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How Much of a Threat Do Bicycles Actually Pose to DC Pedestrians? Let’s Look at the Data

Photograph by vmbfoto, via iStock.

DC’s bike community was not pleased at the end of last week by this tweet from Abby Livingston, the Texas Tribune’s DC bureau chief.

Livingston chose a not-especially-excellent week to unload on people who use acoustic forms of transportation; feelings were quite raw, and on Friday cyclists and advocates gathered at the Wilson Building for a rally to demand “Streets That Don’t Kill People.” I was surprised those circumstances seemed to have escaped a Washington bureau chief’s notice, but as a cyclist, I did wonder how the perception that people ride bikes unsafely lined up with actual reports of harm.

As it happens, DC keeps records on crashes on streets maintained by the District Department of Transportation. It tracks pedestrian injuries (major and minor) and fatalities as well as the vehicles involved (bikes are the only non-motorized conveyance the figures break out). Here’s what I found.

Since 2012 there have been 40 cases of minor pedestrian injuries in crashes that involved a bicycle: 1 incident so far this year, 10 last year,  13 in 2017, and 5 in 2016. That’s an average of 6.5 minor pedestrian injuries per year from crashes with a bike involved between 2012 and 2018, or 1 every 56 days. Since 2012 there have been 7 cases of major pedestrian injuries from crashes that involved a bicycle. The data set includes 1 pedestrian fatality involving a bicycle: the 2017 death of Jane Bennett Clark.

Then I looked at the same data involving all vehicles and subtracted cases involving bicycles. A somewhat different picture obtains.

Since 2012 there have been 2,967 cases of minor pedestrian injuries in crashes that involved a vehicle. That’s an average of about 494 per year between 2012 and 2018—a little more than 1 every day, on average. There have been 609 major pedestrian injuries in crashes that involved a vehicle—28 between the January 1 and April 13 of this year alone. There have been 19 pedestrian fatalities in crashes involving a vehicle since 2013—and this particular data set stops in late February 2019.

(You can see all the data I used here.)

So what are we to make of these numbers? Livingston’s ill-timed rant has a rather obvious point: People on wheels should take great care around pedestrians. I’d argue there’s a robust conversation to be had here—one that might take root more easily during a week when cars aren’t slamming into people one after another. But, okay, let’s take it on its own terms—and agree that “don’t act like a jerk” is advice that can be applied in many of life’s arenas.

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Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.