Bike advocates have upped their safety game. After many high-profile collisions over the past year (dutifully tracked and reported by blogger Ted Rogers), now we see a couple of new initiatives emerge from the League of American Bicyclists and Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition that try to get a handle on the extent of the harm. While those of us who work locally to highlight cyclists safety can find our progress often frustrated by local officials, with some institutional heft behind us we hope to make that inaccessible collision data available and uncaring officials more attuned to our safety.
Having come uncomfortably close to an unwelcome emergency room visit a couple of Saturdays ago after a Porsche Cayenne driver (Daniella Zinberg, plate# GKGE170) broadsided Better Bike, we are all-too-aware that safety has to be our job one. We’ve been working this issue for two years, but what to do when our Traffic & Parking Commission declines to recommend sharrows because they “offer cyclists a false sense of security”? How do we increase safety when transportation officials won’t implement road repairs or address intersection safety? What should we think when the police call a reckless motorist’s recent broadside of a cyclist a simple ‘failure to yield’? The penalty for rolling a stop on a bike is greater than plowing into a cyclist with an SUV!
These questions were in our mind between the afternoon when we re-mounted our broken ride (after repairs) and the moment only five minutes later when we were strafed by yet another SUV driver near Beverly Hills City Hall. Talk about a rude reminder: motorists feel that we don’t belong on Beverly Hills streets and will swerve near us to make the point. To put a finer point on it, the driver of one grey Hyundai Santa Fe (plate #6RXJ895) felt the need to berate the cyclist at the stoplight…despite his carelessness.
Our city leaders and officials are deaf and blind to our travails. That has to change. But since city officials are in no hurry to change, bike advocates must take matters into our own hands simply to safeguard our welfare on public roads.
We have stepped up. Local bloggers have lead the charge over the years by authoring safety tips, highlighting how cities ignore relevant vehicle codes, creating an interactive online hazard map to track collisions. The Bicycle Writers Collective also authored a Cyclists’ Bill of Rights [pdf] to provide an intuitive heads-up concerning our rights on the road. And a Department of DIY even re-striped roadway for a bike lane on Fletcher, where transportation officials feared to tread, and hung our own unofficial signage. All of these DIY doings predate recent local government efforts to address cyclist safety, by the way, but we are reminded of their necessity when a city like Beverly Hills still has not lifted a finger to keep us safe. After two years of talk, the city literally has done not one single thing.
League of American Bicyclists
Thankfully a an emerging suite of tools promises to help us improve road safety. And they come with institutional heft behind them. The League of American Bicyclists, for example, has created a state-by-state ‘bike-friendliness’ rankings website and issued easy-to-read report cards by state to show, at-a-glance, how much opportunity for improvement exists across the land to improve road safety for cyclists.
With the Bicycle Friendly State Rankings project, the League highlights just how far we have to go (as evidenced in the table of rankings).
With the report card (pictured at top) the League then sharpens the focus on the policies that need improvement. How well do we meet the “10 signs of success”? Which officials are responsible? With California coming in at a shameful #12 (behind three other states in the West) at least we know where we stand…and how we can move ahead.
But the ultimate road test (as it were) of bike-friendliness is fewer deaths on the road. A new database of bike-related fatalities created by the League called Every Bicyclist Counts will track incidents nationwide and map trends in order to complement the federal Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS). With your reports providing contextual information, important characteristics such as gender, & age (not captured today in official data) will help put lives to those statistics and help us get a handle on exactly which populations are most vulnerable. The League hopes to bring context to the collisions that thin our ranks. (Wouldn’t you know that the average age of the ten most recent fatalities is exactly the age to the month of yours truly?)
The League also wants to put a face to the name. The project’s objectives include memorializing “fallen cyclists” as well as understanding what leads to fatalities. The tools should also “hold a spotlight to the police, justice system, and media response.” (We can’t say enough about the need to hold our institutions to account as they sorely let cyclists down.) “Behind every number there is a life,” the League said in announcing the project. “Just as every bicyclist counts, every death needs to be counted.”
It’s all about the data. We hear everyday about the importance of city data, but the fact is that we can’t measure road safety like we measure utility usage. Crashes are investigated in person. Reports are taken on paper. And reporting happens nowhere close to real time. We know from our experience tapping state SWITRS data that only recently has the CHP analyzed 2010 data, for example. And the CHP can’t provide injury figures for 2011 yet. At the local level here in Beverly Hills, police collision data is just not aggregated in a usable form for us.
This data-driven effort starts small with about 150 fatalities (out of an estimated 600 annually) but with your help the database will grow. “This project is driven by a desire to understand and prevent future bicyclist fatalities through education and street design,” the announcement says. By upping their advocacy game where safety and policy meet, the League wants to hold policymakers accountable for our safety, which may be the push we need to grapple with evident official ambivalence about our welfare as cyclists.