Sunday, October 2, 2011

500 Hurt in New York City by Bikes - Good? Bad?

The Wall Street Journal (that is mostly behind a paywall, so no point in linking to it) has an amazingly bad article titled "A Different Spin on the Dangers of Urban Cycling" - the first sentence states, "Two recent studies appear to expose cyclists as a potent urban menace." I guess for this fellow it appears that way.

The first study he quotes compares soot accumulation in the lungs of five (5!) cyclists who commute by bike in London with Londoners who don't. The cyclists had higher levels of black carbon in their lungs. When I think of something as an "potent urban menace" I am thinking it means to other people and not to themselves. But it says cycling is bad, so he tosses that into his article.

The second study has been reduced by the Internet (and the Wall Street Journal) to "500 pedestrians hurt by bikes in NYC a year." The study, done at Hunter College, was more nuanced that that and tried to determine if more or fewer pedestrians were injured by cyclists over a four year period - their conclusion was that despite more cycling and cycling infrastructure, the number has dropped (slightly). So this is a good metric - that is, even if we want to think that cyclists are a potent urban menace, it seems to be declining, or anyway not growing at the rate that cycling is growing. No one suggests that the 500 figure is good but there are questions such as, "compared to what?" and "is it going up or down?" that these articles typically ignore.

Different publications draw different conclusions - the New York Daily News takes the view it suggests a "need for tougher enforcement" which I guess is step beyond the Wall Street Journal position. But a physical fitness advocacy group takes the position that this is good news since the number isn't growing - "The city says that while bike use is up, the total number of accidents is stable. According to a Hunter College study, some 500 pedestrians are hurt each year by cyclists. At Bike New York, there is nothing but optimism." Kind of oddly put, but anyway.

This takes the "is the glass half full or half empty to new heights (or lows, depending on your point of view). And it does nothing for confidence in the Wall Street Journal.

Another point of view is provided by the trailer for the new bike messenger movie set in NYC - it makes it look like it is the messengers and the taxi drivers who are having dramatic traffic interactions.

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