I have low expectations of fellow Chicagoans who are moving their vehicles on the same roads I cycle on. I expect that every door will fling open in my path, causing me to be doored. I also expect to be cut off at any moment, and especially in certain places like at intersections (where the majority of crashes occur), bus stops, or in places with lots of parallel parking activity. Because of these expectations I feel that my journeys have been pretty safe. My low expectations cause me to ride slower, ride out of the door zone, and pay attention to everyone’s maneuvers.

This is another post inspired by Traffic: Why we drive the way we do (and what it says about us) by Tom Vanderbilt. From page 227 of “Traffic”, about expectations :

Max Hall, a physics teacher in Massachusetts who often rides his collection of classic Vespas and Lambrettas in Rome, says that he finds it safer to ride in Rome than in Boston. Not only are American drivers unfamiliar with scooters, he maintains, but they resent being passed by them: “In Rome car and truck divers ‘know’ they are expect not to make sudden moves in traffic for fear of surprising, and hurting, two-wheeler drivers. And two-wheeler drivers drive, by and large, expecting not to be cut off.”

The scooter drivers have high expectations, and it seems that they’re being met.

This all plays nicely with the “safety in numbers” theory about cycling: the more people who are riding bicycles, the more visible bicycling is, and the more aware a driver will be around people who are bicycling, and the more they will expect someone on a bicycle. Awareness means caution.

It’s difficult to gauge the safety of cycling in Chicago as we’ve no exposure rate: we don’t know how many people are cycling how many miles (nor where).

A cyclist waits for the light to change at Milwaukee Avenue and Ashland Avenue. 

Exposure rate

Exposure rate in the sense I’m using it here means the number of times someone is in a crash or injury for each mile they ride. We know how many crashes and injuries are reported each year (in the Illinois Motorist Crash reports), but we don’t know how many miles people ride (neither individually nor an estimated average).

There was a limited household survey of Cook County residents in 2008 from CMAP, called Travel Tracker, that collected trip distance information for all trips members of a household made on all trip modes – I haven’t looked into this yet.

It would be highly useful if the Chicago Department of Transportation conducted ridership counts at the 10 intersections with the highest crash rates. And if the 10 intersections changed the following year, the new intersections would just be added to the initial 10 to track the changes of the initial 10. This would be one step closer to being able to determine a “crash rate” for each intersection.