Bull By The Horns

First of all, I’m way out of it, so I was the last to learn that a rider was attacked by a bull in the Cock Gobbler gravel race last weekend:

At least four riders were charged by a loose bull on the course of this weekend’s Rock Cobbler gravel race near Bakersfield, California, with two different incidents caught on video.

According to the Cowboy State Daily, Tony Inderbitzin is the rider being attacked in the above video after riding too close to the massive bovine.

“I’m sore all over, mostly the neck from the second throw, I got whiplashed,” Inderbitzin told Cowboy State Daily on Sunday. “The list of what doesn’t hurt is my left arm and head.”

Ironically, Cowboy State Daily was just about to lay off the reporter who covers the cycling beat for them, but now that the gravel trend means an increased likelihood of livestock encounters and viral video the editorial board has decided to keep him on for just a little longer.

Meanwhile, here in New York City, we’re having a love affair with our bicycling mayor:

Oh, wait, no we’re not:

Not only has the carnage continued unabated:

But there was also a kerfuffle over the mysterious removal of a Brooklyn “Open Street” that nobody seems willing to own up to, as well as the unsurprising fact that the DOT is extremely unlikely to live up to its promise to fortify half the protected bike lanes or whatever:

Department of Transportation Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez in December pledged within his first 100 days in office to strengthen 50% of the green-painted bicycle paths that are currently bordered by flimsy plastic flappers, but almost halfway into that timeline the agency has not published any progress updates on the project.

“We’re working hard to accomplish as much as possible,” Rodriguez told amNewYork Metro on a Staten Island Ferry ride Monday following an unrelated press conference.

Meanwhile, the advocacy tastemakers who inform most of the discourse around it are moving away from street improvements and want to focus on the cars instead:

On one hand, I certainly get it–big cars are more dangerous to pedestrians. On the other hand, the advocacy messaging around it is sometimes lazy and inaccurate. For example, last year, Transportation Alternatives announced that the number of SUVs in New York was “up 21 percent” after some half-assed perusal of vehicle registrations. They also just shared this chart after that horrendous crash I referenced above:

It’s a damning chart…until you actually look at it:

What is the point of comparing a 2001 Honda CR-V to a 2021 Cadillac Escalade? It’s like comparing the size of a 2001 hamster to a 2021 Saint Bernard and saying pets are getting bigger. I mean, sure, I bet if you compared a 2001 CR-V to a 2021 CR-V you would find the blind spot had gotten bigger. But this chart sure as hell doesn’t show it.

The chart further undermines the message in that the city’s streets have in fact gotten safer for pedestrians since 2001, as far as I can tell. Pedestrian deaths by motor vehicle were 186 in 2001, with the average between 1998 and 2002 being 177:

That’s down to 99 in 2020 (though maybe the 122 in 2019 is a better example since 2020 was a weird year), with an average of 123 for 2016 to 2019:

Now, bear in mind I’m not saying we should all go congratulating ourselves that, on average, we fatally drive into and over slightly fewer of our neighbors on an annual basis. It may amount to little more than statistical noise:

However, I am saying that things haven’t gotten worse and maybe even got a little better–despite any changes in vehicle size, and despite steady increase in the number of pedestrians. Here’s the total population of New York City over the period covered by the blind spot chart:

  • 2000: 8,008,278
  • 2010: 8,175,133
  • 2020: 8,804,190

It’s also gone down despite the fact that there are a lot more cars in the city. In 2007 (that’s as far back as I was able to go on short notice) there were 1,738,970 passenger car registrations in New York City, while in 2017 (the most recent year conveniently available) there were 1,923,041.

Certainly if there are bigger cars and more of them in the city, then that data is very useful in telling people who complain about traffic or lack of free parking that if they don’t like they should drive a smaller car, or suck it up and pay for parking, or get rid of the car altogether, or else shut the fuck up. It’s less useful, however, in arguing that it’s the cars themselves making the streets more dangerous…especially when they’re not more dangerous. Mostly, it just seems like a good way to elicit a visceral response in people who are easily convinced by charts.

Of course, on a national level, pedestrian deaths have increased, and SUVs may certainly play an important role in that:

Since 2009, pedestrian fatalities have consistently grown year over year after a nearly steady decrease since 1988. A decade ago, in 2009, annual deaths were at 4109. Through 2018, the most recent year with complete data, there has been a 53 percent increase in pedestrian deaths. The GHSA’s calculated total of 6590 deaths would mean that there would have been a 60 percent increase from 2009 through the end of 2019.

That being said, the Federal Highway Administration reported that motor vehicle travel increased 0.8 percent in the first half of 2019 as compared to the same period in 2018.

The association cites a number of possible reasons for the continuing increase in deaths, including the growing popularity of light trucks and SUVs, warmer weather, and an increase in cellphone use while driving. The study notes that in 2009, 48 percent of new vehicle sales were light trucks (which includes SUVs), and in 2018, that number had risen to 69 percent. It also says pedestrians who are struck by a large SUV are twice as likely to die as those struck by a car.

So why would New York City’s pedestrian deaths be…well, certainly not bucking this trend, but at least resisting it to some degree? Well, advocates insist we’re driving larger cars just like everyone else, so it can’t be that. (I’m definitely driving a larger car than I was ten years ago.) But something noteworthy did happen in 2002, which is that this guy became mayor:

So was he an urbanist visionary, or a billionaire despot who wanted to frisk everybody and ban sodas? I dunno. But bike lanes, bike share, pedestrian plazas, and all the rest of it happened under his administration, and it certainly seems reasonable to think that when it comes to street safety, it’s this more people-centered approach to design that’s doing a lot of the heavy lifting.

As a citydweller who likes bikes I have a natural predisposition to prefer smaller, more nimble motor vehicles, and so my first impulse is naturally to join the smugness chorus that increasingly seems to be calling for some sort of additional regulation or prohibition of “SUVs,” whatever that means today. However, I also think the truth’s important, and I think advocates can be wont to moor their cause to floating clumps of idealism that carry them adrift of their core mission. Street design is something over which the city has a large amount of direct control; automotive consumer trends is not. Secretary Pete is never going to sanction Dodge for making muscle cars no matter how much the Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives tweets at him:

Just ask his boss:

That’s probably the first boner he’s had in years.

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