What Makes a City “Dangerous” for Cycling?

I read this article about how San Antonio was added to a list of “The Most Deadly Cities for Cyclists.” These stories always grab my attention, mostly because I want to see how they made the list… what criteria did they use? This article then mentions Dayton, Ohio as being on the list. As one who tracks EVERY fatal bike crash in Ohio I know that Ohio … by and large… is very safe compared to, say, Florida or other deadly cycling hotspots. So I dug a bit deeper.

OH… I see… San Antonio, and Dayton, were both on a list developed “according to an analysis of federal data by the insurance-shopping site CarInsurance.org.”

Something tells me that “CarInsurance.org” has motives that may be inconsistent with riding a bicycle, but hey, who knows…

The CarInsurance story starts off with a very real key stat – after several decades of declining numbers, Cycling Fatalities are UP in the past decade.

 

Remarkably, CarInsurance.org fails to see the connection between how people are driving cars and why more people NOT in cars are getting killed.

CarInsurance.org then makes the silly statement that “Increases in cyclist fatalities have occurred alongside increases in bike share programs and the number of cyclists commuting to work. In 2017, there were nearly 800,000 commuters nationwide who rode their bicycles to work, representing 0.5 percent of all commuters. While the share of bike commuters has remained steady in recent years, the fatality rate per 100,000 bike commuters is at a ten-year high.”

So… the number of commuters has gone up and deaths are going up and bike share programs are increasing and… VOILA… “Therefore” … Ta Da… what? There’s some magical connection between the numbers?

No… that’s not how this works…that’s not how ANY of this works…

 

 

POST HOC ERGO PROPTER HOC

Post hoc ergo propter hoc is a latin phrase meaning “after this, therefor because of this” and describes a logical fallacy… the argument is that event X happened after Event & and “therefore” Y caused X… Another way of saying that is “correlation does not imply causation…” Just because A happened after B else doesn’t mean A CAUSED B, or is in any way, shape or form even remotely related to the cause of B.

In this article – this “analysis” by CarInsurance.com, there is no “therefore” there. No “analysis” was done at all as to WHY crashes were happening… WHY cyclists are being mowed down in greater numbers in 2017 than they were in 2005. What has changed? Why are people driving cars killing more cyclists?

CarInsurance.com says their researchers “… ranked cities by the number of bike fatalities per 100,000 bike commuters. Only cities with at least one cyclist fatality per year and at least 100,000 residents were included in the analysis. Consistent with the findings at the state level, 13 of the 20 most dangerous cities for cyclists are in Florida, California, or Texas.

“Fatalities per 100,000 bike commuters” is an interesting “stat.” First, how are “bike commuters” even counted? CarInsurance.com simply states “In 2017, there were nearly 800,000 commuters nationwide who rode their bicycles to work, representing 0.5 percent of all commuters. While the share of bike commuters has remained steady in recent years, the fatality rate per 100,000 bike commuters is at a ten-year high.”

Why are we looking at “bike commuters” in trying to determine the “most dangerous” cities for cycling? Has the crack team of researchers determined that bike commuters are involved in more of the fatal crashes? In fact, at least in Ohio, very few of Ohio fatal bike crashes involve “bike commuters.” However, no one would know this because there is no “box” on the crash form – no “stat” at the Ohio Department of Public Safety – that identifies a cyclist killed as a “bike commuter.” The same is true for motorists- no stat identifies the status of a motorist as a “commuter” or “tourist just passing through” or “Mom/Dad driving to soccer practice.” So to make some argument about a city being dangerous based on some bogus “stat” of “bike fatalities per 100,000 bike commuters” is just silly.

OTHER FACTORS THAT COULD IMPACT CYCLING SAFETY

What DOES seem to correlate to an increase in cycling fatalities? Well, one thing that certainly needs to be STUDIED is the impact of the use of “smart phones” while driving.

It MAY just be a huge co-inky-dink [Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc, after all] but the chart/curve shoring the recent increase in cycling fatalities coincides almost perfectly with a chart mapping the sale of iPhones & other smart phones in the past 10 or so year – phones which introduced consumers to the ease of accessing the internet quickly on their phones – from home or from their cars

 

 

What else has been going on though in the past 10 years or so that could be driving up the distraction levels of motorists? I mean, prior to 2009 people used phones in cars… Initially, the big clunky phones just made calls. Later, the “CrackBerry” revolution led to more data being moved over phones- texts & emails primarily.

It wasn’t until the iPhone, though, and increased internet speeds, that graphic data started moving freely through the air.

Look at that… Facebook in mid-2006 was almost nothing… it starts to blow up in 2007-2008 and then BOOM growth so fast that a couple BILLION folks are updating their pages daily.

That certainly mirrors the overall growth of social media…early on it was just the Kids… 18-29… but from 2008-2010 you see older folks coming in hot… people…driving around in cars… with phones connected to the internet…

 

IS ANYBODY STUDYING THIS?

It seems a lot more “likely” to be a connecting factor to an increase in cyclist [and pedestrian] fatalities than anything else I’ve seen…

SO, before a “car insurance” website decides to issue a proclamation about the “most dangerous” cities in the country for riding a bicycle maybe it ought to consider some other factors.  Better yet, big well-funded outfits like this, or IIHS, ought to spend some time and money studying why motorists are mowing down cyclists & pedestrians in increasing numbers over the past 10 years… what is driving those stats up? Are there simply more people riding and walking? Did cyclists & pedestrians forget how to ride/walk safely?

Well, on THAT point, we are seeing a LOT of victim blaming in the pedestrian world, eh? We read about stern warnings from public officials  –>”Don’t walk and look at your phone!”  “Make EYE CONTACT” –> “WEAR BRIGHT CLOTHING”

I don’t understand why public officials continue to make excuses for lousy driving… a cyclist should not have to look like a peacock to clobbered by a two ton bowling ball. A pedestrian should not have to “make eye contact” with a motorist to have the motorist SEE her/him and not maim someone.

Let’s be careful out there folks… but let’s also study what is happening and take active steps to turn this around… to DECREASE the crashes that kill and maim cyclists & pedestrians…

 

 

 

 

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2 Comments   »

  • David Chase says:

    Last I checked, bike share was actually very safe. We can count bike share uses, because that’s their business model. We can count deaths. The measured death rate per trip for bike share is about 2 per 100 million trips, or less than 1/4 of the 9.2 deaths expected per 100 million automobile passenger-trips.

    There are all sorts of reasons why bike share might be special, but demonstrably IS special, and it’s silly to link increases in bike crash deaths to bike share uptake.

    See https://academic.oup.com/aje/article/166/2/212/98784 for the automobile (and other modes) death and injury rates.

  • Steve Magas says:

    I agree 100%. Bike Share is VERY safe… It took something like 20,000,000 or more trips in NYC on CitiBike before there was a fatality. People were screaming about safety before CitiBike went in, but the safety record in NYC, and around the country, is fantastic.

    I agree that it makes NO sense that “carinsurance.org” would try to tie “bike share” together with the increase in cycling fatalities over the past 10 years… unless they were anti-bike and anti-bike share..

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