27 October 2014

A Cloud Over Cyclists' Safety


Why does that number matter?

It's how many cyclists were killed in traffic accidents in two different localities during 2012.

Take a guess as to which localities.

All right, I'll tell you the first one:  the United Kingdom. About 64 million people live in its 242,990 square kilometers of land.  About 43 percent of the people own or have access to a bicycle.  By this definition, the UK has 27.5 million cyclists, of whom 3 million cycle three times a week or more.

Now, what's the other place where 120 cyclists were killed in traffic accidents in 2012?

It's none other than Florida.

Yes, the Sunshine State, which is about two-thirds the size of Britain and has less than a third of its population. 

The fatality statistics come from an article on The Economist's blog.  It also mentions that Florida's pedestrian fatality rate is double the US average. In fact, according to the National Complete Streets Coalition, the four most dangerous cities for pedestrians in America are also the four largest cities in Florida:  Miami, Jacksonville, Tampa-St.Petersburg and Orlando.

The article rightly points out, "Florida's cities are routinely dangerous because they are designed for cars, not for people."  That is true:  Traffic lanes are wider in Florida's cities than they are in other urban areas of the United States, and speed limits are higher but not enforced. This encourages drivers to go faster than they should. 

What the article doesn't mention--and I know from a fairly extensive amount of cycling in Florida--is that those drivers are rarely cyclists themselves, and are thus unaware of what makes for a safe (let alone harmonious) existence between cyclists and motorists.  I have argued, in other posts on this blog, that this is the single most important factor, apart from the behavior of cyclists themselves, in determining the safety of cyclists.  Without this internal human infrastructure, so to speak (which is what much of Europe has), no number of bike lanes or traffic signals is going to make cycling safer in any city.

To its credit, Florida officials are looking into the issue of bicycle/pedestrian safety and, I believe, some localities are addressing the issue as best as they know how.  One problem, as The Economist article points out, is that the state also plans to continue with an economic model based on breakneck growth, all of it fueled by cars.  It is not an exaggeration to say that for every person added to the Sunshine State's population, another car is added to its roadways.

Interestingly, the author of the article seems to recognize that it's not a sustainable economic model.  And it's not a recipe for reducing the number of cyclists killed, no matter how many new bike paths are built.


  1. Don't worry, global warming will fix the Florida problem...

  2. I wonder if Florida's popularity as a retirement destination explains some of that number? Elderly drivers that, perhaps, should not be driving to begin with (not judging, just noting that in our "golden years" many persons suffer from ailments that may conflict with good driving ability), combined with what I've observed is a lack of understanding of why an adult would be riding a bike. In my experience, those of us in our 40s-50s are probably the first real generation of folks that ride as adults for fun/exercise/transportation here in America (in recent times, of course)... those that are older seem more likely to perceive riding as child's play.


  3. N/A--All of the points you make are valid. Given that I'm of the 40s-50s generation, what you say about older drivers makes sense to me. They aren't hostile or aggressive, as some younger drivers are. They simply don't know how to react when they see bikes.

    That point comes back to something I've said in this and other posts: Nothing makes cyclists safer than drivers--and a general public--who understand cycling and cyclists.