sitemap The Evidence against the Taboo

The Science and Politics of Bicycle Driving

The Evidence against the Taboo

While most American bicycle owners operate as pedestrians-on-wheels, some cyclists (especially those who participate in cycling clubs) continue to operate on US roads as drivers of vehicles. Recreational and competitive club cyclists avoid using sidewalks and most multi-use paths because they know from experience that reasonably fast and efficient cycling is impossibly dangerous on such facilities. Many of these cyclists ride in urban areas with high volumes of motor traffic. Although these cyclists represent a minority of bicycle owners in the United States, they represent about 80% of bicycle miles actually traveled. Their use of roadways allows us to judge the relative danger of bicycle driving according to the Rules of the Road compared to the taboo-based pedestrians-on-wheels approach.

In 1996, Moritz [2] conducted a survey of avid adult cyclists to determine their riding habits and crash statistics. The survey corroborated other scientific studies that showed the dangers of pedestrian-on-wheels behavior. Although most cyclists worry a great deal about car-bike crashes, especially those from behind, the vast majority of injuries to cyclists involved falls and crashes with stationary objects. These include many serious injuries (such as broken bones) and some such accidents do cause fatalities. Only 11% of crashes involved moving motor vehicles. The survey revealed crash rates for different facility types as follows:

Table 1: Adult Bicyclists' Crash Rates
for Various Facility Types in Moritz Survey

This data suggests that the crash rate for regular adult cyclists operating on sidewalks is twenty five times that of regular adult cyclists operating on major roads without bicycle facilities.

A study by Wachtel and Lewiston [3] analyzed locations of  common car-bike crashes. Their results showed that the car-bike crash rate for sidewalk cyclists is about twice that of road cyclists, and the car-bike crash rate for wrong-way sidewalk cyclists is about four times that of road cyclists, normalized for traffic conditions. The remaining sidewalk crashes that account for the high accident rate reported by Moritz include falls due to poor surface conditions as well as collisions with other cyclists, pedestrians, dogs, and obstacles.

Evidence continued...