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Night traffic in Beijing by Jordan Barab
Night traffic in Beijing by Jordan Barab

Those 'Deadly' Electric Bicycles

China's capital of Beijing has announced that it will ban the use of electric bicycles on 10 of its major thoroughfares in an effort to stem the rising number of accidents and fatalities among e-bike riders.

What an upside down world.

Increasingly, major metropolitan cities across China are imposing strict bans on the use of electric-assist bicycles in the wake of rising numbers of accidents and fatalities. Meanwhile, at least one conservative pundit blames liberal politicians and 'progressives' for keeping them off the road in New York State.

Maybe it isn't the e-bike that's the problem.

A syndicated article that recently appeared in Singapore's Strait Times notes, "Statistics given by the (Beijing Traffic Management Bureau) showed that last year 113 people died and 21,423 were injured in 31,404 traffic accidents caused by electric bikes in Beijing.

The story didn't give any breakdown of those accidents statistics, just the gross numbers. How many involved e-bikes running into pedestrians, running into other ebikes or other two-wheeled vehicles. How many involved large motor vehicles: cars, trucks, buses? How many were riders just running into walls and light poles and fences? All of the above are possibilities. But the implication that all this "carnage" is the result of people riding electric bicycles seems excessive to me.

Let's look at some numbers. The population of Beijing is estimated at 21.5 million compared to New York City's 8.5 million. China's capital is 2.5 times larger than the city on the Hudson. In 2013, New York City recorded some 16,059 cyclist and pedestrian accidents in a city where e-bikes already are banned, as the guy over at World Net Daily, laments. Were those 16,000 'caused' by bicycles or were they a combination of all the possibilities alluded to above: careless riders, pedestrians and yes, motorists?

Here's something troubling to contemplate from the folks at Streetblog.org.

Across (New York City), 1,163 pedestrians and 175 cyclists were reported hurt in collisions with motor vehicles in December. Per NYPD policy, few of these crashes were investigated by trained officers.

Of nine fatal crashes reported last month by Streetsblog and other outlets, no motorists were known to have been charged for causing a death. Two drivers were unlicensed; three fled the scene and were not immediately caught or identified. Historically, nearly half of motorists who kill a New York City pedestrian or cyclist do not receive so much as a citation for careless driving.

Apparently, the presumption is that it's always the pedestrian or the cyclist at fault.

I am going to go out on a limb here and suggest that the majority of fatalities both in New York and Beijing were the result of a cyclist or e-bike rider being struck by a motor vehicle. While it's certainly possible for a rider of either type of bike to fall off and sustain life-threatening injuries, in the majority of cases, it's the multi-ton machine colliding with the 50 lbs. steel frame and rubber that results in the rider's injury and death.

Which brings me to the curious photo at the top of the page [Removed 18Nov2016 at request of AFP]. I don't know about you, but this clearly appears to be a staged scene. For starters, there's no apparent damage to the e-bike. Also, since when does someone make a chalk tracing around the victim and their vehicle before the ambulance takes the person away? And who climbed the ladder or light pole to take a perfectly framed and lit overhead view of the scene?

Of course, whether the photo depicts an actual accident in China or one staged for PR purposes, it doesn't diminish the reality and seriousness of the problem, which needs real solutions, starting with better segregated infrastructure, which is exactly what they are planning in Norway, for example; investing the equivalent of a $1 billion in "an extensive network of superhighways. For bikes."

Of course, Norway has a vast sovereign wealth fund built on its prudent use of its North Sea oil and gas revenues, enabling it to make that level of investment. Not every city, state, or nation has that luxury, though priorities could certainly be rearranged: after all does the United States really need 10 aircraft carrier battle groups? In case you weren't aware, the newest, the Gerald R Ford (CVN 78) -- who, BTW was born here in Omaha -- cost a whopping $13 billion. That's thirteen times the budget Norway plans to spend on its superhighway for bikes of both types.

If you really want to get serious about the health of your community, you want to start looking for ways to encourage more people to ride bikes and e-bikes, not discourage them. It's not the bikes that are the problem, it's where we make people ride them.

Posted By: Bill Moore [10-Apr-2016]

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