own pro-car agenda, as well as benefiting MUNI riders. What exactly is the harm of better maintained roads?

I hope it isn't that you feel better maintained roads would encourage more cycling. As I said, there are many more of us that would benefit, than there are of them.

At 6:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"we have no information on Greg's accident to apportion fault or to indicate that any 'improvements' would have made any difference. And of course I don't say that bikes are dangerous but that cycling is dangerous, cars or no cars."

You don't have any information on this incident, so "improvements" could also have prevented it. Why You said yourself that agree with Leah Shaham about the poor quality of the pavement. So what exactly is your problem with making it safer to ride a bike?

Children are already riding bikes to work, why not make it safer to do so?

At 6:41 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

The point I keep making---and the bike people keep denying---is that riding a bike has its own unique dangers, and that most cycling accidents have nothing to do with other vehicles. Of course I agree that city streets need to be maintained a lot better than they are now. No issue there. It's the aggressive, anti-car part of the the bike people's agenda that I object to the most.

At 6:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Just reading the comments on this post, the cyclists agree with you that cycling has it's dangers.

The point of departure is they believe it can be made safer, where you object (and I'm trying to understand your point, not start an argument) on the grounds they are a small minority, cycling can never be made safe, and making improvements for cycling come at the expense of drivers. Is that right?

At 7:50 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

There haven't been many commenters willing to concede that riding a bike can be dangerous. Instead, they like to change the subject to those wicked cars.

Yes, of course cycling can be made safer in SF, but the question is, How far should the city go in re-designing its streets on behalf of this politically aggressive and influential minority? The bike people take an adversarial approach to motor vehicles. It's clearly a zero-sum game for them; if they are going to gain, motor vehicles have to lose.

You're evidently coming in late on this one, Anon, because the issue that the Bicycle Plan raises is this: how much room on our streets---and in our political life---should bicycles play? When you take away traffic lanes and street parking to make bike lanes in SF, you need to do some serious traffic studies and some serious thinking beforehand. For example, is taking away a traffic lane on Masonic Ave. and/or street parking to make a bike lane a sensible thing to do?

At 11:34 PM, Blogger John Spragge said...

Rob, the health benefits of cycling outweigh any relative dangers you posit. I don't say this alone; Google the health benefits of cycling, and you'll get over a million web page hits.

A note on terms:
Words such as fanatic, pedantic, and know it all have no probative or informational value at all.

Expressions such as bike people have a misleading effect. Almost all of us use a mix of transport modes. You can call me a "bike person" if you like, but I also drive (when necessary), use transit, take trains, and have a pilot's license.

The term "bike think" has an even more misleading effect. I reach my conclusions about the value of cycling through personal experience and rigorous Cartesian logic.

Finally, calling urban cycling "fashionable" in a derogatory way doesn't work either. To the extent that fashion makes a poor guide for policy, it does so because fashion decisions get made on an arbitrary basis. The arguments for biking, both as an individual choice and sound public policy, have a huge number of studies and assessments to back them up.

At 8:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK, so I'm a cyclists, I'm not disagreeing with you that can be dangerous and I think there are some streets that need to be redesigned.

I don't believe that needs to be, or should be, done at the expense of cars, but there are many corridors and segments of streets where bike improvements can be made without any disruption to cars. An existing example of this is Page Street which is a major eastbound bike corridor, but since it's lightly used by cars (since Oak is parallel one block away) "sharrows" are all that's needed.

See, I'm a cyclist who isn't adversarial, I stop and lights and signs, I don't agree with the SFBC and think they do more harm than good, and I'm not anti-car. I'm sure you will find some excuse to discredit everything I just said and tell me I am irrational and suffer from "bike think".

At 9:18 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Not at all, Anon. You seem to be quite sensible---for a bike person.

At 1:48 PM, Anonymous those dudes said...

Word on the street is that Judge Busch agrees with the City that Fell/Masonic is a dangerous intersection that requires attention in spite of the bike plan injunction. I wonder how long it will be before the City builds the case for other locations?

At 2:23 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Yes, Judge Busch is allowing the city to dick around with the Fell/Masonic intersection, but he turned down the city on the Market/Octavia intersection. And he refused to give them a blank check to similarly meddle with "other locations." The city will have to come back to court and make a case for each one, at least until the EIR is done and validated, which will be sometime next year.

At 11:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

slowly but surely rob, you will lose.

At 11:47 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Maybe, but that doesn't mean I'm wrong. You bike nuts better hope that the city doesn't screw up traffic badly at Fell and Masonic, leading to another public relations debacle like banning the right turn at Market and Octavia. And when, after being encouraged by the city, the first kid gets hit and injured while riding a bike to school. The tort lawyers will be lining up for that case.

At 3:51 PM, Blogger Brendan V. Lange said...

Of course Biking is dangerous... it is also very healthy for people and societies physical and mental health, and the environment. Of course driving is dangerous... and it is convenient, fast, easy, allows us to travel further distances with ease, has an established infrastructure, and other positive attributes. We do not need to polarize this issue.

Cars have a place in our society and so do bicycles. However, bicycles do not currently have the neccessary infrastructure to support sane and safer bicycling. The bike plan was an attempt to provide better bicycle infrastructe to encourage bicycling. You didn't think the bike plan took the necessary steps to comply with state and federal law (CEQA & NEPA both mandate Environmental Impact Assessments on major development projects)to ensure it would have a positive impact. That is your right as an American citizen and I fully support your right to do so.

I hope the revised bike plan allows cars and bicycles to coexist in a more appropriate manner. We need a shift toward a more sustainable transportation systems that relies less on fossil fuels and bicycles need to play a more significant role and cars (in their current technological capacity - internal combustion of fossil fuels)need to play a less significant role. I do not suggest we get rid of cars and only ride bicycles. There is a time and place for both. For example, if you need to travel 10 miles of hilly terrain to get to a business meeting or an evening ball - obviously our current cultural parameters may make it so a bike is not the best solution. Likewise, if you only need to travel a half mile up to the grocery store or a quarter mile to the post office you do not need a car - a bike can do that job. This shift also needs to include improvements in all aspects of mass-transit systems, smarter growth and automobile technology (electric or other alternative fuels for cars).

Quick comment on your comment: "it's dumb to completely redesign city streets on behalf of nothing but politically fashionable behavior, aka riding a bike in a major American city." If you think bicycling in a major American city is "nothing but politically fashionable behavior" you are a fucking idiot. What is the logic behind this? Really, you think that?

Bicycles have been an essential element to transporting people and goods accross the world for decades. Redesigning city streets in an American city to better suit the needs of cyclists is a important, admirable attempt to make city streets safer, greener and more livable. We need to make shifts away from our carcentric society. If you do not think so you are in denial of reality.


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