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As the cornerstone of our Bicycle Safety series, we present to you, dear readers, some stats on bicycle accidents in CU: where it happens and when it happens.  We also offer some suggestions for how to avoid crashes and minimize injury.

The fear of an accident lingers in the back of every biker’s mind. Certainly, this fear is not entirely absent when driving in a hulking, climate-controlled steel box or when strolling at 3-miles-per-hour on a raised sidewalk, but it’s different with bikes. Perhaps it’s somehow the combination of our closeness to the road – the sight of asphalt beneath our feet, the wind nipping at our face – and the relative high speed that you can travel at by bike. Surrounded with, by comparison, tank-like vehicles travelling at 50 miles-per-hour, we’re left vulnerable, the soft-shell crabs of the road.

Neutral wanted to know a little bit about bike accidents in Champaign-Urbana, and we’re back with some data and a shiny new infographic to sate the curious amongst you!

The Numbers

In 2012, 726 bikers were killed in accidents with motor vehicles, accounting for 2% of all fatalities in crashes involving motor vehicles in the US. Furthermore, 49,000 more bikers were injured. CU has had its own share of tragedy. In 2009, a cyclist was involved in a fatal accident on Green St. in Urbana and in 2011 another bicycle fatality occurred in Champaign at the intersection of Anthony Dr. and Market St.  Also in 2011, Cindy Combs, a resident of Champaign, was killed near Bondville while riding a tandem bike with her husband.  Suffice it to say, bike accidents in CU are a serious issue that deserve investigation and discussion.

Our data for CU comes from all incidents of an accident involving a bicycle from reported to the ChampaignUIUC, and Urbana Police Departments for three years (October 2011 – September 2014). Our data comprise 167 accidents: 96 in Champaign, 49 in Urbana , 22 in UIUC. This means that, in the CU area, there are about 56 reported accidents a year with 32, 16, and 7 in Champaign, Urbana, and Campus, respectively. That’s a rate of a little more than once a week. Surprisingly low, actually, but remember that these are just reported incidents.  Certainly many more accidents occurred but were mutually resolved and/or were seen as not worth the hassle of reporting.  We should note that the above map does not show all the intersection where one accident occurred.  Below is some analysis of the data.

  1. Dangerous Intersections
    The most dangerous intersections were Kirby and Mattis, Green and Fifth (Right by Neutral Cycle!), and Prospect and Bradley, with 4, 4, and 3 accidents, respectively. Other listed intersections each had 2 accidents.
    Beyond this, the most dangerous streets were Green, with 19 accidents, Mattis, with 15 accidents, Springfield with 14 accidents, Kirby with 13 accidents, and Bradley with 12 accidents.  This is to be expected, however, as these streets are long and have relatively high traffic.
  1. Dangerous Times of Day
    This data comes from only Campus and Urbana police reports. Accidents were most frequent in the morning both on campus and in Urbana. This might be due to more reckless vehicle operation on the part of drivers and bikers, carelessly rushing to class or work.  In Urbana, there was another spike in the afternoon likely corresponding to the end of the work day for many people.  On campus, however, there is no spike and instead, there’s a gradual tapering off after 8-9AM.  Interestingly, there was only one accident during the night, shortly after midnight. So despite the relative paucity of bike lights on campus, students weren’t biking too dangerously (Or drivers were driving extra carefully…). We should note, however, that the night makes hit and runs more likely, perhaps leading some to not report the incident.
  1. Dangerous Times of Year
    Accidents were most common in early Fall, with total number of accidents peaking in September and October. For Champaign alone, the peak was in the late summer.  One temperatures dipped in November, so too did reported bike accidents. One reason why reported bike accidents don’t rise with riding season in May is because this also corresponds to the student exodus, leading the total number of bikers in CU to decrease. Only in the Fall do we see (1) generally good riding weather and (2) the maximum number of potential bikers on the streets.

Other Accident Reports

We’re not the only ones who have looked at this data.  The Champaign County Regional Planning Commission has two reports online that look at traffic accidents from 2005-2009 and from 2007-2011.  Much of the data looks similar.  Because they had access to more information, they could also report that over half of bike accidents involve riders under age 25 as well as that a significantly higher number of cyclists involved in accidents were male.

Ending Accidents: Create a Movement

We need not and should not accept serious and fatal accidents as an inevitability.  Vision Zero is a movement to try and reduce the number of traffic deaths to zero.  Originating in Sweden, Vision Zero believes that no number of deaths in traffic is acceptable and as such tries to effect policy and urban planning in order to create safer cities.  It has been organized in a number of cities, including San Francisco and New York

Recently the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and Walk San Francisco, a pedestrian advocacy group, started Vision Zero San Franscico, aiming to bring traffic deaths to 0 by 2024.  Spurred by the increasing reports of bicyclist and pedestrian deaths, they released a report this year, detailing their plan for San Francisco and California.  Certainly a similar plan could be developed for CU.  All that’s needed is the time and effort of its residents.

Avoiding Accidents

Until we see a serious shift in education and city planning, bicycle accidents are unfortunately not going to go away.  As a biker, all accidents are not under your control.  Any time you go out riding around others, you’re not just reliant on your own ability to bike safely, but you’re relying on those around you to be safe as well.  That lack of complete control of your safety is perhaps what is most disturbing.  If someone isn’t paying attention, you could potentially get hurt.  That said, there are some strategies you can employ (a) to minimize the chances you get into a wreck and (b) to minimize the degree to which you get injured if, in fact, you do get into a wreck.  Most of these suggestions are pretty basic, but a lot of it bears repeating because loads of bikers neglect at least one regularly.  Below you’ll find a lot of links to other blog entries discussing these issues in more detail.

Minimizing accidents

  • Don’t drink and bike.  Yeah, it’s pretty commonly done, but stats show that it significantly increases the chances that you’ll find yourself in a fatal accident.  Not worth it.
  • Make sure to signal.  Let cars and other bikes around you know what you’re doing.
  • Make yourself visible at night.  Be assertive about making your presence known on the road.  If you plan on riding at night, get yourself a headlight AND taillight.  Don’t rely on just on the light from the car behind you bouncing off your reflector; create your own light, annoyingly beaming or blinking at them.  Also a good idea, is to wear clothing with reflective material or buying some reflective bands.
  • Follow traffic laws.  This allows others on the road to more easily anticipate your behavior.  (And here I really begin to sound pedantic!) Stop at those stop signs and stoplights.  Don’t go down one-way streets.  Etc. etc. etc. (Hey, it may save you a ticket, too!)

Minimizing injury

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