Death In Cycling

Many bee keepers purposefully let themselves get stung when they tend their hives. Just a couple stings a week is all it takes to build a resistance to bee venom. As these bee keepers develop an immunity, they no longer get the same amount of pain or swelling from a sting. But after years of this, sometimes just a single bee sting will send their body into anaphylactic shock. Assuming they get to the hospital in time and survive, their new overnight-allergy to bee venom will likely last the rest of their life, making bee keeping impossible.

After a moment of reflection, I realize that this is a very, very poor analogy for my purposes, but I took the time to write it so I’ll keep it there.

The more times I get honked at, yelled at, buzzed, pushed off the road, or forced to slam on my brakes when a brain-dead driver pulls out in front of me without looking or thinking—the more angry I get. While one more bad driver could kill me, I’ve not become immune at all.

Maybe the civil rights movement is a better example.

There are enough of us who have to deal with over-sized automobiles going too fast and too close, inadequate cycling infrastructure, zero penalties for unsafe drivers, etc. Yet, little is being done to make things better. That’s actually not true at all. A lot is being done, it’s just not enough.

The facts about US cycling:

726 cyclists who were involved in motor vehicle collisions died in 2012.

49,000 cyclists who were involved in motor vehicle collisions were injured in 2012.

The trend hasn’t been in our favor either. Over the past 10 years, as the number of total traffic fatalities has actually decreased from 42,643 in 2003 to 33,561 in 2012, the percentage of those fatalities has actually risen for pedestrians and cyclists. See graph below.

Screen shot 2014-11-12 at 2.02.00 PM

In 2011, 2.1% of all traffic deaths were those of cyclists. That doesn’t sound too bad until you remember how few bikes there are out on the road (in the US, less than one percent of all trips are on a bike). That’s a lot of death and injury spread out amongst a small population. What’s possibly more disturbing is that the total number of cyclists has actually declined by 8% from 2000 to 2010, despite the rising population of the US. I was personally shocked to discover this.

There are fewer of us out there and more of us are dying. Riding a bike is probably the most dangerous thing you do, by quite a bit.

The leading cause of Death By Car (DBC) is when drivers fail to yield the right of way. Amazingly it’s NOT when you’re descending Flagstaff and an impatient woman honks and rides your ass the whole way down then passes you at the bottom almost hitting an oncoming cyclists on the other side of the road and then narrowly avoids T-boning a car when she erratically swerves back over to the other lane, then speeds up to 50 in a 30mph zone to make up for the lost time.

Sorry for the side story. Just the typical bullshit that happened today, like every day. This post might seem a bit antagonistic. But I do, obviously, realize that not every driver is unsafe. I don’t own a car but I do drive somewhat frequently.

Anyways, some examples of failing to yield include when 1) someone passes from behind to make a right turn in front of you, 2) an oncoming vehicle turns left across the lane in front of you, or 3) abruptly pulls out into your lane from a side road, which is what happened to Adelaide. I feel like the term “failing to yield” doesn’t quite do any of these instances justice. “Failing to look up from your phone and give a shit or just too impatient to wait five seconds” sounds more accurate to me.

We know to watch for these types of ‘accidents’ but sometimes no amount of defensive riding can save you. I have more friends than I can count on my fingers and toes that have ended up in the hospital because of a car failing to yield.

I’m sick of existing in a world that doesn’t care about human life, the environment, or doing what’s right. Bikes are part of the solution. Riding bikes makes you happy, healthy, and connects you with the world. It makes simple trips to the grocery store enjoyable. More people on bikes can only be good.

While 10 miles of commuting through traffic in the snow at night is easy for me, I realize it’s not possible for everyone. Being car-free works for my lifestyle but with the way our cities (and idiotic suburbs separated by freeways) are set up, bike commuting isn’t for everyone. Especially when you factor in the high number of impatient and distracted drivers there are to deal with. Bike riding should be for everyone though. Riding a bike should not be a life-threatening endeavor.

I’m in the very preliminary stages of launching a website that brings awareness to how dangerous cycling is. I realize this is somewhat counterintuitive since my crusade is to get more people on bikes, not scare potential cyclists away.

Sometimes the first step in solving a problem is realizing there is one.

That’s the point of this website–to show everyone, in real time, the shocking and tragic state that cycling is in. It has become more dangerous and fewer people are doing it every year. This comes at a time when obesity and diabetes rates are sky rocketing and climate change is visible with the naked eye.

Right now the website exists solely in my imagination, but what I’m planning is a large map image of the US with colored pinpoints showing exactly where every car vs bike collision occurs. I’m hoping it can be as close to real time as possible, but that depends from where and how quickly the program can retrieve the data. An easier part of the website that I hope will exist sometime in 2015 is to make an app that we (the crash victims) can use to upload the details of our personal collisions with cars.

While the exact use of the site will vary, a no brainer application would be to zoom in on your own city to find the most dangerous sections of roads and intersections–the places you’d want to avoid if possible, or better yet, places that could use some updated infrastructure.

The goal of the site is to bring awareness to the problem at hand (a lack of bike safety) and to create laws, infrastructure, and a change in the culture of transportation. Drivers who kill and maim cyclists because of impatience or inattention deserve strict punishment. We need education and practice from a young age about how to behave safely with bikes on the road. In the Netherlands, kids are expected to ride to school on their own by the age of 12. Norway has a similar system. By the time these kids reach driving age, they’ve spent enough time on the bike to know how to treat their fellow human beings. Applying this alone could be the most important thing to change America’s negative attitude towards cyclists. Unfortunately I think we’re a long way from having something like this in the US. From 2000 to 2010, the number of kids who ride bikes decreased by 20%. Theirs is the demographic that took the biggest hit in the last decade. It’s no wonder why it’s predicted that one in three Americans will have type two diabetes by 2050.

A less complex aspect of the site will include a victim’s story of the week, written by me, to attach a face to the statistic. I think this might be the one of the biggest motivators in creating laws and compassion to protect us. In a revolution, tears of sadness and anger go a long way.


Image: of Eugene Oregon


4 thoughts on “Death In Cycling

  1. Kennett can you give me a call when you get a chance? I know a friend of yours Sam J. in Boise and I help run an organization to help promote driver and rider awareness. I completely agree with what you are doing and think we can work together to make a real difference.

    John Yarnell Look! Save a Life 208-440-2118

  2. Hey Kennett, I found your site through DC. My name’s Jennifer Laurita, I teach bicycling safety, education, law, that sort of stuff. If there’s any way I can contribute to your goals, let me know, maybe there’s a way we can work together. I’ve got a huge network of instructors around the country, we can try to make a real movement!
    leaguecyclinginstructor dot com will show you some more about what I do

  3. Jennifer, I’ll put you on my list of interested people for this project. Everything is still very theoretical at this point but I’m meeting with another party this weekend to continue getting this thing going. Thanks for reaching out and I’ll keep you in touch.

  4. I get so mad every time I see or read about the dickery exhibited by drivers in the presence of cyclists. Every time I am on Flagstaff I am shocked by the driving behavior – going too fast, cutting into turns, and not leaving space while passing cyclists. I could not bike there, and it shouldn’t be that way. Everyone I know that bikes regularly for commuting or fitness has been hit by a car (myself included). Anyway, it seems like you have the passion, position, and following to make this happen. Eager to see what comes of this!


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