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Right of Way – Data as Defense

by Kate Trainor on October 6, 2007

Messenger_blur Right of Way - Data as Defense

Stand at a busy street corner in midtown any weekday morning and just watch what happens. You’ll see a dozen dangerous crimes a minute: drivers "squeezing" the light or just plain ignoring it, drivers bullying pedestrians out of the crosswalk in a very lopsided game of "chicken," drivers stomping on their accelerators and peeling out of a stalled lane into another that offers an irresistible ten feet of Open Road, only to shudder to a squealing stop half a second later.

Enforcement is essentially nonexistent: when was the last time you saw, or heard of, a driver being ticketed for not yielding the right-of-way to a pedestrian? Or for reckless driving after forcing a cyclist off the road? It just doesn’t happen.

It is in response to these everyday experiences that Charles Komanoff and Michael Smith founded the Right of Way organization (with the website mirrored at www.cars-suck.org). Based in New York City, the duo fights for pedestrians’ and cyclists’ rights. The main objectives of Right of Way are: enforcement; reducing the flow of traffic; traffic engineering for people; and education of drivers
“Cars suck. Does that mean all cars suck?” asks Smith. “Of course not. What sucks is car dependence — car worship — car tyranny — car violence.”
In addition to their activist efforts, including painting memorial stencils of citizens run down by motorists and working to hold negligent motorists accountable, Komanoff and Smith are taking a hard look at transportation data and authoring studies to strengthen their cause.
Komanoff and Smith’s seminal The Only Good Cyclist was authored in response to the NYPD’s 1999 claims (made without corroborating data) that cyclists were to blame for 75% of cycling deaths. The Only Good Cyclist methodically analyzes available data and reveals that the off-the-cuff “findings” of the police were inverted. In fact, drivers were highly culpable in 58% of reported incidents, and partially culpable in at least 78%.

Killed By Automobile, Komanoff’s next comprehensive study, adds pedestrians to the equation and delves into some of the root causes of collisions. Some eye-opening stats jump out:

  • Drivers are at fault in almost 90% of pedestrian and bicyclist deaths.
  • Aggressive turning through crosswalks is the single biggest known cause of pedestrian deaths. The oft-scapegoated Drunken driving ranks 12th.
  • In over 90% of pedestrian fatalities, the driver is male (compared to a 75% incidence of male drivers in Manhattan). Per mile driven, male drivers killed bicyclists at 10 times the rate of female drivers.
  • The most frequent cause is a turning vehicle in a crosswalk striking a pedestrian. Speeding, and driving through a red light or stop sign, are the next most frequent causes.
Theories abound about how to protect cyclists and pedestrians and to make our cities safer. It’s only through crunching the numbers and looking at hard data, like Right of Way is doing, that we ensure our energies are well-targeted and we’re really making a difference.
Not all of the study’s stats are so disheartening. For example, the number one action that increases cyclists’ safety? It’s not helmets, lights, reflective vests, etc. It’s more cyclists! From Killed by Automobile:

Researchers in several countries are documenting, and quantifying, this safety-in-numbers effect: they’re observing a “power law” relationship of approximately 0.6 between cyclist numbers and cyclist safety.

What does that mean? It means that the probability that an individual cyclist on a particular road or in a city or region will be struck by a motorist declines with the 0.6 power of the number of cyclists on that road or in that region.

Maybe I should give an example. Say the number of cyclists triples. Since three raised to the negative 0.6 power is roughly one-half, each tripling in cycling volume brings about a halving of each cyclist’s crash risk.

Photo by Sailing Nomad

Related posts:

  1. Driver Kills Albuquerque Cyclist
  2. SUVs Need a Warning Label
  3. Ghostly Reminders of Killed Cyclists Haunt City Streets
  4. Car vs Bike Tensions Heat Up
  5. Bikes, Cars, Helmets, and Psychology
  6. Recent Posts

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