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Behind bike crash data; an interview with Greg Raisman

Posted by on April 18th, 2007 at 11:20 am

Cynthia Chilton, the woman behind tomorrow’s Traffic SafeTea event, sent me an interesting map the other day. It comes from the City of Portland and shows the location of all the reported bicycle crashes in the Portland metro area from 1995-2004.

Here’s the map:

“Bicycle Crashes with Injuries and Fatalities: 1995-2004”
Map courtesy City of Portland: Download PDF here (1.0MB)

To give us an insider’s view of the data, I called on City traffic safety guru Greg Raisman.

traffic safety education action

Greg Raisman at a
traffic safety event.
File photo: 8/4/06

Greg is a knowledgeable and passionate traffic safety “advocrat” (my word for bureaucrats with a heart), and he’s great at making sense out of statistics.

Below is a podcast of an interview I had with him on the phone this morning. In the interview we cover:

  • Where the data comes from.
  • The most dangerous intersections for bikes in Portland.
  • How this data impacts planning decisions.
  • How bicycle boulevards play into the equation.

Here is the interview (6 min. 26 sec):

Download MP3 file (5.9MB)

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  • Cecil April 18, 2007 at 12:33 pm

    Interesting interview – thanks, Jonathan. Also interesting is that I noticed when looking at the map that there are no “crash” marks in the section of the map that would contain Ladd’s Addition ๐Ÿ˜‰ – there are crash marks on the edge of the Ladd’s neighborhood (on SE 20th, on Division, on Hawthorne and on 12th) but none in the subdivision itself. Hmmmm.

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  • tonyt April 18, 2007 at 1:00 pm

    Well, I see a big fat nothing at the intersection where a woman ran a red light and hit me in 2003.

    Cops came, did nothing and obviously reported nothing. This just goes to show that the city is dealing with data that are being filtered at the entry point to the pipeline. This has to alter the big picture and change what areas get attention.

    If cops HAD to file whenever a ped or biker was hit, I think we’d see radically different data.

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  • Jonathan Maus April 18, 2007 at 1:04 pm

    I agree tonyt and Cecil,

    You both bring up good points that I could have covered. I will keep these in mind for next time.

    And tonyt, the lack of reporting is a major issue…both because many cyclists don’t make police reports, and I because police officers don’t always keep bike crash data on file. this would be a good topic to look into further.

    Maybe a phone interview with the new Commander of the Traffic Division is in order?

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  • Jessica Roberts April 18, 2007 at 1:15 pm

    Maybe I’m not tracking as closely as I ought to, but who is the “new Commander of the Traffic Division”? Is it Lt. Kruger or someone else?

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  • Jonathan Maus April 18, 2007 at 1:17 pm

    no commander has been chosen yet. Lt. Kruger is the interim Commander.

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  • Burr April 18, 2007 at 1:24 pm

    Not sure why you’re surprised by this Jonathan, it’s been a well known fact for years that bicycle crashes are underreported, and it’s only getting worse – the threshold for filing of a police report keeps rising over time. I believe the current threshold for filing a police report is if a crash victim needs to be transported to a level 1 trauma center.

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  • Burr April 18, 2007 at 1:25 pm

    In most cases, if a cop even shows up, you just get handed a standard DMV form, are told to ‘exchance information’ with the motorist that hit you, and mail the form to DMV in Salem.

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  • Jonathan Maus April 18, 2007 at 1:30 pm

    maybe you misunderstood me..

    I am not surprised by the under- representation of bike crashes.

    I am well aware that this has been an issue for as long as I’ve been involved with advocacy in this town.

    Back in 2005 the BTA organized a summit with the Traffic Division to talk about this exact issue. I was there but never did write a story about it.

    As for the report filing threshold, a Level 1 trauma is the threshold at which the police investigate a bike crash…but that doesn’t mean they can’t take a report for a bike crash, does it?

    Perhaps someone from the BTA or the City can tell us more about the specifics of crash reporting. I’ll check my archives and see what I can dig up.

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  • Dabby April 18, 2007 at 2:33 pm

    My wreck at 29th and SE Stark is not there either, and I filled out two police reports.

    I like this map idea, but without a more accurate accounting of wrecks, it does more harm than good..


    I could be wrong…

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  • Burr April 18, 2007 at 2:47 pm

    Given what is shown on the map, it looks like the highest number of crashes are in the innercity areas with the greatest amount of bicycle traffic – between Hawthorne and Wiedler and between E 20th and W 20th, no big surprise there. NE Broadway west of NE 15th looks to be the least safe spot on the map; the cops can give all the tickets they want to bicyclists at NE Flint and Broadway, but I don’t think that’s going to help much, I think the high crash rate in this location is primarily the result of high traffic volumes and very poor bike lane design on this stretch of Broadway…

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  • N.I.K. April 18, 2007 at 2:47 pm

    Dabby, I’d say it’s better than nothing. Mind you, that’s not saying it’s *great*, just better than no such map at all. If it were up to me, I’d say the map should include a sizable disclaimer stating that many bike accidents go either unreported or that reports aren’t always kept on file and thus the map shouldn’t be considered comprehensive as there were almost certainly more crashes than indicated.

    Or, you know, that whole business of fixing up the process so that reported incidents don’t go missing, like everybody else is talking about. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  • Todd B April 18, 2007 at 9:54 pm

    BTA & WPC… and local officials…how about pushing for a simple threshhold for reporting all collisons involving ALL pedestrians and bicyclists on city streets and state routes. This could be called ‘vulnerable street” users legislation.

    This would be important data to have completly on the record for statewide and federal saftey grants, platinum policy, and to make design corrections before more are injured. Many of the locations with the highest # of crashes may be due to too many things going on…perhaps more space for bikes (less turn lanes/ no right on red, etc.) is needed or slower traffic.

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  • andy April 18, 2007 at 10:40 pm

    The thing that got me about getting hit by a car a couple of years ago was all the different jurisdictions to which you are supposed to report. I gave my police report, to be sure (no trauma one, I’m afraid, so I’m probably not on that map, either), but I was also informed that I needed to fill out an accident report with ODOT. The thing about those ODOT forms is that they assume you were in an automobile of some sort at the time of the collision, and there really isn’t any good way of describing a car-on-bike crash (or car-on-motorcycle crash, for that matter). I was so frustrated with the process at that point I dropped it. Why can’t there be a single place for reporting a crash?

    I got lucky, I guess: my bike was a mess, but I got off with some road rash. But it was a crash, regardless, the result of a motorist who broke several laws and got away with it, and now the “data” probably doesn’t even show that it happened.

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  • Attornatus_Oregonensis April 19, 2007 at 7:29 am

    I think one reason some known crashes are not on the map is that these marks indicate cyclist *injuries.* If you had a crash, reported it, but weren’t hurt, then it wouldn’t be on this map. At least that’s my understanding.

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  • Attornatus_Oregonensis April 19, 2007 at 7:50 am

    One other thing:

    “[T]he result [of my crash was] a motorist who broke several laws and got away with it.”

    Unfortunately, cyclists, you often have to enforce your own rights. The Police are frequently anti-bike, lazy, incompetent, or “don’t have enough resources.” Whatever it is, they don’t do their job. We’re lucky we have the opportunity to initiate a civil action to recover our losses. If you’re in the situation where you end up with a beat up bike or, worse, a beat up body, call Ray Thomas or Mark Ginsberg or somebody who can help you make it right. Criminal convinctions virtually never entail compensation for victims’ injuries; you have to assert your own rights in our system.

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  • Jonathan Maus April 19, 2007 at 10:11 am

    “The Police are frequently anti-bike, lazy, incompetent, or โ€œdonโ€™t have enough resources.โ€ Whatever it is, they donโ€™t do their job”

    I don’t agree with that A_O,

    I think there are some issues of concern with the Police Bureau, but them being “lazy and incompetent” is certainly not one of them.

    I have seen the stats from the Traffic Division. They are doing more bike crash investigations, busting more drunk drivers, giving more moving violations, etc…

    They may need to brush up on their knowledge of bicycle-related laws and work on their communication and image within the community, but the guys I have met and worked with are far from incompetent.

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  • Attornatus_Oregonensis April 19, 2007 at 10:35 am

    Fair enough. You certainly have more experience interacting with the police here in PDX than I do. (And I really hope it stays that way.) And I give your opinion a great deal of weight, so I don’t know what to make of the stories shared here about police discouraging cyclists from filing reports after crashes.

    That aside, I think it remains true that no one else other than you should or can be relied upon to assert your rights.

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  • steve April 19, 2007 at 10:53 am

    Neither of my reprted(non-injury) accidents are on there either.

    Jonathon I do have to disagree with you. There are lazy and incompetent people in every walk of life and in every profession.

    Police included.

    Not that I would expect that to be a majority of them, but to say that it is not an issue with the bureau seems a bit over the top. Denying an obvious and rampant human characteristic does not make it go away.

    Laziness is a universal human trait. Willful or unknown incompetence is not without example in the bureau, as many postings on your site show.

    I understand your need to maintain a good relation with the bureau. Sometimes I get a bad taste in my mouth when I see you rushing to defend them. They are not the ones in need of defence. They appear to be getting along quite well!

    It seems important to note that the police are aware of who you are and what you are engaged in while in their company. Does it seem improbable that they are showing a certain face to you and a completely different one to other portions of our community?

    You have referenced their professionalism and good behaviour while on ride alongs and in their vicinity. What else do you expect? They know you are a reporter with a large and active audience.

    Anyway sorry for ranting. I have noticed over the last 2 years that you seem quick to defend the bureau. Perhaps you might buffer that with the need to defend us?

    I hope I don’t sound judgemental or overly critical. I value your work and this site!

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  • Jonathan Maus April 19, 2007 at 11:11 am


    You’re absolutely right. There are lazy and incompetent people in every organization. I simply wanted to point out that I felt A_O’s comment was an unfair generalization of the Police bureau.

    I do not intend to defend the police, I simply want to express the information I have access to, share my experiences, and try to present both sides.

    You are not the first person who has expressed concern about how I handle my relationship with the police.

    It’s tough for me because I see both the negative impacts of the traditionally poor relationship between cyclists and police, and I also see the potential for positive change that can occur if we do not resort to perpetuating popular myths and hate based on lack of information and direct experience.

    I have noticed that much of the negativity between these two groups comes from ignorance and misperceptions on both sides.

    My hope, and it’s a difficult one, is that by informing both sides of what I know, that we can have a more cooperative and productive relationship in the future.

    “you seem quick to defend the bureau. Perhaps you might buffer that with the need to defend us?”

    Steve. You may not notice it, but I do defend cyclists. And because I try to keep my relationship with the police positive, I am able to do so in a way that I feel they respect and listen to much more because I am not coming at them with the negativity and default suspicion of wrongdoing that I feel is too often leveled at them from the bicycle community.

    I am glad to see your comment and I appreciate you keeping me on my toes with this.

    Let me know if I can clarify my thoughts further. Sometimes topics like this are difficult to deal with electronically.

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  • 2ndAveFlyer April 19, 2007 at 11:51 am

    Ok; let’s review where we stand. 18 posts in to this topic we’re debating whether or not the police are good or bad.
    This started as an interesting interview with a crash safety analyst for the city. He provided some insights into how information is acquired and used by the department to improve the cycling experience in Portland.

    Some posts pointed out flaws in the crash reporting system that need to be addressed. AO reminded riders the primary responsibility of receiving compensation or justice rests with the injured party.

    This is all part of a democratic process. When the crash information is realeased there are going to be errors, omissions, and oversites. In part, that is why the information is put out there by public agencies, and this forum, for us to see. Let’s provide some input on that topic. We can debate whether or not we live in a police state, or if Jonathan has been snowed by the cops, down at the local pub where we can raise our voices and spray beer into the air and no one will take notice.

    I have a friend who ran into a car door opened in his path by a parked motorist along the roadside. The driver did not want the crash reported or insurance companies notified. My friend was satisfied with the generous cash offer of the driver that paid for injuries to his hand and bicycle. These types of encounters also won’t be included in safety crash data. Reporting accidents to state agencies can have far-reaching consequences that many will elect to avoid if at all possible. For safety purposes it would be helpful if bicycle crash information could be reported to other organizations, in addition to or instead of, the police or the state motor vehicle department.

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  • Dabby April 19, 2007 at 12:37 pm

    Well, I was quite injured, and pulled off of work for almost four months, so defending these statistics due to injury or not is mute…….

    Of course, I would not doubt that the police reports are jaded, as when I was hit, the police told her that she didn’t even have to fill out a police report, since I was not injured, even though I had just informed them that I was very injured…

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  • Jimmy C April 19, 2007 at 6:13 pm

    A couple of years ago, I was hit by a car at N. Going and N. Interstate Ave. Unfortunately, it was a typical scenario. A car passes me on my left, makes a right turn into my lane and I was hit. I made contact with his right rear quarter panel. After hitting me the driver continued down the road for about 150 yards before he stopped. He then came up to me to see if I was ok and with a very unapologetic tone then asked me since I was fine, was ok for him to leave. No. Since it was 7 am I had several witnesses that stopped to help and they called the police. The police and fire department showed up moments later. After the police questioned the driver, it turns out he was uninsured. Good thing I wasn’t severely hurt. My clothes tore and had some cuts, scrapes and was banged up but nothing major. I was lucky. He must have told the officer a good story as to why he didn’t have insurance because the officer asked me what I wanted to do as far a giving the driver a citation. The fact that the officer gave me the option threw me off. I asked if I didn’t want to issue a citation, you would let this guy drive away knowing he was uninsured? He said it’s often up to the discretion of the officer and the situation. That was news to me. I did the right thing. Give the guy a citation and tow his car. Get this guy off the road. If I let him off, would my accident have been documented? I doubt it. Am I the only one to experience this?

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