Prof. John Pucher(Above.) is an urban planner at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
The professor puts out many articles, reports and studies on urban planning in the US, and how the lot in life for cyclists and pedestrians could be improved in American cities.
His plans call for cities with separate bike and pedestrian paths, and he uses as a model, cities in Germany and Holland. He points out that these two countries have far more cyclists and pedestrians, but fewer deaths and injury for the group.
It would appear that Prof. Pucher is the cyclist’s friend. However, the problem I have with the bold professor is that he uses scare tactics in order to push his own agenda. This is not the first time I have called him out for this, I did so in May last year.
He publishes articles and reports that exaggerate the dangers of cycling, and indeed walking in America, in order to push forward his plans to separate cyclists and pedestrians from motor vehicle traffic.
Because he is an “Expert” in his field, his reports get picked up by mainstream media, who then write articles implying that cycling is dangerous, and suggesting maybe cyclists shouldn’t be on the road.
In Prof. Pucher’s report, at the bottom of Page 10, he states that per kilometer traveled, pedestrians in the American cities were 23 times more likely to be killed than in a car. Again based on kilometers traveled, cyclists in the US were 12 times more likely to die than a motorist.
As I pointed out in this previous article, you cannot compare injury and fatality rates based on distance traveled, be they kilometers or miles. Cars travel far greater distances than bicycles or pedestrians. The statistic is so flawed it should be ignored entirely.
The professor’s figures seem awfully high when compared to others I have seen, but whatever figures you use, those based on distance are false.
It is not unreasonable for someone to drive 30 miles to work, whereas a for bicycle commuter 6 miles would be reasonable, and a pedestrian 3 miles. This reduces the risk factor for a bicycle by 5 times, and the pedestrian rate by 10 times.
Also, you can’t compare cycling in Germany or Holland with cycling in American cities. These European countries have always had a cycling culture. People there have grown up riding bicycles, and are used to sharing the road with bicycles.
These countries are about the size of a single state in the US; they were built in the Middle Ages and designed around horse drawn transport. They have been forced to adopt a cycling culture because there is less space to drive, let alone park a car.
A few more bike paths and bike lanes would be nice in our cities, and I am all for Prof. Pucher pushing that aspect. But ultimately three things are going make cycling in the US safer; that is education, education, education.
Education for drivers, education for cyclists. TV ads, billboards, etc. would be money well spent. More cyclists on the road will make it safer, we become more visible, and of course more people on bikes, means less people in cars.
There are approximately 700 cyclists die in the US each year; and that’s 700 too many. However, let’s get that figure in perspective. With a population of over 300 million in the US, this number is quite small. It is less than 2 cyclists a day out of tens of thousands who take to the streets on their bike every day; quite a tiny risk I would say.
Cycling is not as dangerous as some would lead us to believe, especially when you consider the alternative of living a sedentary lifestyle and all the adverse health issues that entails.
I am all for separating bikes and cars on busy thoroughfares if at all possible, but at some point cars and bikes have to come together. Most people manage to make their daily commute in their car without running into other cars, how difficult is it NOT to run into someone on a bicycle?
And so Prof. Pucher, while I applaud your efforts to improve cycling in our cities; if you are a true friend of cycling, knock it off with the scare tactics.
You give fuel for the anti-cycling, “Get them off the road” faction, and you scare people away from riding a bike, at a time when we should be encouraging more bicycle riding.
What are your views? Am I being overly critical of Prof. Pucher? What do you think is needed to improve cycling and cycling safety?