Paul Andrews

Posts Tagged ‘bicycle deaths’

Can you spare a couple of hours for the Traffic Justice Summit?

In Bicycle advocacy, Bicycle Commuting, Obama Bikes, Rider Down on October 14, 2009 at 7:06 am

More motivation to attend today’s summit, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Seattle City Hall:

BikePortland: Good links and commentary on Texas tandem mowdown. Yes it was an unfortunate accident, but hey, it’s vehicular manslaughter any way you cut it.

SeattleLikesBikes is tracking bike deaths statistically. Even a casual glance shows that most bike deaths do not involve alcohol or drugs, just carelessness and the psychological belittlement of bikes as rightful sharers of the road. Thanks to Michael Snyder for compiling this.

Head on down to lend your presence to legislative relief for this most critical challenge for the cycling and pedestrian communities. Help make our streets safer for non-motorized transport!

A Chance for Cycling Justice

In Bicycle advocacy, Obama Bikes on October 5, 2009 at 2:04 am

Seattle’s Cascade Bicycle Club, the nation’s largest local cycling club with more than 11,000 members, continues to do yeoman advocacy work on behalf of cyclists mowed down by careless— and uncaring — drivers.

At City Hall from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 14, the club will host a traffic justice summit with city attorney Tom Carr and Tim Burgess, who chairs the city council’s public safety committee. The summit’s aim: To move forward on a new state “vulnerable user” law protecting riders and walkers from vehicular injury and death.

“We are committed to bringing the Vulnerable User Bill back to the legislature for 2010,” said David Hiller, advocacy director for Cascade Bicycle Club, in a press statement. (Last winter a similar bill got unprecedented early traction but failed to make it out of committee.)  “Our goal with this summit is to broaden public dialogue about the current laws surrounding vulnerable roadway users.  It is clear to us that vehicles involved in pedestrian or cyclist injuries or fatalities should be subject to legal repercussions more serious than a traffic ticket. We welcome the opportunity to educate the public about this issue and to listen to feedback about our efforts.”

The issue here isn’t spite or revenge against drivers who hurt or kill cyclists. It’s to make drivers take cyclists and pedestrians as seriously as they do other drivers. The only way to accomplish this is to give more gravity to law enforcement. If a driver runs into another driver, whether it’s injury or death, the legal system is set up to determine who was responsible and penalizes the culpable party accordingly. The same laws should apply if a driver hits someone on wheels or foot.

The city tried to address the inequity with its own statute in 2005. Unfortunately, last August the State Court of Appeals ruled that state law supersedes local statute. So only a bill passed in Olympia can provide a real remedy.

Four cyclists struck by vehicles have died in Seattle this year, and in only one case was the cyclist’s right-of-way unclear. Other severe car-bike accidents have been reported with “life-threatening injuries” to the riders as well. Annually more than 500 cyclists and pedestrians in the state are killed or disabled by motor vehicles.

With bike commuting on the rise and the bike culture reviving in general due to “green” concerns, healthier lifestyles, higher gas prices and just the joy of riding two wheels, it’s time to recognize cyclists’ traffic rights. Riders and walkers should not lose their right to equal justice under the law simply because they aren’t sitting behind a steering wheel when they are hit by a car.

Good discussion on the Cascade club forum.


More on hate crimes against cyclists

In Bicycle advocacy, Obama Bikes, Rider Down on September 5, 2009 at 11:28 am

In Portland, a hate crime against a cyclist: is reporting additional details in the arrest for first-degree assault of Wayne Conrad Thompson, who viciously backed over Michael Luther, who was riding a bike. “he cyclist had been knocked out of his shoes and his helmet was a few feet from his head,” a bystander reported.

Our take continues to be that this kind of action represents a hate crime against cyclists. BikePortland follows up with a perspective on the Toronto incident we reported earlier.

BikingBis: Traffic fatalities dropped in 2008 — unless you happened to be on two wheels. Deaths rose 2.1 percent, and injuries spiked much more: 21 percent.

Not all of these involved hate against cyclists, of course. But many can be shown to reflect a second-class citizenship, akin to the bias and ignorance at the heart of racism, sexism, sexuality-based prejudice and other stereotyping, which fosters anti-cycling behavior and, in some tragic cases, incubates eventual extremism.

Until we address the unique psychological phenomenon that stigmatizes cyclists as “the other” in traffic as well as in traffic planning, the role of the bicycle in our culture will continue to be hazardous as well as marginalized.

In Toronto, a hate crime against cyclist

In Bicycle advocacy, Obama Bikes on September 1, 2009 at 2:16 pm

New York Times: A former attorney general for Ontario has been charged with killing a bicycle courier in a road rage incident that is simply hard to believe.

Michael Bryant, apparently a tough enforcement official when he was in office, hit the cyclist, who apparently held onto Bryant’s car in an attempt to save himself from being run over. But instead of stopping and offering aid, Bryant accelerated and tried to brush past light posts and other obstacles in an attempt to shed the cyclist.

This is a perfect example of the kind of escalating anger toward cyclists that Bike Intelligencer believes merits classification as a hate crime. See our previous discussion of terrorism, hate crimes and other acts of violence toward cyclists.

Why, when someone is charged with criminal negligence (it sounds more like criminal purposefulness), or in any case could be charged with vehicular homicide, do we need to add hate crime to the category?

Because it would help address the peculiar attitude of drivers, who may be perfectly reasonable human beings in all other settings away from an automobile, that cyclists are the scum of the roadways, do not belong in traffic, and completely deserve what they get.

Until we identify and “out” this distinct psychological phenomenon it will continue to motivate and even sanction violent acts against human beings whose sole misstep is that they happen to be riding a bicycle.

Ride and Prejudice, Part II: When an error goes viral

In Bicycle advocacy, Obama Bikes on August 31, 2009 at 12:25 am

The links are flying on a (supposedly) new study that (supposedly) found drivers are to blame for 9 out of 10 bike–car accidents. This situation cries out for journalistic followup, but for now let’s see if we can clear the air a bit.

A Toronto study we reported on (along with Freakonomics, which was then picked up by The New York Times and went viral from there) had some interesting findings regarding car-bike accidents. Unfortunately it got conflated with a different, and relatively dated, New York report that found drivers are at fault for as much as 90 percent of bike/pedestrian-car collisions.

First, the Toronto study, which looked at bike-car collisions in Toronto police reports.

“The most common type of crash in this study involved a motorist entering an intersection and either failing to stop properly or proceeding before it was safe to do so. The second most common crash type involved a motorist overtaking unsafely. The third involved a motorist opening a door onto an oncoming cyclist.”

Fair enough. Sounds reasonable to any experienced cyclist. No one seems to question the Toronto findings. But there’s no “90 percent” figure in them, either.

Instead, the 90 percent comes from a New York study referred to in passing by the Toronto report. And the New York study has some shall we say issues.

First off, it was based on 1997 statistics (and published in March, 1999). Not to diminish its findings from the get-go, that’s quite a while back. Hopefully progress has been made — but let’s continue.

The study, called “Killed By Automobile” and written by Charles Komanoff and Right of Way, “a group of New Yorkers who are organizing for safe streets and for the rights of walkers and bike-riders,” analyzed the year’s fatalities for “culpability” (based “largely” on New York State traffic law). The data showed that in 22 percent of the cases, culpability could not be determined. Setting aside those cases, the study found drivers to be “strictly or largely culpable” in 74 percent of accidents, “partly culpable” in 16 percent, and not culpable in just 10 percent.

Two things should be noted about the data, however. First, it incorporated pedestrian accidents as well as cycling. Typically more pedestrians — quite a few more — are killed by cars than cyclists. Although today the assumption is that texting and iPods and whatnot distracting pedestrians are to blame, statistically the difference has been fairly consistent historically going well back.

Another factor is that there are simply more pedestrians than cyclists. Whatever the reason, to lump walkers in with riders kind of jimmies the New York study from the get-go.

The New York data involve 223 pedestrian fatalities and 19 cyclist deaths. If you break out only the cyclist deaths, drivers were culpable 70 percent of the time (not 90 percent).

Second, as Richard Masoner pointed out on, the study acknowledges it “frames crash culpability primarily in terms of driver action” rather than that of the pedestrian or cyclist. This is a bit of a head-scratcher and again begs followup. Presumably culpability should be neutral rather than “framed,” and should emerge organically from analysis of the accident itself (as it does time and again in the case studies cited in the report). The New York study, however, says it places the onus for being safe on the driver, because drivers can kill pedestrians and cyclists, but pedestrians and cyclists cannot kill drivers.

True. But to incorporate a bias into a statistical analysis based on that reasoning to my mind muddies the waters. And needlessly so. The data seem to impugn driver behavior clearly enough without any “framing.”

It’s worth reading the full New York study to get a feel for what pedestrians and cyclists are up against (veteran cyclists will not be surprised). Discounting its emotionally charged prose, the study makes a compelling case for better police analysis and judicial-system followup of walking and cycling accidents involving cars.

And that, bottom line, is why the 10 percent figure got such wide play. Skewed as it might be, it reflects the reality of experience by avid and longtime cyclists.

Of the handful of fatal cycling accidents in Seattle so far this year (which has been a bad year for cyclists v. cars), only one involved a clear-cut mistake, or at-fault action, by the cyclist. In the other three, cyclists by all accounts had the right of way. They were simply mowed down due to “driver error.”

Granted, that’s only 75 percent. But yeah, we’re in the same territory as the New York study of yore.

Morbidly enough, there are several recent “life-threatening” injury accidents — that may turn into fatalities — where the cyclist apparently was not at fault (they are still under investigation). We may make 90 percent yet.

The point — and the reason I originally linked to the Toronto account (incorporating the reference to the New York study) — is this: Society carries a prejudice, regrettably amplified by police investigations, that automatically blames a cyclist in a car-bike collision. There are many reasons for this, but it’s simply wrong. It’s not statistically valid. It marginalizes cycling as a legitimate form of transportation and is inimical to progress for cycling as a healthy and environmentally beneficial alternative to the automobile. It vitiates legislative remedies to protect cyclists. It essentially excuses and perpetuates actions which, had they involved a second driver instead of a cyclist, would result in manslaughter or homicide charges being filed.

The Toronto and New York studies may not be perfect, but until we get something better, they’re a useful step forward in recasting public perception of car-bike accidents. Hopefully studies are under way now that will further put the issue in statistically and scientifically sound perspective. The growth of cycling advocacy — both on the road and off — attests to the exploding momentum for changing society’s tired old prejudices toward cycling.

Links: The Toronto report. The New York study (click on “Research” and “Killed By Automobile”). My initial mention. The Freakonomics reference picked up by The New York Times. gut-check. Dangerous times in Seattle for bikes.