On Tuesday the Bloomberg administration announced record low traffic deaths from 2000 to 2007, and claimed, if not in so many words, that city streets are safer than ever. But the numbers, included on a chart that accompanied this media release, also indicated that 23 cyclists died in 2007. That would make last year -- according to the data released Tuesday, at least -- the deadliest for riders in the eight year period shown.
But are those figures accurate? And in the context of the growing number of people cycling throughout the city, what do they mean?
According to a 2006 joint report from DOT, NYPD and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (40-page pdf), 24 cyclists were killed in 2005, and 23 were killed in 2002. That doesn't match the figures released this week. And while it could be easy to assume that that only means the streets are even more dangerous than portrayed, such variations in the raw numbers don't necessarily mean much in terms of safety.
"The sample size is so small and standard deviation so little that T.A. has never found deaths to be an adequate indicator of safety trends," says Noah Budnick of Transportation Alternatives. "That's why we requested the city's 2006 report look at injuries too."
Comparing fatal crashes with daily ridership, Budnick says that the crash rate -- the number of deaths per cyclist -- shows a decline since 1985, which is as far back as T.A. has complete data sets for both ridership and fatalities.