home

Study claims severe injuries are result of lagging bike infrastructure

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on October 20th, 2009 at 10:05 am

"The government is pushing bike days, and rebates for bike use. Communities are putting in bicycle kiosks." However, there is only limited data to show that "we have bikeways to support this increase in bike use."
-- from a Reuters story about a new study on bicycle-related injuries

A new study from Colorado has found that bicycle-related injuries in the United States are becoming more severe, leading researchers to conclude that bike infrastructure is not keeping up with the increased number of riders.

From Reuters:

The findings stem from a study of 329 bicycle injuries treated at the Rocky Mountain Regional Trauma Center at Denver Health Medical Center from 1996 to 2006...

The rise in injury severity likely reflects an increased rate of "motor vehicle associated injuries, which might suggest, along with a trend toward older age, that the injuries occurred in commuters more frequently than the past, as opposed to recreational riders,"...

Although the public is very enthusiastic about bicycle use as a means of transportation, we think that infrastructure has lagged behind in the US," he [researcher Dr. Jeffry Kashuk] explained. "The government is pushing bike days, and rebates for bike use. Communities are putting in bicycle kiosks." However, there is only limited data to show that "we have bikeways to support this increase in bike use."

The size of the study is very small, but if the number of people that have emailed it to us is any indication, its conclusions have garnered attention (it's also worth noting that Denver isn't exactly known for being a safe biking haven; it's currently a "Bronze" level Bicycle Friendly Community).

However, if this trend was typical for other cities, it would seem to fly in the face of a very important study often cited by bike advocates and planners that says a rise in bike use actually makes biking safer. I'm referring to Peter Jacobsen's "Safety in numbers" paper that was published in 2003.

As more cities around the country push to encourage cycling, Jacobsen's hypothesis -- which is not without its detractors (usually those who also espouse the edicts of "vehicular cycling" like John Forester and John Schubert) -- is also gaining attention. It's cited in the recently released Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030 and the idea shows up in this Scientific American podcast published last month (and note the comments below it from the aforementioned Schubert and Forester).

In Portland, traffic safety experts have found that Jacobsen's theory holds true -- the rate of bicycle crashes has gone down as bike use has gone up. Futhermore, according to Greg Raisman with the Bureau of Transportation, as bike use has increased, the safety of streets for all road users has improved.

However, I've also heard PBOT's bike coordinator Roger Geller admit that many of Portland's existing bikeways have not kept up with the skyrocketing growth in the number of people who use them.

What do you think? Is an obligation to protect new riders a strong argument for advocates in pushing for quicker implementation of bikeways? Or is the Denver study just an anomaly?

Email This Post Email This Post

Possibly related posts


Gravatars make better comments... Get yours here.
Please notify the publisher about offensive comments.
Comments
  • peejay October 20, 2009 at 10:15 am

    As a vehicular cyclist, I fully see the need for separate bike infrastructure as well. Riding mixed in with cars is just not feasible for beginners or people who are not in above-average health, and shouldn't be forced on people as a precondition to cycling. So, yes, I agree that we do need more infrastructure. Because the more people on bikes -- wherever they ride -- the better it is for me, too.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • t.a. barnhart October 20, 2009 at 10:15 am

    not just infrastructure - lack of maintenance of what we have. i broke my shoulder in March when i wiped out on gravel that had not been swept up after the snow & ice storms in December. a big rainstorm & cars zooming by threw all that gravel from the road way onto the sidewalk that serves as a bike path (SW Hood, as it wraps under the Ross Island Bridge; my then-route to work) and zap. when i called the city later, it got cleaned the next day. too late for me, of course.

    it's one thing to get infrastructure built. keeping it maintained has to be part of the plan. the green bike boxes are peeling off; many bike lane markings are disappearing; it does us no good to get stuff built if it simply deteriorates. it's like our folk said about getting a dog: if we do, you have to take care of it.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • toddistic October 20, 2009 at 10:15 am

    Having just spent a week in Denver on business I understand why they're rated a bronze city. They had bike lanes, sharrows and a fair bit of bike specific infrastructure. I saw a number of bike commuters in downtown, their downtown is of similar size to portland except their blocks are about twice as long. It was also aparent why they are only a bronze city. I noticed that with these longer streets the speed of car traffic in the downtown core was significantly higher between lights.

    They do not have nearly the mode split as we do in Portland but it was an encouraging sign of things to come for Denver if they continue to invest in their bike infrastructure.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Bahueh October 20, 2009 at 10:54 am

    Increased injuries could also "likely" mean that there are more new riders who can't fully control their bikes yet or adequately judge their speed/control in a given set of circumstances (or choose not to).

    You can extrapolate any set of conclusions from "limited data"...

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • neversummer October 20, 2009 at 10:55 am

    If Portland wants to have a cycling environment that is safe and comfortable for those who fall outside of the “strong and fearless”, and “enthused and confident” categories, then I believe we need cycling specific infrastructure. As a person who falls into the latter category and has employed VC techniques over the years, my experience suggests it’s sketchy at best and produces conflict. Aside from that, I now measure safety and comfort from the skill set of a 6 year old. I do not consider our existing infrastructure, or VC concepts to be safe and comfortable for children.

    I love the idea of 20 minute neighborhoods and 30% of trips by bike, but we’ve got a lot of work to do to make it safe and conformable enough to support those ideals.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Nick V October 20, 2009 at 10:57 am

    I've been injured pretty badly twice. One might blame it on lack of infrastructure for bicycles. I prefer to blame stupid drivers, one of whom would not admit fault and so her insurance company was forced to give me ten grand. Hoo-ah!

    There will always be stupid/distracted/uneducated drivers. Therefore, I would fully support separate roads and pathways for cyclists as long as they were safe, easily accessible, and well lit during the winter and late night hours.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • G.A.R. October 20, 2009 at 10:59 am

    To what degree has bicycle use changed over the time period being studied? Perhaps the rate of injury has gone down, per person-km. I'm all in favor of infrastructure, but this study has more to say about hospital infrastructure than highway infrastructure. In other words, Dr. Kashuk is successfully justifying more support for his trauma center. He's not convincing us that we need more bike lanes. Based on other comments I would guess that there has been some growth in bike lanes in Denver. Based on this study one could not disprove that increases in bike infrastructure actually cause increased injuries.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • benefit of the doubt October 20, 2009 at 11:33 am

    There's an assumption that the 329 injury accidents in this study may somehow be related to cycling on public roads. But there is no citation that this is true at all. In fact, given the popularity of off road cycling near Denver, I would deeply suspect ANY conclusions about road cycling infrastructure made from this report.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Schrauf October 20, 2009 at 11:44 am

    Obviously the rise in injuries is the result of brakeless fixies.

    Just kidding. That was soooo 2008...

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Nick V October 20, 2009 at 12:11 pm

    Whether or not the conclusions are legit, I'll agree to anything that gets us more cycling routes.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • rrandom rider October 20, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    It doesn't have to be an either/or choice between shared roadways and bike exclusive infrastructure. I'm not saying that I am seeing it here, but it seems that this sort of conversation has a tendency to quickly degenerate into a binary argument.

    Both modes have their place and both need to be expanded in the Portland metro area to accommodate current and future riders.

    Personally, I am comfortable riding in traffic when on my own. However, my wife, especially when hauling the kids on the Xtracycle, is not at a level where she should be mixing with motor vehicles.

    The more choices that are available to bicyclists, the more likely they are to choose the one that works best for them and the other traffic around them. Really, everyone benefits in regards to safety and riding/driving speeds when cyclists can pick a route appropriate to their level of riding.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • jacque October 20, 2009 at 12:28 pm

    Ha Ha
    Good one GAR!
    This "study" could just as easily be used to say that increased cycling infrastructure results in increased injury. And I hope someone looks into that. It would be consistent with other studies that have shown just that.
    Jonathan, I'm surprised when you say that "Jacobsen’s hypothesis ...is not without its detractors (usually those who also espouse the edicts of “vehicular cycling”
    I would think it would be the opposite! Isn't "Safety in numbers" the counter argument to the need for "safer" infrastructure?
    Of course, I realize that the city is using Jacobsen's study to justify building bike lanes etc, so that people "feel" (even though they are not)safer because the city believes this will result in more riders, and in THAT way, increase safety. That's one tact to take... but it seems like there is a more direct way of increasing the feeling of safety... Slowing down motor traffic, (with both reduced speed limits, and the use of chicanes etc)and enforcing motor vehicle laws. These two things would go a long way to solving the problem of "not feeling safe".
    I should look at this "study" before being more critical... but it seems very flimsy, and the conclusions, as reported, seem without merit.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • jacque October 20, 2009 at 1:10 pm

    I haven't found a copy of the actual study yet... but in reading lots of the reports, it seems clear that the good doctor has demonstrated that cars crashing into you can really mess you up.
    "We were astounded by that data," said Dr. Jeffry Kashuk,"We're talking about injured spleens and livers, internal bleeding, rib fractures, and hemothorax [blood in the chest]"
    "If our data is a microcosm of what is going on nationally, we may be on the cusp of an injury epidemic."

    The problem is the automobile. There are too many of us driving, we go too fast, we don't look out for others, and our roads have been built to accommodate the numbers, the speeds, and the distracted drivers. How about re-engineering the road to reduce auto speed, and to discourage unnecessary auto use? Responsibility for these injuries should fall on the perpetrators. But instead of pointing out the elephant in the room... out of control automobilism... the doctor actually says helmets would help... I guess he's got a spleen, liver, rib, and chest helmet in mind.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • El Biciclero October 20, 2009 at 1:11 pm

    "It doesn't have to be an either/or choice between shared roadways and bike exclusive infrastructure." --rrandom rider

    It does as long as so-called "mandatory sidepath" laws are in effect. These make it illegal to ride in the street if there is a MUP alongside the road. And MUPs (NOT "bike" paths) are what seems to get constructed around here as "separated" infrastructure. I'd rather have a bike lane or nothing rather than a MUP I'm legally bound to use.

    This is the tension: new and casual/infrequent riders want a "safe" place, away from cars, to tool around and poke along "for fun", while experienced commuter types who aren't afraid of traffic want to get where they are going rather than poke along with the kids, dogs, geese, strollers, etc.

    However, with current Oregon law, and current motorist thinking (i.e., "if there's a "bike path" bikes don't belong in the street!"), it is nearly impossible to accommodate both needs.

    As far as the "cause" of injuries, I believe it is inexperience, impatience, ignorance, etc. on the part of both cyclists and motorists that cause the vast majority of cyclist injuries.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • mbsf October 20, 2009 at 1:20 pm

    Wonder if there is any research correlates the size of the cars with the injuries of the cyclists.
    Think about where you get hid when a Ford Explorer comes towards you? I see no surprise there...
    I think drivers need better training stressing that they are ONE part of traffic and that turn signals and mirrors are not mere accessories!

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • El Biciclero October 20, 2009 at 1:26 pm

    Ha--

    I thought that was kind of funny, too, jacque--the Dr. mentions all kinds of chest injuries, then talks about how cyclists don't wear helmets (he does mention head injuries later, but the initial juxtaposition was sort of ironic).

    I would say that the problem is not necessarily "the automobile", but out-of-control drivers. Cars are great tools when used responsibly and appropriately. The first problem is that our roads are not engineered for safety, they are designed for maximum throughput. A few deaths here and there is just the cost of doing business when motorist convenience outweighs all other factors in traffic planning. The second problem is that there are literally next to zero consequences for irresponsible driving. Drivers can kill at will, and maybe get a traffic citation, but often they get nothing at all except maybe some auto repair hassles and an insurance rate hike.

    If drivers knew that injuring someone--even slightly--due to their own inattentive driving would result in automatic fines and license suspension (maybe even impounding of the vehicle), I think we'd see either a decrease in incidents or an increase in hit-and-runs. Drivers need to feel the pain of the damage they do when driving irresponsibly. We have to stop blaming the victims and blame the perpetrators--and hold them accountable!

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Velocentric October 20, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    There's no "there" there.

    Show us the study! You can make up anything you want from this stupid article.
    It makes no mention of road users vs single track riders. utility vs recreational riding etc. car/truck encounters vs tree encounters.

    The ratio of admissions to ER of people wearing athletic shoes has skyrocketed since 1955! Therefore we need more jogging paths!

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • WOBG October 20, 2009 at 2:04 pm

    Hold up. Seems like the study claims that injuries are becoming more severe, *but not necessarily more numerous overall*

    Could it be simply that current trends are luring out ill-prepared newbies or rusty re-entry riders? "You never forget---it's like riding a bike."

    No doubt there are incidents where you or I could see danger coming, lay the bike down and escape with a bit of road rash---but "they" might continue oblivious and break some bones.

    Maybe education (including a bit of "how to fall" physical training) is in order, along with infrastructure.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • BURR October 20, 2009 at 2:10 pm

    motorist and cyclist education, and not more facilities, is the key to crash reduction.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Bahueh October 20, 2009 at 2:36 pm

    Does it anywhere refer to the possibility that some cyclists hurt themselves with bad decisions?

    Didn't some guy blowing a red light downtown last year get creamed by a truck proceeding through a green light?

    article seems more politically driven than any piece of real reserach..

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Blair S. October 20, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    I think a distinction needs to be drawn between frequency and severity of bicycle injuries.

    Peter Jacobsen's theory refers to crashes compared to total number of bicycle riders, and notes how as the number of bicycle riders increases, there does not follow a proportional growth in the number of crashes.

    The data from this study looks only at severity of injuries. That is, of the crashes that occur, what kind of crashes they are and what kinds of injuries result.

    I think it's entirely feasible for both of the results these studies to happen simultaneously. So when you have larger and larger numbers of cyclists in some basic infrastructure the rate of crashes goes down. But when they do occur, because an increasing proportion of cyclists are commuters vs. recreational users, and are increasingly interacting with cars and trucks on roadways instead of riding on separated sidewalks and trails, the injuries they sustain are more severe.

    I think both these studies make a great case for better bike infrastructure. More bike infrastructure leads to more bikers, which decreases the frequency of bike accidents. Better bike infrastructure reduces the chance the bikes with be unsafely interacting with motor vehicles.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • rrandom rider October 20, 2009 at 3:45 pm

    #14: "This is the tension: new and casual/infrequent riders want a "safe" place, away from cars, to tool around and poke along "for fun", while experienced commuter types who aren't afraid of traffic want to get where they are going rather than poke along with the kids, dogs, geese, strollers, etc."

    I think this tension is wholly unnecessary. Personally, I feel comfortable riding in traffic with or without a bike lane. But a lot of new riders are not going to be able to ride in all of these same situations without seriously impeding the flow of traffic and everyone is better off if separate facilities exist for them. However, if they are given a safe and comfortable place to hone their skills, they will probably reach a point where they can ride safely on more challenging streets.

    This is all part of the process of growing the cycling community. Don't we want the number of regular bike riders to increase? This is how we are going to get more leverage to increase overall bike infrastructure and convince more people that it is a viable transportation option.

    IMO, having some of the small pot of money going to MUPs that I will never use is still a positive investment that is going to result in better facilities for me and other more experienced riders in the long run.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • old&slow October 20, 2009 at 3:53 pm

    The study was interesting, your remark about Denver was off base. Denver has about 200 miles of separated bike paths, far more than Portland. The streets are much wider. The reason for the bronze probably has to do with the sprawling nature of the city. Portland has a lot of hype going on. the infrastructure here is no better than most cities, we just have a lot of cyclists. The amount of cyclists does make the difference. Go to Denver before you make a judgement like you did.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Bahueh October 20, 2009 at 4:36 pm

    Careful, making big generalizations out of poorly measured data in a small population is a big 'no no' in public health and transporation policy...
    External validity can only be accepted when similar findings are found in other towns...not worth jumping to conclusions quite yet or start expecting vast amounts of new infrastructure. Findings from ONE medical center in Denver is hardly proof of anything, other than a trend in patients visiting that center.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Kt October 20, 2009 at 5:22 pm

    The data set is too small and too limited in physical location to draw many conclusions from this study.

    Now, if it were duplicated in other cities of varying "bikey-ness", there would be more data points and the study 'might' become more relevant.

    +1, T.A. Barnhart @ comment #2. It's great to have cycling infrastructure-- and it sucks when it's not maintained, and becomes difficult or dangerous to use.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • CO October 21, 2009 at 8:57 am

    I agree with old&slow (#23) above.

    Coming from Colorado personally, and having lived in Portland for 3 years, I can say the infrastructure is BETTER in Colorado. Sure Portand has more paint on the road, but the Denver/Boulder area has MANY more separated bike paths -- most actually go under the streets, with on and off ramps to popular cross streets. There is no stopping every 2 blocks (like PDX bike boulavards), and no cars to compete with.

    I am all for "sharing the road," but a wide and well paved separated bike path will always do more to increase cycling numbers for newcomers.

    Portland has a ton of cyclists, but the true infrastructure is over hyped.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • El Biciclero October 21, 2009 at 10:50 am

    #22: "IMO, having some of the small pot of money going to MUPs that I will never use is still a positive investment that is going to result in better facilities for me and other more experienced riders in the long run."

    I agree. It would be great if we could have some off-street infrastructure for those less confident, and give the more confident riders a choice. However, this law:

    814.420 Failure to use bicycle lane or path; exceptions; penalty. (1) Except as provided in subsection (2) of this section, a person commits the offense of failure to use a bicycle lane or path if the person operates a bicycle on any portion of a roadway that is not a bicycle lane or bicycle path when a bicycle lane or bicycle path is adjacent to or near the roadway.

    (2) A person is not required to comply with this section unless the state or local authority with jurisdiction over the roadway finds, after public hearing, that the bicycle lane or bicycle path is suitable for safe bicycle use at reasonable rates of speed.

    (3) The offense described in this section, failure to use a bicycle lane or path, is a Class D traffic violation. [1983 c.338 §700; 1985 c.16 §338]

    makes choice impossible. According to ORS 814.420, if there is a MUP, I MUST use it; there is no choice to use the street. Of course, there is the "suitable for safe bicycle use" clause which could be invoked in court, if you wanted to take the chance of going to court every time you chose to ride in the street next to a MUP.

    If 814.420 were repealed, I'd say build all the "infrastructure" you want; I'll choose to use it (or not) when I think it is appropriate. The problem is that The Public won't stand for spending any dollars on "infrastructure" unless cyclists are forced to use it, no matter how inefficient or dangerous it might be.

    With the law as currently written, every bit of "infrastructure" that gets built legally deprives cyclists of some of their right to the road.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Matt Picio October 22, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    jacque (#13) hits the nail right on the head, and I'd like to add that I think the study's authors reached the wrong conclusion. (I'd need to read the actual study to be sure)

    I don't believe the amount of infrastructure has anything to do with the increase in injury severity. I believe the increase in injury severity is a result of increased motorist distraction, larger vehicles (i.e. higher vehicle mass), and higher average speeds (primarily due to transportation department focus on efficient traffic movement and specific technologies like smart lights which encourage greater road throughput)

    A secondary contributing factor is the lack of enforcement against motorists who speed, change lanes improperly, and fail to obey traffic control devices.

    El biciclero (#14) - Some commuters, yes. I've been commuting for 3 years, and I'm pretty fearless. I still would rather have a low-traffic route. Not all commuters have to or want to ride like a bat out of hell.

    And those that do... some of those folks really should slow down a bit, or at least be a little more courteous. There's as many jerks out there percentage-wise on bikes as there are in cars. (or at least it certainly feels that way)

    Bahueh (#20) - I agree on the politically driven part, but how would bad decisions change the severity of the injury? (I can understand bad decisions making injuries more prevalent, but not how they make injuries more severe)

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • El Biciclero October 23, 2009 at 1:23 pm

    "Some commuters, yes. I've been commuting for 3 years, and I'm pretty fearless. I still would rather have a low-traffic route. Not all commuters have to or want to ride like a bat out of hell." --Matt P.

    Right. I'm not talking about wanting to ride like a maniac. What I am talking about is having a choice of where I ride. If MUPs, cycletracks, buffered bike lanes, or whatever "infrastructure" might be introduced is so incredibly spectacular that it offers smooth travel in a well-defined and safe way that goes directly to my destination in every case, then bring it on. What I would not like is the introduction of something that forces a degradation of my current bike travel experience. If a sidepath does not suit my needs for any reason--not necessarily just speed--I would like to be able to legally choose not to use it. Right now, in Oregon, I would not have that choice.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • El Biciclero October 23, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    Near the Corner of Baseline & 185th (in Beaverton) is an example of the kind of thing I would not want to be bound to use.

    Right now, I illegally use the 2nd lane (the right-or-straight lane) to go through this intersection.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Matt Picio October 23, 2009 at 3:14 pm

    El Biciclero (#30) - I agree completely, that's one of the worst pieces of "infrastructure" in Washington County

    My response to post #14 was more to say that there isn't anything inherently wrong with MUPs. I think we'd both agree that the more important issue is ORS 814.420, the legal requirement to use them whether we want to or not.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • El Biciclero October 23, 2009 at 5:44 pm

    "I think we'd both agree that the more important issue is ORS 814.420, the legal requirement to use them whether we want to or not."

    Exactly. I would love for everyone to be accommodated to the degree necessary for their comfort level, as long as we don't have to go all "Harrison Bergeron" and bring everything down to the lowest common denominator.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

- Daily bike news since 2005 -
BikePortland.org is a production of
PedalTown Media Inc.
321 SW 4th Ave, Ste. 401
Portland, OR 97204

Powered by WordPress. Theme by Clemens Orth.
Subscribe to RSS feed


Original images and content owned by Pedaltown Media, Inc. - Not to be used without permission.