Unexpected Finding in Palm Beach County Bicycle Crash Data
Crashes, Injuries, and Fatalities—It’s Not Who You Think
Florida has been in the headlines the past few years for consistently ranking as the deadliest state for cyclists. According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration’s (“NHTSA”) Traffic Safety Facts published in May 2018, Florida has the highest fatality rate for cyclists in the entire nation at 6.7 fatalities per million residents. That’s more than two-and-a-half times the national rate of 2.6 fatalities per million residents.
Only California (147) had more cycling fatalities than Florida (138). But when you consider that California’s population of 39,250,000 is nearly double that of Florida’s 20,612,000, just how treacherous Florida is for cyclists comes into sharp focus.
Texas experienced the third most cycling fatalities with 65 but has a population of 27,863,000, nearly seven million more people than Florida. As you can see, the numbers are especially startling when state-by-state comparisons put them into perspective.
Florida is Deadliest State for Cyclists by Population
2017 Crash Data
NHTSA also provides data on U.S. cities with the highest fatality rates for cyclists. One guess in which state the top spot is located—Florida, of course. Jacksonville’s 7.95 cycling fatality rate per one million population leads the nation.
By just about any measure, Florida is home to the deadliest roads in the country for cyclists.
Palm Beach County Crash Data: Surprising Revelation
As an avid cyclist and native Floridian, I’m deeply troubled by the general state of affairs for cyclists on Florida’s roads, and as a resident of Palm Beach County for the past 40 years, I’m especially concerned about what’s happening on the streets right here where I live, work, and ride.
To get a better understanding of the situation, I decided to examine the most recent cycling crash data for Palm Beach County published by the Florida Department of Transportation in its 2017 Final Report (“Report”), Statewide Analysis of Bicycle Crashes together with the Palm Beach Metropolitan Planning Organization’s 2017 Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Study (“Study”).
That is, of Palm Beach County’s top ten “high crash corridors” identified in the Study, only one of them is an area where so-called “road cyclists” regularly ride—Ocean Boulevard from Linton Boulevard to Thomas Street.
Road cyclists are the type most people think of when picturing cyclists riding on the roads along with motor vehicles. You know, the ones in fluorescent spandex bodysuits on carbon fiber bikes costing thousand of dollars and often riding in groups to the endless frustration of motorists who get stuck behind them.
The other nine high crash corridors in the county aren’t areas where road cyclists typically choose to ride. They’re located in the following areas in Palm Beach County.
These nine high crash corridors aren’t along stretches of streets favored by road cyclists. Instead, they’re areas where everyday people ride.
People in these locations generally cycle as a means of transportation because they either don’t have a car or choose to cycle based on environmental concerns.
They’re cycling to work or school and running errands; they’re cycling out of necessity, not for sport or recreation.
Palm Beach County Bike Crash Hotspots Map
Perception Versus Reality:
Everyday People Most Often Victim of Bike Crashes
The crash data from the Report and Study tell us that the reality is actually contrary to the widely held perception of the type of cyclist involved in most bike crashes.
It’s not road cyclists who are being injured and killed at alarmingly high rates in Palm Beach County; instead, the overwhelming majority of crashes, injuries, and fatalities involve everyday people commuting and running errands on their bike out of necessity or principle.
This revelation is noteworthy because hopefully, it’ll help change public perception about cycling crashes in Palm Beach County, which ideally will, in turn, generate greater public support for the county to implement the numerous, sensible safety initiatives recommended in the Report and Study. Fair or not, everyday cyclists are a more sympathetic group than road cyclists.
Let’s face it, the truth is road cyclists are not a very sympathetic group in the eyes of the general public. In fact, many motorists display a callous indifference towards the safety and well-being of road cyclists, both in word and deed.
So there is a lack of public support for the county to spend public funds on bicycle-friendly infrastructure improvements in an effort to decrease the number of cycling crashes.
Nevertheless, there is an urgent need to reduce the number of crashes in Palm Beach County, which ranks fourth in the state in the number of crashes according to data contained in the Report.
It’s no secret that road cyclists and motorists have an openly antagonistic relationship. The frustration and enmity run in both directions.
Motorists accuse cyclists of flouting traffic laws and norms, posing a danger to others on the road, causing gridlock and backups, and not belonging on the streets at all.
Road cyclists counter that motorists don’t even know the traffic laws pertaining to cyclists (yes, bicycles are legally allowed on public roads, and motor vehicles must allow at least three feet of clearance when passing), fail to look for cyclists as they do for vehicles and pedestrians, and don’t extend any patience or common courtesy towards cyclists.
As both a road cyclist and motorist, I see some merit in both points-of-view.
But motorists’ complaints and hostility, for the most part, aren’t directed toward everyday bicyclists.
So with the revelation about the type of bicyclist overwhelmingly involved in crashes and being injured or killed in Palm Beach County, it is my hope that public sentiment will begin to shift from indifference to immediate action on this issue is needed.
No cyclist should have to literally put his or her life at risk by simply riding a bicycle on the street, regardless of the purpose for cycling.
That’s something everyone can agree upon.