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Why are there so many bicycle accident in urban areas like Los Angeles?

Los-Angeles-Bike-Accident-LawyerWhy do urban areas like Los Angeles CA have so many bicycle accidents? While there has been a large push in cities around the world to encourage cycling, some major urban areas, including Los Angeles, have entrenched safety problems for cyclists. In 2018, Bicycling Magazine named Los Angeles as the worst city in the U.S. for bicyclists and reported that Los Angeles County had more cyclist deaths than all but three states as a whole during the three years from 2014 to 2016. While the city has engaged in efforts to reduce bicycle and other traffic fatalities, the data demonstrates that more needs to be done.

The problem of bicycle fatalities in Los Angeles

Los Angeles has attempted to address the problems of bicycle safety by devoting additional funds to safety projects such as road diets. Despite these efforts, however, cycling fatalities have increased. In 2018, for example, preliminary data for Los Angeles shows that 21 cyclists were killed in accidents with motor vehicles, which was an increase from the 17 who were killed in 2015 at the beginning of the Vision Zero initiative.

Efforts to improve bicycle safety through the Vision Zero initiative

In reaction to the high traffic fatality rate in Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the city’s Vision Zero initiative in 2015. The initiative is based on a similar one in Sweden and aims to reduce traffic deaths in LA to zero by 2025. The city notes that almost half of the 200 traffic fatalities that happen in Los Angeles each year are pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities. As a result, the city has added bicycle lanes to some streets and increased its funding of safety projects. Despite these efforts, the number of bicycle fatalities has increased since the implementation of the initiative rather than decreasing, leading to questions about why this has occurred. Some explanations can be gleaned from a study that was published in the BMC Public Health journal in 2014.

The study on bicycling crash circumstances

In the study “Bicycling crash circumstances vary by route type: A cross-sectional analysis,” the researchers looked at 690 bicycle crashes that occurred in Vancouver, B.C., and Toronto, Ontario that were serious enough for the injured cyclists to seek treatment at the emergency departments of their local hospitals. The researchers were interested in looking at the accidents in terms of their route type and other infrastructure factors.

Participants in the study answered questions in structured interviews about their crashes, including information about what happened, whether the accident involved a collision with a motor vehicle or another object, and the specific type of object or vehicle with which the cyclist collided.

The authors were able to identify several infrastructure features that were associated with a higher crash risk, including the following:

  • Not having bicycle infrastructure on major streets with parked cars
  • Bike lanes on major streets with parked cars
  • Not having bicycle infrastructure on major streets without parked cars
  • Bike lanes on major streets without parked cars
  • No bicycle infrastructure on local, primarily residential streets
  • Accidents on sidewalks and pedestrian paths
  • Shared pedestrian and bicycle routes

A big issue that the authors identified was having no bicycle infrastructure on major streets with cars parked alongside the roads. Out of the different route types where accidents occurred, the most frequently occurring type were collisions with motor vehicles or falls to avoid collisions with motor vehicles on these types of streets that had parked vehicles and no bicycle infrastructure. There were almost no motor vehicle collisions with bicycles on bicycle routes that were separated from traffic.

All of the routes that included cars parked on the sides of the roads had accidents involving doors. Dooring incidents were especially pronounced on routes that had cars parked on the sides of the streets and that had no bicycle infrastructure. Collisions with trains and streetcars were also more frequent on major roads with no bicycle infrastructure. Interestingly, residential streets that had traffic calming features also had a higher number of bicycle accidents involving motor vehicles and falls to avoid collisions than the authors had anticipated. The researchers also found that there were a greater number of collisions with infrastructure, animals, cyclists, and pedestrians on paved bicycle paths and shared-use pedestrian and cycling paths than the authors had expected.

The authors compared their findings with data from other countries, including Sweden, the Netherlands, Australia, and South Korea. They noted that these countries have more bicycle infrastructure than the U.S. and Canada, and they also have separated bicycle routes to keep bicyclists separated from motor vehicles. The authors noted that 27% of the bicycle accidents that occur in the U.S. involve direct collisions with motor vehicles. By contrast, Sweden, which has separate bicycle routes away from the streets, only has 9% of bicycle accidents that involve direct collisions with motor vehicles. These results help to explain why Los Angeles has failed to see a reduction in bicycle fatalities despite adding bicycle paths.

Issues with Los Angeles’s bicycle infrastructure

The Los Angeles Department of Transportation has been increasing the number of bicycle paths in the city, including along some roads that have been identified as a part of the Vision Zero’s high injury network. However, the addition of these paths has done little to curb the bicycle accident rates. A major issue is that few bicycle routes are separated from traffic. Los Angeles has a substantial amount of motor vehicle traffic on its congested roads, and some of the bicycle paths that have been added involve road diets.

Road diets involve adding paths on existing roads, which leaves less room for the vehicles on those streets. Los Angeles also has many heavily trafficked surface streets on which cars are allowed to park on the sides. Cars parked on the sides of the roads lead to dooring accidents with bicycles when people open their doors to get out of their cars. When a bicycle lane is painted in between a row of parked cars and the traffic lanes, the bicyclists must contend with risks from dooring accidents as well as risks from driving in close proximity to motor vehicles in the traffic lanes beside them.

Critics argue that Los Angeles should separate bicycle routes from traffic and include lanes on side streets instead of on major thoroughfares to reduce the risks. Another problem is that Los Angeles has attempted to increase urban railways. As the study in Canada demonstrated, accidents between cyclists and trains will likely increase when the urban railway use increases unless Los Angeles adds infrastructure to separate the bicyclists from the paths of the trains.

Because of the sheer size of Los Angeles, the city government is large and can be inefficient in its maintenance of safe conditions on the city’s streets, paths, and sidewalks. This can lead to bicycle accidents when cyclists have accidents caused by road or sidewalk defects such as broken asphalt and potholes.

Contact the injury lawyers at Steven M. Sweat, APC

Los Angeles needs to take a second look at the city’s plans for improving bicycle safety. The city might want to add separate routes for bicycles instead of trying to incorporate bicycle paths on the city’s overly congested thoroughfares. People who are seriously injured in bicycle accidents because of infrastructure problems might want to consult with a personal injury attorney at the law firm of Steven M. Sweat, APC. Contact us today by calling 310-592-0445.

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