Skip to content

Posts from the Bicycle Safety Category

3 Comments

Study: Diagonal Intersections Are Especially Dangerous for Cyclists

This week, Cambridge, Massachusetts, unveiled plans for a “peanutabout” that will make a tricky intersection with irregular angles safe for cycling. This type of design intervention could be crucial for locations that new research suggests are especially dangerous.

This new deigned for a diagnoal intersections in Cambridge includes protected bike lanes and a ? on a round-about that locals call a "peanutabout." Image via Boston Cyclists Union

At this irregular intersection in Cambridge, the city plans to improve safety with what the locals call a “peanutabout.” Image via Boston Cyclists Union

In a study published in the journal Injury Prevention [PDF], a team led by Dr. Morteza Asgarzadeh of Harvard’s T. H. Chan School of Public Health found that non-right-angle intersections are especially prone to crashes that cause severe or fatal injuries to bicyclists.

Asgarzadeh and his team mapped 3,300 injury crash locations in New York city involving a motorist and a cyclist. Then they analyzed the relationship between a number of factors and injury severity, including street width, weather conditions, gender and age of the cyclist, and posted speed limit.

In most cases, researchers did not identify a significant link. But the researchers did find that a few conditions are correlated with more severe injuries.

Crashes that occurred at diagonal intersections were 37 percent more likely to result in severe injury or death than crashes at right-angle intersections. In addition, while 60 percent of bike-car crashes happen at intersection, cyclists hit by a cars on straightaways — not at intersections — were 31 percent more likely to be killed or severely injured. The researchers hypothesize that crashes on straightways may be more deadly because drivers are traveling at a higher speed.

Read more…

9 Comments

Why American Trucks Are So Deadly for Pedestrians and Cyclists

Large trucks are a leading killer of cyclists and pedestrians in urban areas. While London has recently decided to kick the most dangerous trucks out of the city, in the U.S., truck safety regulations are much further behind.

Alex Epstein, left, a researcher with U.S. DOT's Volpe Center, has been studying how side guards (shown in yellow) can help save cyclists. Boston developed a side guard policy with his help. Photo: Volpe

Alex Epstein, left, a researcher with U.S. DOT’s Volpe Center, has been studying how side guards (the yellow lattice) can prevent pedestrian and cyclist fatalities. Photo: Volpe

Engineer Alex Epstein of the Volpe Center, a research arm of U.S. DOT, spent five years examining how truck design affects bike and pedestrian safety. As a government researcher, he’s not authorized to discuss federal regulations, but his work is intended to guide policy.

We spoke with Epstein about what he’s learned and the potential implications. The interview was lightly edited for length and clarity.

So what have you been learning? 

We’ve been looking at the impact on bicycle and pedestrian safety, particularly in urban areas. The proportion of bicycle and pedestrian fatalities involving large trucks and the proportion of trucks on the road is not one-to-one.

Nationally it’s more like 3 to 1 — three times as many bicyclists killed. So 11 percent of bicyclist [fatalities are accounted for] by the 4 percent of vehicles on the road [that] are trucks.

In cities, it’s more disproportionate. In New York City, about 32 percent — about one out of every three cyclists that are killed — are killed by a truck. And for pedestrians it’s about one in eight.

Read more…

21 Comments

London Is Going to Ban the Deadliest Trucks From Its Streets

Photo: Transport for London via Treehugger

Image: Transport for London via Treehugger

Heavy trucks with big blind spots are a deadly menace to cyclists and pedestrians.

In Boston, eight of the nine cyclist fatalities between 2012 and 2014 involved commercial vehicles, according to the Boston Cyclists Union [PDF].

Between June and September this year, there were six cyclist fatalities in Chicago, and all six involved commercial vehicles.

In New York City, drivers of heavy trucks account for 32 percent of bike fatalities and 12 percent of pedestrian fatalities, despite the fact that they are only 3.6 percent of traffic.

U.S. cities are starting to take steps like requiring sideguards on some trucks. But no American city is tackling the problem like London is.

In London, city officials estimate that 58 percent of cyclist deaths and more than a quarter of pedestrian deaths involve heavy trucks, even though trucks only account for 4 percent of traffic. Evidence suggests trucks pose an especially large risk to women cyclists.

Read more…

5 Comments

FHWA’s New Goal: Eliminating Pedestrian and Cyclist Deaths in America

Pedestrian and biking safety has been lagging. Can federal officials reverse the trend? Graph: FHWA

Pedestrian and cyclist deaths account for a growing share of traffic fatalities in America. Can federal officials reverse the trend? Graph: FHWA

The Federal Highway Administration wants to eliminate pedestrian and cyclist fatalities “in the next 20 to 30 years.” In a new strategic plan [PDF], the agency calls for reducing serious injuries and deaths 80 percent in the next 15 years, which would be an intermediate goal on the way to zero.

FHWA also calls for boosting the share of short trips Americans make by biking or walking. It defines short trips as five miles or less for bicyclists and one mile or less for pedestrians. The agency’s goal is to increase the share of these trips 50 percent by 2025 compared to 2009 levels.

Now for the bad news. As admirable as these goals may be, federal transportation officials have limited power to see them through. Decisions about transportation infrastructure and street design are mainly carried out by state and local governments.

Nevertheless, the feds do have some means to influence street safety by changing design standards and using the power of persuasion. FHWA can certainly help move local decisions in the right direction. To encourage safer transportation engineering, the agency says it will ramp up its professional training and recognize states for making progress on walking and biking.

Here’s a look at some of the more promising ideas in the agency’s plan.

Promote safer streets through better design standards

One obstacle to safe streets is the widespread application of highway-style engineering strategies to local streets where people walk and bike. Wider and straighter roads might be better for cars-only environments, but they are terrible for pedestrian and cyclist safety.

Read more…

4 Comments

Report: As Cities Add Bike Lanes, More People Bike and Biking Gets Safer

safety_in_number_charts

Cities adding bike infrastructure are seeing a “safety in numbers” — more people on bikes plus lower risk of severe or fatal injury. Graphs: NACTO

The more people bike on the streets, the safer the streets are for everyone who bikes. This phenomenon, originally identified by researcher Peter Jacobsen, is known as “safety in numbers.” And that’s exactly what American cities are seeing as they add bike infrastructure — more cyclists and safer cycling — according to a new report from the National Association of City Transportation Officials [PDF].

The report is part of NACTO’s research series on implementing equitable bike-share systems. NACTO makes the case that large-scale bike-share systems can improve access to jobs in low-income communities by extending the reach of bus and rail lines, and — citing the safety-in-numbers evidence — that good bike lanes have to be part of the solution. Otherwise dangerous street conditions will continue to discourage people from biking.

NACTO tracked changes in bike commuting, bike lane miles, and cyclist fatalities and severe injuries in seven U.S. cities that have added protected bike lanes and bike-share systems over the past decade or so. In all seven cities, cycling has grown along with the bike network, while the risk of severe injury or death while cycling has declined.

In five of the cities — Chicago, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, and Portland — the absolute number of cycling deaths and severe injuries fell between 2007 and 2014, even as cycling rose substantially. In the two other cities — San Francisco and Washington, D.C. — deaths and serious injuries increased somewhat, but not as much as the increase in bicycle commuting.

New York City, for example, has added about 54 miles of bike lanes per year since 2007. Chicago has added about 27 miles per year since 2011. Over that time the risk of severe injury or death while cycling has decreased by about half, NACTO reports.

Read more…

27 Comments

U.S. Traffic Fatalities Rising Fast — Especially Pedestrian and Cyclist Deaths

Traffic fatalities in America hit a seven-year high in 2015, with pedestrians and cyclists accounting for a disproportionate share of the alarming increase, according to preliminary data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Last year, 35,200 people were killed in traffic — a 7.7 percent increase over 2014 and the worst death toll since 2008. The number of people killed while walking or biking is rising even faster.

Traffic deaths increased 7.7 percent last year and pedestrians and cyclists saw the biggest increase. Graph: NHTSA

Last year pedestrian and cyclist deaths increased more than overall traffic deaths. Graph: NHTSA

Pedestrian deaths shot up 10 percent last year and bicyclist deaths 13 percent — more than other types of victims, according to NHTSA. The agency did not break down these categories by number.

Driving increased in 2015 too, but by 3.5 percent — not enough to explain the rising death toll.

People walking or biking have accounted for a growing share of total traffic deaths since 2007, and there is little agreement about the underlying causes. In addition to the usual rush to blame victims by invoking “distracted walking,” theories include increases in biking and walking overall, driver distraction, and low gas prices promoting more “marginal” drivers like teenagers, who are more crash prone. (The NHTSA report says crashes involving young drivers — ages 15 to 20 — increased 10 percent in 2015.)

One thing is clear, however: The United States is falling further behind other nations that have sustained impressive reductions in traffic fatalities. While countries like the UK, Japan, and Germany achieve rapid improvements in street safety, America has failed to keep people safe on the streets.

Read more…

9 Comments

Boston Globe Columnist Tweets Out History’s Dumbest Anti-Bike Rant

I hesitated to even respond to Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby‘s odious tweetstorm against cycling in Boston, because the man is obviously just trolling for attention.

But boy, Jacoby made it hard to hold back. In response to the death of Amanda Phillips, 27, who was struck and killed by a truck driver earlier this week, Jacoby went straight to the old bike ban argument:

Yep. Bikeless streets are clearly the solution to America’s 35,000 annual traffic deaths. At least Jacoby provided a fat target.

So Jacoby doubled down with this gem:

Read more…

68 Comments

A Hit-and-Run Driver Killed 5 People on Bikes, So the Press Lectured Cyclists

The five victims of a hit-and-run driver Tuesday in Kalamazoo. Photo retrieved from Mlive.com

The five victims of hit-and-run driver Charlie Pickett. Photos: Mlive.com

A hit-and-run driver killed five people on a group bike ride in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Tuesday. Four others were seriously injured in the horrifying crash, caused when a driver hit their training group — known as “the Chain Gang” — from behind.

Charlie Pickett, whose Facebook page proclaims his love of stiff liquor, was arrested in the death of five cyclists outside Kalamazoo. Photo: Facebook

Charlie Pickett, whose Facebook page is emblazoned with a logo that says “100 Proof,” was arrested for killing five cyclists outside Kalamazoo. Photo: Facebook

Police arrested 50-year-old Charlie Pickett (right), according to Mlive.com, and charged him with five counts of second-degree murder.

The incident resembles a fatal collision that happened in the Akron area in September, when an SUV driver crashed into five cyclists on a training ride, killing two. The driver, 42-year-old Timothy Wolf, initially refused a breathalyzer and was eventually acquitted of vehicular homicide in February. (In this case the driver turned left into the group of cyclists. Wolf blamed sun glare.)

At the very least, you would expect that horrific cases like these would hammer home what an enormous responsibility drivers bear and how careful we should be when we get behind the wheel of a car. But even when the circumstances overwhelmingly point to negligence on the part of the driver, the impulse to lecture cyclists remains strong.

Following the Kalamazoo tragedy, the Grand Rapids’ ABC affiliate took the opportunity to air a segment about “bike safety,” warning cyclists to ride single file, stay close to the white line, and signal when they are turning. The piece eventually notes that there is no indication the Kalamazoo cyclists were doing anything wrong. Meanwhile, the Detroit Free Press warned cyclists to wear helmets — because helmets are magical objects that protect your whole body when a driver hits you from behind at high speed.

The same tacit victim blaming was on display after the Akron crash as well. Cleveland’s ABC affiliate also made the case for helmets, even though the people who were killed were wearing helmets.

Read more…

81 Comments

Why Helmets Aren’t the Answer to Bike Safety — In One Chart

Cj-L75WVEAADWl_-1

Better street design and getting more people on bikes — not blind faith in helmets — are the keys to making cycling safer, recent research has shown.

Want a good visual to get the point across? The Toole Design Group made this for you.

Of these countries, the U.S. has the highest rate of helmet usage among cyclists — around 55 percent — but also the highest cyclist fatality rate per distance traveled. Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, where helmet use is practically nil, cycling is much, much safer.

While this is just eight data points, higher helmet use seems to be associated with higher fatality rates. Intuitively, that makes some sense. The more dangerous an activity, the more people feel inclined to take steps to protect themselves.

Despite the high rate of helmet use in the U.S., helmet campaigns have clearly failed to make cycling as safe as it should be. If anything, they’ve distracted from the much more important work of designing safer streets and reducing motor vehicle speeds in cities.

Updated at 4:37 p.m to replace Toole’s line graph with Toole’s bar chart, based on the same data.

54 Comments

Insane Comic Books Warn Phoenix Children That Biking Will Kill Them

This comic book was produced by the Phoenix Street Transportation Department to warn young children about the dangers of not wearing a helmet. Retrieved from the Arizona Republic

This comic book was produced by the Phoenix Street Transportation Department to warn young children about the dangers of not wearing a helmet. Via The Arizona Republic

Hey kids, the Phoenix Department of Street Transportation has a fun message for you: Riding your bike is likely to result in a gory horror scene. If you don’t wear your helmet, of course.

This is the cover of a comic book being distributed to third and fourth graders in Phoenix.

This is the cover of a comic book being distributed to third and fourth graders in Phoenix.

That’s the gist of an over-the-top “bike safety” comic book that has alarmed parents of third and fourth graders in Phoenix. The comic shows a cyclist with his brain exposed and blood dripping down his skull on the cover. The inside is equally horrifying, conjuring a world where kids get run over and lose the use of their legs because they pop wheelies.

The books were produced by the Phoenix Street Transportation Department with a $18,700 grant from the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety. An illustrator hired by the transportation department explained to the Arizona Republic that they were meant to scare children into wearing helmets.

Helmets can protect against head injuries in the event of a crash or fall, but the idea that helmet use is the one true answer for bike safety is cartoonishly simple.

Gory comic books about bike helmets are not the kind of thing you see in places with excellent bike safety records. It is basically an admission that public agencies have failed to create safe streets and an indictment of the prevailing safety culture.

At a time when kids are developing chronic disease at an alarming rate thanks in part to the lack of physical activity, Phoenix is sending the message that something as normal as riding a bike will cause you to resemble an extra from the Walking Dead.

635967461555959517-Legs