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.