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  1. #1
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    planes, trains, and automobiles

    I expect to start riding my bike to work as soon as I buy an HID helmet light. But yesterday, as I was reading post after post reporting near-misses and collisions, I began to doubt that I will brave the roads on my bike. The thread "Have you been hit by a car?" (Have you been hit by a car?) was especially frightening.

    In the last couple months, a co-worker of mine was driving me to work in his mid-size pickup truck. But now he's walking down the corridors in the form of a question mark. A car smashed into his truck. Because the collision incapacitated his truck, he called me after the collision for a ride home. When I arrived at the scene, I saw that his airbag had properly inflated to protect him from the head-on collision. But he's still walking around like a question mark.

    A low-flying helicopter outfitted like a padded cell probably would be a nice balance between convenience and safety. Or maybe the balloons they use to circle the planet would be better. It's nice to daydream about risk-free transportation. Horses and ostriches have not reliably protected their passengers, and camels and elephants require unique environments. So much for them.

    I wish there was an article which I could read to convince me that riding my bike forty to fifty miles five days a week through city streets is not, from a probability perspective, more dangerous than these other modes of transportation. It's unlikely, however, that anyone can tell me anything that will help me feel safer. Our fears are rarely, if ever, based on probabilities.

    So I'll start to bike to work. I hate driving cars and trucks. I'm afraid I'm going to kill someone (I drive a F-350 dually for business purposes). I'll even ride a horse or an ostrich if the occasion presents itself. But oh how horrible it is to see my friend walking down the corridors in the shape of a question mark!

    I live in Tucson, which I am told is an especially bike-friendly city. In a city like Tucson, it's likely that cautious bicyclists are, in fact, safer than even the most defensive automobile drivers. My friend was hit by a senior-citizen, and there are many, many senior-citizens in Tucson. A couple years ago, I narrowly escaped a collision with a senior-citizen who decided to suddenly make a ninety-degree left-turn with traffic moving in the same direction on both sides. But on my bike, I can better separate the younger drivers from the older ones, and I believe with both rational and irrational conviction that older drivers are the most dangerous ones. The problem is only going to worsen. More and more baby-boomers will be joining their ranks.

    The irony of riding a bike, which for most will always be scarier than driving a car, is well expressed by these lines from Shakespeare's "Measure for Measure," "To sue to live, I find I seek to die, and by seeking death, find life."

    Disclaimer: I really don't know if any of the above is prudent. But these are the thoughts I will take with me as I begin, reluctantly, this bike-commuter's life. Any other inspirations will be greatly appreciated, as I am sure to be told by many non-bicyclists that the better part of valor is discretion.

  2. #2
    Senior Member Ebbtide's Avatar
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    Relax and enjoy the commute, you will become confident in no time.

  3. #3
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    You will feel a little nervy at first. This will very quickly go away. I feel safer riding my bike than in a car. Remember, the horror story threads are never going to have long posts by people who've never had an accident. I repeat, riding your bike will very quickly be no more scary than drving your car. You will get comfortable very quickly.

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by hammerBlack
    A low-flying helicopter outfitted like a padded cell probably would be a nice balance between convenience and safety. Or maybe the balloons they use to circle the planet would be better.

    A couple years ago, I narrowly escaped a collision with a senior-citizen. The problem is only going to worsen. More and more baby-boomers will be joining their ranks.
    We recently had a snow storm in the north east and motor car accidents were happening every five minutes from updated traffic reports on radio. It was incredible how many cars were just banging into each other that day and EVERY day of the week! Serious wrecks or fatalities often require a police investigation of they end up shutting down the highway or getting a helecopter to remove the bodies.

    My trip during that snow storm was non eventful and relaxing. The subway was underground and not effected at all by the snow storm above. Although some lines were delayed, riding a train with a professional driver away from motor traffic is ralaxing and stress free.

    I also took lightrail which rides on rails above ground and we hit 50 mph during that snow storm on a dedicated right of way when cars on the street were doing 15 mph and sliding all over! It's incredible to have access to this kind of transportation which is why I have NO intention of moving. You can hope for your helecopters dreams but those are not going to happen anytime soon. Do what I did and move next to a rail line and fine a job down town so you can commute to work every day of the week by train. Let the crazys fight the snow storms with all those jack knife tractors!

    I agree that we are going to have more accidents in the future as the population ages forcing many seniors to drive well into their 70's, 80's and 90's. We can only hope the automobile manufactuers come out with more life saving devices because seniors are going to need it.

  5. #5
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    Having more old people on the roads wont increase the number of accidents - it is the teenages and young 20s that are the most dangerous. Bike accidents happen but since they happen at low speed they dont usually do much damage. The death rate for riding a bike is about the same as for driving a car per mile travelled. Commuting by bike is very relaxing - when the cars are rushing past you, you dont have to make the split second decisions like you do in a car - when the cars are stuck in a jam, just revel in your freedom.

  6. #6
    Senior Member closetbiker's Avatar
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    Re read page 2 (post #50) on that thread (have you been hit by a car)

    Paul Schimek, the former Bicycle Program Manager for the City of Boston and is the author of "The Dilemmas of Bicycle Planning" said, "I don't know of any good numbers directly comparing the risk of motoring and the risk of bicycling. The best educated guess is that for an experienced cyclist, the risk is not that different."

    Where I live, cyclists are only proportionatly involved in half the traffic accidents that motorists are. (e.g. commuter cyclists make up 2% of traffic, yet all cyclists account in only 1% of traffic accidents)
    Last edited by closetbiker; 02-27-05 at 09:03 AM.
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  7. #7
    Senior Member closetbiker's Avatar
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    For comparisons to pedestrians check out fig. 2 in this link

    http://www.magma.ca/~ocbc/fatals.html
    "My two favourite things in life are libraries and bicycles. They both move people forward without wasting anything" -Peter Golkin
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  8. #8
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    I live in Tucson too.

    I've commuted about 5,000 miles a year for the past few years. I have never been hit (although I am careful of right-turners at lights), and have only been yelled at twice (probably by drunk frat boys). I like to avoid riding on the major streets, even if they do have bike lanes, because it is much more relaxing when you avoid them. I ride daily from Skyline/Campbell, cutting through neighborhoods, cross the Rillito River on the bike path, take Mountain Ave all the way to campus, and then University Blvd. to downtown. Almost ten miles one-way and nothing larger then two-lane roads all the way to downtown.

    Tucson is one of the best cities I've seen for bike commuting. The presence of all of the bicyclists on the streets makes us all safer too, because motorists are used to seeing us and reacting to people on bikes. The weather is great too (especially October-May), but I usually look forward to those 105 degree days too by the time they show up again (that and monsoon season). Also fewer tourists, students, and retirees in town during the summer. I have a great commute, I even see coyote, javelina, rattlesnakes, and even a gila monster once.

    It is definitely safer to commute in Tucson than in most moderate-sized cities. I used to live in Arkansas and commute. Now that was scary sometimes. Get out and do it! I'll see you out there.

  9. #9
    Senior Member DieselDan's Avatar
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    For South Carolina, population 3.8 million: for 2003

    740 auto accident deaths

    12 bike accident deaths

    14 civilain airplane deaths

    2 train related deaths

    but no true comparision in traffic density to even Atlanta, GA
    Bikes use brakes to stop.

    If your bike has breaks, don't ride it.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by DieselDan
    For South Carolina, population 3.8 million: for 2003

    740 auto accident deaths

    12 bike accident deaths
    I would be curious to know how many of the bicycles deaths were kids, or resulted from bicycles being used as toys, not transportation. You gotta watch out for statistics.
    Last edited by Anthony King; 02-28-05 at 09:35 AM.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by hammerBlack
    A low-flying helicopter outfitted like a padded cell probably would be a nice balance between convenience and safety. Or maybe the balloons they use to circle the planet would be better. It's nice to daydream about risk-free transportation. Horses and ostriches have not reliably protected their passengers, and camels and elephants require unique environments. So much for them.
    The closest thing to risk free transportation you're likly to find would just be jogging or walking. Great ways to get around, IMHO.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Frank B
    The closest thing to risk free transportation you're likly to find would just be jogging or walking. Great ways to get around, IMHO.
    Agreed.

    Whenever you here somone dreaming about transportation in terms of bullet trains, superspeedways and supersonic airplanes, you know they're doing it wrong. Furthermore, you can't convince them this lifestyle is "choice" and not necessity. There is nothing in this world that is a necessity except paying taxes and dying. Someone would have to hold a gun to my head if they wanted me to commute 50 miles a day.

    I would take a 10K paycut right now if I could find a job that was 5 blocks from where I live.

  13. #13
    Senior Member closetbiker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Anthony King
    I would be curious to know many of the bicycles deaths were kids, or resulted from bicycles being used as toys, not transportation. You gotta watch out for statistics.
    I'll bet more than two thirds of the deaths were the result of gross errors in basic traffic safety.

    If not kids, then people riding bikes just like kids (no thought for how to fit into traffic).
    "My two favourite things in life are libraries and bicycles. They both move people forward without wasting anything" -Peter Golkin
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  14. #14
    Senior Member DieselDan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Anthony King
    I would be curious to know how many of the bicycles deaths were kids, or resulted from bicycles being used as toys, not transportation. You gotta watch out for statistics.
    The SC stats were complied from police and corner reports.
    Bikes use brakes to stop.

    If your bike has breaks, don't ride it.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by closetbiker
    I'll bet more than two thirds of the deaths were the result of gross errors in basic traffic safety.
    .
    I saw an article by John Schubert in Adventure Cyclist that said exactly that.
    Dead last finish is better than did not finish and infinitely better than did not start.

  16. #16
    Commuter JohnBrooking's Avatar
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    Yep. In the one cycling death I've heard of in my area since I started commuting (2-1/2 years ago), the guy was riding against traffic.
    Quote Originally Posted by MadfiNch on Commuting forum
    What's the point of a bike if you can only ride it on weekends, and you can't even carry anything with you?!
    Portland Maine Bicycle Commuting Meetup

  17. #17
    Senior Member closetbiker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DieselDan
    For South Carolina, population 3.8 million: for 2003

    740 auto accident deaths

    12 bike accident deaths
    I got to thinking and re-reading some reports I have on this topic and I came up with :

    for BC, population (about) 4 million

    (about) 400 auto accident deaths per year

    (about) 5 bike accident deaths per year


    Quote Originally Posted by Anthony King
    I would be curious to know how many of the bicycles deaths were kids, or resulted from bicycles being used as toys, not transportation.
    I scanned a graph of age related car/bike collisions from a report I have and the largest occurance of car/bike collision by age, is between 12 to 22 years old. There is a drop after the age of 16 (the drivers test age) but it springs up again at age 19. I should also point out that the large drop in collisions involving older cyclists is not representative of a smaller number of older cyclists, but representative of the avoidence of accidents by older cyclists. There are about 3 times fewer 45 year old commuter cyclists than teen age commuter cyclists and half the commuter cyclists at 45 than from 20 to 35 years old, but the accident rate is much lower than those ratios.

    In a different report that I have, it describes one of the biggest problems with young bicycle riders.


    young children do not perceive the traffic enviornment as adults do...it could well be that it is beyond a childs' psychomotor skills to ride safely in traffic
    The report also says

    the larger problem has to do with neither cyclists nor motorists recognizing that cyclists have similar rights and responsibilities on the public roads as any other users...counter measures that might reduce car/bike accidents are public education on the legitimacy of cyclists as road users...the fact that about 70% of cyclists involved in collisions probably have drivers licences, opens up the possible drivers-licence related as well as public education responses to this situation
    this has happened in BC - cycling related questions are on the drivers test and a public school campain teaches young cyclists safe riding - and maybe this is reflected in the lower rates of traffic accidents despite similar population in BC as compared to South Carolina.

    On the downer side, I re-read some of the case files of some of the deaths of cyclists and how they occured and they were so mind-numbingly stupid that I can only shake my head as to how they occurred. Thankfully, any rational cyclist knows not to ride at night on the wrong side of the road with no light while going through a stop sign while drunk and visually impared racing a train.
    Last edited by closetbiker; 03-03-05 at 12:49 PM.
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  18. #18
    Senior Member DieselDan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by closetbiker
    this has happened in BC - cycling related questions are on the drivers test and a public school campain teaches young cyclists safe riding - and maybe this is reflected in the lower rates of traffic accidents despite similar population in BC as compared to South Carolina..
    To help explain the traffic death problem, South Carolina has an overused pass through highway system going to large tourist attractions in Florida from large population centers from the North. Most traffic deaths on I-95 and I-26 are pass through visitors.
    Bikes use brakes to stop.

    If your bike has breaks, don't ride it.

  19. #19
    Senior Member closetbiker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DieselDan
    Most traffic deaths on I-95 and I-26 are pass through visitors.
    That makes sense.

    Too bad people don't feel driving is dangerous enough to be more cautious when driving.
    "My two favourite things in life are libraries and bicycles. They both move people forward without wasting anything" -Peter Golkin
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  20. #20
    Senior Member closetbiker's Avatar
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    I should also mention that the report mentioned the fatality rate for cyclists injured in car/bike collisions was the same rate as motorists suffer in automotive collisions, about 0.8% of all collisions.
    "My two favourite things in life are libraries and bicycles. They both move people forward without wasting anything" -Peter Golkin
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