Thursday 16 August 2012

The European Cyclists’ Federation and the ‘Safety in Numbers’ myth

For dodgy statistics, bogus comparisons, and unwarranted conclusions I suggest you start here and follow the link.

Quite why a European cycling organisation illustrates its material with a photograph from a Critical Mass in Canada is baffling.

For an admirable critique of “Safety in Numbers” you could start here, and also consider this:

The greater rate of cycling in some European countries could be a result of more safety, rather than their greater safety arising from their greater numbers. In addition, and even more problematically, the graph simply fails to take account of a wide range of variables that might also have an effect on cyclists’ safety, of which, perhaps in order of importance, we could name physical infrastructure, policing, speed limits, even (if we are looking at a rate of cycling fatalities) quality of emergency medical treatment. 

And let’s not forget this concrete example:

The relatively high volume of cyclists — coupled with the atrocious fast and confusing road design, signalling conflicts, and appalling road use discipline — puts this junction in London’s top ten for cyclist casualties. So much for safety in numbers. 

If there really is safety in numbers, then shouldn’t the safest place to cycle in London be Hackney? And if the fewer the cyclists, the more the danger, then surely the London Borough of Waltham Forest should be a very dangerous place to cycle? After all, Hackney has at least six times as many cyclists as Waltham Forest.

Yet KSI rates for Hackney are much, much higher than for Waltham Forest. It might be, of course, that there are other factors determining KSI rates, outside cycling numbers. For example, Hackney may be a borough with more lorry trips than Waltham Forest.

The fact remains that no cyclist has been killed in Waltham Forest since 2007. The same does not hold true for Hackney, which has an alarming fatality rate.

There are some interesting statistics in this parliamentary report. although unfortunately they refer to parliamentary constituencies rather than London boroughs. Nevertheless, to my mind they demolish “safety in numbers” as defined by KSI.

Here are some of them.

KSI cyclists

Hackney South and Shoreditch

2005: 12
2006: 7
2007: 14
2008: 19
2009: 8
2010: 10

Hackney North and Stoke Newington

2005: 4
2006: 9
2007: 9
2008: 14
2009: 10
2010: 9

Leyton and Wanstead

2005: 0
2006: 3
2007: 1
2008: 3
2009: 3
2010: 5


2005: 2
2006: 3
2007: 5
2008: 8
2009: 6
2010: 8

Chingford and Woodford Green

2005: 1
2006: 3
2007: 0
2008: 3
2009: 1
2010: 1


It’s a scientific fact that where there are almost no cyclists at all, very few cyclists will be killed or seriously injured.

However, this does not mean that an area with very few cyclists or with a low KSI rate is safe for cycling.