Paul Andrews

Posts Tagged ‘cycling deaths’

Riders Down: Bad things happen in more than threes

In Bicycle advocacy, Rider Down on February 3, 2010 at 1:35 am

Sometimes they bunch together by the handful. The past week has certainly borne that out. We were mildly annoyed at the Bellingham police flak who suggested, after a rider was struck by a car making a left turn in front of him, that cyclists wear bright clothing and be careful out there to avoid being hit by drivers. Our take was that’s like telling a gunshot victim to watch out for bullets.

Since that accident, bike riders have been getting hit right and left…hook.

In Sacramento, a cyclist
was hit and dragged a quarter of a mile by an SUV whose driver was … well, let’s just say that brighter clothing and best cycling practices weren’t going to help his cause.

In Los Gatos, a cyclist was killed when an SUV jumped a curb, drove along the sidewalk, barreled through a pedestrian safety barricade and continued on till striking a light post and flipping over. Apparently the cyclist, riding slowly on a sidewalk, was not behaving safely enough. As a witness put it: “I thought please let him get out of the way. But I knew there was no way. All of a sudden there was a ton of debris and dirt after he hit the guy on the bicycle.”

No word on whether he was brightly dressed, which for some reason may have been considered irrelevant in the police investigators’ assessment of culpability.

And what would be the advice
for Jim Rogers, founder of the Tour of Nevada City Bike Shop and holder of the record for most Nevada City Bicycle Classic race competitions, who was cycling along the shoulder of Highway 174 when he was hit from behind by an SUV and killed?

Oh, OK, we’ve got it. The Bellingham flak left out a crucial step in his short list for cycling safety, one that would have prevented all of these accidents from ever happening in the first place. That being: Don’t ride where SUVs are present.

Spread the word…

Riders Down: Shorter days, worse weather, more tragedy

In Rider Down on November 18, 2009 at 1:01 pm

There’s been a spike recently in rider deaths, perhaps a time-of-year thing. Although the usual culprits are cited (right hooks, dump truck carelessness and the ever-popular “still investigating,” meaning the cyclist was not at fault. If the cyclist is assumed to be at fault, police figure they don’t need an investigation, yet another incentive to blame the cyclist).

Here’s a new wrinkle from a real tragedy in Flagstaff, where a university student was literally hooked and dragged to his death by a garbage truck.

“It is still unknown who, if anybody, was at fault in the collision, said Sgt. Michael Terrin of the Flagstaff Police Department.”

Yeah, that’s a real head-scratcher.

Can you imagine a car accident involving fatalities where a cop would say, “Looks like no one may be at fault here.” Just one of those little traffic misunderstandings, you know…

Other deaths in the news:

Frank R. Smith, 54, of Piketon OH killed by Toyota Sienna while riding a bike.

14-year-old Farmingdale NY cyclist killed by car.

Clearwater FL man, 52, killed by van.

Randal J. Thomas, 47, of Leavenworth WA, killed by tow truck driver riding Blewett Pass Hwy near Hwy 2.

Let There Be Justice

In Bicycle advocacy, Obama Bikes, Rider Down on October 28, 2009 at 9:01 am

I was out of town and unable to attend the Traffic Justice Summit at Seattle’s City Hall a couple of weeks ago, but thanks to great work by the folks at Seattle Channel, a video has been posted on the Web. The presentation also will broadcast on TV via Seattle Channel (21 on Comcast cable) over the next few days (link and showtimes below).

This show is well worth watching, for a penetrating look not only at how the judicial process marginalizes cyclists and pedestrians, the second-class citizens of our transportation network, but at the crushing impact that senseless, careless, negligent actions behind the wheel of a vehicle have on friends and families of those struck down.

The key word here is “justice.” Without a socio-judicial response equivalent to the severe injury or death suffered in a bike or pedestrian accident, there can be no sense of closure from loved ones, and — most significantly — no disincentive for others or even the same perpetrator to repeat the offense.

A horrific case in point was offered at the Summit. A bike rider, Ilsa Govan, told how she had been struck by a car driving on the wrong side of the road. She subsequently discovered that the driver, Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz, had a history of poor driving, and yet had been permitted back behind the wheel of a car time and again.

Eighteen months after her accident, the same driver killed Tatsuo Nakata, a City Council aide, while he was walking across a street in a crosswalk. As Govan put it, the rabbi “is not a bad person. He’s just a bad driver.”

Under current law, about all traffic enforcement officers can do in a case lacking clear intent to harm is issue a traffic ticket, even in the case of death where the victim clearly had right of way. Efforts in Olympia to address the legal discrepancy with “vehicular assault” legislation have stumbled in the past. At the Summit, Seattle city attorney Tom Carr and state senator Adam Kline brought us up to date on renewed efforts spearheaded by Cascade Bicycle Club and its tireless advocacy director, David Hiller, who emceed the event.

If any one segment encapsulated the shame, outrage and agony of the current situation, it was the moving testimony of Michele Black, widow of Ballard cyclist Kevin Black, who was killed by a van driver last February making a u-turn on 24th Avenue Northwest.

The driver was “in such a hurry to get to where she wanted to go,” Michele noted, that she not only ignored common sense and broke the law, she killed a human being. Or, as one of Kevin’s daughters put it in a card “to Daddy” posted at a memorial at the intersection where he died, “ran you over like a speed bump.”

“I want justice for Kevin, and I want justice for every person who has been killed,” said Michele, who had the added horror of coming onto the scene of her husband’s death shortly after the accident without knowing what had happened. “I don’t want another family to feel that pain.”

After Michele spoke, Hiller noted in a choking voice that last year’s legislation “got dropped on the day Kevin was hit. The day sticks in my head as well.”

Numerous other testimonials were offered, including from survivors of car collisions. Congratulations to Cascade and Hiller for putting together a session that was not only informative but struck a human chord as well and was not afraid to confront the pathos and tragedy of loss. As daunting as accident statistics are — and they’re going up as more bike commuters hit the streets and bicycling in general increases as an alternative transportation method and recreational activity — it’s people’s stories like those at the Summit which ultimately drive change.

We’ll keep you posted on legislative efforts in the upcoming session. The Seattle Channel link and showings:

Web link

TV (Channel 21):

Tomorrow, October 29, 2009  5:00 p.m.
 
Saturday, October 31, 2009  2:30 a.m.

Saturday, October 31, 2009  2:00 p.m.

Sunday, November 01, 2009  11:00 a.m.

Sunday, November 01, 2009 10:00 p.m.

Monday, November 02, 2009 3:00 a.m.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009 9:00 p.m.

Velocide: Death on a bike, even as loved ones testify

In Rider Down on October 15, 2009 at 1:24 am

While loved ones of cyclists killed in car collisions testified at Seattle City Hall yesterday…

A heartbreaking story at Traffic Justice Summit in Seattle

A heartbreaking story at Traffic Justice Summit in Seattle

With a sobering reminder posted outside …

Killed on bikes by careless drivers

Killed on bikes by careless drivers

Cyclists were mourning the death of Mary Yonkers by hit-and-run trailer truck in San Mateo CA. Far away geographically, perhaps, but united in cause. Best of luck to Seattle’s Cascade Bicycle Club and advocacy director David Hiller as they work in the Washington State legislature to pass a “vulnerable user” law.

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 Cyclelicio.us, 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. Cyclelicio.us gut-check. Dangerous times in Seattle for bikes.