City Numbers Show Highest Cyclist Death Toll in Eight Years

fatalchart.jpg

 
Traffic fatalities in 2007 were at their lowest level since the city began keeping records almost 100 years ago, according to data released today by the Bloomberg administration. However, while the number of pedestrian fatalities last year dropped sharply percentage-wise from 2006, down to roughly one death every two-and-a-half days, cyclist fatalities were up, and pedestrian and cyclist deaths combined accounted for 58.6 percent of the 271 total traffic deaths, the highest such percentage in the past eight years.

According to the city chart above, 136 city pedestrians died after being struck by vehicles last year, down from 167 in 2006; 23 cyclists were killed, up from 18 the year before, and marking the highest official cyclist death toll since 2000.

Unknown are the number of pedestrian and cyclist injuries. Last year DOT representatives said the agency was compiling the city’s first-ever comprehensive study of pedestrian injuries and deaths, which was to be completed by the end of 2007; as of this writing Streetsblog has a call in to the agency in hopes of getting an update on the study.

Another relevant but unknown figure is the number of drivers involved in serious and fatal crashes who were charged with anything more than failure to yield.

In a media release today, Mayor Bloomberg said, "We consider safer streets for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers a matter of public health — like smoking or obesity — that deserves our full attention. And while the final 2007 traffic fatality statistics were nothing short of incredible, we will continue to find new ways to bring them down even more."

The mayor’s remarks were made at a presser held at Brighton Beach, where he and DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan announced the "Safe Routes for Seniors" program, aimed at reducing the disproportionately high percentage of senior citizens killed by motorists. To that end, DOT says it has retimed lights and pedestrian signals in Brighton Beach, and will improve pedestrian islands, curbs and sidewalks, narrow roadways and reduce the number travel lanes, and move stop bars further away from crosswalks. Such measures will "soon" follow in four other neighborhoods — the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Fordham/University Heights in the Bronx, Flushing/Murray Hill and Queens, and New Dorp/Hylan Boulevard on Staten Island — followed by twenty additional locations.

  • About the slight increase in absolute cyclist deaths, I would associate that with the general increase in cycling, particularly lots of new cyclists that new to city streets.

    The “safety in numbers” theory in reducing cyclist accidents has limits in reducing absolute numbers as opposed to accidents/deaths per passenger mile or trip which is the better statistic.

    BTW – Accidents per mile is also very skewed toward automobiles simply because their range and average trip length is so much greater. I think percentage of safe trips to destination would make more sense for evaluating safety. For instance I only walk .2 miles to the grocery store, versus a typical 3-10 miles in the burbs. Think about it.

    Finally, an interesting thought: How many mass transit riders were killed (non-suicide/homicide) last year? Seems to be the extreme rarity…

  • Bwah

    “Safety in numbers” may also require a higher tipping point than we have now to have an effect. In terms of city population and travel cycling is still at a very low overall level. It’s possible the city is in a stage where more cycling will result in more fatalities rather than the reverse.

  • One death is too many, but the 23 cyclist deaths in 2007 does not seem like a significant increase from prior years. The reductions in pedestrian and auto driver and passenger deaths may be significant. If so, it may be that our roads are safer, but the same number of cyclists are being killed dying because there are more cyclists.

  • ln

    These numbers don’t mean much — except that all agencies don’t much care about transparency and accuracy in reporting deaths and injuries let alone following up to protect us.

    Ok they do mean one other thing, there’s a
    whole lot of killer drivers out there, and no accountability or protection from them.

    Just last month, after the death of Franco Scorcia, the DOT reported that there were 24 cyclist’s deaths in 2005. Now they say there were 22.
    http://www.nydailynews.com/news/2007/12/08/2007-12-08_senior_bicyclist_died_from_bus_collision.html

    So while the DOT does little to protect the living, they apparently can bring people back from the dead?

  • flp

    for one of those fatalities back from the dead, perhaps the DOT finally realized that ivan morales really did pretty much come back from the dead, but they do not realize that was LAST year. perhaps these year to year distinctions do not matter to the city?! i guess the pols and their hacks see cyclists as just one (critical) mass.

    so who could be our other mystery lazarus?

    sheesh, this inspires true confidence in the City’s numbers crunchers! argh!

    ivan morales’ story: http://ny.metro.us/metro/local/article/The_Lazarus_of_the_Bronx/6490.html

  • Eric

    Wow, that’s an amazing story about Ivan Morales!

  • Charlie D.

    I find your headline somewhat unnecessarily sensational. 2007 saw one more cyclist death than 2002 and 2005. There are of course many issues with these numbers in the first place and what they signify (how accurate is the reporting, are there more bicyclists on the road, etc). Using statistics, is there really any trend at all?

  • I don’t see a trend from that chart. There are more cyclists out there, and hopefully that number will increase. I think it’s due to a combination of new cyclists out there and an ongoing bike infrastructure. General rule of thumb to new cyclists on the road is try to avoid you would normally drive on. When I first started, it’s a hell of a lot easier to take sidestreets and pretty much the “scenic route”. There’s some streets out there, by design, that the bicycle and car can’t coincide well, (ie: parts of Horace Harding or parts of Houston) and you’ll see those white bikes in the areas that are particularly tricky to ride on and not get killed. So that’s my tip to the nubies reading this.

  • mfs

    Charlie D-
    Yes there is. 23 biker fatalities is statistically significant at the 98% confidence level and 136 ped fatalities is significant at the 99.5% confidence level.

  • mfs

    sorry, I forgot to say “all other things being equal”. so if, as Michael1, points out, there are more bikers in 2007 than other years, then the pure fatality rate is not a good measure of biking danger. a better measure would be fatalities per biker-mile traveled.

  • mfs–most investigators would not consider a reduction shown to a 98% confidence level to be significant. And as you point out, there are so many potential confounders that it probably obscures more than it reveals to compute a confidence interval on this data.

  • MFS: See first comment on the absolute number vs. per mile vs. per trip as best estimate.

  • galvo

    The vehicle driver and passenger deaths are declining, there is quite a bit of new occupant features built into the newer vehicles, as air bags and curtains are required for passengers. The problem is they do not help reduce the injury and survival rate of bicyclists or pedestrians, and many drive with no regard for the vulnerable peds/bikes outside the vehicle.
    hopefully someone will plot these vehicle occupant fatalities, majority probably are on the high speed roadways such as the cross Bronx exp, henry Hudson ,belt, gowanus, and queens drag racing strip. Couple after hour drunks on West Street too. There was also the guy from NJ that used a vehicle as a mass pedestrian killer that will skew the ped figure. Motorcycles are probably pretty safe, and like a bicycle, vulnerable to driver error. The high powered 0 to 60 mph in seconds increase the fatality stats of all vehicles classified as mc including the Vespa type.

  • Denton Taylor

    I disagree with those who find the spike in cyclist deaths to be (1) due to more bikes or (b) insignificant.

    Note the number of motorcyclist deaths, which has increased exactly 50%, hardly insignificant. I haven’t noticed any great increase in motorcyclists either.

    Since cyclists and bikers suffer from the same lack of visibility vis a vis dumb drivers, I would have to conclude that more worse drivers are in the city.

    Denton

  • Josh

    Michael1 –

    You’re certainly right about Houston Street. I’m a decent cyclist, keep my bike in good condition, wear a helmet, know where and when to be looking for cross traffic, and STILL feel like I’m going to get plowed over every time I’m there.

    (And that’s not even mentioning the potholes, construction barricades, etc.)

  • Larry Littlefield

    (There is quite a bit of new occupant features built into the newer vehicles, as air bags and curtains are required for passengers. The problem is they do not help reduce the injury and survival rate of bicyclists or pedestrians.)

    One might argue that large SUVs, because they crush cyclists and pedestrians under the wheels rather than flip them onto the hood (and crash through the side windows of passenger cars), are designed to reduce the survival rate of those outside the vehicle while increasing the survival rate for those inside.

  • Hilary

    There is also the factor of increasing speed on the city streets and arterials during all but the most congested periods.

  • curmudgeon

    Denton, poor visibility of cyclists can also be caused by cyclists themselves.
    -not using lights or reflective gear at night, which is akin to putting a big sign up saying “hit me”.
    -riding in places where motorists are not expecting traffic, like against traffic, or through intersections where the cyclist has the red light, etc.
    -riding on the sidewalk (or actually, off the sidewalk into the intersection without stopping or scanning).

    One night I was in a line of traffic, and it was the “dumb motorist” who slammed on the brakes, saving a cyclist who was doing all 3 of these at once. You should check out Bob Mionske’s book “Bicycling and the Law”, particularly Chap. 3 which covers types of bike crashes. It has a great discussion crashes caused by things that cyclists do to reduce their own visibility.

  • ln

    If you would like to see the (known) crash situation with each of the (named) cyclists killed since 2005. Go to http://www.ghostbikes.org/new-york-city.

    All of the crash situations, as known from the media or first hand reports are there, with links to the sources. I’ve been over them all, and I would say that a vast majority of them were the result of inattentive and/or downright uncaring drivers and/or faulty infrastructure. The few resulting summons and arrests (reported) are also reported there.

  • ln

    Sorry, this link should work:
    http://www.ghostbikes.org/new-york-city

  • An open request for advice from Streetbloggers:

    I have a complaint scheduled to be heard tomorrow before the TLC against a cab driver who hit me three months ago. I was proceeding northbound in the Central Park West bike lane at night with all the requisite lights and reflectors, and the cab driver merged right, into the bike lane, preparatory to making a right turn onto the 65th St. Transverse, hitting me and knocking me off my bike.

    To his credit, he did not flee the scene or try to blame me. He said he did not see me, and I think that is true (although I think it is also true that he did not look for me). I summoned the police and made out a police report, and I am purusing the insurance company for property damage (my bike and clothes). I was not seriously injured although I am still quite sore in one finger months later.

    Should I attend the hearing and argue for the driver to be sanctioned in some way for having hit me?

  • Jonathan

    Steve, I think you should go, but I don’t think there’s any kind of penalty. I checked the TLC website and there’s no mention of sanctions besides fines to pay. At the very least, you can show off your bike to the admin-law judge with all the requisite lights and reflectors.

    Good luck!

  • I think attending the hearing and arguing for sanctions could be two different decisions:

    1. I think you should attend.

    2a. You might merely make a general statement about lack of driver attention to cyclists

    OR

    2b. If you think there might be some deterence in making an example of this driver, then call for sanctions.

    My feeling is that the extent of your injuries should not be a factor in your decision. Like the broken windows theory, minor accidents from driver inattention are deaths from inattention waiting to happen. You could be dead or severely injured, leaving your wife & children without a husband/father. Be respectful (as I know you will) and firm in your sense of justice to prevent future incidents.

  • Thanks, Jonathan & Glenn. I think I’ll go. But do you really think they’ll let me bring me bike inside? I should bring Lynette Chang with me to film my attempt to gain entry!

  • Jonathan

    Steve, the TLC hearings are in front of admin-law judges, not real judges, so I don’t know if this will work, but if I were you I would tell the TLC cops at the door that the bike is evidence for a hearing.

  • I’ve had the bike fixed since he hit me and I’ve removed and re-affixed the lights a zillion times since then, so I think even an administrative law judge would know the bike’s not evidence. (Alternatively, I could say I needed the bike at the hearing to re-enact how the crash occurred! :D) But you’re probably right that I would have a decent shot at talking my way past whoever is at the door with a story about the use of the bike as physical or demonstrative evidence.

  • Damian

    re: the number of pedestrian and cyclist injuries, is there some kind of rule of thumb for estimating injuries based on the number of fatalities?

    In other words, for each cyclist killed, statistically there’s probably a certain number of cyclists injured. Just curious if anyone has any estimate based on any statistics.

  • I personally lost a cycling mate in Mid November last year. From that has stemmed http://www.nutsatthewheel.com as a cyclist myself living in an overcrowded city where the motoring public show no respect to pedestrians and cyclists alike this is a real issue. No stats tell of the maimed and disabled. Stay safe out there!

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