The Danger of Riding on Tucson-area Roads

Guest Contribution from Tucson-area cyclist Alan Solot

I frequently see comments on FaceBook  expressing concern about the danger of cycling on Tucson roads. Many believe that not only is it dangerous but that the danger is unacceptably increasing. I am not minimizing anyone’s concerns. Risk exists in many activities, cycling included. But, I don’t agree that cycling in Tucson is risky enough to consider extraordinary steps, like only riding on The Loop.

The Arizona Department of Transportation annually publishes Motor Vehicle Crash Facts. The 2016 version has just recently been released. The chart that accompanies this post shows AZ DOT data for 2013-2016. Pima County has an average of 5.75 fatal bike crashes for the past four years. Based on that data, cycling isn’t getting more dangerous.

Importantly, I wonder how many of those fatalities or injury crashes involved riders engaging in unacceptable conduct, like riding in the dark with no lights or reflective gear, riding impaired or riding against traffic (i.e., salmoning). I assume a rather high percentage of the crashes involved bad bike riding.

Another data source, the City of Tucson, has published their Bicycle Boulevard Master Plan. That document shows that the average crash rate for Tucson arterial bike lanes (that’s our busiest roads, like Broadway or Tanque Verde) is 2.67 crashes for 100,000 miles ridden from 2009 to 2013. By this data, cyclists injury crashes are pretty uncommon.

I don’t find that any level of fatalities or injury crashes is acceptable. But, I also don’t agree that cycling in Tucson is unacceptably unsafe or that the danger is increasing to any measurable degree.

One thought on “The Danger of Riding on Tucson-area Roads”

  1. Thanks for posting and a discussion of bicycle safety is certainly warranted. I ride the streets of Tucson almost every day, however, most of my miles are put in riding The Loop (for safety reasons).

    I do feel fairly safe on certain roads with bike emphasis, such as 4th Avenue, 3rd/University, and Mountain Ave. Other roads, such as the railroad underpasses (poor signing and lighting) and Congress (streetcar tracks mixed with traffic) are more unsettling.

    Regarding the data you referenced, I have to caution about drawing conclusions from the available crash data. The operative word being “available”.

    Just like most American cities, Tucson no longer collects data on many of the crashes – and none of the conflicts or near misses. Police will not be dispatched to collect a report unless the injuries are very serious, or fatal. Many involved never file individual reports. For this reason the available data can be very misleading and likely under-represents the real problems. Hence, many cyclists perceive safety to be worse than data analysts report. Because much of the crash data is not collected or reported, we will need to look to other measures to make conclusions about bike safety.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *