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Bicycle Safety

New Data Debunks “Bike Bedlam” Sensationalism

2:24 PM EDT on June 15, 2012

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.

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