If there is one thing we have learned in the fight over transportation planning and the future of our cities, it’s that bicycle activists never tire of spreading misleading and outright false information to further their purblind agendas. So it’s no surprise that the usual suspects like CityLab are catching the vapors over a new study that suggests protected bike lanes make travel safer for all road users.
The study, by urban planning professors at the University of Colorado and University of New Mexico, concludes “Better safety outcomes are instead associated with a greater prevalence of bike facilities – particularly protected and separated bike facilities – at the block group level and, more strongly so, across the overall city.”
Color us skeptical. As demonstrated in places from Los Angeles, California to Waverly, Iowa, road diets just as often increase the number of overall accidents significantly. Moreover, there’s always a tell when people try to fudge the facts. Here, the study’s authors conclude in part, “Where cycle tracks were most abundant on a citywide basis, fatal crash rates dropped by 44 percent compared to the average city.” Problem is, there’s no such thing as an “average city.” This is a common sleight of hand activists employ, comparing one set of statistics against a non-existent alternative. It’s a classic straw man argument. As the saying goes, there are three kinds of falsehoods: Lies, damned lies, and statistics.
Nevertheless, for the sake of argument let’s accept the study’s conclusions: “bike facilities” tend to slow down traffic, and slower traffic can mean fewer serious accidents. Even if that’s true, as with so much of the activists’ propaganda the study still only tells part of the story, and is highly misleading.
As we’ve reported consistently, many bike facilities, including protected bike lanes, significantly impact emergency response times. Consider: Prior to the installation of dozens of miles of road diets and protected bike lanes, New York City experienced approximately 120 pedestrian and cyclist deaths annually. It goes without saying that every single death is a tragedy and certainly communities should take all reasonable steps to minimize that number. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), in 2017 (the last year for which complete data is available), there were 44,092 deaths in New York attributable to heart disease. There were 6,264 deaths attributable to strokes, 3,921 drug overdoses, 722 firearm deaths, and 577 homicides. Put another way: There are more deaths from these categories of emergencies every single day than the total number of pedestrian and cyclist deaths annually. Making it more difficult for emergency responders to travel from station to scene all but guarantees these numbers will go up as the city installs more and more road diets. As any first responder can attest, minutes and even seconds can make the difference between life and death, or recovery and permanent disability.
It’s also worth pointing out that a significant percentage of pedestrians and cyclists are at fault in fatal accidents (such as the intoxicated man who was killed last summer walking down the middle of the 110 freeway in L.A. at three in the morning). All the bike lanes in the world won’t prevent instances of basic stupidity – cyclists who routinely ignore stop signs and red lights, or distracted drivers checking email at 40 miles an hour. However, road diets, particularly those with protected bike lanes, can keep ambulances from reaching victims in time to save their lives.
If the activists truly cared about peoples’ lives they would be calling for the immediate removal of road diets and bike lanes on major thoroughfares and emergency routes. Instead, they’re willing to risk literally tens of thousands of lives annually in cities like New York and Los Angeles – and millions nationwide – to further their agenda (an agenda, by the way, that disproportionately serves young, affluent “bike bros” at the expense of everyone else, but we digress).
As demonstrated in studies by a former Los Angeles Fire Marshall, a former Austin, Texas assistant fire chief and an engineer with the National Bureau of Standards laboratory in Boulder, Colorado, even minor traffic calming measures like speed bumps slow down emergency vehicles. Major reconfigurations like road diets and protected bike lanes have proven in many cases to be catastrophic.
According to multiple senior officials with fire departments in California, Washington state, Iowa, Massachusetts, and New York, more lives are being lost in non-traffic emergencies than are being saved by changes to roads. Off the record, numerous firefighters have confirmed to The All Aspect Report that victims in medical emergencies have died because help couldn’t reach them in time due to road diets. Said one senior fire official in southern California, “For the politicians to characterize the road diet [in our community] as an improvement is a lie.”
Captain Henry Holt of the Oakland, California Fire Department confirms that his crews get bogged down on the Telegraph Avenue road diet every single day. It gets so bad at times, he says, that emergency drivers resort to “suicide mode,” driving down the other side of the street to get around gridlock caused by the road diet. His department is far from alone, as the picture of a Los Angeles Fire Department truck on the (now reversed) Playa del Rey road diet shows.
Meanwhile, Chief Howard Schapelhouman of the Menlo Park Fire Department is on record describing the negative impacts of road diets on his crews’ ability to get from station to scene. The Chief is no anti-bike zealot, in fact quite the opposite: His family owned a bicycle shop when he was growing up, and he was an avid cyclist until an accident rendered him paraplegic (he is the only paraplegic fire chief in the country).
These are the realities caused by the crazed national push for bike infrastructure and road diets. People are dying. Of course, the activists and politicians would rather you not know these uncomfortable realities, which is why they go out of their way to drown out any contrarian information, even when it comes from the very people into whose hands each and every one of us entrusts our safety and even our lives.
It’s worth asking: When it comes to life and death issues, should we trust firefighters, paramedics, cops, and other emergency professionals? Or should we listen to activists, many of whom are paid quite well to further their radical anti-car agenda?
The answer is obvious.