Visibility On The Road

Visibility on the road is far more a matter of lane positioning and far less a matter of color under most road/weather conditions.

The proposed reflective vest bill (HB 1937) solves no problem that exists on Missouri’s state highways. Bicyclists are not suffering deaths or injuries comparable to people in cars.

Perhaps we ought to require all cars to be painted day-glo and use headlights whenever the motor is running. And perhaps car drivers ought to honk at each curve and hill. Oh, and stiff fines (percentage of annual salary) for breaking traffic regulations. How about tax incentives for not driving? Why does no safety-conscious legislator suggest any of this?

(Literacy alert: That’s a (snarky) rhetorical question.)

Here’s a video I made yesterday that illustrates the power of lane position. I had not intended to use this video in this particular post — it’s a Sunday afternoon ride, so traffic is not heavy. But you’ll get the idea. The roads involved are Seminole and Fremont. The travel lane widths in most areas are not sharable (< 14 feet). Two things to note: 1) My position throughout this video is in the middle of the right tire track to the middle of the road. At no time am I closer to the road edge than 4 feet, and 2) You’ll see a motorcyclist buzz me (2:45). He is being an asshole (note that there was no on-coming traffic). I did not feel unsafe because he saw me; he did it on purpose. A driver who sees you is unlikely to hit you — even if they are being a jerk.

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Comments 50

  1. Ian Cooper wrote:

    Are we sure this bill isn’t an elaborate April Fool’s joke? I mean, when word gets out, this is likely to make whoever suggested it a laughing stock.

    Posted 02 Apr 2012 at 9:31 am
  2. Andy Cline wrote:

    Ian… Not in Missouri — a land where being a laughing stock is proof that you’re a real ‘merican.

    Posted 02 Apr 2012 at 9:34 am
  3. Khal Spencer wrote:

    That looked real on the Missouri Legislature web site.

    Posted 02 Apr 2012 at 9:51 am
  4. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Although I can’t see exactly how much space was between you from the video, I doubt the motorcyclist was trying to be an asshole. He probably thought he gave you enough room. M/C riders often lane share or ride side by side. He may have assumed the same deal applied to a cyclist. I suspect it wasn’t a deliberate act of malice. At least from my viewing of that video. But I can’t crawl inside his head.

    I recently passed another cyclist in a similar manner while riding my bicycle home from work. I was less than five feet away from the other cyclist. The next day I got a scathing message in my Inbox (I have a hard time being an anonymous cyclist here at LANL) of how I had scared the crap out of the other cyclist and endangered him, i.e., I was an asshole. I sent back an apologetic message saying that I had not intended to scare or endanger him, that I had passed with more room than I normally passed a fellow cyclist, but mea culpa, it was less than five feet.

    Folks may disagree on passing distances, but let’s not assume they are being assholes. That’s a whole different set of assumptions.

    Posted 02 Apr 2012 at 10:20 am
  5. Andy Cline wrote:

    Khal… He passed me at less than three feet — right beside me. I feel confident in my assessment of his assholishness 😉

    Posted 02 Apr 2012 at 10:48 am
  6. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Yeah, that’s pretty damn close.

    Posted 02 Apr 2012 at 11:16 am
  7. Robert wrote:

    I disagree with your painting of driving as more dangerous. I understand what you’re saying; that 30,000 plus people are killed in the US per year in traffic crashes. However around 700 of those people are bicyclists and it’s clearly at a much higher rate per mile than it is for motorists.

    What’s especially troubling is that in Missouri, motoring fatalities have been decreasing while bike/ped fatalities have been increasing.

    I get your point, however.

    Posted 02 Apr 2012 at 5:11 pm
  8. Khal Spencer wrote:

    If measured in fatalities per exposure hour, I think cycling is safer than driving. Its biased the other way in fatalities per million miles, but bicyclists don’t ride their bikes as far as motorists drive.

    Taking total miles driven in the U.S. we have roughly 7 million miles driven per fatality. That’s a long way to drive.

    Bicycling is fun and safe. Life, eventually, is not safe, by cycling advocacy logic, since none of us gets out of this world alive. The fatality rate for living on earth is 100%. Rather than worrying about dying, I’d rather enjoy my bike ride.

    Posted 02 Apr 2012 at 5:48 pm
  9. Ian Cooper wrote:


    I’m not sure what figures you’re using to make your assertion that cycling is more dangerous than driving, but Ken Kifer made a compelling argument for the idea that cycling is less dangerous than automobile travel. You can access his thoughts on the issue at:

    Raw statistics can give a false impression, and the numbers of cyclists have never been studied in any serious way – at least not in the US. The numbers of cyclists and the numbers of trips have probably been significantly under-reported, which will tend to make cycling appear more dangerous. One example that skews the figures is freeways – these tend to make car travel seem a lot safer than it actually is. Bicycles can’t use freeways, and cars get to travel on them in a way that confers an unusual level of safety, due to the fact that conflicts are minimized. I wouldn’t be so sure that the figures truly support the idea that driving is safer than cycling.

    Also, I’m reminded of a discussion I had a few weeks ago, in which someone reminded everyone that cycling is perfectly safe: since most cyclists are killed by automobiles, it’s driving, not cycling, that is dangerous. Take all the motorists off the roads and cycling deaths would most likely drop to one or two a year. To say that cycling is dangerous is to spin the issue in a way that makes motoring seem blameless, and in a way that puts the blame overwhelmingly on the victims.

    Posted 02 Apr 2012 at 5:59 pm
  10. Robert wrote:

    Ken wrote great stuff about bicycling being safe; until he was killed while bicycling by a drunk driver. What does that by itself prove? Nothing, but it’s still worth mentioning.

    Ian & khal, of course I realize that most of those bicyclists were killed by drivers and therefore, its the driving thats dangerous.

    The fatalities per hour is much more misleading considering many (probably most) bicyclists never ride on the roads. I don’t think Andy was comparing being killed while riding down a bike path compared to on a 6-lane, 50 MPH arterial.

    I know that Effective Cycling argues that bike path bicycling is more dangerous, but something tells me that Ken would have rather broken his femur 14 times by running over an unleashed dog than rotting in the ground because he was struck by a motorist.

    I haven’t owned an automobile in years and walk or bike practically everywhere. So I don’t make these statements as a pro-mototist. You can simply take the % of trips and % of deaths and see that bicycling recieves more than its fair share of deaths. Yes, caused almost entirely by automobiles, which is why I do not want to own one of those machines.

    Peds have it much, much worse, however.

    Posted 02 Apr 2012 at 6:51 pm
  11. Robert wrote:

    It should also be mentioned that Ken uses a lot of old statistics; the downside to being dead, I suppose. The auto fatality rate is much, much lower than in 1997.

    In fact, they have dropped from 42,000 to 32,000 which is a HUGE amount.

    The improvements that led to much of this (median cables,advanced traction control, side airbags etc) haven’t done much for us non-motorized folks.

    Posted 02 Apr 2012 at 6:58 pm
  12. Ian Cooper wrote:

    “Ken wrote great stuff about bicycling being safe; until he was killed while bicycling by a drunk driver. What does that by itself prove? Nothing, but it’s still worth mentioning.”

    Why is it worth mentioning? It merely proves that cyclists get killed on the road. We know that already. It irks me that people arguing that cycling is unsafe always say this as if it makes some sort of point – as if it means anything in terms of the discussion. It doesn’t. If anything, it is merely an attempt to deflect focus from the point – sophistry.

    As for old statistics, the statistics have not changed greatly enough to form a counterpoint to Ken’s argument that cycling is something like twice as safe as driving. His analysis still holds true.

    Posted 02 Apr 2012 at 7:26 pm
  13. Ian Cooper wrote:

    “The fatalities per hour is much more misleading considering many (probably most) bicyclists never ride on the roads.”

    What? Where on Earth do you cycle? Here in MD, I occasionally see cyclists on the sidewalk, but it’s by no means ‘most’. I don’t see how cyclists could move around effectively at all if they restricted themselves to the sidewalk and bike paths only. In the UK, where I lived until the late 1980s, it’s illegal to cycle on the sidewalk, and cyclists get fined if they do it. If most cyclists cycle on the sidewalk, it’s not surprising that so many are killed in intersections. The sidewalk is a death trap. I certainly hope you are wrong about that. But if you are right, I think cycling advocacy groups need to get the word out that sidewalk cycling is dangerous.

    Posted 02 Apr 2012 at 7:33 pm
  14. Ian Cooper wrote:


    As for whether Ken Kifer might have preferred to ride on the sidewalk rather than die on the road, I think it’s deeply distasteful to try to use his death to corrupt his message and call his advocacy into question in that way. I find such tactics disgraceful! Shame on you! What is certain is that Ken Kifer advocated for cycling in the road because he believed it was the safest place to be. I believe he was and is right.

    You should be ashamed of yourself!

    Posted 02 Apr 2012 at 7:45 pm
  15. robert wrote:


    Normally I try to remain at least partially civil in these situations, but I must say that your faux outrage is a little silly. If you were really so outraged as to tell me that I should be “ashamed” of myself than I find that even more silly. LOL

    I wasn’t calling his advocacy into question. I’m a bit of a fatalist. I know that I stand a better than average chance of being killed because of my mode of transportation. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit (can a dead man be surprised?) if I was killed walking or bicycling.

    I suspect that you already understood what I’m about to clarify but I’ll try again anyway, just in case there was an honest misunderstanding about what I wrote:

    I wasn’t talking about riding on the sidewalk. I meant that many bicyclists ride purely for recreation and do so on places like bike paths (NOT SIDEWALKS). For example, if you go to any bicycle path (rail trail, etc. NOT SIDEWALKS) in the United States you will find that most people brought their bikes to that point by automobile. Those people have an incredibly low rate of being killed by a car since they do not cycle on the road or sidewalk.

    Surely you’ve talked to people who have said, “now i’m a bicyclist myself, but I don’t ride on the roads because I know they are for cars…..” Nearly every “anti-bicycling” story that I’ve ever heard starts out that way.

    To say that bicycling per hour is safer than driver per hour ignores that fact that many (perhaps most) bicycle rides do not occur on or near roads at all.

    It wasn’t a sidewalk versus road thing.

    Here is a good link that’s far more up to date than Ken’s. Bicyclists are 2% of the deaths and 1% of the trips. That makes more sense to me than “hours” since (I believe) many of those hours were spent riding purely for recreation in places where they couldn’t possibly be killed in something classified as a “traffic crash.”

    Here are the bicycling deaths in the US from 2000-2009 compared to driving deaths. You’ll notice the steep decrease in motoring deaths. To say that things haven’t changed dramatically since Ken stopped updating his page is to stick your head in the sand, I believe.

    2009 — 630
    2008 — 716
    2007 — 701
    2006 — 773
    2005 — 786
    2004 — 727
    2003 — 629
    2002 — 665
    2001 — 732
    2000 — 693

    2009 — 33,808
    2008 — 37,261
    2007 — 41,059
    2006 — 42,642
    2005 — 43,443
    2004 — 42,836
    2003 — 42,643
    2002 — 43,005
    2001 — 42,196
    2000 — 41,945

    The driving deaths have decreased by about 20% (higher than decrease in VMT) while bicycling deaths have not shown a consistant decrease. Could one argue that it’s because of an increase in bicycling?

    Posted 02 Apr 2012 at 11:21 pm
  16. robert wrote:

    On this topic: it often bothers me when people become so entrenched that they cannot possibly see any new information. For example, using Ken as a source is cool and all, but there are certainly others.

    Like studies that show that most bicycling fatalities occur at “non intersection” locations, which smacks most common knowledge about bicycling right in the face.

    Could it be that the “4%” number for overtaking crashes is not accurate, even though it’s convincing in a bicycle education course?

    Does anyone have any actual (non bike ed class sourced) statistics to prove that figure?

    I think most people are concerned about fatalities, that was my point with the broken femur thing above. It may be that most “crashes” occur at intersections but if you break a bone and you’re fine, than who cares. Now if you die, that’s a little harder to recover from.

    Posted 02 Apr 2012 at 11:39 pm
  17. Khal Spencer wrote:

    I don’t buy the 4% number any more. For one thing, I wonder whether that number is influenced by the use of cell phones and other distractions.

    Further, when you are out in the country like I am, a lot of those rear end overtaking crashes are either fatals or severe injuries because of the speeds involved. Sure, I would prefer a fall down and go boom crash where I get up to a fatal or ICU crash.

    Someone does need to compile modern numbers. My read on the auto decrease is that a lot of the recent decrease is due to a decrease in mileage driven due to the recession rather than a sudden improvement in driver awareness or safety.

    I’d still steer clear of using data to scare the crap out of people, which it usually does. Just as one doesn’t have firm numbers on exposure per hour of road vs. path cycling, one doesn’t have much modern data broken down by cyclist competence. I suspect that if one looked at miles ridden per crash for experienced versus new riders, one would probably find that Forester’s observations still hold.

    Posted 03 Apr 2012 at 8:58 am
  18. Khal Spencer wrote:

    As far as that bimodal data on age vs. fatals, here is something on return older motorcyclists.

    Posted 03 Apr 2012 at 9:04 am
  19. Andy Cline wrote:

    I like the per-hour data in general, but a question I have about it (same question Robert Hurst asks of all bicycle crash data): Does it include all ages? To be an apples-to-apples comparison it should include only bicyclists 16 and older. I suspect the death rate per hour would likely drop further.

    In terms of raw deaths, the 2009 data listed above shows that bicyclist deaths were 1.6 percent of car-related deaths — well within the mode share for active bicycling communities. I do not know what the national average mode share is, but it would be interesting to know.

    Posted 03 Apr 2012 at 9:15 am
  20. Robert wrote:


    Isnt the per hour stat for all bicycling? What % of bicycle time in the US do you think is people riding on roads?

    I’d guess that its around 50%. Many of the people you see cruising the OG paths are not going to ride those bikes on the road. Does their time count on the stats?

    Pretty hard for them to get killed by an auto.

    I think the national mode share number is 1%, which i actually have a hard time believing. It’s hard to imagine that, on average, one out of every 100 vehicles is a bicycle, and Ive worked in about 20 states in the past year. Even in places where bicycling is popular, the auto rules.

    Posted 03 Apr 2012 at 10:38 am
  21. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Do we know how any of those numbers are compiled? There is a lot of fuzz and fog in this discussion.

    Andy is absolutely right. Too many of the bicycling safety studies I have looked at lack good controls on some of the variables that are likely to influence crash rate, to the point where I really doubt we have decent enough data to even make a reasonable factor analysis study of the importance of different variables such as DWI, lack of lights, cycling experience, different facility types, time of day, etc. Its just really hard, unless someone like NIH throws huge amounts of money at you, to do those things right.

    For example, riding at night is more hazardous. But how much is due to the inclement conditions vs. clueless bicyclists riding without proper illumination?

    Another example. I contacted the Strong Hospital doctor who was a co-author on the motorcycle study. Their paper said that many crashes involving older riders were loss of control crashes, the implication being older riders are less adept at controlling their bikes. I asked whether the study authors could screen for returning motorcyclists who were physically fit and active (i.e., bicyclists, runners, sports enthusiasts) vs. sedentary. He said there was no way within their data set to know that. Our hunch was it probably mattered, but the sources of information did not indicate fitness. That is typical of these sorts of studies. You have so much money and have to be opportunistic in how to use it.

    Until I know to a reasonable statistical certainly what to be afraid of the most so I can avoid it, I am just going to ride my bike. I’ll do it using 33 years of experience on bicycles and motorcycles, my LCI training, and try to control the things I can control and not do really stupid things. I’ve had one close call with the Grim Reaper in those 33 years and can say that if the identical situation happened today, I probably a) would not have crashed because I could now do an instant turn; and b) I would be wearing a helmet instead of having a potentially lethal head injury.

    Bicycling is fun and safe as long as you avoid the bad mistakes. Absolutely safe? Of course not. Nothing is.

    Posted 03 Apr 2012 at 11:04 am
  22. Andy Cline wrote:

    Robert… Other questions: How many of the cycling deaths per year occurred by collisions with cars? It seems to me it is entirely possible to crash and die on a greenway. And, as Khal asked, how many occur when conditions favor a crash (eg.g inclement weather)?

    We really need an effort by some organization to begin collecting relevant data. PedNet perhaps? I’d volunteer the STAR Team except that we have plenty to do with other issues 🙂

    Khal… What to be scared of? I have no data, but I’ll tell you when I wear a helmet:

    1. darkness
    2. bad weather
    3. post happy hour

    Posted 03 Apr 2012 at 1:47 pm
  23. Ian Cooper wrote:

    Something like 96% of cycling crashes occur due to making mistakes that cycling safety courses teach us to avoid. One of those mistakes is to avoid the road.

    The most car-biased (and therefore less than reliable) ‘studies’ say that cycling is up to 6 times more dangerous than driving.

    That means that, even if I assume that the most anti-cycling figures for cycling danger are true, the training I got in the LCI course and my adherence to traffic law make me something like four times safer on my bike on the road than the average motorist is in his car.

    Given that, I’d be stupid to give up cycling on the road. all the alternatives (including learning to drive) give me worse survival odds.

    Posted 03 Apr 2012 at 2:21 pm
  24. Khal Spencer wrote:

    To add another comment on how many variables are confounded in studies of hazard. The Univ. of Rochester Med Center study of motorcycle crashes indicated that large motorcycles were preferentially involved. So does the IIHS research page (thanks for the link, Robert). So we have a couple variables that could be additive: older motorcycle riders whose reflexes and eyesight ain’t what it was when they were strapping young studs, and they are riding 1800 cc Gold Wings instead of a Honda 500. The new bikes are huge and being ridden, preferentially, by high income older riders. All the elements for a perfect storm.

    Bicycle deaths in absolute numbers are almost monotonically decreasing since the seventies. Supposedly mode share is slightly up. I don’t see a crisis here.

    Posted 03 Apr 2012 at 5:00 pm
  25. danc wrote:

    Hmm, this is of topic, by what about reflective vest bill for motorcyclist?

    Posted 03 Apr 2012 at 5:53 pm
  26. Robert Hurst wrote:

    Ken Kifer …

    Published results from a survey on his website suggesting that bicycling was far, far more likely to result in injury than driving (between 19 and 33 times more), on a per mile basis. Per hour would look better, but not a whole lot. He was surprised by the results, which ran starkly counter to the view he had often expressed about the relative danger of bicycling.

    Kifer’s results don’t surprise me. There are many more ways to be injured as a bicyclist.

    There are no decent statistics for hours ridden for any bicycling population, and therefore no decent per-hour injury or fatality rates. Just a lot of vigorous guesswork.


    Posted 03 Apr 2012 at 6:14 pm
  27. Khal Spencer wrote:

    There are definitely more ways to get hurt riding a bicycle or motorcycle than driving a car. But there are also more ways to get hurt playing baseball than watching it on TV. Participants ought to understand that, I assume.

    But a lot of the injuries in Kiefer’s study were so minor that the participants said they were not a concern the next day. I don’t think that is the sort of injury most of us worry about. We worry about the real body mashing stuff. Even of the more serious injuries in that survey, most were not due to collisions with motor vehicles.

    Kiefer’s results don’t surprise me. Neither do they alarm me.

    Posted 03 Apr 2012 at 9:42 pm
  28. robert wrote:

    While we can have different views and guesses about what is safer, there are some facts that cannot be ignored.

    I’d like to suggest that these two things be taken off of the debate table because they seem so obviously true (at least to me).

    *The decrease in motor vehicle deaths has been dropping at a much higher rate than VMT. So driving has become much safer since Ken was killed and stopped updating his webpage. Driving technology (side air bags, traction control, etc) and physical infrastructure improvements (median cables, few shoulderless roads) have reduced crashes and reduced fatalities.

    *While it’s true that people could be killed while pedaling down a bike/ped only path, I think we all know that fatalities are most likely to happen when a automobile is involved. I googled “bicyclist killed” and the first two pages were all auto involved. While that’s hardly a scientific result, I have a hard time believing that anyone honestly believes this isn’t true.

    Posted 03 Apr 2012 at 10:12 pm
  29. Ian Cooper wrote:

    Robert, if you think cycling on a bike path/lane/track is safer than cycling in the road, by all means cycle there. But don’t come crying to me if you end up in hospital after getting hit by a turning motorist in an intersection because you were screened from view by one or more of the various obstructions that bike path designers either fail to account for, or place in the way as a supposed barrier to collisions.

    Bike paths are more dangerous than the road specifically because they remove cyclists from drivers’ consideration until a collision cannot be avoided. This kills and injures cyclists at intersections. You may not want to believe it – many fearful cyclists don’t want to believe it – but it’s a fact. Anecdotal evidence of the sort you seem to favor is no evidence at all because it’s often misleading. What you seem to be doing is cherry-picking your data in order to find results that support your fear-based view of cycling in traffic, and ignoring all evidence that goes against that. That’s why you keep bringing up Ken Kifer’s death as if it is evidence proving your point.

    Posted 03 Apr 2012 at 10:31 pm
  30. Ian Cooper wrote:

    As for me, I cycle on the road – not just because it’s safer, but because I find no alternatives where I live. I have the choice – I either cycle on the road, or I walk. And that’s the way I like it. For me, bike lanes and paths merely complicate the issue of lane placement and invite abusive drivers to take advantage.

    Even if any of my regular commute routes had bike paths/lanes, I would avoid them, because almost every bike facility I’ve seen has had glaring and deadly errors in placement or design. I live one mile from a facility that was named ‘America’s Stupidest Bike Lane’; I live two miles from DC, which boasts 48 miles of bike lanes – most of which are striped in the door zone of parked cars. Thank goodness DC law doesn’t require cyclists to use them – although I see many foolish cyclists doing so.

    If Maryland put a bike lane on any of my regular commutes, I would change my route to avoid it, because Maryland DOES mandate bike lane use, and I prefer not to die due to being forced to ride in a lane position I know is likely to get me killed.

    Posted 03 Apr 2012 at 10:46 pm
  31. Robert wrote:


    I’m not sure we can’t seem to communicate, but you do not have any idea what I’m writing. That’s clear by your responses, which do not seem to fit the context of this discussion.

    Any idea why?

    Posted 04 Apr 2012 at 12:15 am
  32. Steve A wrote:

    I’m surprised in all this commenting that nobody noted that the auto fatality record is pushed down relative to that of cycling by lots of miles on safe Interstate highways where cyclists are mostly banned and which are of limited utility in any event (no, I’m not going to ride from Dallas to Houston very often).

    Cycling IS more dangerous per mile than driving a car. Most of that danger increase is suffered by people that are totally ignorant about safe cycling practice. And people DO get killed on bike paths far more often than you would think – and that info is mostly missing from the FARS data.

    Posted 04 Apr 2012 at 4:38 am
  33. danc wrote:

    2010 Ohio Fatal Bike Crashes by Steve Magas
    11 Deaths – 8 men, 2 women, 1 child
    Average Age – 42 — Median Age- 39
    Dark? 5
    FAULT? Cyclist – 6 or 7// MOTORIST – 4 or 5
    2 Crossing Road from Bike Trail
    2 Crossing from Sidewalk against light
    5 in Dark with NO lights.

    Riding on the bike trail and sidewalks is a false sense of safety and riding without lights at night is obvious ludicrous (besides illegal).

    Posted 04 Apr 2012 at 4:41 am
  34. Ian Cooper wrote:

    @ Steve: I did mention the freeway issue in the 9th response to the article – here’s the quote:

    “One example that skews the figures is freeways – these tend to make car travel seem a lot safer than it actually is. Bicycles can’t use freeways, and cars get to travel on them in a way that confers an unusual level of safety, due to the fact that conflicts are minimized.”

    Posted 04 Apr 2012 at 5:22 am
  35. Ian Cooper wrote:

    @ Steve: cycling seems to be more dangerous per mile, but not if we compare apples to apples. As we both note, freeways skew the figures, making automobile travel seem safer than it is and making cycling seem more dangerous. It’s a mistake, I feel, not to counterbalance the effect that freeways have when we’re talking about per mile safety. If cyclists had as many miles of freeways as cars, I’m sure the figures would favor the cyclist. Again, Ken Kifer has done the work of making an apples vs. apples comparison, and he calculates that, over a lifetime, cycling is almost twice as safe as driving.

    Another flaw in the ‘cycling is dangerous’ mindset is that the fear and loathing (fear of the road and loathing of motorists) crowd disregard the vulnerability of drivers. Often I hear them say things like “If you’re crushed by an 18-wheeler, your right to the road won’t save you”, yet the same applies to the driver of virtually any car on the road – including a Hummer. A large out of control vehicle can quite easily destroy a smaller vehicle, whether it be a bicycle, a Chevy Suburban, a Canyonero or a 6000SUX.

    Posted 04 Apr 2012 at 5:38 am
  36. Ian Cooper wrote:

    @ Robert: My latest comments were directed at your assertion that “While it’s true that people could be killed while pedaling down a bike/ped only path, I think we all know that fatalities are most likely to happen when a automobile is involved.”

    Clearly, you believe bike/ped paths are safer than the road. I don’t, and various studies and reviews (Aultman-Hall 1998-1999, Franklin 1999-2000, Wachtel 2001, Jensen 2007, Agerholm 2008, Daniels 2009, Reid 2002, 2011) back me up.

    I understand the general idea behind your posts is focused more on the cycling is more dangerous than driving issue, but that issue has no meaning for me, as I have never driven a car, nor do I ever intend to.

    Posted 04 Apr 2012 at 5:58 am
  37. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Feel free to update the numbers, but Kiefer indicates 0.039 deaths by cycling per million miles travelled, or 25 million miles cycled per death. That is a broad brush figure. You would have to ride 24/7 at 15 mph for 200 years to die.Cut your odds by not riding at night without lights or riding drunk or swimming salmon or making a fatal rideout from a sidepath and you can ride probably 400 years.

    This whole discussion panders to the WORST of Americans, i.e., that we tend to be afraid of our own shadow. If you think cycling is too dangerous then fine, don’t ride on the roads. Otherwise, fix the shit that is broken (incompetent cycling, door zone bikelanes, badly placed rumble strips, cycletracks without proper traffic controls, DMV exams without bicycle questions, revolving door justice, etc) and meanwhile stop getting spun up. The stress will kill you long before the SUV.

    Because frankly, and as Steve A will say, cycling is basically fun and safe. The out of context flinging of facts and figures to make something sound dangerous is not limited to bicycling. Of course people die while bicycling. People die doing anything because frankly, people die. If people ride enough, chances are some fraction of the riding public will die on a bike. I should be so lucky. On the other hand, I’ll never be as lucky as Nelson Rockefeller.

    We have Nervous Nellies driving two hundred miles on New Mexico roads to complain about a few atoms of radioactive material in the ground. They will never, statistically, get cancer from the rad. They will statistically get cancer from living at 7,000 feet. They stand a good chance of having a crash with a drunk driver. But they fear the rad and they ignore the drunk and the high altitude incoming radiation. Sometimes I think a lot of cyclists are, like our “concerned citizens”, likewise fixated on relatively small risks that scare the crap out of them while ignoring really big risks all around them.

    “In 2000, poor diet including obesity and physical inactivity caused 400,000 U.S. deaths – more than 16 percent of all deaths and the No. 2 killer. That compares with 435,000 for tobacco, or 18 percent, as the top underlying killer.”

    Posted 04 Apr 2012 at 7:26 am
  38. Robert wrote:

    I think you intended for your numbers to prove me wrong (that bicycling around autos is where most fatalities happen) but they actually proved me right since they all involved autos

    Remember, my point wasn’t where Ken or anyone should ride. It was that many bicyclists only ride on trails and never on the road. While its true that 2 of the 11 fatalities occured on path/road intersections: thats different than Andy’s assumption that people are killed on paths by non-aut things

    @Khal I’m not sure who you are talking about. Who are these nervous people and are they in this discussion? If not, and you’re just making general statements about why you ride, then I understand. If you’re talking about me……. I ride my bike and walk every day, and I promote walking abd biking every day. That doesn’t mean that I dont think that per mile bicycling is more dangerous.

    I still dont know what you are talking about. You seem to have me pegged as a guy who rides on the sidewalk, only rides on paths or prefers to ride on paths. None of which is true.

    Posted 04 Apr 2012 at 8:46 am
  39. Robert wrote:


    I tried using a search engine to find thise studies you mentioned. Can you supply links? Thanks

    Posted 04 Apr 2012 at 8:57 am
  40. Andy Cline wrote:

    Thanks to all for the excellent discussion so far. Please keep it up 🙂

    I’m especially gratified to see that Robert Hurst contributed. I’ve been a fan of his for a long time (not indicating 100 percent agreement).

    Question for all of you: How might we either

    1) construct an apples-to-apples study of relative safety/likely danger?

    2) find same in current studies

    Part of the frustration I’m sensing here appears to be in part caused by our inability to find our individual experiences in the current data.

    Posted 04 Apr 2012 at 9:19 am
  41. robert wrote:

    I don’t think it’s possible.

    I’ve seen enough accident reports and talked to enough police officers to know that the average officer is not equipped, knowledge wise, to properly investigate bicycling crashes.

    Since any statistics would start with crash reports, it would always be unreliable.

    I think only the sheer numbers are reliable…that 2% of traffic deaths are bicyclists.

    Posted 04 Apr 2012 at 9:47 am
  42. Andy Cline wrote:

    Robert… Might there be a place for bicycling crash investigation in the PedNet police training program?

    Posted 04 Apr 2012 at 9:53 am
  43. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Hi, Robert. No, I was not talking about you. I was ranting about the general topic of risk aversion in U.S. culture and how it creates a false sense of vulnerability in so many aspects of our lives while diverting our attention from serious problems. Please accept my apology if you thought that was a personal attack. Not at all.

    I see too much evidence of the “bicycling is unsafe” message out there and perhaps that is in significant part an underlying reason for our lousy mode share. Smoking is unsafe. Obesity is unsafe. Driving drunk is unsafe. Bicycling competently, even in traffic, has in absolute numbers a non-alarming fatality rate and imparts significant health and environmental benefits.

    When we fixate too much on the 600-700 deaths per year, all we think about is “death” and not enough about life or mitigation. Bicycling imparts good life. Risk mitigation is possible. I just finished sending a memo to the LANL Industrial Hygene and Safety Division about all of the self-inflicted risk factors motorcyclists impose on themselves which help make motorcycling far more dangerous than bicycling (drunk riding, speeding, no helmets, etc.) and far more dangerous than it needs to be. We can take home some lessons.

    There are a lot of us riding. Seven hundred is tragic, is too many, and should come down via a variety of actions we can take (both personally and politically) but in absolute terms, the millions of cyclists in this nation who don’t smoke and who don’t let their health go to hell stand a chance of a long and healthy life, living as citizens who are also making a difference in not wrecking the environment.

    So yes, a general rant about not just looking at numbers out of context.

    Andy, as far as doing a proper study? I think someone would have to write down a very complex formula for how to measure the variables, take a lot of time and effort to screen out incomplete datasets, and hope there was enough left to control for confidence in variables that emerge as controlling principle components or what have you. I am concerned that it might not be possible to retrospectively do such a study since its tough to find all the information in one place. I suggest talking to Steve Magas about this, since he has taken it on as a personal project. I think it would probably take a decent size grant from NHTSA, IIHS, or NIH and a small staff of researchers.

    Posted 04 Apr 2012 at 10:30 am
  44. Andy Cline wrote:

    Khal… Perhaps it’s time to put in exactly that effort.

    Posted 04 Apr 2012 at 10:47 am
  45. Khal Spencer wrote:

    I’d love to see a good, well controlled study. If for no other reason than we could finally put to the test many of the hypotheses that are constantly proffered as fact by the bicycling safety folks.

    p.s. One of my personal pet peeves about the selling of danger to get money and control people’s lives is a big one and has nothing to do with cycling: PATRIOT Act and related restrictions on individual rights and all that funding.

    Posted 04 Apr 2012 at 11:30 am
  46. robert wrote:

    Khal – I agree with you 100%

    Andy – The training teaches what the laws are and how to interpret them, which is the first step towards proper crash investigation.

    For example, a fellow interviewee in the video tells the story about his wife getting “doored” on the MU campus. The officer wrote in the report that the bicyclist was at fault for “passing too closely.” It took him 5 trips to the PD and meetings with senior level officers to finally get a decent crash report. Then MU refused to pay his claim anyway (was an MU employee & vehicle) and said if he pursued it they would sue him for damage to the door.

    If that officer knew that there was a law that motorists must look behind them before opening their door, he probably would have investigated it differently.

    Getting officers to take the training at all is challenging, that’s why the video will be so helpful. Thanks again, BTW.

    Posted 04 Apr 2012 at 11:44 am
  47. Khal Spencer wrote:

    Robert is right. One of the more important things that some of the New Mexico cycling advocacy organizations have done is write grants for and help administer courses in police traffic accident investigations having to do with cycling. I think BikeABQ did a program on that for the Albuquerque police force.

    Posted 04 Apr 2012 at 12:03 pm
  48. Ian Cooper wrote:

    Khal wrote: “This whole discussion panders to the WORST of Americans, i.e., that we tend to be afraid of our own shadow.”

    What with all the complaining about how deadly the road is for cyclists, I sometimes wonder how any of the paint and path cyclists get up enough courage to leave their homes in the morning. Personally, I don’t see how they get anywhere, unless they happen to live at one end, shop in the middle, and work at the other end of a completely segregated bike path. I suspect many of them are the asshats that make cyclists look like clowns by cycling almost everywhere on the sidewalk.

    As for me, other than the C&O Canal Towpath trip I did last year (worst cycling EVER, by the way, and I’ve cycled in some of Southern Europe’s worst places for cycling), I have yet to take any trip on my bike that wouldn’t require more than half of it to be done on roads with traffic. The idea that there will ever be a time when people can get their daily business done on a network of bike paths and lanes is a fantasy. The longer bike advocates keep pretending that we’re on the verge of a sort of ‘bike facility event horizon’ where all of a sudden government will see the light and implement a nationwide bike path ‘Manhattan Project’, the further we get from making any real progress in bicycle advocacy.

    The distraction of paint and path is, in my view, why we were recently nearly banned from cycling on federal roads, and it’s why stupid laws like this reflective vest bill keep coming up. Basically, no one’s minding the store, so any nutter has a good chance of getting an anti-bike law passed. While LAB is gleefully lobbying for more bits of pavement to be marked with corporal stripes or colored green or blue (or whatever this year’s preferred color is), our rights to the road are being steadily brought under fire.

    Posted 04 Apr 2012 at 12:27 pm
  49. Angelo wrote:

    I’ll make a few comments

    The discussion seems long past the proposed law, but it seems clear it is either written to put major legal burdens on cyclists, or by someone that has no experience cycling. The law doesn’t have an exemption from reflective clothing for daytime cyclists, but I’ve never heard any suggest reflectors reduce accidents in the daytime. It would, presumably, give motorists a way to transfer fault to scoff law cyclists that don’t have adequate reflective vests for their lunch time rides.

    I’m not sure I’ve seen any official statistics that distinguish bicyclists following the traffic laws from those hugging the curb and riding in the door zone. While different bicyclists look at this, I don’t get the impression advocates or state Depts of Transportation pay attention to this, so I’m dubious about statistics that confound adults, children, lane use from door zones and ignore other benefits from bicycling.

    I’ll stand by my earlier comments that I think mandatory (or illegally enforce) requirements to use bike lanes and paths leave me to believe they have broad support because motorists expect them to remove bicyclists from the road. They actually are safe if used as designed – at walking speed. Planners here tell me bicyclists are required to cede the right of way to all motorists (i.e. bicyclist is at fault in right hooks and left crosses) and have implicit stop signs at every intersection. If you stop and walk across every street (as designed) you’ll be safe. Similarly, I’m told door zone lanes are safe for beginner cyclists (but that all cyclists should use them so we can have more). They are supposed to be safe at design speeds of 5-6 mph (jogging), but the problems are aggressive cyclists who want to go faster. While they may be safe with these limits, if I wanted to bicycle at 5mph and walk across every intersection I wouldn’t need a bicycle.

    Posted 05 Apr 2012 at 1:59 am
  50. Khal Spencer wrote:

    The LAB site has this update:

    Missouri cyclists were rightly concerned about a bill introduced last week requiring all bicyclists to wear reflective vests. More than 10,000 residents contacted Rep. Cauthorn, the bill’s sponsor, and the message was received: no reflective vests. The Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation will be working with Rep. Cauthorn to examine if there are any needed changes to state law to improve cyclist visibility and create safer rural roads for all users.

    Posted 05 Apr 2012 at 8:03 am