Alas, the morning news shows a different side of the story: a man bicycling in the right lane westbound on Outer Loop struck and killed by a car swerving from the left lane to pass a tractor trailer. The story chat to the online Courier-Journal story shows common threads:
- the Mayor should stop promoting bicycling until the city improves the streets
- the streets are too dangerous, so bicyclists should ride on the sidewalks instead
- bike lanes won't fix the problem - we need better driving attitudes
- changing attitudes can't or won't solve the problem - we need bike lanes & paths
As best I know, the victim in this crash was the second bicyclist to die in a crash in Louisville Metro in the year since Chips Cronin was struck and killed on the Clark Memorial (2nd Street) Bridge. The other was a man struck and killed by a police car while riding before dawn on Dixie Highway on May 4. What does this mean about the safety of bicycling on streets of Louisville?
- Two bicycling deaths in a year falls within the range of bicycling deaths in recent years in Louisville. Of course, we want to see bicycling crashes, injuries, and deaths decline. Every death is one too many. Even so, today's tragic crash does not indicate a trend toward more crashes.
- By all observations, many more bicycles are on the roads in Louisville this year than anytime in recent memory. If crash deaths stay roughly constant, that means that the rate of deaths per million bicyclists or per million miles of bicycling has gone down.
- Research (download: 140 KB PDF) has shown that bicycling crash, injury, and death rates go down as more people ride bicycle in a given country or city. This makes sense for two reasons. First, motorists grow to expect bicyclists on the road and learn to drive safely around them. Secondly, the bicyclists grow in collective experience and help one another learn to ride more safely.
- Both of these fatal crashes occurred in early morning. We do not know the lighting conditions during this morning's crash, but the May 4 crash happened before sunrise. We do not know whether the bicyclists in either case used lights or reflective accessories. Riding during dark without lights increases crash risks by a factor of 10 over riding in daylight.
- These fatal crashes took place on Outer Loop and Dixie Highway, notoriously bad roads for bicycling. Yes, every surface road in Louisville Metro should accommodate bicyclists safely. While we work toward that ideal situation, we need to acknowledge that some roads clearly pose greater hazards than others. The great majority of bicyclists in our region avoid riding on Outer Loop and Dixie Highway, especially at night or during rush hour. To use crashes there and then as an excuse not to ride on other streets during daylight misses the point: on the whole, the health benefits of bicycling vastly outweigh the risks of injury or death from bicycling.