In September 2013, an SUV, driven by Gavin Haley, 31, hit cyclist Victor Haskell, 53, on State Street near 30th in Boise. Haskell died from his injuries; his body was not located for several hours. The driver of the SUV left the scene but turned himself in the next day. A Boise jury recently deadlocked in Haley’s trial, failing to rule on whether he intentionally left the scene of an injury accident, according to the Idaho Statesman.
Since 2007, when the Idaho Transportation Department began recording GPS coordinates of crash locations, there have been 1,195 bicycle crashes — including 11 fatalities — in Ada County. Most of these crashes were within Boise city limits. To clarify, these are the kind of crashes that occur on roadways in mixed-modal traffic, unrelated to mountain biking or rustic tumbles along the Greenbelt’s recreational park paths.
In my geographic analysis of the ITD bicycle crash data from 2007 thru 2014, I charted fatalities, linked crashes to the underlying bicycle transportation infrastructure and broke out the crash injury classes by location. I wanted to better understand where crashes happen and whether the existing infrastructure provides a safe urban bicycling environment.
By linking crashes to the underlying bicycle transportation infrastructure, we can look for trends related to available bike facilities. The infrastructure type is defined by on-street features available to bicyclists — features such as bike lanes, signed routes, sharrows (shared route markings), etc. According to this analysis, about half of the 1,195 wrecks occurred on bicycle infrastructure such as marked bike lanes or bike routes, while the rest, 613 incidents, occurred on streets without bicycle infrastructure.
From the annual crash summary chart below we can see that crashes are almost consistently split between on-infrastructure (streets with bike lanes or a bike route format) and off-infrastructure roadways (streets without any form of bicycling features such as a bike lane). Why is this? Why do so many crashes occur on streets with bike lanes and, at the same time, why are we seeing half the crashes on streets without bike lanes? Are the types of traditionally painted bike lanes available in Boise actually safe? Do certain neighborhoods and roadway corridors under-serve bicyclists, forcing them into unsafe conditions?
Below we present bar graphs further detailing the 15 on and off-infrastructure streets with the most bicycle crashes. The convenience of seeing the crash data summarized by street in a chart format confirms the insights observed in the maps: regardless of bicycling infrastructure types, specific commercial corridors are responsible for many of the crashes during the past 7 years.
Roadways such as Fairview, State, Overland, Emerald, Orchard, Franklin, Broadway and Vista should be viewed as particularly unsafe for bicyclists. One may wonder if we really need data to communicate what is empirically obvious about these fast, exposed and uncomfortable roadways for bicyclists. Yet, what the data tells us is that many bicyclists are still trying to access these corridors as either a final destination or for connectivity to other parts of the city and county that lack connecting bike routes.
Following upon my previous piece tracking the unfulfilled development of bicycle infrastructure proposed in the Urban Bicycle Route System Master Plan from 1976, it should be noted that many of the streets where off-street cycle tracks were proposed are the very same corridors where we now see many bicycle crashes. Though great urban plans are often shelved, it is useful to speculate how these crash and fatality statistics may have differed had the proposed safe bicycling infrastructure been built.
Launch a larger interactive map of the bicycle crash geography on top of the proposed 1976 cycle tracks and current infrastructure.
As we consider the rather clear conclusions presented by mashing up the 1976 Bicycle Master Plan and recent bicycle crash data, we must ask, how have elected officials and professional planning staff used data to inform their design and siting of urban cycling infrastructure?
Contemplate the recent trophy pursuit for a new community ranking from the League of American Bicyclists (LAB) for the city itself. As a reminder, the previous ranking for Ada County, which included Boise, was silver, and the new ranking for the city alone, released June 10, was also silver, despite the optimistic suggestion of the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Committee to the Boise City Council on December 16, 2014 that Boise would receive Gold.
Is it misguided to promote the city as safer than it is without backing up that assumption through data? Using the external validation of the LAB ranking system to drive bike policy can be problematic. A recent movement in Portland, Ore. (i.e. Bike City, USA) to have a long-heralded LAB platinum ranking demoted to gold for example, seeks pressure to keep making Portland streets even safer for cyclists.
Meanwhile, as the debate over protected bike lanes languishes, ACHD has prioritized establishing an official policy for roadside memorials such as the ghost bicycle dedicated to Victor Haskell on State Street.
The data presented here could provide a new focus on safety and identify on the ground solutions to dangerous streets for the relevant agencies and bicycling advocates.
Recall in late May the increasing momentum gained by the Takata Airbag recall. Due to the likely link of seven deaths and more than 100 injuries from ruptured airbags, as of June 12, a Congressional subcommittee formed in Washington, D.C. to hear the matter (hearings continue today), 16 million Honda cars have been recalled, Takata executives and board members resigned and the potential for 34 million airbags being recalled in the U.S. alone remains.
Here’s some context: since 2007, in Ada County there have been 11 fatalities from 1,195 bicycle crashes. Now ask yourself, what kind of public process, recompense and recall do Boise’s bicyclists deserve?
Special thanks to Matthew Bergstrom for his research that contributed to this piece.
Data Sources: Idaho Transportation Department (bicycle crash data), ACHD (ACHD maintained bicycle infrastructure), Conservation Geography (non-ACHD maintained bicycle infrastructure).
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of Boise State University, the Center for Idaho History and Politics, or the School of Public Service.