I came across this graph that compares cycling and pedestrian deaths in the US during the period from 1986 to the year 2000.
Over the period pedestrian deaths (Shown in pink.) declined at a fairly steady and consistent rate. I’m not sure the reason; after all motor vehicle traffic has increased and driving standards have certainly decreased over this period.
Does more cars mean less pedestrians, or maybe more cars and the congestion it brings to our cities mean slower traffic, resulting in less pedestrian casualties. Because speed definitely kills those of us unprotected by a steel cage, especially when hit by same steel cage. Or could be pedestrians are just getting street smart.
What I found interesting was the same downward trend for cyclists, but far from being a steady decline it was up and down. Given that there are far more pedestrians than cyclists the chart shows the rate of decline for the two groups.
Starting at the same place in 1986; it showed cycling casualties slightly above the rate of decline for pedestrians at the end of the period.
The article accompanying the chart is about helmet use, and points out that although helmet use went from near zero to 30% in the period, the decline in cycling deaths failed to stay with the decline in pedestrian fatalities. The article doesn’t mention that pedestrian helmet use is still zero.
What immediately struck me was the sharp decline in cycling deaths in 1992; I remember the date well. It was the period when my business went right down the toilet. The reason the quite sudden rise in popularity of the Off Road Mountain Bike, and the accompanying drop in demand for road bikes.
Bicycle dealers nationwide, some almost overnight stopped selling road bikes and switched over exclusively to selling MTBs. It is no wonder cycling deaths dropped so dramatically, cyclists in the US abandoned the roads for dirt trails.
The sharp decline in casualties in 1992 was followed by a dramatic increase in the next five years before moving once again on a steady decline.
My thoughts on this sudden increase; less cyclists on the roads meant that the few diehard roadies left out there were at greater risk for being hit. Out of sight, out of mind as far as the average American driver was concerned, and the motorist doesn't think of cyclists until the moment of impact.
The increase in numbers of cycling deaths in the mid 1990s was even more dramatic when you consider that there were still less people riding on the roads.
I also believe, giving up the roads in the early 1990s also lead to all this hostility towards cyclist. I rode my bike in the US trough the 1980s and agreed there was less traffic, but I never encountered the hostility from drivers there is today.
I quit riding a bike in 1993 when my bike business finally went under, took up running and other forms of exercise, and didn’t start riding again until 2005. It appears this was a good period for me to be off my bike, and off the road.
This more recent article has a chart that goes from 1975 until today. (Shown above.) Interestingly, it shows the sharp decline in 1992, followed by the rise and it would take another ten years before the figures fell below the 1992 level, followed by a sharp increase.
Why this increase? What are your views? Is it because of the increased hostility and poorer driving habits from other road users? Or is it an increase in bicycle riding meaning there are more inexperienced riders on the road?
In conclusion, to get these casualties into perspective; in 2007 there were a total of 41,059 road deaths in the US, according to this article. Pedestrian fatalities showed the same steady decline, down to 4,654, and the number of cyclists killed in 2007 was 698.
This is less than the low point of 723 in 1992, and about the same as the 690 in the year 2000. I haven’t been able to find an accurate count of the number of regular cyclists in the US, but this article suggests that 3.2 million people ride to work at least one day a week. Does anyone have a more accurate count?
My feelings are, helmets may saves lives, but what really saves lives is defensive riding, plus more cyclists on the road leading to more awareness among drivers that there may be cyclists on the road.