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Cars don’t kill people, bicycles and trains do!

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Los Angeles Magazine recently published an article about people in LA who, whether due to suicide attempts or foolishness, are hit by trains. The article went into great detail about which train lines are most dangerous, what measures are being taken to reduce the carnage, and the trauma incurred by conductors when such tragedies occur. What the article did not mention was a comparison of the number of people killed each year in Los Angeles by cars. Similarly, there has been an outpouring of outrage following the recent death of a pedestrian hit by a cyclist in San Francisco; as one person commented, the behaviour of cyclists riding on the sidewalk drives us to, well, drive. (I have no recollection of cyclists on sidewalks in my various visits to that city, but I do remember having to step into the street when SUVs were parked on the sidewalk.) As to the importance of these different dangers, a simple comparison is in order. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation National Highway Safety Traffic Administration, in 2010, 32,885 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes in the United States. Meanwhile, according to Operation Lifesaver, 260 people died in the US in train collisions. As for pedestrians killed by cyclists, they are so rare as to be counted on the fingers of one hand. For instance, according to Bikes Belong, in NYC four pedestrians were killed in bike-pedestrian accidents from 2001-2005; from 2006-2010, while cycling in the city doubled, three pedestrians were killed by bicycles. In one year in San Francisco, 18 bicycle-pedestrian collisions (not deaths) contrast to 800 people hit by cars. So someone in the US is roughly 126 times more likely to be killed by a car than by a train; in San Francisco, one is over 44 times more likely to be hit by a car than by a bicycle. So why all the reporting of the rare fatalities? Partly because they are so rare, they make better news, but of course the other reason, alas, is that the powerful car/fuel/road building lobby (and its many allies) will use any excuse to try to attack other modes that are so much safer for health and the environment.