The mountains have labored, and given birth to a mouse
by Charles Komanoff and Michael Smith
New York City just released its first-ever study of bicycle crashes. There's good news and bad news. The good news is that four City agencies -- health, transportation, parks and police -- admitted, finally, that bicycling is good for New York City, and pledged to expand the City's cycling infrastructure. The study also didn't indulge in the NYPD's habitual victim-blaming in cycling fatalities -- a significant though unacknowledged shift.
But here's the bad news: The study has many methodological flaws and misleading "findings," leading it to over-emphasize helmets and bike lanes and neglect the need for universal street safety. And the study completely neglects the fact that most fatal crashes are caused by aggressive, self-entitled drivers, and laissez-faire policing that allows motorists to literally get away with murder.
The study attributes 42% of all fatal bike-vehicle crashes to "bicycle factors," 20% to "vehicle factors" (i.e., drivers), and 36% jointly to both cyclists and drivers (another 2-3% of cases couldn't be coded). That's an improvement from the NYPD's made-up "statistic" that 75-80% of biking fatalities are solely the cyclists' fault. But it's still deeply misleading.
One of us (Komanoff) had the opportunity to review the NYPD's cause-coding for three of the years studied (1996-98), and found them rife with errors. In one case, a driver ran a red light and struck and killed a cyclist proceeding lawfully through an intersection; NYPD gave the cause as "Bike Thru Red Traffic Signal Light And Struck By Vehicle" and actually assigned a Bike Factor of "Traffic Control Disregarded." In another case, a cyclist was crushed when a Mack truck made a right turn, from the cyclist's left, directly into his path. NYPD said, "Unsafe Bike Operator Turned Into Vehicle And Was Struck By Turning Vehicle" and assigned a Bike Factor of "Unsafe Lane Changing."
In all, Komanoff found that only 20% of the fatal bike-vehicle crashes could be attributed to "bicycle factors" (vs. the City's 42%), while 44% were the exclusive result of "vehicle factors" (vs. the City's 20%). The remaining 36% were the fault of both cyclists and drivers (the same as the City's tally). In effect, the City's "cause" factors invert reality.
Komanoff's results are available for download in the form of an .xls spreadsheet.
Diagnosis dictates treatment. More than anything else, it is driver aggression and inattention that's killing cyclists. The right treatment is to change that behavior. To say the very least, the study missed a priceless opportunity to tell it like it is, and we suspect the depressing truth is that the City still can't tell it like it is.
Sorry, but the ROW website is in frames and I can't figure out how to directly link to this article or the spreadsheet, but they are on the site under the heading 'New to the site' in the sidebar, at: http://www.rightofway.org/