Safety in Numbers

Elly Blue’s article on safety in numbers is making the rounds in the cycling blogosphere / Twittersphere / Facebook-o-sphere, and it’s worth repeating: safety for cyclists seems to improve when there are more of us on the road.


El Camino Real

Ms Blue notes recent research from New York and Portland that backs up data from Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, 14 European countries and 68 Californian cities on research published in 2008.

“It appears that motorists adjust their behaviour in the presence of increasing numbers of people bicycling because they expect or experience more people cycling,” says Sydney University’s Dr Chris Rissel, one of the authors of the 2008 study. “Also, rising cycling rates mean motorists are more likely to be cyclists, and therefore be more conscious of, and sympathetic towards, cyclists.”

Risser and his colleagues built on research on pedestrian and cycling safety dating back to the 1940s, when traffic engineers first noticed that driving was safer in areas where there are more cars on the road. In the 1970s, traffic engineers began to model pedestrian safety and noticed walking is more dangerous where fewer people do it. Through the 90s, traffic calming advocates noted that danger for children increases on streets where yards and sidewalks have been abandoned in favor of indoor activities. For cycling advocates, Peter Jacoben’s Safety in Numbers article published in 2003 is probably the best known to wonky cyclists who follow this stuff.

The real world application: the number of cyclists on the road quadrupled in San Jose California between 2005 and 2008. You’d maybe expect a quadrupling in the number of cyclist fatalities as well, especially since all of those new cyclists are inexperienced and maybe tend to crash more. We see about two to six cyclist fatalities each year in all of Santa Clara County (which encompasses sevens time the area of the city of San Jose); while 2008 was an outlier at six fatalities (2 of whom were killed by a sleeping sheriff’s deputy who veered into them), it wasn’t a quadrupling. In spite of the huge and visible increase in bikes in San Jose and environs, there wasn’t a corresponding increase in cyclist fatalities.

San Jose Bike Party (pictured above , when about 3,000 cyclists took the lane on El Camino Real through Santa Clara) is a good illustration of this. Literally thousands of people hit the streets. There are incidents (mostly from the sheer mass of people and some drunken stupidity), but if you steer clear of the idiots among the cyclists you don’t really need to worry much about the car traffic.

And golly! The next SJBP is this Friday! The “Ride of the Living Dead” begins 8 PM on October 15. This month marks SJBP’s 3rd year of riding.

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