This morning, the L.A. Times discovered the unacceptably high rate of bike and pedestrians deaths in this city. Quickly followed by a number of other news outlets.
Only problem is, they got the story wrong.
The study by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute looks at bicycle and pedestrian fatalities in New York and Los Angeles, compared to other large cities in the U.S.
They concluded that while bicyclists represent 1.7% in other cities nationwide, they make up 2.8% of traffic fatalities here in Los Angeles. And pedestrians fare even worse, with nearly three times as many deaths on L.A. streets, as a percentage of total traffic fatalities, as in the rest of the nation.
Needless to say, New Yorkers fared even worse, with cyclists making up 6.1% percent of all traffic fatalities, and pedestrians nearly half.
And the media took that limited and misleading information and ran with it, proclaiming — loudly and falsely — that L.A. and New York are exceptionally dangerous places to walk and bike.
The problem is, as stated above, this study only considered these deaths as a percentage of overall traffic fatalities. Which means that if motor vehicle fatalities in those cities — which make up the overwhelming majority of traffic fatalities nationwide — were lower than the national average, it would skew the results and make bike and pedestrian deaths look disproportionately high.
And guess what?
Driver and passenger deaths in New York accounted for just 43.6% of traffic fatalities and 63.6% in Los Angeles, compared to a whopping 86.3% nationwide.
In other words, because fewer people are getting killed in motor vehicles in New York and L.A., it incorrectly suggests that more people who bike or walk are getting killed.
What’s missing from the study is an appendix with hard numbers of how many bicyclists and pedestrians were killed in each city, rather than just a percentage. As well as individual stats for each city that was included in the study, rather than a national aggregate.
Because the one statistic that would allow us to compare apples to apples is the number of deaths per capita for each city.
Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to access stats for individual cities from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s FARS database today, which would allow us to figure that out. And let us determine whether Los Angeles is really a more dangerous place to ride a bike than Dallas or Des Moines. Or any other city of any size in the U.S.
What I can tell you is that in 2011, Los Angeles County had the lowest per capita bike fatality rate of any county from Santa Barbara to San Bernardino and south to the Mexican border, with the single exception of sparsely populated — and even more sparsely biked — Imperial County.
And the City of Los Angeles had just one bicycling fatality for every 763,940 people who call L.A. home. That’s one for every three-quarter of a million people in this city.
Which sounds like pretty damn good odds to me.
In fact, that compares with one cycling death for every 189,454 people in San Diego. One for every 116,394 in Long Beach. And one for every 69,050 residents of Pasadena.
Don’t get me wrong.
One death is too many. Let alone the four the city has already suffered this year. And nothing in this study, or the press reports that followed, considers the city’s rate of serious cycling injuries, as opposed to fatalities.
But one of that nation’s most dangerous places to ride a bike?
Far from it. At least as far as your risk of dying is concerned.
And study’s authors — and the media who ran with it — would have known that if they’d just dug a little deeper.
Thanks to Harris M. Miller II and Where to Bike Los Angeles co-author Jon Riddle for the heads-up.
Update: Evidently, I wasn’t the only one who had a WTF response to this study and the hype that followed. The Native Angeleno had a similar reaction, as did our friends at Los Angeles Walks, who offer suggestions on how to improve safety for our fellow bipedalists. And L.A. Streetsblog meister Damien Newton looks at the over-the-top — and highly repetitive — media response.
On a related note, Pasadena public radio station KPCC responds to the study by asking for your help to map the area’s most dangerous intersections. It’s a great idea.
Although checking out the map Bikeside LA already put together would have been a nice place to start.
OC Bike lawyer David Huntsman forwards word of a road raging Dr. Thompson wannabe.
The Press-Enterprise reports that 38-year old Carl Albert Robbins of Temecula “accidently” hit a rider after intentionally swerving at four cyclists riding on Rainbow Canyon Road near Temecula around 8 am Monday. Robbins reportedly drove his car at the riders in the back, then swerved again at the lead rider, hitting the rider’s hand with the car’s mirror.
According to a Riverside Sheriff’s spokesperson, Robbins claimed the riders didn’t belong on the road, but he didn’t intend to actually hit one.
So let me get this straight.
If I try to fire a warning shot past your head, but miss and blow your ear off, it’s just an accident, right?
Evidently the authorities disagreed with Robbins, as well as the paper, booking him on $25,000 bond.
A full-time — and apparently very sarcastic — parking lieutenant for LADOT, among his many other jobs, is running for president of the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council. Walk Eagle Rock sends word that he doesn’t seem to be exactly bike friendly; you’d think an LADOT parking enforcement official would know not to put a business sign in a bike lane.
And sarcastic or not, suggesting someone light up a joint seems a tad inappropriate for a city official. Let alone a potential NC president.
But maybe that’s just me.
My good friends at Altadenablog send word that Cher, the original singularly named recording and Hollywood star, apparently hates PCH cyclists.
Or maybe just cyclists in general.
But she swears, cross her heart, that she would never text from behind the wheel. Honest.
We can only encourage her to Cher the road.
Thanks to Century City cyclist and attorney Stanley E. Goldich for the heads-up, as well.
It’s been a busy few days in my inbox.
George Wolfberg forwards a link to this New York Times story of a lovely journey by bike through the French countryside.
And he send us another NY Times story from over the weekend saying cities need to lose the helmets to promote bicycling.
Or at least bike share programs.
But lets stop for a moment to consider the claim that Dutch cyclists don’t wear helmets.
Dutch cyclists enjoy some of the world’s best biking infrastructure, and ride relatively heavy, slow bikes that are easy to step off of in the event of a fall.
Most American’s don’t
American bikes tend to be faster, lighter machines that usually take the rider down with them when they go down. And American roads don’t begin to compare with Dutch bikeways, in either quality or separation from vehicular traffic.
Whether or not you wear a helmet is your choice.
Personally, I never ride without mine, bearing in mind that they’re not magic hats that prevent all harm to the wearer; you’re far better off avoiding a collision than counting on your helmet to save you from it.
But let’s stop using the Amsterdam experience to argue against helmet use here. Because it just doesn’t translate from the Dutch.
Cyclist Jim Lyle send news that Hermosa Beach has rejected a plan to put bike lanes on Aviation Blvd.
HB City council members claimed the 2 – 3 person Public Works Department had more pressing issues, and couldn’t afford the 10 to 20 hours a month it would take to save cyclists’ lives plan the bikeway.
“Once we pave our streets, let’s talk about bikes,” Mayor Pro Tem Kit Bobko said.
Although you’d think with such a small staff, they might know how many people actually work for them.
Finally, my adventure cycling, Iditarod dog sled racing brother Eric offers a heads-up about the 100-year old former French bike racer who set a new 100 kilometer age group speed record.
I plan to race him myself when I turn 100; my brother, not the Frenchman.
Of course, I may have an unfair advantage, since he’ll be 109.