When The Facts Don’t Fit Your Narrative – Punt!


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One ChainLinker today saw the same Washington Post article I did concerning the sharp rise in nationwide bicycle fatalities despite a decrease in motorist deaths:

Posted by Will V. on December 11, 2012

Cyclist deaths increase by 8.7%, while pedestrian deaths increased by 3%. At the same time, passenger and small truck deaths declined by 4.6%.


Data is from the NHTSA.

Rhymes with Puppy decided to respond in his usual defensive manner by asking for context surrounding the data:

Reply by Duppie 2 hours ago

Thanks for posting that.

Without context this kind of data is not very useful.

For example, what caused the increase in cyclist fatalities? An increase in cycling? How much of an increase was that, percentage wise? If the percentage increase in cycling exceeded the percentage increase in fatalities, does that mean that cycling effectively became safer per mile ridden?

Same questions should be asked for the other mode shares

First of all the data is available in a somewhat predigested format from NHTSA:

Some Not-So-Gentle Observations

“Trained Seals” are incapable of doing much more than complain when the data do not support what they were told by their betters. Had this report shown the opposite (i.e. the cyclings fatalities had decreased at a time when motorist fatalities were on the rise) I seriously doubt whether anyone would have been requesting more contextual information before releasing it to the ChainLink Forum. Instead there would have been hosannas rising from the pews of the Church of Urban Cycling and everyone would have been shouting “Amen, Brother!”

This is what is wrong with the cycling community and its narrative, they reflexively push back against negative outcomes in an attempt to keep telling themselves that the Emperor Clothes look splendid. But over time the general public will be the final arbiter of what effect this data has on their willingness to continue to pay for the “bike lane improvements”.

Now while everyone looks anxiously about the pews of the Church of Urban Cycling wondering what to say remember the words of the pastor:

“Protected bike lanes will make you safer…”

Of course no one remember to stop him in mid-sermon to ask for contextual information that might support this claim. They instead gobbled it up and began sharing it on the street corners in pamphlet form for all of the Great Unwashed to devour. And this scenario will continue despite the fact that people using bike lanes are being crushed to death while trying to cross intersections by right turning trucks.

Our only response to this sort of factual information is to begin requesting that there be some sort of really onerous law aimed at getting truck drivers to “see cyclists”. Never mind the fact that we have known the problem and its cause for quite some time but have failed to require trucks in this state to be outfitted with the right kinds of mirrors.

But despite all of these facts there is still the issue of educating the cyclists. We seem to deflect criticisms of our collective ignorance about riding alongside big rigs because that would require us to share a portion of the “blame” for an accident and that is not what we are being taught on the Last Friday of each month (our day of worship) in the Church of Urban Cycling.

When we finally get our heads out of our asses long enough to smell fresh air and see sunshine perhaps then and only then will we have the capacity to be truly honest with ourselves about our motivations. Right now we are in Happy Talk mode. Our aim is to send so many positive messages to news outlets that no one will even think to ask about the context of the supposed facts about the benefits of protected bike lanes. In fact asking those kinds of questions can get you excommunicated.

One More Thing

The tight-sphinctered request on information regarding an “increase in cycling” is laughable. Why?

We are notorious for not wanting our membership to ever be licensed. We have all sorts of reasons for this not the least of which is that it would be too costly to implement for the benefit gained. But frankly if you want to know how many bikes are out and about you need to have a definite means of counting them.

Currently people in the Church of Urban Cycling do the counting. That fact has got to make the pols of years past smile. After all Chicago has been known to encourage its denizens to “vote early and often“. Wonder if anyone would get the hairy eyeball treatment for asking for some harder evidence than that received by having the Fox monitor the Hen House.

If we want hard data, then we need to find a way to license cyclists who use our streets if for no other reason that to get a reasonably accurate accounting of just how many bikes are out there. But that of course is verboten in the hallowed halls of the Church of Urban Cycling.

Yikes! Places You Do Not Want To Ride A Bicycle

Now as for information which is very revealing you should take a look at Table 8 of the cited above. What this shows are the number of fatalities by state. What you could very easily do is find the population figures for each state (not listed in the table) and then compare the fatalities for either 201o or 2011 with that population. This would allow you to derive a Fatalities Per Capita (FPC) ratio for various states.

A brief comparison shows the following:
[table caption=”Most Dangerous State For On-Road Fatalities in 2011″] Ranking[attr style=”width:20px”],State,Population,Fatalities,Fatalities/Millions
5,North Carolina,9656401,1227,618
7,New York,19465197,1169,594