Hunter Profs: Study of Bike-on-Ped Injuries By Other Hunter Profs “Skimpy”

The report on pedestrians injured in collisions with cyclists put out by Hunter College professors Peter Tuckel and William Milczarski earlier this week is drawing some criticism from their colleagues.

Christine Haughney reports:

Thomas Angotti, another professor in the urban planning department, whose office is located three doors down from Mr. Milczarski’s, dismissed the study as “very skimpy.”

Mr. Angotti said that the study failed to account that sometimes pedestrians were the cause of cycling accidents, and wondered why it did not highlight more that the number of pedestrians injured declined during the study.

“I can tell you as a bicyclist, pedestrians are just as irresponsible as bicyclists are,” he said. “This is just very skimpy. It’s really a report on data. It’s not really a study. It’s some tables and a few descriptions.”

The professors’ research also raised concerns from Lorna Thorpe, an associate professor at Hunter and former city public health department commissioner who worked on a study on bicyclist fatalities and serious injuries in New York City from 1996 to 2005. While she said that much of her findings from her study fit with this research, she questioned why the report didn’t provide context about whether New York City is more or less safe to cycle in.

She also criticized her associates for not measuring data in terms of rates per population and using often debated race and ethnicity data. She said while that she had not brought her concerns directly to Professors Tuckel and Milczarski, she was focused on the academic rigor of their work.

Streetsblog has a request in with the authors for year-over-year data broken down geographically, so we can see some of the trends specific to New York City.

  • BBrock

    Wow, I bet their faculty meetings are interesting. . . .

  • shane phillips

    As much as I’m inclined to agree with these other profs, this statement doesn’t help: “I can tell you as a bicyclist, pedestrians are just as irresponsible as bicyclists are.”

    He’s basically saying, “The information is very skimpy. On a related note, my completely unscientific anecdotal experience is that pedestrians are just as bad as bicyclists.”

    Whether it’s true or not (and it probably is), it’s not a great way to make your case.

  • dporpentine

    Wow. That City Room article is just brutal. You can see these folks aren’t used to talking to the press.

    Pretty much a statement of fact: Tuckel and Milczarski will hate those other two for the rest of their lives.  And they’ll also hate Nancy Gruskin for roping them into it.

    That part’s beautiful. Truly beautiful.

  • Jeremy

    In fairness, Angotti has had a long affiliation with Transportation Alternatives (and clearly a bit of an angry cyclist), so he’s not exactly an impartial party when it comes to bikes vs. shoes.  I think he’d say the same thing whether the research was terrible or fantastic.

  • “I can tell you as a bicyclist,” rather than as a professorial colleague?  This sort of behavior is acceptable at Hunter?

  • Commenter

    Jeremy’s comment comes from the Karl Rove / Jim Walden Discredit-the-other-guy-because-I-have-no-facts-on-my-side School of Political Discourse.

    Jeremy: How is Angotti “clearly a bit of an angry cyclist?” I’ve met him a few times and he seems pretty non-angry to me. Angotti is a solid, professional and respected urban planner and academic. Do you have any more information about why or how he is “clearly angry?”

    Angotti is pointing out a simple fact that all of the press around the Hunter study failed to note: This wasn’t a “study.” It was nothing more than a data set that these paid hand-maidens of the Gruskin Foundation jettisoned into a highly politicized news media eager to pump up the hysteria around biking in NYC.

    This was an interesting data set. But it wasn’t legitimate academic research, it lacked context and supporting data and there are all kinds of conclusions that can be drawn from it. Angotti seems to be the most level-headed and rational player in this whole thing so far.

  • Life of the Mind

    Unfortunately, Angotti wasn’t level-headed and academic in his approach to this problem.

    There was clearly a lack of academic rigor to what was put out there.  Had he written something with a little more substance and sent it to the media, rather than providing emotionally-laden quotes, he might have reasserted a rational discussion.  Instead, he added fuel to the fire, and helped to maintain a lower level of public discourse.

    He’s human, and we all make mistakes.  It is unfortunate that his mistake in this instance was counterproductive for both the politics of bicycle infrastructure and intellectual life at Hunter.

  • Academic

    Jeremy also left this comment over at the NY Times, making the same remarks about TA and adding this insight:

    “The study clearly shows that the average cyclist in NYC is more likely
    to put a pedestrian in the hospital than the average driver.”

    The study shows nothing of the sort and where you would get this information is beyond me since even the study’s authors would not make this claim.  There is absolutely no context, no data suggesting rates among certain types of street users, no determination of fault in any of the accidents, and no mention of pedestrian deaths resulting from car accidents. 

    If many bike/ped accidents go unreported, I can assure you as someone who did not file a police report but who went to my private doctor after being injured while trying to get out of the way of a car that ran a red light, that many car-on-ped accidents also go unreported.  Most telling of all are fatalities: there has not been a bike-on-ped death since 2009.  Hundreds have been killed by cars in the same period.  You can not index a rate of zero pedestrians killed by bikes to match a rate of one pedestrian killed every 36 hours by cars.

    The figure in the Hunter Study is an interesting number and that’s it.  At best, it should have caused the researchers to open up further lines of study to flesh out the meaning of their figures.  At worst, we have what happened: Nancy Gruskin questioning the safety of bike sharing, which has been proven to be safe the world over, and Andrea Peyser giving bike haters permission more or less to commit violence against cyclists. 

    Jeremy, instead of leaving the same comment at various websites (here, NYT, Transportation Nation) please do some rigorous research of your own.  It is possible to be anti-bike and admit that this is not an adequate study to back up your position.

  • Jeremy

    @d10ca8d11301c2f4993ac2279ce4b930:disqus Do the math.  The study actually does shows the number of pedestrian hospitalizations due to cyclists occur at 1/18th the rate of auto vs. cyclist hospitalizations (using the DOT figure for auto).  However, auto travel exceeds bike travel in New York City by *far* more than 18 times.  We’ve addressed this in a previous post.  It’s a truly surprising and disturbing point of fact, that has real significance for pedestrian safety planning.  It doesn’t mean that bikes are bad, or that bike lanes and bike share are bad ideas, but it does represent an important consideration when planning education and enforcement.

    I find it really discouraging that some “safe streets” activists would be so quick to try and dismiss the relevance of the overindexing, and refuse to think about how to bring it into line.  I mean, c’mon – the TA statement of that day mentioned bikes seven times and pedestrians once.

    And, @Academic:disqus , please be more considerate of your labels.  I love bike lanes, and want to see more.  I think bikeshare is going to become an important part of the commuting and shopping transportation network, and I think it’s going to be fun and efficient.

    However, when the NYC DOT comes out with its anual street KSI update, you will never, *ever* see drivers come out and try and rebut or dismiss the numbers or otherwise put them “into context” in a way that diminishes the importance of a pedestrian life.  When those organizations that nominally have pedestrian safety in their mandate attempt to dismiss the reality of 550 pedestrian injuries a year caused by an accident with a bike, well, yeah, I’m anti-that.  Unapologetically.

  • Jeremy

    @d10ca8d11301c2f4993ac2279ce4b930:disqus Do the math.  The study actually does shows the number of pedestrian hospitalizations due to cyclists occur at 1/18th the rate of auto vs. cyclist hospitalizations (using the DOT figure for auto).  However, auto travel exceeds bike travel in New York City by *far* more than 18 times.  We’ve addressed this in a previous post.  It’s a truly surprising and disturbing point of fact, that has real significance for pedestrian safety planning.  It doesn’t mean that bikes are bad, or that bike lanes and bike share are bad ideas, but it does represent an important consideration when planning education and enforcement.

    I find it really discouraging that some “safe streets” activists would be so quick to try and dismiss the relevance of the overindexing, and refuse to think about how to bring it into line.  I mean, c’mon – the TA statement of that day mentioned bikes seven times and pedestrians once.

    And, @Academic:disqus , please be more considerate of your labels.  I love bike lanes, and want to see more.  I think bikeshare is going to become an important part of the commuting and shopping transportation network, and I think it’s going to be fun and efficient.

    However, when the NYC DOT comes out with its anual street KSI update, you will never, *ever* see drivers come out and try and rebut or dismiss the numbers or otherwise put them “into context” in a way that diminishes the importance of a pedestrian life.  When those organizations that nominally have pedestrian safety in their mandate attempt to dismiss the reality of 550 pedestrian injuries a year caused by an accident with a bike, well, yeah, I’m anti-that.  Unapologetically.

  • Academic

    Jeremy, drivers don’t have to dismiss numbers about pedestrian deaths.  The NYPD does that for them.

  • Academic

    Jeremy, drivers don’t have to dismiss numbers about pedestrian deaths.  The NYPD does that for them.

  • P. Levin

    Jeremy, you’re simply wrong.  Pedestrian injuries from cyclists may very well happen at a higher rate than they do from motorists, but this study does not show this.

    This study simply shows that people in some neighborhoods are more likely to go to the hospital after a bike/ped accident than they are in other neighborhoods.  Comparing those stats to DOT figures or NYPD accident reports is an apples-to-apples comparison and would earn a student an F in a graduate statistics course.

    You clearly have a bias against TA and other “pro-bike” organizations and it’s made you accept this study at face value or at least give it more credit than it deserves.  It deserves none, no matter which side you are on.

  • Jeremy

    @042269faba0cef62e19da79aa5a0b759:disqus DOT provided an apples-to-apples 10,000 figure for auto vs. pedestrian hospitalizations.  They thought they were being quite clear.  Are you saying they’re wrong?

    I’m also struggling with how you’re dismissing the study’s gathering of pedestrian injury reports from hospitals.  Is it your belief that that the incoming pedestrian patients are lying about how they were injured, the hospital is lying, or that 550 NYC pedestrians in the hospital each year is not meaningful?  I think those are the only choices.

    You are right that I do have a bias against TA, though.  Well earned, IMO. 🙂

    @d10ca8d11301c2f4993ac2279ce4b930:disqus *That* is a totally fair criticism, and is exactly why we need to have more productive, factual, measurable straight talk about traffic injuries, rather than just extremists sticking their heads in the sand and regurgitating talking points.

  • @6b6a3fe730de2006198ee2f388021f7b:disqus  The figure of 10,000 pedestrian injuries caused by motor vehicles comes from  police reports — a completely different database than the hospital records used by Tuckel and Milczarski. You can’t make an apples-to-apples comparison. Not by a longshot.

    Police records are what transportation and public health agencies use to assess traffic safety, and that’s what was available to place the Tuckel/Milczarski numbers in context when their report came out. But that’s about all you can do — give a little context.

    There is no basis to claim that you can extrapolate the relative risk of bikes and cars to pedestrians using these numbers. You’re jumping to conclusions.

    For a pedestrian advocate, you seem to devote much more energy to bashing TA than advocating for pedestrian safety.

  • Walker Brooklyn Ranger

    It’s great that Jeremy and friends suddenly care so much about collecting data about injuries and fatalities on NYC streets. For many years now, Transportation Alternatives has been the only organization in NYC that cared about this issue. Streetsblog has been the only media outlet that’s shined a light on “the weekly carnage” and the NYPD’s disinterest and unwillingness to collect and share data about what’s happening on NYC streets.

    I says, let axe-grinders like Jeremy, Nancy Gruskin and the Daily News editorial board keep making their calls for more and better crash data. As in every other world city, the NYC data will almost certainly show that streets with good biking and walking facilities are safer streets for everyone.

    What Jeremy, Nancy and the Daily News don’t realize is that they are actually helping to make the case that T.A.’s been making for 15 years now. They are helping to produce a data set that, ultimately, will bolster and support DOT’s complete streets projects and T.A.’s major advocacy goals. 

  • Walker Brooklyn Ranger

    It’s great that Jeremy and friends suddenly care so much about collecting data about injuries and fatalities on NYC streets. For many years now, Transportation Alternatives has been the only organization in NYC that cared about this issue. Streetsblog has been the only media outlet that’s shined a light on “the weekly carnage” and the NYPD’s disinterest and unwillingness to collect and share data about what’s happening on NYC streets.

    I says, let axe-grinders like Jeremy, Nancy Gruskin and the Daily News editorial board keep making their calls for more and better crash data. As in every other world city, the NYC data will almost certainly show that streets with good biking and walking facilities are safer streets for everyone.

    What Jeremy, Nancy and the Daily News don’t realize is that they are actually helping to make the case that T.A.’s been making for 15 years now. They are helping to produce a data set that, ultimately, will bolster and support DOT’s complete streets projects and T.A.’s major advocacy goals. 

  • Walker Brooklyn Ranger

    Oh, and Jeremy, since I know you are a policy wonk who cares a ton about the data and you’re not just an axe-grinder testing out some positioning for an upcoming political campaign or trying to justify the removal of a bike lane in your neighborhood, you might want to check out this great piece on NPR today…

    http://www.npr.org/2011/09/24/140766796/out-of-economic-chaos-a-new-order-may-be-rising

    HAWLEY: Well, let’s just put a number on it, a sort of a glib number.
    The grand total of U.S. automotive fatalities from 1975 to the present,
    about one and a half million people. Now, the grand total of U.S.
    fatalities from 1775 to the present in every military conflict we’ve had
    is 1.3 million. So in other words, in the last roughly 35 years we’ve
    killed more people with cars than we have in more than 300 years of
    warfare.

    I think if you step back and look
    at cars from a sort of 35,000 foot level, you’ve got to wonder why we’re
    doing this to ourselves.

  • Joe R.

    @6b6a3fe730de2006198ee2f388021f7b:disqus I think you need to have a better understanding of statistics because your conclusions just don’t follow from the data.  You say that cyclists injure pedestrians at a disproportionately higher rate compared to cars.  What you don’t realize is 500 injuries a year from any cause in a city as large as NY is astoundingly low.  I bet more people than that trip and injure themselves walking on sidewalks. Also, consider that a large number of these injuries are people under 10.  That’s most likely children hitting other children in playgrounds.  That really has zip to do with street safety.  If the report had the circumstances of each injury, perhaps it would be easier to draw conclusions, but it doesn’t.

    My take on the report would be that although any injury is one too many, there is a statistical noise floor below which diverting resources towards further reduction will accomplish little or nothing. I personally think we might already be there.  Less than one pedestrian death annually makes getting killed by bicycle less likely than dying from a falling tree limb or lightning.  Same thing in my opinion with ~500 injuries.  You start having increased “enforcement”, whatever that means, it’s likely you’ll have more people injured while police are chasing down cyclists than you will prevent injuries, especially since the system of laws/infrastructure we have is largely designed not for safety, but to speed auto traffic along.  You’ll probably even have several cyclists per year killed at the hands of police who might misinterpet their actions as going for a weapon (I’m honestly surprised that didn’t happen during the bike crackdown earlier this year).   Police contact with the general public should be minimized for obvious reasons.  That means you mainly want the police dealing with known major threats to the public like rapists or murderers, not giving tickets to cyclists.

    Traffic safety on public streets is best done by narrowing traffic lanes, getting rid of traffic lights in favor of roundabouts, in general getting ALL users into the habit of looking out for each other, rather than depending upon laws/traffic control devices to keep them safe.  The latter system largely doesn’t work, indeed can never work, because it’s totally unforgiving of the mistakes human beings are likely to make.  You need self-enforcing infrastructure which forces users to operate in such a manner that they can recover from their inevitable mistakes without dire consequences.  If you need to rely on education/enforcement (code words for getting people to conform to bad infrastructure rather than vice versa) then you’re doomed to failure.  At best, NYC has police manpower only for occasional “crackdowns”.  These never result in long-term changes in behavoir.  How could they?

    Besides poor infrastructure, I suspect some of the cause of ped-bike collisions is poor cycling skills due to the fact that there are many novice riders on the streets.  Forcing these cyclists to pay monetary fines isn’t going to magically improve their cycling skills.  Really, the answer as I said lies mostly in better infrastructure, combined with offering education in the form of courses to improve bike handling.  This is opposite the message the news media is sending, which is basically that papering cyclists over with tickets will fix everything.  It won’t, it can’t.  It hasn’t yet worked for motorists.  It won’t magically work for cyclists, either.  All it will do is drive down the number of cyclists, which in turn means a more dangerous environment for those remaining.

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