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#1 2008-05-29 13:44:17

MichaelBluejay
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From: Austin, TX
Registered: 2008-05-26
Posts: 1,207
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Do we need to increase safety or not?

Patrick posted this to the email list:

Fortunately, bicycling is an extremely safe activity by any measure, so even wearing a helmet doesn't dramatically increase one's risk of being seriously injured.

If cycling is so safe then why are we trying to do all these things to improve safety, like a three-foot passing rule, more bike lanes, bike routes, cars out of bike lanes, etc.?  If cycling is already so safe then why bother?

It seems like we want to have it both ways.  When we do general advocacy we talk about how unsafe we are and how imperative it is that cycling be made safer, but then when we talk about the helmet law suddenly we forget that and proclaim that cycling is an "extremely safe activity by any measure".

For me, I don't believe that cycling is so especially safe.  It's twice as dangerous as driving on a mile-per-mile basis looking at fatalities, and driving itself is already unsafe.

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#2 2008-05-29 15:39:32

rmonsees
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Registered: 2008-05-27
Posts: 39

Re: Do we need to increase safety or not?

I agree that cycling has some inherent risks, though I don't know how those risks really compare to driving.  Looking at raw cycling accident fatalities vs. miles doesn't tell tell me how many accidents were due to inadequate road construction for cyclists, or how many were due to kids darting out from driveways without looking.  One advantage vehicle drivers have is they must be a minimum age, and must have some training before heading out on the road.

   I do think cycling safety needs improvement (in terms of road construction taking cyclists into account), but on the other hand it isn't as dangerous as say mountain climbing, sky diving, or scuba diving.

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#3 2008-05-29 18:33:39

RonB
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Registered: 2008-05-28
Posts: 20

Re: Do we need to increase safety or not?

rmonsees - you do raise some interesting points.  But the fact is that cycling can't be evaluated in a vacuum.  Bike riding (in all forms) goes hand in hand with the cars on the road (because at some point you are riding on the road).  Sure, some of the accidents are caused due to poor roads, accidents on mt bike trails, etc.  But, I would venture to say that the bulk of the accidents are due to vehicle/bicyclist accidents.

Does safety need to be improved?  This is a resounding yes.  When the statistics show that only 1% of traffic on the roads is bikes, YET 2% of the fatalities are bicyclists (http://www.bicyclinginfo.org/facts/crash-facts.cfm), that disproportion cites a problem.

What has to happen is education on ALL FRONTS:
- Motorists need to be aware that bicyclists are out there.  Bicycle awareness should be a major focus of defensive driving classes, drivers ed classes, etc.  Signs all around should be made to make cars aware of cyclists.  We spend tons of money on DWI awareness, why not similar money for bicycle awareness?  Plus the deterrents are there for DWI and the like - jail time, similar needs to be true for accident with bicyclists.

- Cyclists need to be smart about their riding, etc.  Individuals have to be mindful of traffic and be aware of as much around them as possible.  Cycling groups need to go out and work to raise cycling awareness.  Not antagonizing drivers and causing more issues *cough*critical*cough*mass*cough*.  And comments, such as the on Patrick made, while true - need to be well thought out before making them.  Sure, cycling is safe, but only in a vacuum, put cars around it, and now you have a MUCH more dangerous activity.  And the key point that I feel the quote misses is that helmets are only a small part of the solution.  Just like a seat belt can only do so much, helmets are the same way, HOWEVER accident PREVENTION is a better solution than damage management.

- Government needs to be willing to equally give cyclists their due.  Helmet laws solve nothing, sure they make everyone wear a helmet, but it does nothing to educate the masses.  It also doesn't help provide safe areas to cyclists.  It serves as the above mentioned damage managment, while not addressing accident avoidance.  I know others disagree, but I think bike lanes DO provide a safer area for cyclists.  I think education can do MUCH more, but in lieu, we do our best.  FINALLY - punishment needs to be even, and FAIR in cases where people hit/kill cyclists.  Too many stories on this site and others talk about dead cyclists who's killers got away clean or with minimal punishment.

Ultimately a lot of work needs to be done, but if done properly, cycling can be made much safer than it is now.

Oh, and one final thing - in a vacuum, I agree cycling is less dangerous than climbing, sky diving or scuba diving (well maybe not scuba diving, I say this as a diver).  HOWEVER none of those sports have to share their space with 2 ton of death bearing down on them multiple times a minute.

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#4 2008-05-30 15:05:17

rmonsees
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Registered: 2008-05-27
Posts: 39

Re: Do we need to increase safety or not?

I think that in order to reduce bike/car accidents and deaths, we need to first understand what the real problems are.  This requires understanding what factors contributed to *actual* accidents  and deaths, so that problems can be rationally prioritized.  My gut tells me that cyclist education (particularly for kids) would provide the biggest bang for the buck, but without real data showing that uninformed cyclist decisions are the biggest contributor to bike/car accidents, I don't know for sure that's the highest priority - or what the priorities should be in general.

   I'm skeptical of your venture that the bulk of cycling accidents are bike/car accidents.  I've only been hit once by a car, but have had over a dozen accidents in 13 years.  If I look at the causes of MY accidents only, the bulk were my own stupidity, next down the list are bad road conditions, then bike mechanical failures (flat, pedal failure, etc.) then the stupidity of other cyclists, THEN the stupidity of car drivers.  I may not be a typical cyclist, however, because I go to whatever lengths possible to avoid car traffic (back roads, off-peak hours, etc.).

   That said, I have been in many NEAR accidents with motor vehicles, sometimes without the motorist even realizing it.  The causes of that are inadequate road facilities for cycling (i.e not enough room for both cars and bikes), and driver inattentiveness or aggression.

   So my completely anecdotal, unscientific prioritization for improving cyclist safety, based on my own experience is:

1)  Cyclist education - kids especially (I see them do all sorts of unsafe things).
2)  Road construction (and signage) which appropriately accounts for cyclists.
3)  Motorist education on the rights and responsibilities of cyclists.

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#5 2008-05-31 17:03:55

tomwald
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From: 78722
Registered: 2008-05-27
Posts: 288

Re: Do we need to increase safety or not?

RonB wrote:

When the statistics show that only 1% of traffic on the roads is bikes....

I looked for a bit for the source of this statistic, but I'm going to assume that you're referring to census data.

The problem with comparing the census data to other figures is that the census data refers to the percentage stating bicycling as their option for commuting to work.  Most significantly, the census figure ignores the people who go by bicycle to school/college/university and those who do not commute to work.  When one considers that a large portion of bicyclist fatalities are children under 18 (many/most under even working age as well), then one sees that the figures cannot be directly compared with each other.  (In other words, the 2% figure includes many people not included in the 1% figure, and the goes for the remainders:  some of the 98% survivors are not included in the 99% non-bicycling-to-work people.)

Also, does the census question only allow one choice?  I am guessing that many people bicycle to work who have another method that they claim as their main method.

-Tom

Last edited by tomwald (2008-05-31 17:04:05)

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#6 2008-06-01 10:42:09

pwhallmark
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From: NW Austin
Registered: 2008-05-31
Posts: 13

Re: Do we need to increase safety or not?

rmonsees wrote:

I think that in order to reduce bike/car accidents and deaths, we need to first understand what the real problems are.  This requires understanding what factors contributed to *actual* accidents  and deaths, so that problems can be rationally prioritized.  My gut tells me that cyclist education (particularly for kids) would provide the biggest bang for the buck, but without real data showing that uninformed cyclist decisions are the biggest contributor to bike/car accidents, I don't know for sure that's the highest priority - or what the priorities should be in general.

John Forester's book "Effective Cycling" has tons of data on bicycle accidents. If I recall correctly, riding at night with no lights, or being a kid, are the 2 most common causes of cycle crashes. As for tangles with cars, they are indeed relatively low on the list of causes, and the most common place where bikes tangle with cars is at intersections. The fear we all have about being run over from behind is not supported by Forester's research. Ironically, most of the things we do to alleviate that fear put us in more danger at intersections, where most of the accidents occur (hugging the curb, riding against traffic, etc).

Regards,
Phil Hallmark

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#7 2008-06-01 14:15:09

doughead
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Registered: 2008-05-27
Posts: 37

Re: Do we need to increase safety or not?

The stats from a six month period in 2007 (the latest that I have seen) show that a huge proportion of accidents between cars and cyclists in Austin happen when cyclists are hit while riding on sidewalks. The APD seems to think that this is "right of way" issue that they would rather not deal with.

Michael Cosper

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#8 2008-06-01 16:50:23

tomwald
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From: 78722
Registered: 2008-05-27
Posts: 288

Re: Do we need to increase safety or not?

The fear we all have about being run over from behind is not supported by Forester's research.

My guess is that *if* I get hit by a car accidentally that it'll be from behind.  I am incredibly careful to prevent so many of the other problem interactions with cars that getting hit from behind seems to be the only significant danger to me from cars remaining.  Most of the other ways of getting killed are just not significant to me because I almost completely preclude them from happening.

I've been seeing a figure that 5% of bicyclist fatalities are from getting hit by a car from behind.  (I'm not sure if this is 5% of all bicyclist fatalities or only those resulting from a collision with a motor vehicle.)  However, that 5% figure for the observed fatalities certainly doesn't apply to me.  Why?:
* I'm over 18 years old and I'm over 25 years old.
* I'm younger than 60 years old.
* I use front and rear bike lights (more than 99.5% of the time) when riding at night.
* I ride on the correct side of the street.
* I rarely ride on sidewalks.
* If I have had too much to drink, I don't ride a bike.
* "The Right Cross": I always give myself a large amount of clearance around cars approaching from the right who fail to stop at the proper place.
* I don't ride in the door zone at speeds in excess of 8 mph.
* In the rare case that I pass a car on the right side or ride beside a car, I never let the car's behavior be a surprise to me.
* I make eye contact with motorists whenever helpful and possible.
* "The Left Cross": I ride closely to the oncoming vehicle so that the vehicle cannot begin its turn until I have passed.  Driver education courses teach drivers not to begin their turn until the path is clear.
* I give myself enough lateral room on the road so that I do not have to make sudden adjustments to avoid obstacles.
* I stay in a highly visible position on the road.
* I follow traffic laws.
* I take other precautions.

Just about the only way a car is going to hit me accidentally is from behind.  My wild guess is that getting hit from behind constitutes over 50% of my risk for death from accidental motor vehicle collisions.

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#9 2008-06-02 10:29:16

rmonsees
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Registered: 2008-05-27
Posts: 39

Re: Do we need to increase safety or not?

> [pwhallmark]
> John Forester's book "Effective Cycling" has tons of data on bicycle
> accidents. If I recall correctly, riding at night with no lights, or
> being a kid, are the 2 most common causes of cycle crashes.

Rod
   I did a search on that book, and the most recent edition was 1984.  I'm sure trends have changed over the last 24 years.  Is there a more recent reference for bicycle accident data?

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#10 2008-06-02 10:36:56

Adriel
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Registered: 2008-05-27
Posts: 91

Re: Do we need to increase safety or not?

I have been reading that book for the last couple months (Its like a phone book)  and it is full of very useful information.  I don't know if all the statistics still apply, but most of the principles do.  I would highly recommend it to anyone.

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#11 2008-06-02 12:57:06

Bernie
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Registered: 2008-06-02
Posts: 2
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Re: Do we need to increase safety or not?

Re: Tom's post: Getting hit from behind

I've been riding around Austin for almost 18 years on all kinds of bikes for all kinds of reasons.  I know all the tricks and tips and have never been hit by a car, until a few weeks ago. 

You can ride as safely and smartly as possible, but you'll *NEVER* be able to take precautions against a 76 year old with handicapped tags and poor vision who "just didn't see you" right the **** in front of her in a four-way stop intersection.  I hope you never never never get hit, but if you do, I'd bet it's going to be something like my crash, and not from behind.

-B

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#12 2008-06-02 14:41:58

tomwald
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From: 78722
Registered: 2008-05-27
Posts: 288

Re: Do we need to increase safety or not?

Yeah, Bernie.  From the way you describe your collision, it sounds like something that I wouldn't necessary avoid, as persistent as I am to look out for such dangers.  I certainly do look out for that sort of thing, but sometimes a car just might make it through.

You didn't die after all though.  I was referring to fatalities and not collisions in general.  I still put getting hit from behind as my top chance for *dying* in a car collision while on my bicycle.

I hope that in retrospect that I have a 0% chance of dying in a car collision, but I am sure that I will have a 100% chance of dying overall.

Last edited by tomwald (2008-06-02 14:42:20)

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#13 2008-06-02 17:56:51

pwhallmark
Member
From: NW Austin
Registered: 2008-05-31
Posts: 13

Re: Do we need to increase safety or not?

rmonsees wrote:

I did a search on that book, and the most recent edition was 1984.  I'm sure trends have changed over the last 24 years.  Is there a more recent reference for bicycle accident data?

Mine is the 6th edition, 1993. While not exactly up-to-the-minute data, I would think his research still has value.

Regards,
Phil Hallmark

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#14 2008-08-07 22:17:29

cyclistlaw.com
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Registered: 2008-08-07
Posts: 2

Re: Do we need to increase safety or not?

Cycling can be safe, there are many places in the world where motorists are aware of cyclists and cyclists are provided sufficient pathways to their destinations, signage is prevalent and roadways are well marked.  I believe Austin is working on becoming one of these places, but errrrrrr, we are nowhere near there yet. Each day we receive calls from cyclists who have been hit by motorists. Some are injured more than others but, what has become a real problem is police failing to give citations to the motorists who completely ignore cyclists right-of-way, completely cut cyclists off, or the best one I have heard yet, came out of Houston recently...after the semi truck carrying a bed of cement allegedly honked (none of the 12 other club riders heard anything, which is so besides the point) apparently the cylcist did not get out of the way, so the truck - ran the cyclist over.  Condition of cyclist-wheelchair bound. Cycling safety is a serious issue and as a cyclist, especially in ATX, no-I do not feel safe most of the time.

Last edited by cyclistlaw.com (2008-08-07 22:19:11)

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#15 2008-08-08 08:42:39

Adriel
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Registered: 2008-05-27
Posts: 91

Re: Do we need to increase safety or not?

The roads are perfectly safe, its the cars that are not safe.

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#16 2008-08-08 11:17:19

tomwald
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From: 78722
Registered: 2008-05-27
Posts: 288

Re: Do we need to increase safety or not?

Adriel wrote:

The roads are perfectly safe, its the cars that are not safe.

"perfectly safe" is a simplification.  There are certainly many roads hazards that would remain road hazards even if there were not a single car in the city... but I think I get your point.

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#17 2008-08-09 08:45:06

Adriel
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Registered: 2008-05-27
Posts: 91

Re: Do we need to increase safety or not?

I am willing to drop the word perfectly.

The road is very safe, go ride on one when there are no cars on it and you will see, it only becomes unsafe when the first motor vehicle comes along.

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#18 2008-08-09 11:11:52

tomwald
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From: 78722
Registered: 2008-05-27
Posts: 288

Re: Do we need to increase safety or not?

Adriel wrote:

... it only becomes unsafe when the first motor vehicle comes along.

Agreed.

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