Friday, October 31, 2014

Why Are The Major Players Spun Up Over the Governor's Report?

From the People for Bikes Blog. Hence the promotion 
of Safety in Numbers
A similar trend can be seen for auto fatals on the IIHS page
People for Bikes, LAB, Bob Mionske, and others are all railing against a recently released Governor's Highway Safety Association report that in a shrill manner, showed a 16% uptick in the number of bicycle fatals from 2010-2012. One of the best discussions demolishing that report is by Michael Andersen over at Bike Portland. The GHSA study is admittedly short on details and poor on interpretation, so I'm not about to trade my Salsa LaCruz for a Hummer for my daily commute. More alarming perhaps is that report is the superficial stuff that politicians and their advisors will be reading.

Bicycling is and always was pretty safe. From the chart, one could calculate that at two bike trips per day, one would have to live practically seven thousand years to die in a bike trip. Heck, even Moses didn't live that long. Also note that this trend has been on a downward trajectory long before the current bike boom or cycletracks. Safety in numbers? Perhaps. Maybe safety as cycling becomes acculturated and our roads improved. Certainly, the French and German troops at Verdun or Ypres didn't feel like there was safety in numbers, i.e., there has to be a reason or two while safety in numbers works.

Some of the findings are not surprising. Used to be that kids were the biggest class of fatals. But with the rise in bicycle use by adults, especially, as city transportation, it could be that that adult fatals now dominate for several reasons. One, simple exposure hours. Two, more complicated infrastructure to negotiate and this done during peak commute hours. Three, inexperienced riders taking up cycling, something some have not done since they got their first car.

From PfB, Michael Andersen's post. 
Short term bumps, 
pretty flat long term trajectory
I wonder if some of the heated rejection of this report, which sadly, tells us to stay sober and wear a helmet as two of its most prominent findings, is that the last few years also happens to be the time when the bike biz and its lobbyists are promoting newfangled city infrastructure and designs (i.e., NACTO, etc) that are supposed to make us safer. But we see that damned uptick. The Gov's study is too shallow to draw any relationship between deaths and anything else, nor does it claim a statistical relevance above random variation, nor are those three years of data even normalized to bike trips, exposure hours, or rainfall in Arizona per year, but there is that glaring, if meaningless correlation. Hmm. Could this be a case of shooting the messenger?

A more useful report would look at those crashes and determine if the kinds of crashes were changing, even if the crashes/trip or crashs/exposure hour are continuing to decline. For example, the Forbes report that Bob Mionske and Rick Bernardi reference says that while nationally, bike commuting rose by 40% between 2000 and 2010, it rose by 77% in some cities. That's almost 8% per year or 23% in three years in high growth cities and 4% per year, 12% in three years overall. Does a fatality rise of 16% in 3 years (5.3%/yr), slightly higher than the overall commute growth rate, mean anything statistically significant?  Perhaps the fatality rate of commuters is higher than for the general cycling population? Perhaps more people are texting while driving?
Stolen from Darren Flusche's post at the LAB

The lesson to me is to look not just at statistics, but at some of the old common sense safety stuff that folks like John Forester have told us and update it to the modern bicycling era. We know new riders and children crash more due to inexperience.  One can usually survive that "I should have been hit" situation with skill sets that include situational awareness and bike handling (famous last words, of course). So rather than just putting new riders on cycletracks, the bike biz needs to do what the motorcycle biz did long ago--actively promote and underwrite adult and childhood cycling education before pushing all those folks onto its vaunted protected facilities. I wish PfB, which is funded by the bike biz, would see the logic in that. That doesn't mean we have to choose between infrastructure and good training. We need both, because even in a city with good infrastructure, life on two wheels gets complicated.In a city with flawed infrastructure, good training is even more important.

But really. Cycling is not dangerous, and as individuals, we are not passive statistics. We can ride better and "beat the reaper". Hell, even after a year of taunting fate in the lane of a high speed highway, Cherokee Schill could only be forced off the road by virtue of being tossed in the hoosgow. Go figure.

1 comment:

Steve A said...

The whole safety in numbers thing never ceases to amaze me, considering that the "drivers looking out for cyclists" was only posed as a hypothesis and never subjected to any evidential study at all. Even the "numbers" data showed several cases where higher numbers were associated with higher RATES of collisions. Those cases were not discussed. and I imagine the people that believe in this junk science would just as soon forget these inconvenient facts.