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What the Data Show

September 19, 2011

As Streetsblog has already noted, there is absolutely no link between the data in the Peter Tuckel/William Milczarski study on cyclist/pedestrian accidents and New York’s growing bike lane network.  None.  This seemed obvious to me after looking at the data about where the majority of accidents, at least those requiring medical treatment, occurred in Brooklyn since 2007.  Here’s a chart showing the “Top Five Zip Codes…In Terms of Number of Patients Involved in Pedestrian-Cyclist Accidents: 2007-2010″ and a short paragraph from the study:

In Brooklyn, the zip code with the highest frequency of patients is number 11206. This zip code is situated in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. The second and third place zip codes in Brooklyn are numbers 11211 and 11220 which are situated in the Greenpoint and Sunset Park neighborhoods, respectively.

(The fourth and fifth place zip codes are Bushwick and Brownsville.)

Downtown Brooklyn, DUMBO, Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Windsor Terrace, Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Fort Greene…not one of them registered in the Tuckel/Milczarski study.  These are all neighborhoods with rather extensive bike lane networks and some of the highest cycling rates in the entire city.  Bushwick and Greenpoint, which did make the top five, have some decent cycling facilities, but most merely connect with or lead to the more robust bike lanes that run through Williamsburg, such as the Kent Avenue bike lane.

Correlation does not imply causation, so there could be a number of reasons why areas with higher cycling rates and better bike lanes see fewer cyclist/pedestrian conflicts, and the study seeks no explanation or causes for its findings.  Nor does it break down accidents by fault – perhaps pedestrians take more risks in Bed-Stuy than they do downtown or maybe the large number of cyclists in Park Slope are more law-abiding than those in Sunset Park.

However, many signs in this survey point to the “safety in numbers” theory of cycling and to the oft-cited DOT statistic that streets with protected bike lanes see a 40% reduction in accidents to all users.  You’ve been living under a rock if you can’t recite the safety benefits of the PPW bike lane by now, but even less protected facilities have their advantages.  There must be thousands of cyclists streaming through Jay Street, a clusterfuck of double-parked vehicles, jaywalking pedestrians, potholes, and — yes — red-light running cyclists, yet Downtown Brooklyn is not a major site of accidents that lead to injury, at least according to this study.

The most notable information, something that is getting buried in some of the more sensationalistic coverage, is that reported accidents between cyclists and pedestrians have gone down 15% since 2007.  This while cycling in New York continues to grow every year.  DOT screenline counts show a 14% rise in bike commuting since 2010, a 62% increase since 2008, and a 262% increase since 2000.  (Side stat: reports of near-accidents have gone up by 942% in the New York Times comments sections and in letters to the editor of the Brooklyn Paper.)

While it may be a convenient — and predictable — media narrative to spin the findings as a sign that the city needs to do more to protect pedestrians from menacing cyclists, many of those who tend to spin the most probably don’t want to hear the solution that this very study unintentionally endorses: more bike lanes and more people biking.

UPDATE: 9:50 AM: The study lists 11211 as Greenpoint, but as a commenter points out, it covers Williamsburg, which is certainly an epicenter of Brooklyn cycling.  I am not sure if the study broke the zip code data down more specifically, since some zips cover more than one neighborhood.

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3 Comments
  1. krstrois permalink
    September 20, 2011 9:46 am

    Great post. Agree.

    It is also much easier psychologically to talk about your “almost” with a bike than it is to rehash the terrifying experience of being hit by a car. If you indeed lived to talk about it. And of course “grievance” journalism is the bread and butter of tabloids, local news, and, apparently, New York Times transportation reporting.

    Just a quick note about the zip codes above: 11211 is Williamsburg, not Greenpoint. Greenpoint is 11222.

  2. September 20, 2011 9:49 am

    Thanks for the catch! I’ll fix.

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