Bike fatalities double in Minnesota – but is it actually safer to ride?

According to MPR, bike fatalities have more than doubled since last year (9 up from 4) and crashes also look to be on the increase.  This story is punctuated by the death of a cyclist over the weekend near Snelling and Summit avenues in Saint Paul. That is the bad news.  The good news is that between 2006 and 2007, biking to work in Minneapolis grew by 50 percent according to the American Community Survey.

This story is a bit sensational, with a sentence near the end stating, “There are countless miles of roadway in Minnesota that pose potentially fatal risks to unwary or inexperienced bicyclists.”  There is likely little doubt that a dramatic increase in trips by bicycle creates additional unsafe interactions between cars and bikers, but I wish they had some data on fatalities or crashes per mile traveled, as that is a true measure of safety.  If bicycle commuting miles have increased 400 percent, and fatalities by 200 percent, then isn’t it actually getting safer to ride?  Without figures on miles traveled, we only have headlines about dramatic increases in crashes and fatalities.  There is also evidence that says that the reverse is actually true, more cyclists means safer roads.  We won’t know what the situation is in Minnesota until we get more data, but I don’t think we should be frightening people off their carbon-free rides just yet.

Nationally, there seems to be very little change in commuting to work by bicycle between 2006 and 2007, according to my own digging in the data tables.  I suspect the difference may be greater between 2007 and 2008 given rising oil prices and general economic instability.