Analyzing bike crashes


A recent story on WCAI radio claimed that there were over 65 bicycle crashes in town this year through September and that there has been a 25 percent increase in crashes over the past five years. The Bicycle Committee requests crash data from the Provincetown Police Department on a calendar year basis, so we can't yet verify this. I've reached out to the committee's police liaison to find out what numbers were provided to the reporter. Here's the data we do have:

If the 65 crash number for 2016 is accurate, that's a whopping 88 percent increase from last year.

We know the kinds of crashes that happened in 2015 (the first time this breakdown was provided), which shows this: That seems like a high percentage of people falling off their bikes! Based on data reported by the Cape Cod National Seashore, these are probably people who are inexperienced at riding a bike. Most of the people here in the summer are on vacation and many of them are renting unfamiliar bicycles, so that's not unexpected.

I dug a bit deeper into nationwide numbers for bike crashes to see if people falling off their bikes is a common problem:

It looks like single-rider crashes are pretty common, with bike/car crashes much more frequent nationwide. Bike/pedestrian and bike/bike crashes don't even register. I was surprised to see dog/bike crashes make it on the national chart.

Since it's only possible to analyze things that are actually counted, speculation about whether these are drunk people on bikes isn't very helpful. We know anecdotally that lots of near-misses with people in cars and people walking are not reported to the police.

So where are local crashes taking place? Here's what we saw in 2015:

Commercial Street

More than half of the crashes in 2015 were reported on Commercial Street. We can't determine whether there are any injuries from the data the police provided, but major bike crashes like this and this are typically reported in the news.

Efforts to improve conditions on Commercial Street have been repeatedly met with opposition by elected officials. The trial with two-way sharrows was discontinued in 2012, and the Bicycle Committee's 2016 request to clarify the two-way bike signage was voted down by the selectmen. A proposal by the previous police chief in 2010 to close parts of the street to motor vehicles during the summer season was never implemented.

There have been lots of suggestions on how to make Commercial Street safer for everyone, but there doesn't appear to be any political will to execute on them.

Province Lands

Because the Province Lands is within the Cape Cod National Seashore, it is policed by park rangers rather than the town. There are many, many bike crashes in the Seashore that do not get reported to our local police. You cand find more data on Seashore crashes here. Why are there so many crashes? The bike trail. It was designed in the 1960s and follows the curves of the dunes, so it's a bit of a roller coaster. Dunes are made of sand, and that sand is a hazard when it blows onto the path. Combine a hilly bike path with sand and people on vacation riding bikes they aren't familiar with, and you get crashes.

The park rangers do attempt to educate visitors to use caution on the bike path and wear helmets, and there are numerous signs along the path to alert riders to be careful. Reconstruction of the tunnels along the path increased headroom where the tunnel ceilings were dangerously low. This year the Seashore installed motion-activated crossing beacons where the bike path crosses park roads to help reduce crashes between people driving and people on bikes. So there's progress, but the basic design of the bike path means that there will always be crashes that can't be avoided.

Bradford Street

The intersections with Bradford Street are where most of the motor vehicle crashes in town take place. The major hot spots are between Shank Painter Road and Court Street, at Conwell Street, and at Howland Street. These are all relatively narrow streets with 25 MPH speed limits, poor sightlines at corners due to shrubs, fences, and parked cars; lots of congestion from cars, trucks, and buses; and very narrow or nonexistent sidewalks.

In 2012, the Bicycle Committee recommended replacing parking with a bike lane from West Vine Street to Prince Street, but that project faced opposition from some outspoken residents.

In 2016, the committee recommended swapping out on-street parking for an uphill climbing lane from Shank Painter Road to Prince Street, and the selectmen tabled the recommendation. The Department of Public Works is planning to repave this section of road and repair the sidewalks in 2017, so there is still an opportunity to advocate for a bike lane.

What's Next?

So what do we do next? We will continue to collect as much data as we can over time to look for patterns and trends. For 2017, the committee is planning to hang banners with safety messages over Commercial St. to continue its public education efforts. We will give out bike lights and safety information. And we will continue to advocate for changes to our roads to make them safer for people who aren't driving cars.


News, ToolboxRik AhlbergComment