Excuses, Excuses! It’s Dangerous

Insulting signs like this one on Page Mill Road typify hostility to cycling. Greg McQuaid photo post.


Perhaps the most popular excuse: “Riding to work is dangerous.” It gets a qualified, “you’re right.”

We need only look at the crazed motorist in San Francisco who mowed down four cyclists on Thursday, June 3, as evidence. What’s more disturbing, and does not surprise me, is the public reaction. Some 54 percent expressed outrage, but 23 percent laughed or were thrilled by the incident, according to an NBC Bay Area web poll.

I’ll never forget the time at the Summit Store (off Hwy 17) when some mountain rednecks drove up in their truck and saw us with our bikes. “More victims,” one said in a surly voice.

They won’t keep me from riding. That said, if you’re new to riding, start slowly. Ride every weekend for at least a month. Ride your work route on the weekend so you can familiarize yourself with the road. After that, only ride to work one day a week — say on a Friday — when traffic is usually light in the morning.

Looking at raw numbers, cycling is much less dangerous than driving a car, and only slightly more dangerous than flying a commercial airline, easily the safest form of travel.

Transport mode Fatalities (%) – 2008
Car 25,000 (64)
Pedestrian 4,378 (11)
Motorcycle 5,290 (13)
Bicycle 716 (1.8)
Train 457 (1.2)
Commercial airline 3 (0.1)

However, when you factor in distance traveled, journeys, or hours, it’s a different story. Cycling becomes more dangerous than driving a car — from a statistical perspective – but not by a lot. Motorcycles, as we know, lead the way by an order of magnitude.

Fatalities per billion passenger -

Km Journeys Hours
Air 0.05 Bus/Coach 4.3 Bus/Coach 11.1
Bus/Coach 0.4 Rail 20 Rail 30
Rail 0.7 Van 20 Air 30.8
Van 1.2 Car 40 Water 50
Water 2.6 Foot 40 Van 60
Car 3.1 Water 90 Car 130
Pedal cycle 44.6 Air 117 Foot 220
Foot 54.2 Pedal cycle 170 Pedal cycle 550
Motorcycle 108.9 Motorcycle 1,640 Motorcycle 4,840

Close calls
Having ridden some 115,000 miles, I have become accustomed to riding in traffic and the all-too-common “close call” doesn’t phase me. With experience, you will learn to anticipate hazards, such as parked cars (doors opening unexpectedly), slippery wet paint lines, and people talking on the phone while driving.

I learned through John Forester’s “Effective Cycling” that the safest cycling is for cyclists to act and be treated as drivers of vehicles. In other words, when I want to turn left, I merge into the left-turn lane when it’s safe to do so. I obey all traffic laws, including stop signs.

Another tip about riding in traffic: think of the times you see cyclists while driving. It’s no big deal to pass a cyclist, unless the road is extremely narrow. Even at night, if the cyclist has a light, it’s usually hard to miss a cyclist. In other words, you’re not invisible, although thinking that way will help avoid collisions.

As with driving, the drunk or drugged driver is the cyclist’s worst road hazard. That’s an important reason why I don’t like to ride at night.

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