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Bicycling Wed Jul 31 2013

The Importance of Bicycle Collision Data

Chicago-Bicycle-Accident-Map.jpgCycling in Chicago is becoming more and more popular not only as a source of recreation and exercise, but, for many, as the primary method of transportation. The warm weather attracts people to their bikes and now with the Divvy bike-share program expanding on what seems to be a daily basis; more and more cyclists have taken to the road. Many commuters have also replaced vehicles with bicycles as a way to save money, avoid traffic and parking woes and help the environment.

With more cyclists on the Chicago streets, bicycle safety is more of an issue now than ever. There are simply too many bicycle collisions involving injuries and sometimes deaths. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I feel there is a great opportunity being missed with regards to bicycle data. The City of Chicago just published the 2012 Chicago Bike Crash Analysis, don't let the name fool you, the data analyzed was from 2005-2010, not 2012. I applaud the city making this data public however, the time difference between 2010 and August 2013 is significant. To put that in perspective remember back in 2010, before the parking meter fiasco, a lot has changed. Roads and streets have changed, we have added bike lanes, and parking spaces, new laws and rules have been implemented, and more importantly there are record numbers of bicyclists on the Chicago's roads.

I propose a solution, my firm has created a self-reported interactive heat map as a way to gather information on close calls, (what I call near misses), bicycle collisions as well as doorings. My hope is that, with thousands of cyclists using our Chicago streets, real data can be gathered in real time to identify trouble areas. You can visit the map on my website Please visit the site and report the location of your last close call.

Hopefully, cyclists and those governmental departments whose job it is to protect cyclists, can use this data to keep Chicago's streets safer for everyone, not only cyclists (beginners, intermediate and advanced) but for pedestrians and motorists as well can use the data to help plan their routes around troubled areas. At a minimum, hopefully this heat map will aid cyclists in planning the safest possible routes for their rides.
"Real time" is what's important here. This article isn't meant to be an attack on government agencies whose job it is to protect cyclists. However, let's face it -- sometimes our government agencies just don't move fast enough, or have their constituent's best interests at heart.

As a result, people, and cyclists get hurt. Also, while governmental agencies do collect bicycle collision data, let alone data on close calls, keep in mind that "reported" bicycle collisions only represent a portion of the total number of cycling collisions which happen on the streets of Chicago. For many bicycle collisions, the police are not notified, this is because reporting an accident is a very personal matter and a victim may decide not to report the collision for many reasons including; they didn't know their rights, they didn't have time, or didn't think their injuries to be significant at the time.

In others, where the police are notified, but the injuries do not appear too serious, a police report is not always completed. If you or a loved one is in a bicycle accident, make sure the police are notified and a police report is completed, regardless of the nature of the injuries, if any.

Also, the government does not collect data regarding near miss bicycle collisions. This near miss data is crucial as it occurs in the highest frequency and can help us learn more about the "hot spots" or trouble areas in our city before an accident happens.

My goal with this data is to help those involved in planning our cities infrastructure find out about areas that may be trouble spots, which could mean the life of death of a citizen of Chicago, hopefully sooner than the city publishes their bicycle accident reports. When looking at the data that does exist, one thing becomes clear -- the current safety status of cyclists is somewhat of a mystery, without the Chicago bicycle collision maps created by Derek Eder and Steven Vance, I doubt the general public would know where most of the accidents occur. We are now improving upon their concept and tracking self-reported data concerning doorings, near misses and other accident types in real-time. We are not attempting to replace government data as our data relies on the accuracy of our users submissions; we are however adding another voice to the conversation and suggesting that sharing information and data with each other may be another tool in our battle for safer roads.

With the popularity of cycling in Chicago increasing, it is important that the users of Chicago streets band together to share information that keeps each other safe. The same data can be used by governmental agencies for implementation of measures designed to keep cyclists safe. While it's important for our government to share bicycle data with the public, we can and should also rely on each other. Hopefully, launching this new bike collision map for Chicago allowing bicyclists to self-report not only accidents and doorings, but near misses as well, makes cycling on our Chicago streets as safe as possible. An informed rider is a safe rider.

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Charlotte / August 24, 2013 12:14 AM

This sounds great!
As a very cautious driver who nearly knocked someone off a bike recently, I think the most important thing is to integrate bikers into a regulated traffic system. As it stands, they do not generally stop at stop signs, respect general traffic rules, etc. This seems insane to me since those rules are in place to prevent accidents and bikers are more vulnerable than anyone else except pedestrians. Bikers need to be aware of drivers' behavior, patterns of checking, etc. For example, I think having bikers flying past cars on the right is not safe since most drivers are not in the habit of checking their right rear view mirror before swerving or turning to the right. This is why passing on the right is bad even for cars. Yhe idea if the bike on the right is that they're going SLOWER not faster than the flow of traffic. If bikes are to be an accepted presence in the road, we must collectively devise rules that will keep bikers safe and then enforce them. Driving in the city is hard enough without adding the additional complexity of unpredictable bikers who disregard stop sign, pass on the right, etc.

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