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Are the Dangers of Cycling Over-Hyped?

It goes without saying that cycling entails a degree of risk - but are they unduly discussed to the point that it reduces ridership? Cyclicious blogger Richard Masoner gave the issue thought when he heard of a cyclist fatality in a familiar area.
September 23, 2013, 7am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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Masoner had been reading in Bike Portland about a University of Canterbury (UC) Christchurch, New Zealand research paper, "The Language of Promoting Cycling" that studied the terminology used to describe bicycling.

"If you ask many people why they don’t cycle, they will respond “because it’s not safe”. While we probably all can think of particular cycling hazards in our districts, this perception of the danger of cycling is not helped by much of the discussion that goes with cycling, whether from advocates, politicians, professionals, researchers or the media."

Masoner pondered this issue on Sept. 18, "not long after learning of (an unidentified) fatality on Skyline Road just south of Highway 84 / La Honda Road in San Mateo County, California. This road route is very popular among many of my friends, so it hits close to home even as the victim’s name currently remains unknown", he writes.

The cyclist turned out to be the 50-year-old Joy Covey, a Woodside resident who was the Natural Resources Defense Council Treasurer and Amazon’s first chief financial officer. News of the collision were was reported by The New York Times and in local media including The Mercury News and The Almanac. The helmet-clad Covey was descending Skyline Blvd when a delivery truck turned left in her path.

UC (New Zealand) transportation researcher Glen Koorey goes on to illustrate how the media will sensationalize bike fatalities while a greater number of auto fatalities receive much less attention.

All of this doesn’t mean that we should do nothing to improve provision for cycling, by the various means mentioned previously. But they will be of little use if we continue to build an image of cycling as a dangerous activity. Given the societal and personal costs of an increasingly motorised society, it actually seems more dangerous not to cycle.

Masoner recognizes the inherent difficulty in reporting on bike collisions but not sensationalizing them. He concludes by writing, "Reporting on risks to cyclists to influence public policy while avoiding the ‘dangerisation’ of cycling is a tough balance to achieve, and I’m not quite sure how to achieve that."

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Published on Wednesday, September 18, 2013 in Cyclicious
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