Beyond the numbers: bike-car collisions in Madison

This past week, the Capital Times penned an article titled Where are Madison’s most dangerous places for bike-car crashes? in which writer Todd D. Milewski provides an interactive map detailing all crashes involving bicyclists and motorists between May 15, 2008 and August 13, 2013.

Beyond the numbers:

Bicycling vs Driving

Fatalities per million hours of exposure

Its important to remember when viewing crash data that cycling remains the safest mode of ground transportation in the United States. According to Exponent, the number of fatalities per million hours of exposure for bicycling was 0.26, compared to 0.47 for driving. As Adam Voiland of US News notes, “…in other words, they found that the risks of biking were about half that associated with driving.”

What can we learn from this data?

Bicycle education on campus is key

What jumps out at me is that the four worst intersections in regards to incidents are intersections that are heavily used by students. Not only are they heavily used by students, but they are also busy intersections in which bicyclists, pedestrians, and motorists interaction can be confusing and require additional thought and patience, when many are lacking patience as they try to make it to work on time or home for dinner.

Take University Ave at N. Park St for example: This is a very busy intersection for motorists and includes many different types of facilities that require additional attention including crosswalks, a bicycle contraflow lane, and a bike lane. In my experience, bicyclists and pedestrians at this intersection are less predictable than others around our city. For example, students commuting to campus by bicycle using the contraflow lane often leave the contraflow lane to take the crosswalk if the light is red. This creates a riskier situation for all road users, and highlights why we at the Wisconsin Bike Fed are committed to engaging college students and young professionals in bicycle education, as we do with our Choose To Commute Workshops.

Motorists may receive more citations than bicyclists, but a citation hurts less than a bruised leg or bloody elbow. Regardless of right or wrong, its important that we operate with our own personal safety in mind. There are little things that we can do to ensure that when we interact with motorists, we do so as safely as possible. Things like clearly signaling your intentions, making eye contact at intersections, and riding defensively can help ensure that you stay upright on your bicycle. There are examples of situations in which there is very little you can do, but you can be prepared for those situations as well by wearing the appropriate safety gear, such as a properly fitting helmet.

Higher speeds equal greater risks

All three crashes resulting in death occurred on busy roads in which motor vehicle traffic tends to travel at a high rate of speed. I’ve ridden down all three roads – Mineral Point, Aberg Ave, and East Washington Ave, and my wife commutes to work using the entirety of East Washington daily. As bicycle commuters, much like motorists our goal is to get from point A to point B in the quickest manor possible, and sometimes, a busy road like Mineral Point is our best option. Long term, I think better infrastructure on higher speed roads such as protected lanes is the answer, and we must continue to press our community for better infrastructure.

There are many other conclusions that can be reached from this data, what are some things that come to your attention from this data? Sound off in the comments below.

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