Life by the numbers: More bikes = fewer bike collisions


By Rebecca Bowe


Things were finally beginning to fall into place for Jon Aguon. The 24-year-old college student and avid surfer and skater had completed his summer courses the day before, he’d just signed a lease on a place in the city, and he planned to spend the afternoon at a skate park on Potrero Avenue. He loaded up his skateboard, hopped on his bike, and started making his way there.

The trouble started when a bus stopped ahead of him, blocking the bike lane. In a matter of seconds, Aguon looked over his shoulder, checked for oncoming traffic, and began maneuvering around it. That’s when the Ford Expedition entered the picture.

“I remember the split second before I got hit, the roar of the Expedition motor. I knew exactly what this car was doing: accelerating to pass me,” he says. “Well, it didn’t pass me.”

Aguon says he bounced off the SUV, spun a 540, and then wound up landing on his knee. The shock set in, and he immediately curled into a fetal position. Moments later, he stood shakily. There was a sharp pain in his back, and a large blood spot was forming on his jeans at the kneecap. As he stood there dazed, the driver left his name and number with a nearby cyclist and drove off.

The bike accident occurred almost a year ago, and now Aguon -- who suffered a broken rib, a badly sprained ACL and a bruised and swollen Tibia from the ordeal -- says he’s still at just a fraction of his strength. Since the collision, “I haven’t even tried surfing,” he says.

Getting hit hasn’t kept Aguon from using a bike as his exclusive mode of transportation. But it did inspire him to speak out in favor of the Bike Plan, a comprehensive citywide network of new bike paths and amenities with improved cyclist safety as its centerpiece. “I’m not one of those cyclists who hates cars,” Aguon told us, adding that in fact, he loves to drive. But he believes that with improved bicycle infrastructure, accidents like his could be fewer and farther between.

When cyclists turned out from every corner of the city and lined up to testify before the MTA Board at last Friday’s hearing on the city’s proposed Bike Plan, several shared bike-accident horror stories of their own. Almost everyone asked for more bike lanes. Many told MTA Board members that they thought city streets should be safe enough for even their children to bike on.

In an article in last week's San Francisco Examiner, a box titled “Life By the Numbers” revealed that there were 343 collision injuries involving bicyclists in the city in 2006. If 343 collisions are already occurring per year, a reader may wonder, won’t there be many more accidents if more bicyclists are out on the roads in coming years taking advantage of new bike infrastructure (assuming it's installed)?

Jared Blumenfeld, director of the city’s Department of the Environment, was one of several city department heads to urge the MTA Board to approve all of the proposed Bike Plan projects last Friday. In London, Blumenfeld told the Board members, something interesting happened when the city decided to invest in its bicycle infrastructure. The number of cyclists on city streets doubled, but the number of collisions between bikes and cars went down -- not up. In fact, Blumenfeld said, the number of bike accidents fell by 50 percent, and the overall effect was to calm traffic.

If the experience of that foggy city is any indication, San Francisco could be headed toward quieter, safer streets as a result of the SFMTA Board’s approval of the 45 Bike Plan projects. Assuming the looming legal hurdles are cleared and the construction of 34 miles of new bike lanes begins on schedule in August, San Franciscans can perhaps look forward to seeing more bikes, and fewer bike collisions, on city streets in the next several years.

Look for more on the San Francisco Bike Plan in tomorrow’s issue of the Guardian.


The story of this guy's accident is not instructive in the sense that you seem to think it is, since he was riding on a street that already had a bike lane.

And the city's report on cycling collisions is flawed conceptually, since the report doesn't explain what "collision" means in this context: is it collisions with other vehicles? And who is making the collision reports? The CHP? Since most cycling accidents are "solo falls" that have nothing to do with other vehicles, that crucial information and definition of terms should be discussed in the report, which I pointed out at the time.

"Many told MTA Board members that they thought city streets should be safe enough for even their children to bike on."

That's pure fantasy and makes people wonder what planet you folks live on. City streets will never be really safe even for adults. Encouraging children to ride bikes on city streets is irresponsible, as is the ridiculous Safe Streets to School project.

Posted by Rob Anderson on Jun. 30, 2009 @ 2:22 pm

The city and the various bike advocate groups are good for a laugh.

The number of people who will start to ride because of more bike lanes will be in the dozens. As a daily rider and a one time messenger I have heard it all before, the transit first delusion has set in with these people so strongly that nothing can shake it.

The sense of entitlement and righteousness from this cities bike nuts is amazing, when all these streets are re-stripped and there is a 2% increase in ridership, it just means we need more bike lanes.

Posted by glen matlock on Jul. 01, 2009 @ 1:05 pm

SF could easily surpass London in safety for cyclists if we give greater priority to cycling and mass transit in the streetscape. London is incredibly bike friendly, but the organically developed streets, which are often wet, aren't the easiest to navigate. In SF our streets and our bike lanes are way bigger than in London. In other words, we have the space to do this right, so that more people do bike. I'd love to be at lights with 20 other cyclists as often happens in London.

Posted by radi on Jul. 01, 2009 @ 8:36 pm

What's going to be the official explanation for cycling accidents when the Bicycle Plan is completely implemented? The SFBC's safety guy, Bert Hill, says that 45% of cycling accidents have nothing to do with other vehicles. Bike expert Robert Hurst says in his book that only 15% of cycling accidents involve another vehicle. Riding a bike is a means of transportation that has inherent risks involved that the bike people are in complete denial about.

Posted by Rob Anderson on Jul. 01, 2009 @ 7:47 am

Thanks for reading, Rob. It's remarkable that your comments could find their way here all the way from a different planet!

Seriously, though, my point here is that, as counter-intuitive as it may seem, there is evidence to suggest that with more cyclists on the road, fewer collisions occur between bikes and cars. After I posted this, several people wrote and backed me up on this. One sent a chart from NYC that shows a dramatic spike in bike ridership in the last 10 years, coinciding with a dramatic decrease in cyclist fatalities. Another reader sent this report:

Posted by Rebecca on Jun. 30, 2009 @ 3:47 pm

Thought you folks might like to see this panel discussion on City bike policy – hosted by The Guardian's own Steve Jones...

Good Stuff for the wheel-crazies among us!

Posted by on Jul. 27, 2009 @ 1:18 pm