51-year old cyclist killed in Riverside County; SoCal counties on pace for 2nd worst year since 2005

According to the Riverside Press-Enterprise, a 51-year old cyclist was killed while riding in the Jurupa Valley section of Riverside County on Wednesday night.

Michael Biel was riding on Rubidoux Blvd south of 26th Street around 9:40 pm when he was hit by an oncoming truck; he was pronounced dead at the scene. The investigation is continuing; no other information is available at this time.

This is the 44th confirmed bike-related traffic fatality in Southern California this year, and the eighth in Riverside County; Biel is the 3rd Riverside County cyclist to die in just the last two weeks.

The eight cycling deaths in the county now equal or exceed the annual total of each of the last three years for which records are currently available, with just 7 bicycling fatalities for Riverside County in all of 2009.

………

If you think there’s been a lot of cycling fatalities this year, you’re right.

The seven counties of Southern California are on pace for 79 traffic-related cycling deaths this year, second only to the 89 deaths in 2006 among the last five years on record, from 2005 to 2009. And 11 more than the five year average of 67.8.*

Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino Counties are currently on pace to meet their five year averages 24.2, 13 and 7.4, respectively. Riverside, Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties are on a slightly above average pace, though it should be noted that Santa Barbara averages less than 2 deaths per year.

San Diego is having by far the worst year of any county in Southern California, on pace to nearly triple their annual average of 6.8 traffic-related cycling deaths.

To put it in perspective, that projected total of 79 cycling fatalities for the seven Southern California counties represents nearly 80% of the roughly 100 bicycling deaths that occur in the entire state each year.

Yes, we’re having a horrible year.

And those numbers aren’t just statistics. They represent parents, children, spouses, family, friends and co-workers who won’t be coming home tonight.

Or ever again.

*Fatality statistics based on figures provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; this years figures are based on deaths reported by the new media, and may not include all fatalities as some may have gone unreported.

Update: In response to a request in the comments, I’m providing the yearly fatality stats from the NHTSA, as well as the monthly statistics for this year.

NHTSA cycling fatalities for the seven counties in Southern California (listed above) from 2005 to 2009:

2005 = 76; 2006 = 89; 2007 = 64; 2008 = 55; 2009 = 55

Monthly confirmed traffic fatalities as of August 8, 2011, excluding shootings; dates are based on the date of collision, rather than the date of death:

Jan = 8; Feb = 5; Mar = 6; April = 5; May = 5; June = 5; July = 9; August = 3 (through first 8 days); Current total for 2011 = 46, there were two additional fatalities after the post about Michael Biel was originally written

17 comments

  1. 3 cyclist fatalities so far in Santa Cruz County for 2011. Normally we get zero, so it’s a much worse year than usual. I knew the first one, a student at UCSC. In his case it was a solo crash on a mountain bike trail. The other two were hit-and-runs, both on roads with eight foot bike lanes.

    For Santa Clara County I think we have a single fatality, and that was a heart attack during a charity ride. . (I could be wrong — haven’t tracked Santa Clara too closely this year). A professor who was greviously injured in a left cross by an unlicensed driver last May remains in intensive care.

    Curious: How do you project 79 fatalities for the year? Are they usually evenly distributed over 12 months? In most years the number of cyclists (and, hence, the traffic collisions) begins to drop off in September, and drops almost to nothing after daylight savings ends in November. Still, 44 is an astonishingly high number for the year.

    • bikinginla says:

      I’m basing it on a simple monthly average, projected out to 12 months. Down here, we don’t see the summer spike you might expect elsewhere, as many cyclists ride year round.

      So far, July has been the worst month with 9 fatalities, followed by January with 7; the rest are fairly evenly spread out.

      I should also note that I have excluded shootings from these figures; another 6 bike riders have died as a result of shootings, bringing the overall total to 50 so far this year.

  2. That is a really crappy stretch of road to be riding on. No bike lanes, no sidewalks, no shoulders, high speed, poor lighting and a lot of big rigs use it as a shortcut over the hill to Colton and the 10. (Rubidoux becomes Cedar Ave.)

    I am curious to hear about the circumstances of the crash, though, because I know of a lot of people in the area who ride against traffic- contending that it’s safer because they can see the cars coming. The fact that he was hit by an oncoming truck leads me to think Mr. Biel may have been one of them- and this may be a way to teach others in the area about the danger of riding against traffic.

    • bikinginla says:

      Thanks for information, Justin. I don’t know that area at all, so I couldn’t offer any insight into the road or the people who use it.

      And you’re right, riding against traffic is always a bad idea — it shortens the reaction time and increases the severity of a collision, while drivers don’t expect to see anyone coming towards them.

  3. Tony says:

    How are these fatalities derived? It sounds like a whole range of causes are in there judging from the comments. Some such are RTAs are a direct consequence of cycling, some like the heart attack mentioned are coincidental and I would imagine in the six shootings cycling was peripheral to something else going on. It seems a little more selectivity in counting only those that happened because someone was on a bike rather than they happened to be on a bike at the time to get a true picture.

    • bikinginla says:

      The only deaths included in the statistics above occurred in a collision or solo accident, and as a direct result of riding a bike. I purposely excluded shootings from the stats in the original post, only mentioning them in response to Richard’s comment.

      And while Richard referred to a death by heart attack in Santa Clara, I have not included any deaths by natural causes in these statistics.

  4. […] “If you think there’s been a lot of cycling fatalities this year, you’re right.” (Biking In L.A.) […]

  5. sautedman says:

    I really like how you are tallying everything up (even if it is a bit macabre). I think it would help a lot if you gave us a bit more information:

    what is the typical amount of variation from year to year in cycling fatalities? It isn’t enough to give averages, we need the standard deviation to know if cyclists are really dropping like flies in comparison with other years.

    how much is this correlated with a rise in ridership (assuming there is a rise)? Rather than a monolithic “dead cyclists in SoCal” statistic, it would be more helpful to normalize it to “dead cyclists in SoCal per X miles travelled”. That way, we can be sure of what the situation is.

    This is information that really should be included in the main article, not the comments, and if you can’t get the statistics, you should say that in the main article.

    • bikinginla says:

      Unfortunately, what you’re asking for is the Holy Grail of both bike advocates and traffic planners.

      But to the best of my knowledge, no one has tracked ridership statistics to accurately determine whether ridership is in fact up, let alone provided an accurate estimate of miles travelled by bike. At this point, any such estimate would be nothing more than a vaguely informed guess.

      I’ve answered questions in the comments because most readers are more likely to subscribe to the comments than keep checking back to see if the post has been updated; however, I will provide what information I have to answer your questions.

  6. sautedman says:

    Also, is there evidence that there is no summer spike in ridership? If you can list the month-to-month fatalities, it would be pretty easy to run some statistics on them to see if that is true.

    • sautedman says:

      er, I guess there are two things that have to be listed, month to month ridership and month to month fatalities.

  7. Tony says:

    I was looking at it in comparison to London and it would certainly be interesting to know some more details. For example if you look at London it has about 13 deaths a year from a population of one third of that of SoCal. So pro-rata that’s about 40 a year.

    But those 13 deaths are from 200 million journeys so about one death per 20 million journeys. On that basis you are more likely to win the lottery. So while the headline numbers seem bad, in reality you would have to be very very very unlucky for it to be you. Do you have any comparable data on number of journeys or distance involved. While its no consolation, you are actually much more at risk of death or serious injury as a pedestrian than as a cyclist.

    • bikinginla says:

      Unfortunately, I know of no valid stats on how many bike journeys in any or all of the counties in Southern California.

      I agree that the risk posed by cycling collisions is extremely low compared to other modes of transportation. One study places the lifetime odds of dying in a motor vehicle collision in the U.S. as 1 in 82, with a 1 in 730 risk of dying as a pedestrian, and 1 in 4544 of dying in a traffic collision while riding a bike. Of course, that does not take into account the relative disparity in miles travelled.

  8. John S says:

    I want to know what your point is? You draw attention to bicyclist dying. You’ve done that in the past to call out shooting/gang related, wrong way riding, and everything else mixed in between and drawn it to bicyclist. You’re doing a great job of scaring people to NOT riding. What you are doing is kind of like sensationalizing what the media already does. People fear their neighors, letting there kids out to play and etc.

    • bikinginla says:

      My point in calling attention to these deaths is simple. I will continue to scream bloody murder from the rooftops until people stop dying on our streets. One death is too many; 44 is inexcusable.

      The simple fact is, while cycling is a relatively safe method of transportation, too many people die on our streets simply because they chose to ride a bike. If we continue to ignore it, people will continue to die, just as they have for far too many years.

      I think it’s also important to tell the story so the victims are not forgotten. When I started writing about this, it wasn’t uncommon for the press to offer nothing more than a paragraph saying someone had been killed, with no explanation how it happened or who the victim was – sometimes, not even a name, let alone anything about them. Now the press is more likely to give it the attention it deserves; whether that has anything to do with my efforts is for others to decide.

      I’m sorry you feel I’m sensationalizing these fatalities. However, I’ve heard from a number of friends and family members of the victims, none of whom have complained about my coverage of their loved ones. Most seem to appreciate the attention, and I’d glad if my words give them some small comfort in their time of loss.

      Trust me, I would much rather write about anything else. But if calling attention to these deaths helps call attention to the problems on our streets, or encourages one cyclist to ride safer or a single driver to watch for riders and drive more carefully, then it is more than worth it.

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