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Bike touring road safety

Old 04-22-22, 08:16 AM
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gauvins
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Bike touring road safety

I am trying to assess safety risks while touring, and will probably add factoids to this thread as I retrieve useful tidbits. This is motivated by the fact that we'll have to decide between two alternatives for a segment, this summer: a major 4-lane interstate vs a 2-lane w/o shoulder secondary road. There is not much data available that would help making this decision. What comes to my mind, but has to be double-checked, is that fatal accidents on the open road are relatively rare compared to within cities, because (1) there is more traffic inside cities; (2) many accidents occur at intersections; (3) accidents are relatively more frequent at dusk/night.

1. The chart below highlights the fact that car traffic peeks during rush hours on weekdays, whereas it peaks close to noon on weekends. While the data used in this chart was collected in and around the city of Winnipeg, the pattern suggests that getting underway at dawn may be a good idea on weekends, but not on weekdays.
2. I've added a chart taken from the NHTSA traffic safety facts that supports the above (lowest number of fatalities occur on weekend mornings, highest on weekend evenings)
3. I've added a chart, similar to the above, plotting Killed or Severely Injured (KSI) hour-by-hour. The source makes for an excellent reading. Noteworthy is that while the absolute number of KSIs is rising, the relative proportion is declining (i.e. cycling traffic increases more than KSIs) [2022-04-13]
4. I've added a chart listing contributory factors to KSIs, as noted by the reporting police officer. It shows that DUI is NOT a leading cause of injury. Distraction is, by far, the most frequent cause of injury, reckless driving being close second or third depending on how you group categories [2022-04-23]

Anyhow, if you come across interesting tidbits, I'll read with interest



Hourly distribution of car traffic (data collected in the city of Winnipeg MB)

source: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/...fig2_295595175


Source: https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api...ication/813197


Source: https://www.gov.uk/government/statis...factsheet-2020

Source: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/reported-road-casualties-great-britain-pedal-cyclist-factsheet-2020/reported-road-casualties-in-great-britain-pedal-cycle-factsheet-2020

Last edited by gauvins; 04-23-22 at 09:16 AM. Reason: new data
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Old 04-22-22, 09:33 AM
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My personal experience is freeways are fairly safe, especially if you do not cross exits. Leave the X- way and get back on at next entrance. I do not know if it safer then the other road choice but two lane roads are very uncomfortable to ride, especially if busy.

Know freeway shoulders are littered with stuff much of which could result in a flat. Our Schawlbes held up well. The other issue is the noise. It is very loud.
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Old 04-22-22, 10:26 AM
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Originally Posted by gauvins View Post
...we'll have to decide between two alternatives for a segment, this summer: a major 4-lane interstate vs a 2-lane w/o shoulder secondary road.
"I will accept neither of those alternatives. I want that third alternative!" - Captain James. T Kirk, Stardate 3289.8

Hmm. I think I'd sit down with Google maps and see if I couldn't reroute - perhaps pretty radically - around those two alternatives. Check out tiny roads that don't show on a lot of maps.

If you just can't, you can't. Take the shoulder on the interstate - IF the shoulder continues across all bridges (Google street view is your friend).
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Old 04-22-22, 10:46 AM
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Originally Posted by tcs View Post
"I will accept neither of those alternatives. I want that third alternative!" - Captain James. T Kirk, Stardate 3289.8

Hmm. I think I'd sit down with Google maps and see if I couldn't reroute - perhaps pretty radically - around those two alternatives. Check out tiny roads that don't show on a lot of maps.

If you just can't, you can't. Take the shoulder on the interstate - IF the shoulder continues across all bridges (Google street view is your friend).
Done that. It would require an additional 200 kms for a total of 300kms w/o any service.

As I mentioned in another thread, specific to that question, one option is taking the bus.

Now, this is in Montana, the state with the lowest fatality rate in the US. And we could do it on a Sunday morning (the safest moment of the week). So... We'll see

​​WRT shoulders vs country roads, there is no hard evidence to support the idea that highways are safer. My understanding is that serious accidents happen when a driver isn't paying attention, and when the driver isn't paying attention, you are at risk, shoulder or not. One key difference is that traffic flow is much higher on large highways, so the benefit of a wider berth is negated by the higher probability that a driver will be distracted.

Now, there could also be a cultural dimension. In Europe (actually in most of the world) most divided highways are forbidden to cyclists. Most roads have little if any shoulder.Yet fatalities are rare. Drivers will slow down and give you a wide berth. There is a "share the road" mindset that may not be as frequent in the US. Being Canadian and having biked extensively in Europe, it is possible that I underestimate the risk of touring in the US. This being said, the data suggests otherwise (i.e. culture matters less than traffic volume)
​​
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Old 04-22-22, 11:07 AM
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A few items that come to mind:
1. I would be on the lookout for a few things before going to traffic counts:
-- Travel at night vs daylight hours
-- Travel when the sun is low on the horizon, in the drivers eyes.
2. Road construction including checking with state DOT close to time you travel.
3. When it comes to traffic counts, I would also think through what are likely traffic sources & sinks. For example, across an entire Winnipeg environment I would expect employment, schools, shopping type items. In a more rural environment such as you are considering I would be on the lookout for recreation e.g. is there a Saturday morning traffic of vehicles towing boats - or something similar. Are there logging mills on either route with subsequent truck traffic?
4. Traffic speeds and any traffic counts you can get from state bicycle highway maps? Any clues from areas it connects or cuts across?
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Old 04-22-22, 11:09 AM
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If you are referring to U.S. 93, it's not an Interstate Highway. If you are referring to a true Interstate, I too don;t find them particularly unsafe, just sometimes noisy. I've ridden several sections of I-90 in MT and SD, I-84 in OR, I-94 in ND and I-80 in WY. Safer than some state and U.S. Highways I have ridden on.
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Old 04-22-22, 11:46 AM
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Originally Posted by indyfabz View Post
If you are referring to U.S. 93, it's not an Interstate Highway.
thanks for correcting me
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Old 04-22-22, 11:52 AM
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Originally Posted by mev View Post
A few items that come to mind:
[...]is there a Saturday morning traffic of vehicles towing boats - or something similar.
Good point. A ranger in Yellowstone advised against riding in the park because many tourists rent large RVs and have difficulty estimating width. (I e. Driving as if it were their city car). Still, we're planning on riding the loop, over several days, typically stopping for the day before noon.

(Interesting. Those questions never bothered me when riding alone. It is the little ones who are changing the perspective...)
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Old 04-22-22, 12:45 PM
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If this is in regards to your planned trip with a pre-teen also on a bike, I think that the self discipline of the pre-teen is the most critical factor. I have seen adults swing out into traffic because they did not think there was any, fortunately I only observed strenuous braking and horn honking in those situations. Could have been much worse.

I think visibility is much more important than time of day. I know you asked for data, I have none. But I have the experience of close calls, so chose to elaborate anyway.

On this forum every time the question of theft prevention comes up, situational awareness is a major topic. I think the same thing here. If you are having trouble seeing ahead, the car driver behind you is too. If rainy or high humidity, you might also have to worry about the cars behind you not having good wipers or defrosters. The drivers in cars in front of you are a hazard too, but at least you can see them and try to assess as you approach.

I used to drive a vintage motorcycle to work every day. It was built before the law requiring motorcycle lights on full time, thus I had a light switch unlike the newer ones. And it did not have a very strong alternator, while city driving with low RPMs on the motor with headlight on my battery would steadily be discharging. Thus, sometimes I drove with my light off (was only pulled over once, no ticket). Over the decades of driving that in rush hour I concluded that on sunny days, even if I had my headlight off I was a lot safer than I was on overcast days with my headlight on or my high beam on. People can see so much more clearly on sunny days, but you don't realize that until all of your close calls occur on rainy days or overcast days. And after years of that you start to develop a sense for when the traffic is likely to see you, or not. In my case, I developed the rule of thumb that if I could not see shadows, I was invisible to traffic and I better behave that way. In other words - situational awareness.

I did my first ACA trip in 2012, a dozen riders. On day one, I was the only one that used my flashing taillight in daytime. After a week and some people noticed my taillight, by the end of the trip two others were using their flasher. Most did not have flashers at all, this was a decade ago and few were using them at that time.

All of my comments below refer to the photos under the comment.

ACA issues you these triangles when you go on one of their trips. I have started to use my triangle on my non-ACA trips too. I tried something below, instead of putting the triangle centered on my bike, I put it on the far left. It might have been my imagination, but I think the car drivers gave me a little more room when they passed me when the triangle was further to the left. Another advantage to it being on the left is that it is lower. And if the car behind you has headlights on, that reflective material might show up much better if the triangle is lower, but that depends on their lighting system and if their daytime lights are angled higher than nighttime low beams. I was surprised how much more noticeable that triangle was than my flashers on an overcast or rainy day when I was looking at my bike from behind.



On a pure safety issue, you can't beat wide shoulders.



This was very early morning leaving Everglades National Park in fog. There was amost no traffic, the few cars that did drive past us were driving slow too. You can see the outline of my travel partner in front of me in the fog as we rode towards the sunrise that would blind any drivers behind us. You can't see the shoulder in the photo, but there was very little shoulder.



I pulled over to the side of the road in the photo below to wait for the fog to lift, as I was too afraid of cars not seeing me. But after waiting for a while and seeing how slow the cars were that were driving past, I decided that with my two flashers on back, I would be reasonably safe because the cars were not much faster than I would be.



This was a lot less safe than it looks, weather was good, but traffic from behind was in and out of shadows, so for them it was intermittent bright sunlight in their eyes and intermittent dark. And the road was curvy and up and down so the cars could be on top of you with very little warning. And the brush growing into the road, some of that was thorn bushes so you did not want to ride too close, so you were far into the traffic lane.



On the day below, I decided that the bike trail was much slower and much muddier than taking a highway, but decided that the mud was probably safer as the road alternative was likely busy.



One thing on this forum that should be discussed more is sound. Do not risk relying on sound to know if a car is behind you. Hybrids and electric vehicles can be nearly silent. And there are more and more of those out there. Ask anyone that has worked on a road construction project where cars driving past only feet away if they can hear the hybrids or electric vehicles very well. Rear view mirrors are more important every year for us. I prefer helmet mount, a friend of mine prefers eyeglasses mount. I know a guy that likes it on his bar end, but he almost never looked in it because he had to tilt his head down to do so, so not sure why he had it at all.



Speaking of mirrors, on this bridge there was a lot of debris on the shoulder, even some 2X4 lumber. A few times I had to ride in the traffic lane due to the debris, I was glad to have a rear view mirror on my helmet. Otherwise I would have had to stop to get a good look behind me.



If I think of any more key topics, I will add it.
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Old 04-22-22, 02:40 PM
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Hey, Gauvins, thanks so much for those charts! Very helpful quantitative info (and I love graphs).
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Old 04-22-22, 03:36 PM
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Gauvins -

I have done traffic count work for a number of cycling organizations.
I love poring over spreadsheets filled with numbers.(Sad, but true)
I hate programs that give you only one or two at a time.

The Winnepeg chart you have is an urban model.
Two things have happened to urban patterns in the past 50 years.
The morning and afternoon peaks have declined as fewer people have 8 to 5 jobs.
Also, the hub-and-spoke direction has become less pronounced as people work more in the suburbs.

But you are not going to be in urban settings for much of your trip.
Rural patterns and seasonal vacation travel are quite different.
Increasingly, rural people commute long distances into regional cities.
So, there are morning and afternoon peaks - often pronounced.
They tend to be earlier in the a.m. and later in the p.m. than the graph above.

People tend to use the most direct route with the highest speed limits.
Thus, it pays to use a longer, indirect route if you are riding at these times.
Rural traffic is heavily impacted by the presence of a state prison or factory.
Unless you are aware of it - or have AADT data - it may be a surprise,
but it can generate heavy traffic at shift change times.

Summer traffic volumes in vacation areas can be twice annual averages.
The Montana Bicycle Map uses summer, rather than annual, averages.
And still, this map doesn't catch weekend and holiday surges.

In western Washington US 2 is a two-lane highway completely inadequate for traffic volumes.
In both summer and winter there is heavy traffic from the Seattle metro heading to the mountains.
On Friday afternoons the eastbound lane can be a parking lot while there is little traffic westbound.
Sunday afternoons the stuation is reversed, with traffic heading back to Seattle.

For regional attractions, especially lakes and reservoirs, caution is required for impaired drivers.
For that reason, I limite my Friday and Sunday afternoon riding if near boating areas.
(Water managers have really cracked down on boating and drinking, but it remains a problem.)

On roads in or near national park, remember that drivers are probably unfamiliar with the roads.
Also, that drivers may be looking more at the scenery than the road - with screaming kids, too.
Park area graphs look much more like ths Sat/Sun curves on the Winnepeg chart.
In Yellowstone, if you ride from 6a to 9a and then from 5p to 7p - you'll have little traffic.
I've ridden Going to the Sun maybe 20 times - and always start at 5:00 or 5:30 - no traffic.

Hope this helps.

Last edited by jamawani; 04-22-22 at 03:39 PM.
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Old 04-22-22, 07:56 PM
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I read this thread with interest. The above post covers the only thing I had to add. I would be bike touring in rural vacation areas where traffic patterns are different than urban and suburban commutes. I live in or near this kind of tourist area and weekend and holiday traffic can be more than double weekday volume. The timing of peaks in volume is also different. Friday night and Sunday afternoon or evening can have the highest volumes.

If I want to avoid vacationer traffic, I try to go on weekdays and I avoid major holidays like Memorial Day and Independence Day that are coming up. The weekdays following those holidays are great opportunities though, whether I want to hike, bike, camp, paddle or whatever. Going early in the morning also works well. People on vacation don't want to wake up early. Saturday night is the worst -- drunks.

Besides the drunks on any given weekend, there's some times of year things are worse. NHTSA reports a 100% increase in risk of a DUI-related fatality on the 4th of July. Although Thanksgiving to New Years Eve (when risk is 129% higher) accounts for the bulk of DUI arrests, the week of 4th of July is the deadliest, and Memorial Day weekend is the 2nd deadliest.

Check out the stats on DUI, because besides the increased risk from traffic volume, the chances of someone hitting a bike tourist goes way up when they're loaded.

I used to work Tuesday through Saturday, but have had to switch to Monday through Friday. I still like to volunteer to cover holidays and holiday weekends or any other time I can accumulate comp-time and then use those Mondays and weekdays to enjoy the "tourist" areas when the traffic and the drunks are back at work.

PS: I would also note that the pandemic amplified things. The way I figure it, all those people that would have gone to Hawaii or Europe or the Caribbean or took a cruise or whatever, vacationed domestically. That just increased traffic. But the people that would have done all the booze cruises in Puerto Vallarta, Cancun, and Cabo had to find somewhere else to bring their drama too. That's why Memorial Day, 4th of July... those are the days I get the yard work done.

Last edited by greatbasin; 04-22-22 at 08:05 PM.
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Old 04-22-22, 08:22 PM
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Originally Posted by jamawani View Post
I hate programs that give you only one or two at a time.
Thanks for your insightful post.

The ONE thing that annoys me is the absence of reference to the base rate. I mean, to the number of cyclists using xzy corridors. If 90% of accidents occur in cities but 99% of ridden miles are city miles, the implication is that rural cycling is 10 times as risky as urban cycling (10% of the accidents, 1% of the ridden miles.) AFAIK, statistics for motor vehicles are normalized (ex: fatality rate per million of miles). I have yet to see something similar for cycling. And then there is the question of stress vs mild crash vs hospitalization vs fatalities. Oh well. Perhaps ride Pelotons this summer?
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Old 04-22-22, 08:24 PM
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Originally Posted by greatbasin View Post
Check out the stats on DUI, because besides the increased risk from traffic volume, the chances of someone hitting a bike tourist goes way up when they're loaded.
Totally agree. Shows in the data as well.
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Old 04-23-22, 07:43 AM
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Originally Posted by gauvins View Post
there's no information here other than for "fatalities." what percentage of car/cycle accidents are serious, what percentage fatal, what percentage did the biker manage to get by with just some bruises?

what do the groupings tell us? perhaps the data may not be relevant to a touring cyclist. your weekend data shows most fatalities in the evenings, but what's missing are the causes. (anyhoo, how often will you be riding after 6pm?)

and how many of these fatalities were caused by drunk CYCLISTS? heavy drinkers drive drunk, lose their licenses, but don't give up drinking. they're still getting drunk, but now they're riding home on their bikes. motor vehicle drivers may not be at fault.

Twenty-five percent of the pedalcyclists who died in 2019 had blood alcohol
concentrations (BACs) of .01 grams per deci
liter (g/dL) or greater.
https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api...ication/813197

Last edited by saddlesores; 04-23-22 at 07:46 AM.
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Old 04-23-22, 08:43 AM
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saddlesores you make good points. In particular wrt fatalities vs "serious accidents". Regarding bike touring hazard... there is no useful data that I am aware of. I'll add a few instructive charts taken from a recent gov.uk report.
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Old 04-23-22, 08:48 AM
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Originally Posted by gauvins View Post
......we'll have to decide between two alternatives for a segment, this summer: a major 4-lane interstate vs a 2-lane w/o shoulder secondary road....
where are you riding to/from, and what are your two possible routes?

edit: nevermind......saw your other post.
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Old 04-23-22, 09:04 AM
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A few comments:
During the quarantine the number of drivers decreased substantially, but the incidence of accidents increased.
The second graph would probably not look as impressive or as informative if it were showing absolute numbers. Likewise, if it were recast into percent of cyclists, out of all cyclists active at that time, who were injured, it would probably not show statistically significantly differences among times of the day/week.
Comparisons of small numbers are always suspect. If a motorist, at the "safest" time, has a coronary event and kills half a dozen cyclists, it will skew the data in a non informative way.
As many have commented, here and in discussions of lights, helmets, bike lanes, etc. vigilance, cyclists' and motorists', is probably the most salient variable.
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Old 04-23-22, 04:21 PM
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Life is too short to run around like a worry wart about spending so much effort into a thread like this. You are likely to simply completely scare yourself right out of bike touring. Before you know it, you'll just go load up your car and travel!
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Old 04-23-22, 06:23 PM
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Originally Posted by headwind15 View Post
Life is too short to run around like a worry wart about spending so much effort into a thread like this. You are likely to simply completely scare yourself right out of bike touring. Before you know it, you'll just go load up your car and travel!
He has done plenty of bike touring, I think he is trying to assess safety for touring with family on some roads that might be busy.
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Old 04-24-22, 03:00 PM
  #21  
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Originally Posted by headwind15 View Post
Life is too short to run around like a worry wart about spending so much effort into a thread like this. You are likely to simply completely scare yourself right out of bike touring. Before you know it, you'll just go load up your car and travel!
Thanks for your concern. Just to be clear, I am not worried one bit (and unlikely to spend the rest of my life in the basement).

hmmm... for some, ignorance is bliss. For others, information is power. I stand firmly in the second camp.
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Old 04-26-22, 08:54 PM
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Originally Posted by gauvins View Post
I am trying to assess safety risks while touring, and will probably add factoids to this thread as I retrieve useful tidbits. This is motivated by the fact that we'll have to decide between two alternatives for a segment, this summer: a major 4-lane interstate vs a 2-lane w/o shoulder secondary road. There is not much data available that would help making this decision. What comes to my mind, but has to be double-checked, is that fatal accidents on the open road are relatively rare compared to within cities, because (1) there is more traffic inside cities; (2) many accidents occur at intersections; (3) accidents are relatively more frequent at dusk/night.

1. The chart below highlights the fact that car traffic peeks during rush hours on weekdays, whereas it peaks close to noon on weekends. While the data used in this chart was collected in and around the city of Winnipeg, the pattern suggests that getting underway at dawn may be a good idea on weekends, but not on weekdays.
2. I've added a chart taken from the NHTSA traffic safety facts that supports the above (lowest number of fatalities occur on weekend mornings, highest on weekend evenings)
3. I've added a chart, similar to the above, plotting Killed or Severely Injured (KSI) hour-by-hour. The source makes for an excellent reading. Noteworthy is that while the absolute number of KSIs is rising, the relative proportion is declining (i.e. cycling traffic increases more than KSIs) [2022-04-13]
4. I've added a chart listing contributory factors to KSIs, as noted by the reporting police officer. It shows that DUI is NOT a leading cause of injury. Distraction is, by far, the most frequent cause of injury, reckless driving being close second or third depending on how you group categories [2022-04-23]

Anyhow, if you come across interesting tidbits, I'll read with interest



Hourly distribution of car traffic (data collected in the city of Winnipeg MB)

source: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/...fig2_295595175


Source: https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api...ication/813197


Source: https://www.gov.uk/government/statis...factsheet-2020

Source: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/reported-road-casualties-great-britain-pedal-cyclist-factsheet-2020/reported-road-casualties-in-great-britain-pedal-cycle-factsheet-2020
Riders commuting during the week and not on the weekend.

It's not necessarily a reflection of the danger but might be due to increased number of riders at different times.
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Old 04-26-22, 09:17 PM
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gauvins
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Originally Posted by njkayaker View Post
Riders commuting during the week and not on the weekend.

It's not necessarily a reflection of the danger but might be due to increased number of riders at different times.
Totally agree. Somewhere in the thread I believe I refer to the lack of consideration of the base rate. I.e. more fatalities does not necessarily imply higher hazard.

I couldn't find data on hazard rates (either over time, or by types of roads).


​​​ FWIW, there's some data on the number of bike shares (Vélib) hour by hour. Mimics traffic and KSI curves.

Last edited by gauvins; 04-27-22 at 08:50 AM.
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