A recent report by the Governors Highway Safety Association attracted a great deal of attention, but the way they present the data is misleading. The report implies that riding a bike in California has gotten more dangerous in the past few years. In fact, bicycling is almost twice as safe in California as it was in 2010. And it’s getting safer.
The report highlights the increase in the total number of bicycle-related injuries and fatalities, noting that California has the most fatalities among the 50 states, with 138 fatal motor vehicle/bicycle collisions in 2012. The report fails to consider that these numbers are high because California is the most populous state, with more bicycle trips than any other state. In fact, he number of people riding bikes has nearly doubled since 2010. A review of the official numbers provided by the California Highway Patrol (including all bicycle injuries) in the context of the official transportation report provided by Caltrans, gives a very different picture of bicycle safety trends.
Trends from 2000 to 2012 in California (from our analysis of SWITRS data):
Bicycling is up 88%.
The bicycle injury rate per trip is down 45%.
The bicycle fatality rate per trip is down 39%.
An LA Times article on the report didn’t catch any of these positive trends either. The report’s misinterpretation of the data can easily skew public perception of riding a bike as a risky activity.
First things first: riding a bike is not dangerous. The rate of bicycle accidents is on the decline throughout the United States, as emphasized in the strong reaction to the study from bicycling advocates around the country.
- PeopleForBike’s response
- Alliance for Biking and Walking’s response
- The League of American Bicyclists’ response
Once you dive into the details of the report, especially the calls to action, it starts to seem less anti-bike. “Roads were built to accommodate motor vehicles with little concern for pedestrians and bicyclists.”
The report’s intention seems to be to compel policy leaders to invest in better bike infrastructure and more encouragement of bicycling. They highlight some benefits of an increase in bicycle riding — health and environmental — but fail to recognize that more bikes on the road make our communities safer overall, or that the more people ride bicycles, the safer bike riding gets. It’s interesting to note that the economic benefits of biking, although highlighted in the sources they cite, have been completely ignored in the report.
Although the report’s call for more infrastructure is good, its specific prescriptions are outdated. Of course “cycle paths” (It’s unclear, but class I bikeways, we assume) are not always feasible because our communities have been built “to accommodate motor vehicles.” So building bikeways that give the same protection as off-street cycle paths built on existing roadways seems logical, right?
Here were the suggestions in the report:
- conventional bike lanes
- bicycle boulevards
- bike boxes
- separate bicycle traffic signals with advance timing
Painted bike lanes are good, but often are not enough. Bicycle boulevards are pleasant, but often out of the way, and can have too many stop signs to be an efficient transportation route. Their last two suggestions, which would separate bicyclists from motor traffic at the intersections are good ones.
Personal safety is not the only reason to promote protected bike lanes, but they are essential to to make direct, efficient, welcoming bicycle infrastructure built for everyone ages 8-80. The report recognizes that protected bike lanes that are being implemented across the country both increase user safety and compel more people to ride a bike:
“Research indicates that bicyclists prefer separate street facilities over purely recreational paths (Nuworsoo & Cooper, 2013) and states are responding by attempting to improve on-road bike lane safety. For example, Illinois is piloting a barrier-protected bike lane. In Washington D.C., two innovative treatments have been instituted – a buffered center median bike lane and a two-way cycle track (Goodno et al., 2012). Both treatments, which involve dedicated road space with buffers between bicycles and motor vehicles, have increased bicycle use.”
This might be the first time that the GHSA has recognized that modern bikeways are imperative to get more people to ride bikes. California lawmakers know how important it is. Pledge your support today to win more protected bike lanes in your community at calbike.org/protectedbikeways.