A recent Rand study on Bay Area bicycle fatality/injury statistics has come out. The study has generated a lot of reporting, almost all of which has reached wrong conclusions about the data.
First, let’s review the stats:
In other words, during the 2000-2008 period, there were 10 bicycle fatalities in Oakland, and only a single fatality in next-door Berkeley.
Perhaps it’s all the construction on major arteries like Broadway and Telegraph Avenue, or maybe it’s simply a matter of more bikes sharing space with more cars. If you’ve suspected that riding a bicycle in Oakland is an increasingly perilous proposition, the numbers back you up. Bicycle-involved injuries in Oakland have increased by more than 30 percent between 2000 and 2008.
Injury rates are notoriously unreliable for safety measurement. They are Ok for plotting hot-spots on a map, but not reliable for long-term trend. There are huge discrepancies in how or when a police officer may choose to file a report for non-life-threatening injury. One of the huge problems Bay Area cyclists have faced over the years is getting officers to file police reports in accidents — even in egregious cases, like Hit-and-Run and major property damage. Sure, an injured bicyclist can always visit the police department in order to file a report. But how many bother to do that?
What is striking about the data is that it suggests Berkeley is a really safe place to ride a bicycle. Berkeley had 10 times fewer fatalities than next-door Oakland. And while Berkeley does have 4x smaller population, it has higher bicycle mode share (due to the University).
If this conclusion is correct, it is worth asking why Oakland has higher fatality rate. The answer is that Berkeley has invested heavily in dedicated bicycle infrastructure, whereas Oakland has done virtually nothing. In Berkeley, there is a wonderful Bicycle Boulevard system, which gives cyclists an alternative to busy arterials. Berkeley city government has also not been afraid to take on the reactionary “Nimbys” who oppose traffic calming and road diets. Oakland Public Works, still stuck in a 1950s mindset, will often terminate plans for bike lanes for fear of incurring even the most minor LOS impacts.