Fear mongers be gone! Riding a bike is safe.

In the last six weeks four people have been tragically killed while riding bicycles in Wisconsin. The headlines in the newspapers can’t help but trumpet that seemingly alarming statistic, and not surprisingly many of the comments under the online versions of those stories were equally alarmist and typically, patently untrue.  As a certified and insured bicycle safety instructor, a person who has been riding a bicycle every day for the last 16 years and a traffic safety professional studying crash statistics for the last 11 years, I would like to present the actual facts about the risks of cycling. Despite the recent tragic deaths, riding a bicycle remains an incredibly safe and inherently healthy activity.

Certainly we at the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin are dedicated to improving conditions for people on bicycles, but let’s be clear, it may not always be pleasant to ride a bicycle on the street next to heavy traffic, but if you obey the laws, it is safe.  As people who ride bicycles, we can all try to keep this in mind and share the information presented below, so perhaps at some point in time, we will no longer read comments like the following under stories about someone’s death:

“It’s only by the grace of God that we don’t see scores of bicyclists in 
accidents in Madison alone.”
–Elections Matter

“I have to chime in here. I have given up biking because of the terrible drivers and my fear of them.” –Runner Girl

 “If you’re riding a bicycle, and mixing with high speed traffic, you should be asking yourselves “Why am I here?” or “Is there a better route?” Why risk your lives to see who is right or wrong when there are plenty of Bike Paths? Any legal settlement will never get your legs back?” –Michael R Starich (yeah, a real person!)

“I love biking but in no way will I ride on public roads anymore. The danger level is too great. That is my personal choice. –ST123

“I am a retired sergeant with the State Patrol … With that said I will say the vast majority of people riding bicycles do not obey the law the same as drivers of motor vehicles. Runners, walkers and people on bikes need to understand that the vast majority of our roads in this state were never designed to handle the differing types of traffic on them today. They were primarily designed for motorized vehicles and as such there simply is no way to make them safe for everyone. You can have all the special programs to raise awareness and such but bad things will still take place. Would taxpayers want to pay for restricted lanes on all streets for bikes, walkers and runners? I seriously doubt it.” –Rick H

“The guy drove his bike suicidally. He got what he wanted.” –EvilLiberal

So let the fear mongers be gone and lets try to drill down to the truth and nothing but the truth, which is that riding a bicycle is safe, and in point of fact, it is safer than driving a car. Believe it or not, those are the facts.  Look at any risk chart, odds of accidental death chart, or crash statistics chart and they will illustrate that riding a bicycle is WAY safer than driving a motor vehicle. Here are just a few sources of statistics:

Lifetime Odds of Accidental Death (Source National Safety Council)

Bicyclist 1 in 4,838    Car Occupant 1 in 242

Leading Causes of Accidental Death in the US (As compiled from data reported by the National Vital Statistics Report, Vol. 50, No. 15, September 16, 2002)

#1 Motor Vehicle    #6 Drowning     #9 Other Land Transport Accidents (including bicycling, walking, etc.)

Fatalities per Million Exposure Hours (Data compiled by Failure Analysis Associates, Inc.)

Motor vehicle travel: .47       Bicycle travel: .26

The statisticians can argue about exposure hours, rates per mile, fatalities per trip, and on and on, but in the end, all of those statistics say that riding a bicycle is a very safe thing to do.  Out of the more than 2.5 million people who ride bicycles in Wisconsin every year, on average, we have only 10 fatalities. As I mentioned in a previous post, the numbers of people riding bicycles in Wisconsin has been increasing every year for more than a decade and the number of crashes has been going down, which means the crash rate, or odds of getting hurt or killed is also going down.

To think of this in another way, let’s look at cycling from a pure risk assessment perspective rather than comparing it to driving a car.  Most everything we do has some risk associated with it, from taking a shower to riding a bicycle. In 2009, 630 bicyclists died on US roads (718 in 2008, 1,003 in 1975, see the trend?) while the National Safety Council reports that on average, 12,000 people die walking down stairs every year, with half of those fatal accidents occurring in the home.  Yet the newspapers don’t report those deaths with banner headlines like: “34th Person Killed On Stairs in 2 Months.”  Witnesses say the man was taking two steps at a time, carrying a large package and not holding the railing. And the online newspaper comments should read

“I used to take the stairs all the time, now I stick to the elevator. Those stairs are an accident waiting to happen” –Jimthepublican

“sure take the stairs, heck they were good enough for the Egyptians why accept progress, LIKE ELEVATORS.” -WIforward

Despite the number of fatal accidents, we don’t warn family members about stairs when they get up from the couch to check the laundry in the basement: “Honey, you be careful walking down the stairs.  There are a lot of dangerous stairs out there!”

Risk aversive behavior taken to the extreme to make a point. Photo from DC Rainmaker's blog.

So why is it that when a tragic, but very rare crash kills a person riding a bicycle, we all start to bemoan the dangers of the road, the scofflaw cyclists and the crazy drivers?  First and foremost our thoughts and comments should be of sympathy for the family and friends of the victim, then after the final details of the crash have been made public we should look for ways to prevent a similar future tragedy.

The point here is that it may sell papers, but fear mongering and casting blame are inappropriate responses to relatively rare tragedies when someone dies riding a bicycle, which is a generally safe activity and inherently healthy thing to do.  On rare occasions an athlete has a heart attack while running, swimming, golfing, playing tennis, etc.  We don’t rant about it and advise people to stop exercising, do we?  In fact, if you really want to look at dangerous activities, most of them happen on the couch or sitting at the dinner table.

Obesity in the US has doubled over the last ten years, Type 2 diabetes has increased nine-fold, and preventable heart disease remains the number one killer of Americans. New terms are being coined for this health crisis.  Sedentary Death Syndrome, or “SeDS” and the other health risks related to “obesogenic” illnesses are exacerbated by a lack of physical activity.  Sixty percent of Americans are at risk , and sadly even our children are generally overweight and not getting enough exercise. The cost of healthcare to treat all these preventable illnesses is expected to be more than $3 trillion over the next ten years.

Luckily, the doctor has a cure, and it is as easy as riding a bike and eating an apple a day.  Yup, all we need to do to save $3 trillion dollars is for Americans to ride their bikes and eat healthier. We don’t need any expensive Harvard Medical School studies, and we don’t need any expensive government healthcare programs.  All we need to do is get up off the couch, out of our cars, away from the buffet table and ride a bicycle. And no matter what the headlines and the trolls underneath tell you, remember that riding a bicycle is healthy, safe and fun.

Healthy Safe and Fun and on the path to Wellville! This photo from one of the Bike Fed's bicycle safety education classes.

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About daveschlabowske

Cyclechic advocate from Milwaukee
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50 Responses to Fear mongers be gone! Riding a bike is safe.

  1. Well said.

    However, there’s always something that I wonder when I see those kinds of statistics.

    What percentage of the cycling (miles, hours of exposure, whatever) measured is mixed with car traffic ? Certainly, I feel as safe as walking while pootling along a separate cycle path. I *feel* less safe when I’m out in traffic mixing it up with cars. Do you know any statistics that compare risks for road users?

    BTW: I regularly ride in traffic and don’t fear for my life, because I don’t think the risks are that great. I’m definitely more on ‘high alert’ though — always looking out for that car that’s going to run a red, or turn without indicating. I’ve logged thousands of miles sharing the road with cars, and am still here to tell the tale. Compared to risk of poor health and stress from not getting regular exercise… yadda yadda yadda.

    • daveschlabowske says:

      Hey Ben,

      We certainly need better stats for cycling in all areas, and that is one of them. That said, it is now the case that 52% of all bicycle trips are for transportation rather than recreation, so it is easy to argue that half of all trips involved an interaction with cars in some way. Also, most of our “crash statistics” come from police reports, which mean they happened on the road. Many crashes happen on trails, but they don’t make it into the police statistics. That said, any off-road crash in which a person on a bicycle was killed would likely get reported.

      Riding on high alert is definitely a good idea. Taking an adult cycling class or at least being aware of the places where crashes are most likely to happen can allow you to lower your level of alert for some of the ride though.

  2. Still Rollin says:

    Thank you for injecting some sanity into this faux debate. The Fast Food Drive Through is the biggest killer of all.

  3. applezoid says:

    I can see what you’re trying to say, and agree with the statistical argument. The same thing happens with plane crashes — you’re much more likely to be killed in a car, but plane crashes are much more dramatic, so they get reported on more and are more on people’s minds. Through association, people worry about them more.

    I’m not sure downplaying dangers on a bike is a good idea either, however. And some of the comments I read above I can relate to (others are egregious or simply inappropriate). As someone who rides quite a bit and used to commute regularly, I know that yes, it can be dangerous. However, bicyclists have a much better field of vision than in a car, and I always rode (and still do) with the mindset that “I see them, they don’t see me.” I’ve had several close calls (I used to live in a less bike-friendly town) which I avoided because I was paying attention — they weren’t. Had I not, I might not be typing this.

    Does that mean everyone should give up biking? Heck no! Just keep a mind for safety when riding.

    • daveschlabowske says:

      I think we should all start with a basic understanding of the rules of the road (the laws) and how to ride safely based on the relative likelihood of a crash, but not stress about dangers, since even with most people riding around without that information, it remains a safe activity. That said, the Bike Fed is 100% in favor of more education for people on how to safely and legally ride a bicycle with traffic and more education for motorists about how to share the road with cyclists (and pedestrians). That is really what our Share and Be Aware program and Safe Routes to School program are all about. It would be great though if bicycle and pedestrian education was mandatory for all kids. Learning the rules of the road and practicing those rules for years before young adults get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle would have unilateral safety benefits.

  4. CJ says:

    Cars and bikes aren’t the danger… stupidity and ignorance is. For every cyclist they claim to be riding recklessly there are probably the same percentage of drivers doing the same, and the cars outnumber the bikes!

  5. Ben, I understand what you are saying, but I actually feel exactly the opposite: I feel safer on the roads than on bike paths. Bike paths have intersections much more frequently, pedestrians, kids, dogs and leashes. Its a minefield of interactions. I’m by no means a speed freak, but I typically ride around 13-16 mph, and that’s just too fast to be interacting with the random walking pedestrians. On the roads, I understand how traffic works, and by using hand signals, I’ve never had trouble, even in busy areas like East Town which really isn’t designed for bike traffic. Be clear in your intentions, take the lane when necessary and position yourself to be seen and to prevent the “right hook” and riding on the road feels very safe and natural to me.

  6. Brock says:

    While I agree the statistic are good, the reality is a biker can and often does ride safely and defensively, but many drivers just don’t give a %#it. They are too much in a hurry, or talking/texting/being distracted.
    I ride 3000 miles a year for over 20 years so I’ve had plenty of close encounters, as have all my friends. My favorite are the times where the on coming car, me and the car from behind all arrive at the same spot at the same time. How many times has the on coming car hit the shoulder to avoid the car passing me. How many times is that mirror on my left elbow? It happens ALL the time. And trucks forget that there mirrors can be very wide too, even if they give you some room- less than 1/2 give you the 3 feet we should have. I’ve been slapped in the ass by a passenger on a motorcycle!

    I still will ride and ride defensively, but I’d love to have a paintball gun on my bars to nail a few of the jerks!

    • daveschlabowske says:

      Yes indeed, ride defensively. Does the conceal and carry law cover paintball guns?

      • Brock says:

        On a serious note the “accident” in Green Bay yesterday with the tandem is a road I used to ride on. I’ve been buzzed numerous times on that one. I don’t ride it any more. The Corvette was coming from behind the bike as I understand it.I’m not a fear monger, just a realist with plenty of experience.
        Very sad for the family of the victims.

  7. Robbie says:

    I used to say that any other consumer product with the safety record of a car – 40,000 deaths per year in the US alone – would have been pulled from the market in a week.

    Yet we accept that statistic year after year after year. We don’t increase the requirements to get licensed to operate this product, although it is clearly very dangerous and complicated. When people have their licenses revoked – usually by demonstrating that they cannot operate this product safely – we give them a temporary license to continue operating. We brush off operating under the influence of alcohol. We assume this product is essential to live and be a productive member of society. “How will he get to work if you take away his license?” The fines for operating without a license are minimal.

    And then we blame others when someone operating this product gets hurt or killed.

    What’s wrong with this picture?

    • daveschlabowske says:

      Exactly Robbie. If all accidental deaths were treated like those involving bike crashes we would see headlines screaming “Stairs Kill 3 people in the last two weeks alone!” Or more realistically “Automobiles killed 78 people this July, up 10% from last year!”

  8. This is an excellent piece – thanks!

    You say “we should look for ways to prevent a similar future tragedy.” I agree, and that’s what I always try to do, focusing on what the cyclist could have done differently, because that information will be useful to me on my next trip.

    How could the cyclist have behaved to not put herself in a hazardous spot? (e.g. instead of filtering forward on the right side of stopped traffic, just wait your turn in line.)

    Even if the motorist was in the wrong, how might the cyclist have behaved to prevent or discourage the motorist’s mistake, or to make herself less vulnerable to the consequences of that mistake? (e.g. merge left into a lane-control position before an intersection, to improve visibility to left hooks and pull outs, and to prevent right hooks.)

    But then I’m accused of “blaming the victim” by those – even bicycle advocates – who prefer to remain helpless, unempowered to affect their own outcomes. How can we overcome that tendency in the cycling community?

    • daveschlabowske says:

      Thank you for the thoughtful comments Bob. I understand your natural and practical instinct for self preservation while riding. The first place to start is with education. Every person who rides a bicycle, from young to experience Cat 1 racer, can benefit from learning basic skills and statistics about riding safely and legally in traffic and on rural roads. I took the class after years of racing and commuting and I learned a few important new things. A firm foundation in rights and responsibilities combined with a basic knowledge of where crashes are most likely to occur and how to avoid them is key to safer and happier cycling. The Bike Fed’s Road 1 Adult Cycling Classes (based on the curriculum from the League of American Bicyclists) do both of those things. The classes take between 3 hours and 6 hours depending on how in depth we go and the relative experience of the people in the class. We also teach crash avoidance maneuvers like quick stop and instant turn. Time well spent.

    • daveschlabowske says:

      Thank you for the thoughtful comments Bob. I understand your natural and practical instinct for self preservation while riding. The first place to start is with education. Every person who rides a bicycle, from young to experience Cat 1 racer, can benefit from learning basic skills and statistics about riding safely and legally in traffic and on rural roads. I took the class after years of racing and commuting and I learned a few important new things. A firm foundation in rights and responsibilities combined with a basic knowledge of where crashes are most likely to occur and how to avoid them is key to safer and happier cycling. The Bike Fed’s Road 1 Adult Cycling Classes (based on the curriculum from the League of American Bicyclists) do both of those things. The classes take between 3 hours and 6 hours depending on how in depth we go and the relative experience of the people in the class. We also teach crash avoidance maneuvers like quick stop and instant turn. Time well spent.

    • Brock says:

      Yes you are blaming the victim. Too bad. Many, many times the cyclist is riding according to the law and safe as possible. Yes there are bad cyclist, and mistakes can be made. However the motorist has 4000 + Lbs advantage over a cyclist. 5 seconds of patience by a motorist can save a life.
      Do they really need to be 6″ of less from my left ear? On a slow country road with no traffic? Really? i could be a couch potato and add to the growing obesity rate.

  9. Dave Steele says:

    I must admit that even after tens of thousands of miles logged on the streets of Milwaukee, and thousands of miles spent happily riding on rural roads around the state, I still have a little knot of fear deep in my gut every time I’m about to get on the bike. I’ve never once had a close call or anything truly scary happen on a bike. But I’ve never had a dangerously bad plane ride either, and I still get a little nervous on every takeoff.

    A healthy dose of fear can be a good thing. It can keep us on our toes and keep us focused. If every car driver had a little knot of fear in the pit of their stomach every time they put the key in the ignition, they would probably put down the cell phone and the cheeseburger, stop fiddling with the radio and focus on the dangerous task they are undertaking. Driving would be much safer as a result.

    But there’s a whole multi-billion dollar industry that depends on people not thinking of cars as dangerous. People profit handsomely off the sense of complacency that encourages the thoughtless consumption of cars and everything else. After all, if people thought about what they were doing, they would do it less and consume less while doing it.

    We want people to ride bikes more, but we don’t want to end up emulating the car industry by encouraging a sense of complacency.

  10. Great column, Dave.
    As Bob Sutterfield says, and as you teach, each individual cyclist can do much to ensure his own safety.

  11. Michael says:

    “BICYCLES BELONG ON THE SIDEWALK IN HIGH TRAFFIC AREAS, not on the street.” (JOHNNYNEVER, commenting on the death of Easton Shryne in Wausau.)

    Here’s an example of a common subtext in these fear-mongering debates. Motorists wanting cyclists to get the hell off of their roads…for the cyclists’ own good, of course. Whether this argument is made consciously or not, it produces plenty of resentment from cyclists, and soon we have plenty of mutual disrespect to go around.

    • daveschlabowske says:

      Not to mention the fact that in many cases, riding on the sidewalk is more dangerous and sometimes illegal. Another reason for better and more education. If it was common knowledge that riding a bicycle on a sidewalk is more dangerous than riding in the street, the average reader would immediately discount the comments from the angry trolls for the senseless and hateful banter that it is.

  12. Regarding fear-based messaging, please see also You and Mighk are kindred spirits.

    • There was supposed to be a link: http://mighkwilson.com/2009/10/which-cycling-politics-doom-or-possibility/ Let’s see if it gets through this time.

      • daveschlabowske says:

        Mighk and I are kindred spirits but not quite cut from the same bolt of cloth ;) I remain a strong believer in protected bike lanes, and I think Mighk is a bit more of a John Forrester guy. We have had some exposure to each other via the Association of Bicycle and Pedestrian listserv. I’m not sure he and I have ever actually met in person, but I would certainly enjoy his company over a beverage. He has done some absolutely outstanding work in the area of vehicular cycling.

  13. quetwo says:

    The biggest problem I see is that the people who need Adult Cyclist Training are not the ones reading this blog.

    In the city I live in, there are two classes of people on two wheels on the streets — cyclists and people who ride a bike. Unfortunatly, automobile drivers only see one. Cyclists are those who are using the bike as transportation and understand that they need to follow the rules of the road. They typically use hand-signals, understand if and when to take a full lane, and how to manivure through difficult situations.

    People who “ride bikes” (the other style of person on two wheels) either do it for entertainment or plain don’t care. On my ride home from work today I was along a very busy street (2 lanes each direction with a turn lane in the middle, bike lane on each side) and within a 1/3 of a mile of me there were two people riding in the middle lane, three on the sidewalk, one person riding in the bike lane opposing traffic and two (including myself) in the bike lane as it to be used. Now a motorist sees this and has no idea what to anticipate from ANY of us because everybody is doing something different. And when one of the kids in the bike line opposing traffic decides to make a sharp right in front of traffic to enter a street the motorists are curing for all of us to get out of the street and into the sidewalk — away from them.

    I used to think that being a cyclist was for everybody — but then we have to consider that anybody can go to Wallmart and get a $60 bike and ride the wrong way into traffic — causing a headline that reads “Biking unsafe for people in Downtown — Biker killed”

    • daveschlabowske says:

      I disagree about the two-categories of people who ride bikes. While it is sometimes easier to try to distill people down into groups for the sake of discussion, the risk is that important but sometimes subtle differences get lost. If we drew a venn diagram, there would be a bunch of different circles containing many different sorts of riders and those circles would overlap in different places. It has been my personal experience that some people who consider themselves “cyclists” don’t obey the rules of the road and some people who just use bikes to get where they are going, and maybe even long for the point when they can afford a car and ditch their cheap bike do obey the laws. On the other hand, I know the reverse is true as well.

      We agree that people who ride bicycles illegally, either out of careless disregard for the law or because they were never educated about rules of the road and risk factors do everyone who rides a bicycle a disservice. Even though we know that just as many people in cars and on foot break the law as people on bicycles, we should all try to remember we are rolling ambassadors for bicycling whenever we head out on two wheels. We should obey the law because it is the law, and because it is in our best interest to do so, but also to set a good example. For our own safety and for the sake of the image of others on bikes, we can try to be better, even if all the cars around us are speeding, failing to let people cross the street and pedestrians are walking against the don’t walk signal.

      To your point about the wrong people reading this blog, it was also quoted and linked to in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, a major newspaper with an incredibly large and diverse readership. We can hope that the message gets out to a wider audience because of that, but if the Bike Fed didn’t write it here first, it wouldn’t get picked up elsewhere. Also, through social networking, this post has been shared many times over on many different peoples networks, most of whom have a wide range of friends. We have also submitted an abridged version to the Journal Sentinel for possible inclusion in their Crossroads editorial section. We may try to submit it to other papers around the state as well.

      Finally, this is only one effort by the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin to get the word out. Through our Share and Be Aware program, our Safe Routes to School programs and our more widely advertised adult cycling classes, we hope to reach a very wide audience with similar messages.

  14. Martha says:

    Thanks for starting such a lively discussion Dave! I really appreciate all of your reader input. We are right on topic with each other. Today I posted about an accident involving my most recent Bike Fancy featured cyclist: http://bikefancy.blogspot.com/
    In a weird twist of fate, earlier today, I almost got run over by a car. It came head-first towards me on a fresh red, trying to avoid the pedestrians. To avoid a collision I threw myself to the left and impaled my leg on the fender tubes cutting right to the bone. yech. Doing fine, but I think August should be National Bicycle Crash Survivor month.

    • daveschlabowske says:

      Yuck Martha, your crash sounds nasty, but the X-ray of Gina’s crash looks even worse. Our thoughts are with her from across the Cheddar Curtain. Not the gorgeous photos I’ve come to expect when I visit Bike Fancy. As to the safety of riding in Chicago, I’ve been watching the Rahm and Klein show via Steve and Johns great new blog http://gridchicago.com/ with interest and a bit of jealousy. I must say that I really admire the “get er done” attitude with respect to protected bike lanes, which are in my opinion the future of cycling in urban centers. You folks to the south of us are definitely headed in the right direction. Chicago has a lot of great things going on, but until everyone really gets cycling, even motorists, infrastructure never takes the place of caution and a very good understanding of where crashes happen. If I can be so bold as to suggest something from the north, perhaps you (and maybe Dottie) could work with Active Trans to put together a women specific adult cycling class. Between your two very well known blogs, you could certainly get the word out and I’m sure AT has a few female LCI’s who could teach the class. If you and Dottie reported on it, you could spread the information further.

      Excuse me if this is already going on, just a thought on trying to turn lemons into lemonade. Your work on Bike Fancy (and Dottie’s and Trisha’s work on Lets Go Ride a Bike) is already effectively demarginalizing (almost a word) women cycling for transportation. And the victim support sounds like a great program we should copy (er, emulate) at the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin.

      Finally, despite Regina’s terrible crash and your nasty incident, remember that everything I wrote about the safety of cycling in Wisconsin holds true in the 312. In the shadow of a recent scary altercation with a car, it is often hard to remember, but riding a bike remains a really safe activity, even in the Loop. That said, post crash shock and a bit of the jitterz when cars buzz your elbow are natural and healthy.

      Final thoughts to you and Regina for speedy recoveries. Safe travels and rubber side down.

      • Martha says:

        Thanks Dave! I love the idea of an adult specific cycling class, especially with so many new cyclist on the road (that can occasionally do some really unsafe moves like passing on the right or very close to another cyclist.)

  15. Leah says:

    I am a bicyclist and I agree that it is a healthy and relatively safe mode of transportation. I think we need to be careful how we use statistics, though. For example, comparing how many people have died each year biking in the US to how many people have died going down the stairs is misleading.

    The percentage of people who ride bikes on a regular basis, or even sporadically, is much lower than the percentage of people who use stairs. If we represented those statistics as percentages rather than straight amounts, I’m guessing bicycling wouldn’t seem so safe.

    I think the key is increasing awareness. Bicyclists should be aware of the risks, responsibilities and benefits and drivers and pedestrians should be aware of how to share the road. I agree with Dave Steele that we should be a little nervous. Not feeling that leads to bicyclist riding without helmets down busy streets, weaving through lanes while texting in the rain. Just because driving culture is like that doesn’t mean biking culture should be. Not that you’re at all advocating for that. I just fear we’re headed there as well sometimes.

    • daveschlabowske says:

      I agree, first and foremost, know the laws, obey them and then know your statistics, know the risks, evaluate your personal comfort with risk and ride accordingly. For instance, I know it is extremely safe to ride a bicycle in the City of Milwaukee where I live, so I rarely wear a helmet when riding there, even on busy streets. But traffic is averaging about 20 mph on my busy streets, very different from traffic on a busy suburban road where traffic may be averaging 45mph. I always wear helmets when riding on those suburban streets. I also always wear a helmet when riding on low traffic town roads, because although there are few cars, the roads often have no shoulder and short sight lines.

      My decisions are based on my training in adult cycling classes, my knowledge of statistics, and my personal comfort with risk.

  16. Scott Arbit says:

    Dave,
    Thank you for your outstanding article! I appreciate your research, your insight and yes, even your humor regarding such a serious subject. The photo of a biker in the shower wearing a helmet reminds me of the time that I smacked my head on the tiled shower wall and that I need to wash my helmet!
    Best regards,
    Scott Arbit

    • daveschlabowske says:

      Thanks Scott. It was meant to be a humorous way to make a point, but it still seems there remain many people who, despite statistics, can’t believe that riding a bicycle is safe with or without a helmet. I think this has a much to do with the culture of fear mongering as personal experiences being frightened while riding. Those experiences can be hard to argue with even when you have statistics on your side.

  17. Still Rollin says:

    David:

    I came within inches of a terrible accident on the hank Aaron trail on Friday. I was going eastbound at a high rate of speed, probably close to 20mph (too fast, I know) on the trail at approximately 2600 W. Canal Street. A city employee from the vehicle yard pulled in front of me and I was just barely able to avoid him. We both were shook up, but fortunately he stopped and backed into the city driveway. He proceeded to show me the huge sign that says 2600 MMSD and City of Milwaukee, it completely obstructed his view along with the afternoon sun. The gent said he had complained about the sign, but the state, city and county can’t get their act together and either move it or remove it. It is indeed a scary hazard, and mark my words, someone will be badly hurt if not killed if that sign remains. Eastbound riders have the wind to their back and are on a steep downhill slope at that point, its only natural to go fast. Who can write to maybe exert exert some influence on getting that sign moved?

    Mike

    • daveschlabowske says:

      Mike, I will take a look at that. I assume this was at the lot for the City parking checkers just to the west of the roundabout? One thing though, the law requires that all drivers stop prior to advancing across a walkway when exiting a driveway. I know 99% of people don’t do that in the real world, but along a trail with cyclists coming down a hill, it really should be just common sense to do so and check before you cross the trail.

      Either way, I will look at it tomorrow.

      • Still Rollin says:

        You have the correct position. The sign is really huge, almost a small wall, and in exactlly the wrong position. I really sympathized with the guy when I saw the view from his position, afternoon sun, sign obstructing the eastbound traffic on the trail and of course rush hour traffic on Canal Street.

  18. Iain says:

    G’day Dave,

    nice article. I’d be very carefull though wearing a bike helmet in the shower. Here in Australia where we have mandatory bicycle helmet laws since 1991. (I still have my original 91 helmet – I’ve never damaged it!) Some “cotton wool” parents have taken to making their kids wear bike helmets while playing on swings / monkey bars or in the house. There have now been several recorded deaths and newss warnings about kids being strangled by their own bike helmets when the helmet has become caught in a gap. (Sorry I don’t have links to the news reports.)
    The new Australian helmet design standards now require a bike helmet to have a stretchable strap designed to come off the head after the initial impact.
    The “fear mongers” do more harm than good in so many ways.

    • daveschlabowske says:

      Thanks for the insight on what happens when a “nanny state law” combines with fear mongering. I have also seen helmets marketed for toddlers to wear while learning to walk in the house.

  19. Glen says:

    Good article and discussion, but please be careful with the statistics:

    “Fatalities per Exposure Hour (Data compiled by Failure Analysis Associates, Inc.
    “Motor vehicle travel: .47 Bicycle travel: .26″

    I could see that there was no way that was correct, so I did a web search, and found that it should say, “Fatalities per Million Exposure Hours”.

  20. Fear monger or not, I used to ride a lot, I’ve been hit and one of my friends is dead. I try not to think about it much but I’ve found most of S.E. Wisconsin is just a deadly, dangerous place to ride my bike. Personally, I’ve been struck by autos 3 times (never my fault and always had a helmet on) and went to the hospital once. My friend, Mike Sikorsky, was killed in Germantown while training for a race the early 90’s. I used to ride from Hales Corners to school at MSOE downtown Milwaukee (very scary). In the early 2000’s, I worked at Kalmbach Publishing and frequently rode my bike to work. That entire area near Bluemound and Barker roads are particularly anti-bike and anti-pedestrian friendly. I could never find a bike route in that area that made me feel safe.

    Several years ago, I was touring, riding SINGLE FILE with a friend on a beautiful, warm, sunny, Saturday afternoon heading west between Scenic and Hillside on Freistadt Road (turns into Hubertus Road). It was totally dead out there as far as traffic goes. Occasionally a car or truck would pass by every 20 or 30 minutes. Around 3pm I could hear a vehicle approaching from behind and so I moved over closer to the shoulder but not in the gravel (my Trek 2300 does not like gravel). I could see a black pickup truck (in my rear view mirror mounted on my helmet). There was NO TRAFFIC anywhere but he passed me so close that he hit my handlebar with his mirror and honked his horn the entire time as he passed. I went crashing off into the ditched but managed to glance at the truck as he sped by and held his tattooed arm high and proud out his window, flipping me off (giving me the finger). My friend helped me up as I was cut, bruised and frightened to death. I was shaking quite hard for a long time. Neither of us could read the bastard’s license plates as he sped off (we thought about calling the police on our cell phones).

    Wisconsin needs work when it comes to biking safely near any cars or trucks. I would like my own bike lane with a barricade between and the traffic. I’d also like to see the bike trails plowed in the winter (my mountain bike does well in snow if it is not too deep as do my recumbent trikes) and people rewarded for their efforts.

    • daveschlabowske says:

      I’m sorry to hear that a friend of yours was killed in a crash with a car. I have experienced the untimely loss of a friend as well, but not because of a crash. It is something that never entirely leaves my thoughts for long.

      I also agree that Wisconsin needs more protected bike lanes and trails. All roads should have a basic bicycle accommodation, but on those with high speed differentials, we need to have separation if we expect more people to feel comfortable riding. Protected bike lanes are really the wave of the future. Chicago is going to install 25 miles of protected bike lanes a year for the next four years. Which Wisconsin city will throw down with a similarly aggressive plan?

  21. Speaking of following the rules of road. It really bugs me I’m waiting at a stop sign, and cars with the right-of-way stop and insist that you cross. This is while they are making an uncalled for stop in the flow of traffic. I guess us bikers are supposed to not follow the rules of the road by that example.

    • daveschlabowske says:

      I believe this is how the person was just killed while riding a bicycle in Fond du Lac. We all fare best when we all follow all the rules of the road all the time. As a cyclist, I don’t want the respect of motorists, I want cyclists and motorists to respect the law. Thanks for the comment David.

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