Study Finds Cyclists Need Safer Streets

(Editor’s Note: A lot of what’s in this post, available at Streetsblog,  but its findings certainly apply to Los Angeles as well.-DN)

A Hunter College study on cyclist behavior is making the rounds today, getting a long post on City Room.
The data measure the extent to which cyclists take safety precautions
and follow traffic laws. Helpful stuff to know, except that the
findings are presented in a way that feeds into the worst stereotypes
about cyclists and a blame-the-victim mentality toward traffic injuries
and deaths.

In the post, headlined "Study Finds
Cyclists Disobey Traffic Laws," the report authors call for greater
helmet use and adherence to traffic laws. Again, all well and good, but
leaving it at that reinforces the perception that cyclists would be
much safer if only they obeyed the letter of the law. It’s easy to hear
echoes of NYPD’s insistence, in the waning days of the Giuliani
administration, that "cyclist error" was to blame in three quarters of
deadly crashes. A follow-up study conducted by the advocacy group Right
of Way [PDF] found otherwise:

Through
careful reconstruction of crash circumstances, we were able to assign
responsibility in 53 of the 71 fatal bicycle crashes during 1995-1998
for which we obtained police crash reports. We determined that drivers
were highly culpable in 30 cases, partly culpable in 11 cases, and not
culpable in 12 cases. Driver misconduct was thus the principal cause in
57% (30 out of 53) of the cases and a contributory factor in 78% (30
plus 11, or 41, out of 53).

Another
way to view the Hunter College findings is that rates of traffic
violations among cyclists are symptomatic of a system designed mainly
to accommodate cars. In other words, cyclists follow the rules more
when they feel safe. (City Room cites TA’s Wiley Norvell to this
effect, toward the bottom of the post.) This has been borne out on
Ninth Avenue, where according to DOT’s data, the incidence of sidewalk
riding declined from five percent to below one percent after the
protected path was installed.

As Norvell told Streetsblog, "A
lot of the traffic violations we see out there happen on streets that
have absolutely no provision for the safety of the cyclist."