Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Fairfax County reports more bike crashes in 2011 than this time last year

July 14, 2011 - 10:02 AM
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The roads can be dangerous. (Photo: flickr/mjmonty)

New police statistics may not bode well for Fairfax County cyclists, especially in the summer months. In the first half of 2011, Fairfax County police reported 46 "reportable" (in police parlance) crashes involving bikes, January through June, which represents a rather large increase compared to the 32 reported crashes in the first half of 2010.

The good news — no one died in any of these Virginia crashes. The police also note that the cyclists themselves were held at fault in 58.7% of the cases.

Unsurprisingly, the number of reported crashes increased as the months got warmer, with 15 and16 crashes reported in April and June, respectively, compared to one crash reported in the month of January and one in February. People began to bike more as warmer weather arrived, naturally enough, but why the increase in reported crashes at all? Are the crossroads between bike and car that much more dangerous this year? Or perhaps more people in general have begun biking? The answer may also involve education, as the culture of reporting cycling accidents has improved with greater awareness of how to handle accidents. A growing theme this week has been this very tension between cars and bikes on the road, which I've observed in the Washington Area Bike Association's suggested legislation to help cyclists fight back against angry drivers, in reflections on the Ciclovía traditions of some cities, and in On Foot's look back at how traffic laws and signs first evolved in the 1920s.

The police have also conveniently provided a few basic details about what inspired each other the crashes. The best might be the first.

The single January crash occurred after noon on January 1st, and the cyclist was at fault with the note "Drunk in public." Happy New Year's, anyone? Most reported crashes seemed to involve no charges, and those that did involved such issues as reckless driving, no lights on the bicycle, a hit-and-run, and failure to yield the right-of-way.

Fairfax County has put special effort into its biking since around 2006, creating a "Bike and Ride" initiative to make racks more available, presenting a map of bike-friendly routes, and making bike lockers more freely available, as the Fairfax County Bicycle Program site explains. The county even features a grandiosely named Master Plan, with multiple phases of planning slated.

I've called the Fairfax County bike folks to see about getting some additional context for why these crashes may have increased in 2011 but have not been able to get through yet. Ultimately, one important piece of context already should frame these statistics, however. In the first quarter of 2011, the reported crashes involving a bike represent fewer than 1 percent of the total reported crashes, which amount to close to 2,200. As important as these numbers are for understanding the road safety issues affecting cars and bikes, they're just a fraction of what is a much bigger road danger.

 The Fairfax County government also provide this video on bike safety:

Update, 2:30 p.m.: I just heard back from Charlie Strunk, bicycle program manager for Fairfax County, who confirmed that yes, general ridership of bikes has seemed to have increased in Fairfax County, which could account for the higher number of crashes reported, but he said the county lacks the hard numbers to say for sure. Oblique signs point to an increase. He glanced at some of the hard data in Arlington, for instance, and saw that recorded numbers jumped from 21,000 in November, 2009 to 28,000 in November, 2010 — even if Fairfax County only increased by a fraction of that amount, the rise in crashes would make some sense. Buses in Fairfax County are even changing bike racks from the two-bike rack to a three-bike version due to higher demand.

The spike in gas prices also may have contributed to a greater number of bike-riders this year, according to Strunk. The police also had been more concerned about distracted driving, such as when drivers use their cell phones on the road, and those riskier behaviors could also have led to greater dangers and a higher number of crashes.

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