New Data Debunks “Bike Bedlam” Sensationalism

New data is online about the extent of bike-on-ped crashes in New York City, and it adds some much-needed perspective to the public discourse about the “safety crisis” on city streets.

According to reports collected by NYPD and compiled online by NYC DOT [PDF], police responded to 27 bike-ped collisions citywide in the last three months of 2011, resulting in 26 injuries.

Over the same timeframe, 754 car-bike collisions injured 755 cyclists and killed three. Ten motor vehicle occupants were injured in those crashes.

The data, the result of 2011’s Local Law 13, were compiled somewhat differently. The crashes involving cars produce MV-104 reports, which provide the basis for those numbers. The crashes without cars are tallied based on “AIDED reports,” which are triggered when police respond to the scene of an injured pedestrian or cyclist and no motor vehicle was involved.

Last month, City Council Transportation Chair James Vacca said commercial cyclists’ behavior amounts to a “crisis… of people’s safety, pedestrians’ safety.” As much as cyclist behavior could improve, the hyperbole about the threat posed by bikes doesn’t help people evaluate the real danger on the streets. With these new numbers, it’s more obvious than ever that bikes are a trivial source of traffic injuries compared to cars.

Based on the most recent data available from the state DMV [PDF], more than 2,600 New York pedestrians are injured by motorists in a typical three-month period, and 50 are killed. In addition, about 15,000 motor vehicle occupants are injured in traffic crashes. (Raw numbers compiled by NYPD [PDF] show somewhat higher rates in April 2012.)

We’ll have to get a full year’s worth of bike data to make an apple-to-apples comparison. But with these preliminary numbers, looking just at the risk to pedestrians, it seems motorists are causing about a hundred times more injuries than cyclists. These raw numbers don’t account for the severity of injuries, which is almost certainly a great deal worse for crashes involving multi-ton vehicles capable of high speeds than for crashes involving lighter and slower bikes. The lack of pedestrian fatalities caused by cyclists gives some sense of the severity gap between car crashes and bike crashes.

It is well past time to drop the “bike bedlam” hysteria and the “safety crisis” hyperbole about bikes. Address the real safety crisis — the tens of thousands of injuries caused by car crashes each year — and the streets will be safer for everyone.

  • Jesse Greene

    What about injuries per motorist/cyclist or per VMT for each mode?

  • Jeff

    Thanks, @14a8960ffa19c6b0ffff4264aba1f641:disqus .  I crave the sweet delicious taste of the Streetsblog Kool Aid as much as the next guy, but I want some good, irrefutable figures to share next time I’m spreading the gospel with my friends and family! 

  • @14a8960ffa19c6b0ffff4264aba1f641:disqus  Bike mileage is an extremely elusive piece of data. I don’t think we’ll have reliable numbers anytime soon. But we do have metrics that track biking over time. I think a better indicator would be how overall traffic injuries and deaths change as bike counts increase (or decrease, though I don’t see that happening any time soon either).

  • Voter

    Meanwhile, I’m sure a lot of people saw this email from Chris Quinn today.  Don’t count on a rational analysis of the facts from those running for higher office.

    Keeping
    track
    of
    bicycle
    crashes
    is
    crucial,
    especially
    as
    bike
    riding
    becomes
    more
    and
    more
    popular.  

     

    This
    data,
    along
    with
    the
    pedestrian
    safety
    reporting
    mandated by Local
    Law
    12
    of
    2011,
    sponsored
    by
    Council
    Member
    Jessica
    Lappin,
    will
    help
    give
    us
    a
    clearer
    picture
    of
    the
    most
    accident-prone
    of
    our city. 
    Armed
    with
    this
    information,
    we’ll
    be
    better
    able
    to
    work
    with
    local
    residents
    and
    community
    leaders
    to
    help
    keep
    our
    streets
    and
    neighborhoods
    safe
    and
    prevent
    future
    accidents.
     

  • Voter

    Sorry about the weird pasting.  Disqus stinks!

  • Anonymous

    @646aad1a1a4d51d0fd5d9e3a6868926a:disqus 

    That is f—ing amazing all the resources dedicated to bike on ped accidents.  Meanwhile, they shut their eyes to the tons of people being killed by cars and trucks.  

    They act like they’re powerless, that there aren’t any policies or actions they can take without forcing gridlock across the 5 boroughs. 

    Our elected leaders suck. to help keep our streets and neighborhoods safe from BIKES?!?!?!?!?!  A bike is a human being + 15 pounds + 10 mph.    

    The myopia from our pols is astounding.  It’s almost like performance art, I swear. 

  • Anonymous

    Voter : More numbers like these and they will look increasingly foolish. 

  • Joe R.

    Interesting data although I’m scratching my head wondering exactly how a motor vehicle occupant can be injured in a car-bike collision.

    With this new data, hopefully the NYPD can change their enforcement priorities. It’s clear bikes are right down there with falling tree limbs as a public health danger.

  • @2555783a6f62598b6aadd2d882a4830f:disqus One scenario would be a high-speed multi-car crash in which a cyclist was also hurt.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks, that was an interesting report.

    Some other figures I found interesting:

    * In the 27 pedestrian-cyclist crashes, the 26 injuries only count pedestrians. There were 6 cyclists injured in these collisions.

    * There were only 2 reported crashes between bicycles, resulting in 2 injuries.

    * There were 14 single-bicycle crashes, resulting in 15 injuries (I assume one involved two people on one bike.)

    The precinct with the most reported crashes and injuries involving bicycles but no motor vehicles is the Central Park precinct. Take that, Prospect Park! 😉

    Of course, it’s likely that most minor crashes are not reported.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I wonder about the pedestrian only crashes.  Perhaps they should just count the trip or slip and fall injured who sue the city.  Bet it’s more than 26 per quarter.

  • Thanks for this Ben.  Cyclists citywide should present these data at their next NYPD precinct council meeting, and ask the commander whether precinct traffic enforcement priorities reflect the department’s own data as to the prime source of danger on our streets.

  • Anonymous

    @BenFried:disqus  You’re right that NYC bike mileage is elusive. I think my annual spreadsheet estimator, available here, http://www.komanoff.net/bicycle/NYC_Bicycle_Levels_Komanoff.xls, comes reasonably close — though I’m re-examining my methodology and may end up downsizing the figure somewhat (as if to prove your point!). Still, anyone who wants to normalize the figures in Ben’s post for mileage should take a look.

    That said, I think the NYPD figure averaging just 9 bike-ped collisions a month in 2011 4Q is low, and probably way low. In the 1980s and early 1990s, when I could and did get the citywide monthly data with a simple phone call to the NYPD Office of Public Info, the monthly rate was never less than 25 and was sometimes twice that or more. Those data are collected here: http://www.transalt.org/files/resources/blueprint/chapter17/chapter17c.html.

    So I wouldn’t take the NYPD’s hearteningly low bike-ped collision figures in Ben’s post to the bank, quite yet. But great post all the same.

  • Daphna

    To Charles Komanoff,
    I think all that is counted is bike-ped injuries that cause a hospital visit.  Lesser injuries are not counted because they are not counted for motorist collisions, so the same standard needs to be applied for counting bike-ped injuries.  Also, as biking goes up, injuries from bikers goes down.  Streetsblog already showed this when they analyzed the Hunter College study’s data.  So it is possible that the number of bike-ped injuries is only 26 per quarter even though that is less than years ago since the trend is for less injuries from bicyclists as the number of bicyclists rises (and biking has risen significantly since the 1980’s and 1990’s).

  • IsaacB

    Lately, I’ve been hearing a “meme” repeated about bikes and pedstrians. That “while a bicycle is unlikely to kill on impact, it could cause injuries, like hip fractures, that can ultimately result in death. (Dov Hikind recently repeated this during his campaign against sidewalk cycling in the neighborhood he represents.) I’ve heard it repeated enough times (like the spate of current media stories about “distracted walking”) to wonder if there’s some “source” that suggests it as an anti-bike talking point. While I am adamant about cyclists riding safe and legal, why do we give credence to a concern about the damage that cyclists “could potentially” do over what motor vehicles *actually* do? 

  • fj

    Absolutely excellent preliminary report and basis for making our public streets safe for everyone.

    Completely safe streets are necessary for broad rapid deployment of advanced net zero mobility solutions accessible to everyone including the extreme physically and visually impaired to set new standards in transportation equity, practicality, and effective performance. 

  • vnm

    @Jeff @Jesse Greene    You raise a very interesting abstract concept that would be a great topic for an academic study or a Transportation Research Board conference. As a transportation data geek, I actually am curious about that.
     But from the perspective of a local elected official who should care about catering to his/her constituents, what difference would anything-per-VMT make? Let’s say for the sake of argument that cyclists are more likely to be involved in crashes as motorists than cars on a per-mile basis. For the purposes of public safety, so what? On a per-person basis, and a per-incident basis, driving is roughly an order of magnitude more dangerous. So that’s what the public discourse and public resources should focus on.

  • Clarence Eckerson

    The only thing this post lacked was a sensational style anti-Bike Bedlam graphic.

  • This is quite good. I’m bookmarking this (and printing it out) to show to irrational people who argue about “bike bedlam”.

  • Daniel

    At the risk of being very unpopular, I would just say that, this doesn’t seem to take into account “fault.”

    That is, it is possible that some (significant?) percentage of the 754 bike-car collisions could have been caused by the cyclists, rather than the drivers.

    I mean, as a cyclist I am inclined to blame cars as much as everyone else around here, but I don’t see any evidence here that would indicate that 100% of the accidents are purely driver-caused.

    We all see the cyclist-doing-bad/reckless-things all the time, I’m sure. Earlier today I saw a guy who was 1) riding the wrong way down a one way street, 2) staring at his phone, glancing up to see the road, 3) listening to in-ear headphones, 4) as he approached a busy intersection, where he proceeded to turn into oncoming traffic and 5) continue to go the wrong wy. If that guy is involved in a collision with a car that is legally turning onto the street he’s going the wrong way down and he’s injured, I mean, it’s hard for me to not side with driver there. Obviously, this isn’t the majority of cyclists, and certainly not those who are readers of streetsblog, but I’m just pointing out that it’s not impossible that (maybe half, just statistically?) of the car-bike collisions could have some shared culpability.

    And all of this would be included in part of what the CBS2 dipshits would categorize as “bike-bedlam”. Not just bike-on-ped collisions, but they’d surely assert that like, “99% of car-bike collisions are surely the fault of the crazy, irresponsible cyclist who shouldn’t be on the road.”

  • Anonymous

    An odd juxtaposition today: in my neck of the woods, the L.A. Times is running an article about reactions to a San Francisco cyclist who killed a pedestrian:

    http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-sf-bikes-20120616,0,4422915.story

  • Larry Littlefield

    While I do see bad behavior by cyclists, lately I’ve been seeing more bad behavior by drivers.  Really bad.  Because I’ve been in a car on weekday evenings, which I usually am not, riding with my child, who was practicing for the driving test she took yesterday.

    As a new driver with a manual transmission, she doesn’t rocket away from the curb.  She also drives at the actual speed limit on the highway, rather than “keeping up with traffic.” And, concerned that a dog or a child (as in Coney Island) might pop out at any moment, she drives at say 20 mph on narrow, one way residential streets rather than 30.

    The result has been some of the worst behavior on the road I have ever seen.  Much worse than I seen on the weekend, the time when I usually drive.  In addition to the constant honking, here is something that happened on the way to her road test yesterday.  

    We were on the Belt, approaching the Cross Island/Southern State spilt.  She was in the right lane, riding at the speed limit, and needed to move left.  There was no one in the center lane.  She signaled, started to move left, and “cut off” an SUV that had rushed up behind her in our lane, saw the turn signal, then jumped out in the center lane WITHOUT signaling and tried to get by before she could move over.  The SUV honked, swerved, the passengers put up the fingers, and then moved around and cut directly in front in a way that would have caused a 50 mph collision if my daughter didn’t hit the brake.

    All it would take is a small, old-looking unmarked police car with camera’s and microphones mounted front and rear and a couple of cops driving carefully while following rules.  The illegal honking fines alone, let along the reckless driving charges, would balance the city budget.If one of my kids EVER pulled ANY of the moves I saw more than once every time we went out driving, I would not have allowed them to take the driving test.  And yet these idiots are all allegedly licensed to drive.  And if they are from Brooklyn, I share their auto insurance pool.

  • Ian Turner

    Larry,

    I’m with ya. One of my first NYC driving experiences was driving on Foster Ave. at 30 MPH, an impatient TL&C car honked and flashed endlessly, finally passing in the oncoming travel lane at 50 MPH and nearly causing a head-on collision. The stuff drivers pull in this city is crazy.

    And it’s not clear to me why putting out officers to write tickets would not pay dividends. If the productivity of our justice system is that low — that 1-2 officers writing 5-6 $200 tickets per hour can’t pay for itself — then the implication is that we need to improve the productivity of our police force.

    –Ian

  • J

    @6add754483b4edaad132b15e7d9c5530:disqus I think you’re missing the point, which is that bicycles are not the things causing even a small portion of injury and death on our streets. Even if you go to the hyper-extreme and assume that in every single accident involving a bike, the cyclist was at fault. Under this wild assumption, cyclists would be responsible for 800 injuries (764 cyclists, 10 motorists, 26 pedestrians), and 3 deaths (all cyclists) in three months in NYC.

    If we assume that motorist are solely responsible for car-car collisions (because there is absolutely no one else to blame), then they are responsible for 13,000 drivers and passengers injured and 25 drivers and passengers killed every three months in NYC. Let me repeat that this figure assumes that drivers have no fault in any bicycle or pedestrian deaths in NYC.

    Even under these extreme assumptions, cyclists aren’t causing much injury and death relative to motorists, and 96% of those injuries and 100% of deaths are experienced by cyclists themselves. 
     
    In short, there is no bike bedlam, and even if there was, the only ones suffering are cyclists, themselves.

  • Cars are the greatest perpetrators of privatization, inefficient land use, historic decay, blight, fear, violence, and death in our city’s public spaces. There is a perception that this administration is taking this on, but in actuality, beyond some minor improvements in the name of safety, nothing has yet been done to reduce the impact of this most egregious threat to our city. The police department does not want to acknowledge that this is the greatest threat to public safety and quality of life, as it would reveal the limited ways their agency is actually addressing, and is able to address, these issue fundamental to its mission. Police are also a population that with one of the highest rates of car dependency (with most cops commuting from other boroughs or states, has the most access to free parking (at significant cost to neighborhoods where they park on the sidewalk), and is perhaps most likely to consume media dominated by car advertising.

  • Jesse Greene

    I don’t think the “bike bedlam” trope will go away until people are convinced that cyclists aren’t somehow “getting away with something.” I think the anger is really about the insult when some punk on a bike cuts you off as you cross the street. It’s like when you’re riding and someone forces you to the shoulder and to slam on your brakes so they can make a right turn into your path. Chances are you’re paying attention and yes you were in danger (as the pedestrian is when the bike cuts them off) but you don’t feel threatened so much as robbed. At least that’s how I feel. I feel like someone took my right of way/momentum/space on the road by force and mostly I’m just angry. And I don’t think any amount of data about the safety of those kinds of turns (assuming it even existed) would change my mind. It’s just rude and bullying.

    And that’s where the bike/car double standard comes from. People think that the kinds of violations that cyclists commit are somehow more egregious and rude (I’m not saying I agree with them) than what cars do. Sure a motorist will be in the intersection when the light turns red but cyclists just go whenever they feel like it. That kind of thing.

    Even though people talk about it like it’s a safety issue, I think it’s really a courtesy issue for most people. So I don’t expect hard safety data to change a lot of minds.

  • Anonymous

    @88b32fb69e499718d95067da9d3d7b03:disqus Thanks for helping focus on exactly what types of bike-ped collisions the NYPD is tabulating. From a quick look at the NYPD pdf, it looks like NYPD is reporting collisions in which one or both parties were injured — a lower threshold than your hospital visits. It may or may not be a higher threshold than my collisions. If I recall correctly, back in the day (mid-80s – early 90s) when crash data were readily available, bike-ped collisions ran at around the same level as injuries in bike-ped collisions.

    You wrote, “As biking goes up, injuries from bikers goes down.” Actually, I don’t believe there’s any empirical support for that assertion. Perhaps you were invoking safety-in-numbers, but s-i-n holds that as biking goes up, the per-biker rate of injuries to bikers from collisions with motor vehicles goes down — a phenomenon that differs from your assertion in two important respects.

  • moocow

    Charlie, you refer to the former ease of getting data from the City or NYPD several times.  Is it really just a position the current administration has allowed, not releasing information? I assumed that it was just difficult to compile some data.  (I know the NYPD is withholding all sorts of statistics on purpose)
    In short, was it easier bc of some job you had, or have the powers that be cut off the flow information?  It pains me that we have gone backwards in terms of this sort of number crunching enlightenment.

  • Voter

    It sickens me to think that my life isn’t worth very much to the NYPD or Christine Quinn simply because I ride a walk instead of drive.

  • Voter

    ride and walk. 

  • Anonymous

    @twowheel:disqus In 1987, a crucial time for bike advocacy in NYC, and a time when cyclists were being blamed for “traffic mayhem” and drivers were getting a free pass (sound familiar?), someone tipped me off to the fact that NYPD compiled monthly data on bike-ped, bike-vehicle, and ped-vehicle collisions. I tracked down the person at NYPD DCPI (Office of the Deputy Commissioner for Public Information) who did the compiling, literally summing each precinct’s reports. I established a nice connection with her by phone, and we settled into a routine where I would call her each month and she would read me those monthly data (with a more-than-understandable 6-week lag) over the telephone.

    These data became a staple of the T.A. magazine “City Cyclist” in the late 1980s and early 1990s, in a recurring table under the heading “Who’s Really Getting Hurt?” These data were a foundation stone of T.A.’s advocacy, enabling us to turn around the public conversation and focus it on motor mayhem rather than biker midsdeeds.

    In mid-1994, a half-dozen months or so into the Giuliani Administration, my DCPI contact told me that she was no longer permitted to speak to the public, and that my requests had to be addressed to the Deputy Commissioner. They were denied, and that is where things have stood ever since.

    Thank you for your interest and for giving me the chance to air this history.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “In mid-1994, a half-dozen months or so into the Giuliani Administration, my DCPI contact told me that she was no longer permitted to speak to the public, and that my requests had to be addressed to the Deputy Commissioner. They were denied, and that is where things have stood ever since.”
    Ha!  When I was at DCP, people used to call me up with questions about economic data.  The Chamber of Commerce used to tell people to call City Planning.  I’d answer those questions, but refer questions about policy to the department head’s office.

    By about 1996, no one was answering any questions, even from other city departments.  The Office of Emergency Management needed some population data, and no one was willing to give it to them without permission from City Hall.  It was ridiculous.

    All this does is allow the lobbyists and “journalists” to make up their own facts.

  • Daphna

    I had heard that the only motor vehicle accidents that get reported for injury statistics are those involving a hospital visit or more than $1,000 in medical bills, and that injuries from motor vehicle crashes not meeting that threshhold are not counted for statistics.  Meanwhile, all injuries, even the minor ones from a bike-ped interaction are being counted.  The same standard needs to apply for both.  If lesser injuiries not needing a hospital visit are counted for bike incidents, than those lesser injuries from motor vehicle crashes need to also be counted.  Or if the lesser injuries are not going to be counted for motor vehicles accidents in statistics, then they should likewise not be counted for bike-ped accidents.

  • Why people injured like this, I think if they follow road rules correctly they not injure, they can secure their life and others as well.

  • If anything is going to happen it will not going to inform us. SO it is very important to be careful and follow all the instruction. Well, these post is really nice and interesting.

  • Balance bikes are aimed generally at children between 2 and 6 years, and in fact some children as young as 18 months can ride a balance bike.