From the front page of today's SF Chronicle:
Bicycle fatalities on the rise in Bay Area
Michael Cabanatuan,Erin McCormick, Chronicle Staff Writers
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Riding a bicycle in the Bay Area is an increasingly deadly pastime.
The number of bicyclists killed in collisions with motor vehicles has increased 28 percent over the past decade - from 18 to 23 deaths per year, according to a Chronicle analysis of data collected by the California Highway Patrol.
That increase is despite a 22 percent drop in the number of regional bicycle accidents between 1997 and 2006, the last year for which complete statistics are available for the nine Bay Area counties. The number of bicyclists injured in accidents over that period declined by a similar amount.
Statewide statistics show a similar trend over the same period: a 37 percent rise in fatal accidents and a decline of 22 percent in both the total number of bicycle accidents and the number of injuries.
"That means more of the bicyclists who are being hit are being killed," said Sean Co, bicycling coordinator for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.
Not all bicycle accidents are the same, he said. Accidents in urban areas are most common but occur at lower speeds where injuries are more likely to be less serious. But accidents on rural roads or open highways are likely to involve higher speeds.
"Speed," he said, "is probably the highest contributing factor in any bicycle collision that results in a fatality."
The two bicyclists who died Sunday after being struck by a Santa Clara County deputy sheriff were riding on Stevens Canyon Road, a rural route frequently used by cyclists in training. It is not known what speed Deputy James Council, 27, was traveling when he crossed the double yellow line of the two-lane road and struck three bicyclists.
Some bicycle advocates surmise that the total number of accidents is decreasing because of a growing driver awareness thanks to the increase in the number of people riding bikes and because of education programs urging motorists to share the road.
"A lot of cities and nonprofits have instituted bicycle safety programs," said Corinne Winter, executive director of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition. "Maybe that's starting to make a difference."
According to the CHP statistics, 179 Bay Area bicyclists have been killed and 25,715 injured in bicycle collisions with cars between 1997 and 2006. But the number of accidents and the number of injuries have each steadily decreased while the number of fatalities remained steady for years before jumping to 23 in 2006. And, based on an analysis of incomplete 2007 data, the increase in fatalities is likely to continue.
Santa Clara County was the deadliest place for Bay Area bicyclists over the past decade, according to the CHP data, which is collected from local police and sheriff's departments. A total of 44 bicyclists were killed during the 10 years. Alameda County had the second highest total of fatal bicycle collisions with 29, followed by Contra Costa County with 27. The fewest bicyclists, 5, were killed in Marin County.
Santa Clara County also had the most bicycle injuries - 6,888. Alameda County followed with 5,803, and San Francisco was third with 3,165.
Bicycling advocates say the way to cut accidents is to raise the awareness of motorists to the likelihood they will encounter bicyclists on the road and that the law gives bike riders the same rights and responsibilities that motorists have.
"Our biggest message is to pay attention," said Elizabeth Kiker, spokeswoman for the League of American Bicyclists, a national organization that advocates for bicyclists. "Hang up the cell phone, stop text messaging. Bicyclists are deserving of the same amount of attention (as drivers)."
But how to get drivers and bicyclists to safely share the road remains a vexing problem. Several states have passed laws that require drivers to give bicyclists a minimum 3-foot berth as they pass. Assemblyman Pedro Nava, D-Santa Barbara, attempted unsuccessfully to get a similar law passed in California last year amid questions of how to enforce it.
Other governmental entities have tried various solutions, such as enlarging shoulders on highways or reducing speed limits. And many bike advocates urge aggressive enforcement of existing laws, and harsh penalties for those convicted - especially in fatal collisions.
"We do believe in appropriate punishment to motivate people to pay better attention," said Winter. "This is human life, after all, and we need to take these things very seriously."
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This article appeared on page A - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle