Correction: State DOT Keeps No Records of NYC Bike-on-Ped Injuries

Last week we ran a post in response to CBS2’s “Bike Bedlam” series in which we published a table showing a downward trend in NYC bike-on-ped injuries. In response, we received a few inquiries about how the data was collected and what it represents. After following up with agencies and organizations involved in crunching crash information, Streetsblog is retracting the data we posted last week, after concluding that the table was based on a faulty interpretation of injury statistics by the NYC DOT press office.

I’m also extending an apology to CBS2’s Tony Aiello. The injury data I used to rebut his “Bike Bedlam” segments were erroneous. I accused him of not thoroughly reporting his story, while my own reporting rested on faulty information.

We received the stats from the NYC DOT press office, which generated them by querying data compiled by the state DOT. According to Carol Breen at the state DOT press office, the agency does not collect data on bike-on-ped injuries, but does collect information about crashes in which at least one motor vehicle, pedestrian, and bicyclist are all involved. The state DOT suggested the city DOT press office may have mistakenly cited this dataset.

Seth Solomonow at the NYC DOT press office said the data they culled from the state was labeled as bike-on-ped injuries:

NYC DOT does not keep or maintain traffic stats, but we can query those kept by NYPD and the State. The info we queried was from the State system and reflected data involving pedestrians injured in incidents with bicycles, with no motor vehicles indicated. We’re reaching out to the state, but they would not be expected to confirm queries performed by third parties on the potentially millions of different data points that are collected and stored.

So do bike-on-ped injuries make it into the state DOT database? To answer, you need an all-encompassing view of the movement of crash data, which originates from local police departments and other sources (like coroners’ offices) all over New York state, and gets collected, consolidated, filtered, analyzed, and compiled by a handful of statewide agencies. Few people know the process inside and out. But Anne Dowling, deputy director of the Institute for Traffic Safety Management and Research, is one of them. She says that bike-on-ped injuries would never appear in the state DOT’s crash records.

The ITSMR is based out of the University of Albany, where its staff crunch crash records by the hundreds of thousands. According to Dowling, her group receives about 300,000 records of motor vehicle crashes each year, records that were initially collected by the Department of Motor Vehicles. The ITSMR scrubs the data to ensure that it’s internally consistent, and runs an algorithm on the records to assign values for the severity of injuries caused — serious, moderate, or minor.

The state DOT crash database gets information straight from DMV, said Dowling, and DMV does not make records of strictly bike-on-ped injuries available. While DMV may receive accident reports from NYPD generated by bike-on-ped crashes, Dowling explained that those records would be screened out before getting passed on to the ITSMR or state DOT.

“When [the records] got into DMV, they would not enter them into their system,” she said, “because no motor vehicle was involved.” Only motor vehicle crashes that cause death, injury, or property damage exceeding $1,000 are entered into the DMV system, which state DOT can access via an electronic feed.

Based on Dowling’s overview, the explanation from the state DOT press office — that the city DOT press office misinterpreted crashes involving at least one motor vehicle, bicyclist, and pedestrian as bike-on-ped crashes — seems likely to be true. Streetsblog regrets publishing the information.

  • jsd

    Classy and well done retraction/elaboration.

    Keep up the great work. It keeps me coming back every day.

  • Danny G

    Kudos for being professional about it, I would like to echo jsd’s sentiment.

    And psst, throw some transparent text on top of the http://www.streetsblog.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/16/ped_injury_table.jpg image so that people who link to it also realize what’s up.

  • Even if they did keep stats, it wouldn’t be at all representative of what’s actually happening on the streets. Unless there’s somehow a database kept of every time two New Yorkers meet and exchange, “Hey, f**k you!” “Yeah, f**k you too, buddy!”

  • Ben, keep digging on this because this information is valuable if it can be pieced together. How many deaths or hospitalizations have been attributed to bike crashes? Surely there are records of extremely serious injuries and what the causes were. The dearth of data on a subject that seems to be on the tips of so many community board attendees suggests that there’s not much to find and any source of data that can put their unsubstantiated fears into perspective would be a great advocacy tool.

  • JK

    This assertion of no bike/ped data is really baffling to me, because in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s I repeatedly saw the DMV database reports with “bike only” and “bike vs peds” as data fields. I would like to hear Charlie Komanoff speak to this, and the TA staff which manages Crashstat. This issue is exactly why these data sets should be posted online in a machine readable, searchable, universally downloadable format. This — the NYPD, SDOT,DMV — is public data — not secret information — and lots of people should be running data integrity tests on it, with transparent algorithms and methodologies. I encourage Streetsblog and TA to FOIL a digital copy of the DMV database prior to SDOT “cleaning,” and to FOIL the NYPD database supporting TrafficStat. The public is clearly entitled to this data under the Freedom of Information Law, and I’m sure there are a number of volunteer lawyers would be happy to go get a court order after the DMS and PD’s inevitable foot dragging, bogus excuses, and partial data releases.

  • It’s my understanding that vehicle crashes are handled differently from the time 911 is called. A vehicle crash on the police radio is a “53 with injuries,” a pedestrian injury is a “ped struck.”

    I think the best data on pedestrian-bicycle collisions and injuries would be from emergency rooms, since the MV-104, the NYS accident form (link to 1-page PDF), doesn’t cover non-motor vehicle injuries. If MV104 forms aren’t filled out for an accident and sent to DMV, they won’t appear in the DMV database, no matter how many FOIL requests are sent.

  • BicyclesOnly

    I’ll have to recant my harsh words for Aiello as well. (Certainly easier for me with my pen name than for Ben, I’m sure!)

    I agree that hospital records are likely the best available source, and as Glenn points out there is an urgent need for accurate data (especially when people like Aiello are sensationalizing isolated incidents).
    However, until reliable data on serious injuries becomes available, let’s remember that the only reliable data out there on bike-on-ped crashes is in the 2006 DoT report, which found an average of one incident per year. An extremely rare occurrence. Treating these incidents, as tragic as each is, as a significant public health issue (as Aiello attempted to do) is absurd.

  • J

    I have said this before: As long as there is a perception of danger from cyclists, no amount of data is going to soothe the grandmother that was grazed by a messenger running a red. Sure the reckless cyclist may be an outlier, but the behavior ought to be addressed. With strict rule enforcement unlikely, street design can play a key role. In my opinion, cycle tracks are a great tool for both encouraging cycling, and taming reckless cyclists at the same time. These work together to create safer streets for everyone.

    One of the most effective way to slow vehicle speeds, is to force vehicles to travel single file, at the pace of the slowest vehicle. Cycle tracks ought to work the same way. In Montréal, the cycle tracks are narrow enough to force cyclists to ride more or less single file, at the pace of the slower riders, and pass only when it is safe to do so. This greatly reduces reckless cycling and generally slows everyone down. It also does wonders for compliance with traffic signals, as a single file line forms at signals. By calming bike traffic, these facilites this turns bike-fearing pedestrians into supporters of more cycle tracks.

    The excessive amount of space in NYC cycle tracks, however, allows for high cycling speeds and reckless behavior, since bike are not forced to ride at the slowest speed. It would take a exponential increase in ridership to even begin to fill the space now available. If the cycle track still allows for a fixie to blast through at 20mph, would a parent allow a small child to bike there? Probably not. In my opinion, we’ll get much more bang for our buck (more bikers, using less space) by creating narrower facilites that encourage slower cycling and better signal compliance.

  • J

    In summary, lets try to get folks who fear cyclists to support the bike calming effect of cycle tracks. Perhaps Tony Aiello could do a piece on the difference in cyclist behavior on streets with and without cycle tracks.

  • J, I’ve said this before: as long as some people see cyclists as “them,” and not “us,” no amount of real safety is going to counter the perception of danger.

  • To clarify my comment above (#7), the one incident per year statistic in the DoT 2006 report refers to deaths only, caused by cyclist crashes with pedestrians.

    While I tend to agree that infrastructure is more important than enforcement, there is also room for moral suasion. Just last weekend I participated in a Transportation Alternatives Biking Rules information session in Central Park aimed at spreading the message to cyclists of the dire and increasing need to be more safe and respectful toward pedestrians. T.A. has organized such sessions at the PPW bike lane and likely will conduct further sessions in the coming months. It’s way too early to tell whether this kind of approach will make a difference, but it’s certainly worth a try. Those who don’t feel comfortable doing this kind of work can try a more informal approach with cycling friends and acquaintances.

    We are past the point where cyclists can simply say the real danger on the road is motorists and so cyclist behavior should be ignored or condoned into motorists have their house in order. With all the infrastructure going in, including pathways largely separate from motor vehicle traffic, that’s pretty much a cop out.

  • LOLcat

    There is no accident report filled out by the police for bike on ped collisions. Hence, no stats.

  • dporpentine

    “the dire and increasing need to be more safe and respectful toward pedestrians”

    I’ll take this seriously when TA has sessions with “pedestrians” (i.e., almost everyone in New York at some time or another) aimed at teaching them to be more respectful of people on bikes.

    The only bike accident I’ve had in my adult life was caused by a jaywalker. And every day I’m on a bike at least one pedestrian puts my life in jeopardy–by jaywalking, by standing in bike lanes in preparation for jaywalking (in spots where there’s plenty of “daylight,” by the way), and on and on.

    What needs to happen is for everyone to obey (and for the NYPD to strongly enforce) the laws we have, whether those laws govern how you operate a motor vehicle, walk, or ride a bike.

    But the advocacy culture around not-single-owner-car transportation is remarkably full of people who think that the law should apply mostly to motor vehicle operators, with a bit of flexible fidelity on the part of bikers and pedestrians thrown in for good measure. And that’s what has to change.

  • Car Free Nation

    Oh come on… the laws would be very different if there weren’t passenger cars to deal with. Is there really a need for one way streets, for example, if you have bicycles only? Would you even need more than the occasional stop sign? Is there ever a need for a don’t walk signal at a pedestrian mall?

    The reason this is even an issue is that we try to apply rules for cars to cyclists and pedestrians. Cyclists and pedestrians move slower, and have a much wider view of the road. They’re not clumsy like cars, and can watch out for each other. Collisions are rare, and when they happen, unlikely to lead to serious injury.

    Our streets are incredibly wide, if you didn’t have to make space for parking. We could easily have room for two-way cyclists and pedestrians, and not need to have such strict rules.

    I realize we don’t live in a car free nation and we have to be good citizens as pedestrians and cyclists, but I feel demonizing “salmon” or cyclists who roll through red lights or jaywalkers is missing the point. In the long run, the only way to gain true acceptance for cycling is to get more people to do it.

  • J

    Cap’n,

    I think we are talking about two different things here. There is safety and there is comfort. The safety data seems to be indisputable. The numbers seem to be on our side. From a safety standpoint, bike facilities are beneficial to everyone.

    My post, however, was not about safety, but rather comfort. The biggest reason that people do not bike in Manhattan is because it’s feels horribly uncomfortable and dangerous. While crashes and safety issues do exist (sadly), I think it is this perception of danger that is the driving force behind creating a network of cycle tracks.

    Do pedestrians not deserve the same level of comfort in their facilities? As advocates of livable streets, I say we absolutely must be in favor of safe and comfortable streets for both biking AND walking. We do ourselves a disservice if we advocate for comfortable biking facilities while at the same time arguing against the pedestrians who advocate for comfortable walking facilities. THAT is why we are seen as “them” and not “us”.

    It doesn’t have to be bikes vs pedestrians, though. By advocating for safe and comfortable biking AND walking facilities, we all become “us”.

  • Larry Littlefield

    When pedestrians who fear cyclists need to be told is that the reckless riders they are afraid of area already out there, but the additional riders who might use bicycles as transportation if it were perceived as safe would not be as reckless. For one thing, they would not ride nearly as fast.

  • The biggest reason that people do not bike in Manhattan is because it’s feels horribly uncomfortable and dangerous.

    J, where do you get your data? Last summer, the city was mandating bike parking in garages and installing bike racks everywhere because, as Christine Quinn said, “One of the main obstacles to bicycle commuting is the inability to park your bicycle in a secure location once you have arrived at work.” The Bed-Stuy survey from last month indicated that bikers thought double-parked cars were a deterrent from biking more, but their survey population was people who were already in the saddle.

  • J

    Jonathan,

    The indoor bike parking fact keeps popping up, so I think it’s important to have a good look at the data behind it. According to TA’s website, the 1992 cyclist survey, so often cited to justify indoor bike parking, asked EXISTING cyclists if they biked to work, and if not, why not. 48% of those cyclists who did not bike to work cited “no secure parking.”
    http://www.transalt.org/files/resources/blueprint/chapter13/

    While I applaud DOTs efforts, I think this is a relatively small piece of the puzzle. It’s a big pain to lug your bike indoors and up elevators, especially if you want to use it for errands during the day. I can speak for myself, that even if my building was ever able to get indoor bike parking, I probably would only use it occasionally, since it is so much more convenient to lock outside. While I don’t have hard data “proving” my point, I also don’t think good hard data exists. Having been to bike meccas, I simply do not believe that the main difference between Copenhagen and New York is indoor bike parking or double parking. Most people park on the street in big bike cities. Instead, the obvious difference between NYC and bike meccas is a large network of cycle tracks, which create a comfortable cycling environment and link all destinations. Also, they completely sidestep double parking issues.

    I’d also like to hear some thoughts about the rest of my argument. Am I alone out here?? I know Bike Snob has been pushing for bike calming through graveled bike lanes, such as in BBP. I have also seen other positive comments on the BBP design and bike calming. What do you think about the concept of creating comfortable pedestrian facilities through narrower cycle tracks that also act as bike calming? Can we convert pedestrians into cycle track proponents? Is prioritizing pedestrian comfort even a priority?

  • J, I am all for providing better pedestrian facilities. One big political benefit to pushing for pedestrian improvements is that the users are local people.

    I know that one issue with the width of the cycle tracks has to do with being able to run the street sweeper through them. I don’t think NYC has purchased any sweepers small enough to run through those Montreal-size lanes.

    “The obvious difference between NYC and bike meccas is a large network of cycle tracks.” Huh? I haven’t been to Copenhagen but I have been to Amsterdam and other Dutch cities. I noticed the general absence of automobiles, not the presence of cycle tracks.

  • J

    I’m pretty sure the lack of cars is due to how easy it is to bike everywhere, and the main reason it’s easy to bike everywhere is due to the cycle tracks. Am I wrong?

    Also, I am very well familiar with the issues of street cleaning and snow removal on narrow cycle tracks. My point is that pedestrians are getting a bum deal and bikes are getting a bad rap through cycle tracks that don’t do enough to calm bike traffic. We really need to prioritize getting cycle track street sweepers and snow plows so we can have cycle tracks that provide all the potential benefits.

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