Since 1987, over 100 DC area cyclists have died in motor vehicle crashes. This map shows where they are. And there’s just one intersection in the region which had two separate fatal crashes. Can you guess where?
In the above graph, red pins show crashes in an intersection, yellow in the roadway, black in a crosswalk, blue on the shoulder of the roadway, orange on a sidewalk, green in a bike lane, or white where the location was not available.
These fatalities have occurred in every jurisdiction, on busy highways and quiet neighborhood streets, and on every part of the roadway from sidewalks to traffic lanes.
The real “Intersection of Doom” is at Gaithersburg’s edge
The intersection of Lee Highway and North Lynn Street, where drivers make a right turn across cyclists’ path coming off the Mount Vernon Trail, gets much coverage as the “Intersection of Doom.” But fortunately, I found no actual bicycle fatalities there.
Nor were there any where the Mt. Vernon Trail connections cross the George Washington Parkway, another harrowing experience for cyclists and a big problem spot that needs fixing. But there was one location where two separate fatal bike crashes occurred.
In 1997, a driver hit 15-year-old Alexis Smith on her bicycle in the crosswalk as she crossed the ramp from Great Seneca Highway to Sam Eig Highway, just west of the end of I-370 in Montgomery County. Then in 2009, another driver hit and killed Codi Alexander, 16 at the same spot.
However, Montgomery County wasn’t the place with the most fatal bike crashes.
Prince George’s has the most deaths by far
Of the seven jurisdictions I looked at, Prince George’s had the most fatalities, with 36. Here is the full list:
|District of Columbia||25|
Some of the variation might be explained by population and square mileage, but Prince George’s County is neither the largest nor the most populous. And comparisons get more complicated because DC’s surge of daytime population means that considering its resident population understates the amount of exposure cyclists have there.
Most fatal crashes happen at intersections
If we combine fatalities listed as in the intersection and in the crosswalk, it shows that more than half of all fatal crashes happen at intersections. (Some crashes listed as on sidewalks or in bike lanes also may be at intersections.)
Where this data comes from
I assembled this list and map from two main sources: media reports and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System. Most media reports are newspaper accounts available on highbeam, which is why they only go back to 1987. These accounts are usually very accurate and reliable. I only flagged one possible error during the review.
However, these are not particularly comprehensive. Only 53% of all fatal bike crashes get reported in newspapers, and usually as only one story about the fatal crash itself. Occasionally a reporter will follow up with a second item once authorities release the victim’s name. For a particularly sensational story, there may coverage all the way through a trial and sentencing. Most media accounts, however, just end with a line saying something like, “Police are continuing to investigate the incident.”
The NHTSA FARS data, on the other hand, is significantly more comprehensive but riddled with a vast array of errors. It also only goes back to 1994. Some of the errors come from problems with the forms themselves, while people filling them out introduce others.
These errors ranged from trivial cases, such as mislabeling a female fatality as male, to nonsensical cases where a bike fatality was coded as “Safety Belt Used Improperly,” to the outright misleading case where a cyclist was mislabeled as a pedestrian. But 98% of the fatalities with media accounts also appeared in FARS.
Still, FARS data under-counts total bike fatalities because it does not include crashes on driveways or parking lots or crashes that don’t involve a motor vehicle. I identified 15 such fatalities. In addition, the United States Park Police apparently doesn’t submit FARS forms to the NHTSA, as crashes they investigated don’t appear. Nor do bike deaths that arise from medical conditions such as heat stroke or from murder (except in the one case where the murder weapon was a car). So while the FARS data is more comprehensive, it is not complete.
The map above includes every bike fatality identified except for one that had an unworkable location description.
* The original version of this post failed to count one Arlington fatality.
Cross-posted with footnotes at TheWashCycle.