Portland bicycle commuters know by experience the difference in the numbers of other cyclists on the road can make. Bicycle safety advocates believe that the more the numbers of bicycles grow on our streets, the better car drivers and pedestrians and bikes will all get along. And, there are a lot of statistics, especially in recent years, from all around the country in microcosm studies, or macro across the USA, that this is true. However, we are also seeing new concerning problems in bicycle accident safety statistics.
This idea of the numbers, critical mass idea, if from the P. L. Jacobsen Safety in numbers: more walkers and bicyclists, safer walking and bicycling
The common wisdom holds that the number of collisions varies directly with the amount of walking and bicycling. However, three published analyses of collision rates at specific intersections found a non-linear relationship, such that collisions rates declined with increases in the numbers of people walking or bicycling.
On this site, I host bicycle attorneys from New York City, to upstate New York, Pennsylvania, Utah, Colorado, Nevada, Idaho, Alabama, and network with bike lawyers in Seattle, and San Diego. We see an array of information about the state of cycling in the USA at the end of 2012. No doubt, bicycle riders are enjoying improving conditions and bicycle ridership and commuting is definitely growing. But hard safety questions are materializing in how to move forward.
For instance in Colorado, attorney Brian Weiss was active in the new Colorado 2009 laws (Senate Bill 09-148) to clarify the rights and laws of bicycle and car co-existence on Colorado streets, roads and highways:
[...] provides provisions for cyclists to ride two abreast,
for passing motorists to cross the
center line, and for cyclists to ride only as
far to the right as is reasonable, so as to
avoid hazards. Motorists are required to
leave a three-foot buffer when passing a
cyclist, and threatening or careless driver
behavior, including throwing projectiles at
a cyclist, is designated as a misdemeanor.
Cyclists are also permitted to ride on the
left-hand side of a one-way street, to mitigate
the hazard parked buses and taxis
present on the right.
In the article, Brian mentions one of his cases where the car insurance actually sued his bicycle client for damage to the car as a result of the bicycle v. car collision! "After a man I represented was hit by a
car, the insurer for the car made a claim
against my client for $3,000 in damage to
the car. Although the new law [Senate Bill 09-148] was not yet
in effect, I argued that drivers should give
three feet to cyclists to be safe. The case
eventually settled in a favorable manner for
Leaving space while passing a bicycle rider is just common sense to many of us, but in 2012, Pennsylvania also put this law on the books making it legally permissible for the auto driver to cross the line on the road in order to leave this safe passing room while over taking a bicycle.
Pennsylvania's new bicycle law is just common sense
April 9,2012 - [...] Unfortunately, not all drivers are that polite, which is the reason that Pennsylvania lawmakers thought they had to put into writing a requirement that motorists leave a 4-foot "cushion of safety" when passing bicyclists. When oncoming traffic permits, motorists are permitted to cross the center line to provide space when passing bicyclists.
A study in Maryland where they also have a new bicycle passing law (as of October 2010) requiring three feet found that cars routinely violate this law.
Love, D.C., et al., Is the three-foot bicycle passing law working in Baltimore, Maryland? Accid. Anal. Prev. (2012)
Cyclists in Baltimore, MD were routinely passed at a distance
of three feet or less while cycling during morning and evening
commutes, which indicates that the three-foot law is not being
followed and cyclist safety may be compromised. Risk factors for
dangerous passes by motorists were decreasing lane width and
the absence of bicycle lanes. [...] The construction of bicycle lanes is a transportation infrastructure solution
that would engineer out deficiencies in motorist behavior toward
Many cities across the nation see rising numbers of serious bicycle accident and fatalities. Yes, bicycle ridership is up, but the correlation and meanings of the numbers are not really clear to the safety experts and city designers what exactly is happening. This is also occurring in some of the best biking cities in the USA, not the worst.
DENVER BIKE ACCIDENTS ON TRACK FOR ALL TIME HIGH
This year, through July 8th, there have already been 228 accidents, which nearly matches the total number of collisions throughout the entire year in 2011, and already has surpassed 2010 as a whole.
The statistics aren't broken down by type, so they could refer to bike-pedestrian, bike-bike or bike-auto accidents. In 2011, DPD had 239 on record, and in 2010, the total came to 202. Assuming that more cycling accidents will continue to take place over the summer and into the fall -- especially since there are more cyclists on the road in Denver -- we can expect the city to not only break its record on bike accidents by year's end, but shatter it.
In Portland, we got similarly troubling news in October of 2012 about the green bike boxes which, granted were an experimental road way design, but, well, we hoped. We do need better and more thorough safety studies of what is actually happening with these green bike boxes, road designers, city engineers to all study the facts, which will be coming.
Right-hook crashes increasing -- not decreasing -- at some Portland green bike boxes [October 16, 2012]
"The crash data trend suggests that right-hook crashes are increasing at some of the treatment locations installed in the first phase," said city traffic engineer Rob Burchfield in a signed "progress report" to federal highway officials that was released late Monday (PDF).
In August 2012, another intersection in Portland, NE Wheeler, was closed because of the right hook - right turn problems between bikes and vehicles
Portland closing N. Wheeler to right turns to prevent bike, car collisions
August 21, 2012 - [...] North Wheeler Avenue at Broadway will be closed starting Wednesday morning to right-turn traffic. He said the closure is in response to 20 reported crashes at the intersection between 2000 and 2010, including 17 right-hook collisions involving a person on a bike and a car.
It takes time to compile statistics. So, we don't yet know what 2012 statistics will really look like. To be sure, there are good and bad spots, even some very good and hopeful stats.
In California, at the end of 2011, many Southern California cities were dealing with much higher bicycle accident numbers than they had seen in previous years.
Through October of this year, police have responded to 32 injury bike collisions — more than in all of 2007, when there were 24, and nearly as many as the 33 reported in 2008, Lt. J.J. Puglisi said.
Burbank police officers also noted the increase not just in the number of these accidents but also the severity. Burbank also has some great bicycle boulevards and an ambitious bicycle master plan they released in 2009.
New York City has a promising bike sharing program, and increasing miles of bike paths and designated bike lanes. In NYC we see the challenges facing bicycle riders, pedestrians, and car drivers, in a blown up sort of way - way bigger numbers of all types of transit users. In New York City there have been growing tensions between bicycle v. pedestrian accident and fatalities. In New York, a huge number of people are pedestrians, and the bicycle riders have been growing in numbers the last several years especially.
Study Finds Higher Number of Pedestrians Hurt by Bikes [September 19, 2011]
More than 500 New York City residents are injured badly enough to be treated in hospitals after being struck by bicyclists each year, according to an analysis by Hunter College professors. The number, while small compared with the number of pedestrians injured by cars, is a much higher figure than an earlier study by the same researchers found.
The professors surveyed hospital data gathered by the State Department of Health between 2007 and 2010 and found that roughly 1,000 pedestrians in New York State were seen at hospitals each year after being hit by cyclists, and that 55 percent of the accident victims were in New York City.
A 2009 analysis of different data by the professors, Peter Tuckel and William Milczarski, found that only a few more than 1,000 pedestrians were treated annually in hospitals in the whole country for injuries in collisions with cyclists.
The tension between pedestrians and bicycle riders in New York City continued into 2012. Interesting data sets were compiled. Of course, car v. pedestrian injury and fatalities are much higher numbers than bicycle v. pedestrian. In addition, bicyclists themselves are injured or killed in much higher numbers by accidents involving cars, or often, trucks. The data has been hopeful. Bike paths, bike lanes do help. The numbers of bicycle riders on the streets in New York City are growing at fantastic rates, and yet, these incidents are actually reducing in frequency.
At Least 24 Cyclists Were Killed In NYC Last Year, But Gawker Wants More [8/27/2012]
Leitch complains that "Bike riders have taken over this city," and says that his wrath against cyclists arises from his identity "as a pedestrian, as someone giddy to live in one of the few cities in America where you can just walk everywhere." But as a pedestrian, Leitch should be encouraging cycling: as cycling rates nearly doubled from 2007 to 2010, the number of bike-on-pedestrian crashes dropped 9%. The number of cyclist-caused crashes fell as well.
Cars are 365 times more dangerous to pedestrians than cyclists, according to City data [pdf]. 60% of fatal pedestrian and bicyclist crashes are caused by illegal driver behavior. 27% of crashes that kill or seriously injure pedestrians involve a driver failing to yield. More pedestrians are struck by vehicles crossing the street with the signal (27%) than without (20%).
The rate of bicycle riding growth in New York City has gotten contentious. Bicycle riders are getting tickets and very high rates, while, the cyclist community contends that drivers, and crash-causing-injury-making drivers are not getting ticketed, it is bringing the actual data to light, especially over the last year.
NYPD: 1,304 Pedestrians and Cyclists Injured, 13 Killed in Traffic in October [November 29, 2012]
Of seven fatal crashes reported by Streetsblog and other outlets, no motorists were known to have been charged for causing a death. Historically, nearly half of motorists who kill a New York City pedestrian or cyclist do not receive so much as a citation for careless driving. [...] Across the city, 976 pedestrians and 328 cyclists were reported hurt in collisions with motor vehicles. Per NYPD policy, few if any of these crashes were investigated by trained officers.
There's a lot of bright spots in the contentiousness of New York City's bike growth.
NYC DOT Announces Commuter Biking has Doubled in the Last Four Years and Conversion of Parking Meters into Bike Racks to Meet Growing Demand for Bike Parking
Commuter bike riding nearly quadrupled in the last decade, growing 8% in the last year
New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan today announced a continued steady increase in commuter bike riding in New York City, with an 8% increase in bike riders counted at commuter locations this year compared to last year's record number. According to counts of bike riders made at six commuter locations, bike riding has increased 102% compared to 2007 and by 289% compared to 2001. In that time, safety has increased for all street users, with fatalities at their lowest levels in the century that records have been kept, while serious bike injuries and fatalities have remain unchanged despite the near-quadrupling in bike riding.
Recreational biking, dedicated bike trails, have also been getting big news for having huge positive economic impacts around the country. For instance, in Salt Lake City (where Gregory N. Hoole - our Utah bicycle attorney law office resides):
Second Annual Bike Count Shows Big Jump in Cyclists
Coordinator says bicycling in Salt Lake City is easy, money-saving and "cooler" than ever
Salt Lake City's investments in bicycle infrastructure, including approximately 50
lane miles of new on-road bikeways and locally designed "green shared lanes" in the downtown area, are
paying off with a one-year 27 percent increase in the number of bicyclists, according to the City's second
annual bicycle count.