We bring to you attention today two news articles that have been making the rounds in Eugene. “Grant to Fund a safer walk” via the Register-Guard and the unfortunately headlined “Bike Crashes Injure Hundreds” via the Eugene Weekly.
Read on for summary and commentary.
…printed in Sunday’s paper, provides greater detail on the recently awarded $495,000 federal grant from the Safe Routes to School program. Selectively quoted from the article:
A $495,000 federal grant from the “Safe Routes to School” program will enable the city of Eugene to make safety improvements at [ the 22nd and Agate intersection ] and several other locations, making it safer for students to walk or bike to school.
At 22nd and Agate and three other intersections, for example, the city will install a new generation of pedestrian crossing lights that grab motorists’ attention so they stop and let pedestrians cross, as required by state law.
The grant will also pay for bike parking racks, school parking lot and driveway modifications, the construction of walking paths and sidewalks, and other safety work.
The work is to be done this year and for the benefit of students at five elementary and two middle schools in the Eugene School District. Officials hope the improvements will encourage more students plus residents of all ages to bike or walk.
Also, students cross busy East 30th Avenue at Alder Street, McCann said. Parents want the new flashing pedestrian crossing lights installed there.
The flashing lights also will be installed at East 28th Avenue and Hilyard Street, and West 18th Avenue and Friendly Street.
…printed in the 2/11/10 Eugene Weekly, is an unfortunately titled news brief relating statistics recently released by the City of Eugene. Quoted in full, emphasis added, with WeBikeEugene commentary in red.
Bike crashes killed eight people and injured 701 in Eugene in the last decade, according to city of Eugene data. This data means little when not contrasted as a percentage of overall ridership, and without comparison to cities of a similar size with similar ridership.
Bike crashes were up 15 percent from 61 in 2007 to 70 in 2008 but down from a peak of 89 in 2005. These statistics are misleading. A raise in 9 reported crashes over the course of a year is statistically insignificant, and referring to it as 15% is sensationalistic.
In an average year, bike crashes injure about 70 people and kill one in Eugene. (0.8 deaths, actually. Less than one a year) Bikes make up about 4 percent of all crashes in Eugene but 10 percent of all reported injuries and 13 percent of all fatalities, according to the data.
Bike crashes involve injuries 97 percent of the time compared to an overall crash injury rate of 34 percent. Very few people are going to report a bike crash if no injuries were sustained. 97% is not surprising. The rate of fatalities per reported bike crash is also about four times higher than the overall rate. Again, rate per reported bike crash.
City traffic engineer Tom Larsen said the high rate of bike injuries per crash “underscores the importance of sharing the roadway and making good eye-to-eye contact when driving.” Despite my misgivings with the way the statistics are being presented, it is nice to see that this is the reaction from the City – one where car drivers share the blame.
But although more bike crashes appear to involve injuries, bicyclists appear much more likely to avoid crashes altogether. In Eugene about 8 percent of commuters are cyclists according to the U.S. Census, but 4 percent of local crashes involve cyclists. Again the percents being used here are misleading. This implies that if they were equally likely to crash then 8% of crashes would involve cyclists, a jump of 70 crashes per year to 140 crashes per year. However, that difference is statistically irrelevant since cyclists tend to ride less in the areas where car accidents are more frequent (Beltline road, etc.) Go here for a list of the 10 most dangerous intersections in Eugene.
It’s also unclear if the injury per crash rate for cyclists is skewed because cyclists may be less likely to report non-injury accidents than motorists who have to make expensive insurance claims.
Bike safety was listed as a major city goal in a Eugene Pedestrian and Bicycle Strategic Plan adopted last year. A high priority part of that goal included identifying unsafe intersections for fixes. The city is launching a bike master plan process to implement the strategic plan. Studies have shown that increasing cyclist safety is a key method of increasing cycling.
The traffic data the city released identified the intersections with the most overall accidents, but did not break out the data for bikes. The worst intersections for overall crash rates were Irving Road/Hunsaker and River Road, followed by Valley River Drive and Valley River Way, (Now safer for cyclists thanks to the Delta Ponds Bridge Project) and Division Avenue and River Road. Overall, crashes in Eugene are declining with an average of 1,973 total crashes with 675 injuries and six deaths per year.
The city data also included numbers on pedestrian crashes. The city reported 309 pedestrian crashes in the last decade with 19 fatalities. Pedestrian crashes increased from 23 to 25 last year with one fatality but were down from a high of 37 with four fatalities in 2005. About a third of all fatal city accidents involve pedestrians. Which is why the $495,000 SRTS grant is so wonderful.
A more appropriate name for the above article would have been “Bike Crashes Injure Hundreds Over 10 Years“, or better yet “City Releases Data on Cyclist Accident Rates.“ Sensationalist headlines like this only serve to focus on the negative aspects of cycling, and attempt to push it away as a fringe activity risked only by daredevils.