Burning Kens on My Lawn

Before we get off on the wrong foot, let’s just say that I am a BIG fan of Kenneth Cross and his research.

My goal is to burn down the house of cards which is based upon a misreading of his research, but I have nothing but good to say about the man (and all other men [and women]).

For some people, it’s always 1977 and the Ramones are getting a “Teenage Lobotomy”.

And so it goes as I venture into the well trod and tired world of Kenneth Cross’s 1977 study.

Why do I waste time on a study which is over 30 old?

Mainly because it’s the basis of _Effective Cycling_ a book everyone should read especially when they find themselves as hostages in Iran.

My goal is bury this study once and for all.

I want a VCer to be highly embarrassed when I mention Dr. Cross and his study because they have been exposed as humbugs as surely as the man behind the black curtain.

But I didn’t come to bury Dr. Cross, but to praise him.

From the good man himself:

“I am pleased by the increasing rationality among those concerned with bicycle programs. There is less emotionalism and more informed discussion at bicycle conferences.Definitive data are beginning to appear from bicycle research. Funding agencies at the national level have become aware of bicycle safety and the social benefits of bicycling. All of these changes point to a promising future for bicycling in the United States.”— Ken Cross, 1978”

Yes, he’s actually quite an affable fellow, and his study is a landmark in cycling research, but it does have some short comings which are no fault of Dr. Cross.

First of all, the study is old, and things have changed. Cycling technology has gotten a lot better. Many of the ideas, like good cycling lights, have been invented. Automotive radar is, perhaps, around the corner.

Ironically, his study has been used, in the US, to squelch more research in safe infrastructure and we are many years behind. This is not Cross’ fault.

In fact, my goal is to resurrect his original message to move research forward or at least to shut up the local nutjobs who quote his study in vain.

First, let’s see the quote that launched a thousand anti-bike way ships:

“Crucial to this policy is the superstition that the greatest danger to cyclists is same-direction motor traffic. Experienced cyclists such as myself knew that the major collision hazards came from conditions ahead of the cyclist, just as they do for motorists, but we had no scientific data on this point. California contracted with Ken Cross to make a statistical study of car-bike collisions, in the expectation that this study would demonstrate the truth of the superstition that the greatest hazard to cyclists came from same-direction motor traffic. Ken’s study was presented to the California Statewide Bicycle Committee at a meeting room in the Sacramento Airport. After the presentation, I rather naively pointed out that the Cross study supported all that I had been saying and utterly disproved the supposed basis for California’s policy.”


Note how he says that people’s fears of being rear ended are “superstitious” this is really important because we are going to come back to it.

There’s a funny thing about superstition and that is that we all have biases. Even me. Heck, especially me; I have breakfast with my biases daily. I want to be intimately acquainted with their biases.

Sometimes, though, we can read a paper, and make an honest mistake.

This is what I think happened when the book _Effective Cycling_ was written.

Here’s the first one (with page number from the study for easy reference):

Page 256

“The fear of overtaking accidents is well founded since the likelihood of fatal injuries is indeed higher for overtaking accidents than for any other class of accidents revealed by this study.”

Remember how above, we were told that this fear was “superstitious” and yet here in Cross’s study, the basis of all VC, this was the opposite.

Some of the things that VC people say are true, but many, many of their quotes turn out to be totally false. In fact, every time there’s a quote, I do a five minute google search and often, I can find that their quotes are not substantiated by the data at all.

Recall the anti-infrastructure bent the VC community has visited upon us?

Page 267

“Except for accidents that resulted from the motor vehicle being out of control, it seems reasonable to assume that most Class D accidents would not have occurred if an on-street bicycle lane had been present and the bicyclist had been riding in it.”

So Cross sees the benefit of infrastructure. Guess what? Like many cases, here he’s right.

There’s more:

“There is virtually no doubt that off-street bicycle lanes would reduce the incidence of overtaking accidents, if such facilities were available and used by bicyclists who otherwise would be riding on roadways.”

But what about education? Doesn’t that help?

“With only a few exceptions, there is little that a
bicyclist can be taught that would help him avoid Class D accidents once he has decided to ride where and when such accidents are most likely to occur.

As a consequence, the primary objective of an education and training program for bicyclists should center on modifying the bicyclist’s choice of where and when he will ride.”

Note, that he doesn’t promise that there’s a magic riding style to “liberate us all from superstition.” This was nonsense that was made up and put into Cross’s mouth.

Basically, Cross is saying that some roads are too dangerous to ride on at all.

Check this out:


“Many bike lanes are designed poorly or just plain dangerous. Bike lanes next to parked cars are often entirely within a hazard area we call “the door zone.” A suddenly-opened door can kill a cyclist.”

This is funny because in an earlier blog post, I talked about how dooring wasn’t a problem in Florida. It’s just too small of a problem to be worried about. Haha, superstition.

“Driving in the middle of the lane actually protects cyclists against the most common motorist-caused crashes: sideswipes, right hooks, left crosses, and drive-outs. A bicycle driver’s top safety priority is to ensure he or she can be seen by motorists with whom they might potentially be in conflict, and bicycling in the middle of a lane is one of the most effective ways to do that. Most overtaking crashes involve a motorist who attempts to squeeze past (illegally) in a lane that is too narrow to share.”

Actually, as you suspect, this is a lie.

If you look on problem 16 on page 237, you’ll see just 1.8% fatalities for a motorist trying to squeeze past. The 4% of the problem 14 where there’s no possible evasive action is greater, and there are other risks which are greater as well.

So you wonder, where they got this information from and why they don’t post data for us to look at it?

In fact, with such wrong data, I suspect that they merely made shit up.

From page 227:

“Many bicycling experts advocate riding in the center of the traffic lane rather than along the right-hand edge of the roadway. They claim that riding in the center of the traffic lane increases the chances of
being observed by motorists who are preparing to enter the roadway from intersecting streets or driveways.

“Also, they argue that riding in the center of the lane provides a greater buffer zone between the bicycle’s path and the position at which motor vehicles stop before entering the

“Thus, riding in the center of the traffic lane provides addi­tional time for the bicyclist to initiate evasive action once it becomes apparent that a motor vehicle is going to enter the roadway. The authors believe that the following important questions must be answered before it is possible to recommend that bicyclists be taught to ride in the center of the traffic lane.

* Would riding in the center of the traffic lane increase the likelihood of detection by a margin that has practical significance?

* Would riding in the center of the traffic lane increase the bicyclist’s preview time by a margin that has practical significance?

* How would traffic efficiency be affected if riding in the center of the traffic lane became a common practice?

* Should riding in the center of the traffic lane be prohibited on some types of roadways and/or during certain time periods? If so, what types of roadways and what time periods?

* Should young bicyclists and/or slow-moving bicycles be permitted to ride in the center of the traffic lane? If not, what is the cutoff age/speed?”

If there’s an answer to these questions, please let me know. I have never seen it. I’ll post it if I get a good answer.

Thus, overall, I do think that the idea of a cycling safety course based on the data is a good idea, but have we ever seen one?

I have not. The ones I have seen like cycling savvy have misinformation all over them, and they seem to made to appeal to a small part of the population who wants to seem more elite than the rest of us sad sacks.

I mean I shudder at the whole notion of taking the lane because I think it’s totally inconsiderate. Of course, they’d probably tell me that I’m an idiot for having manners or something.

Also, the double standard arises, regarding classes versus facilities. This is because do we seen any moves to license the class by the government? No. Is there a law that expressly makes the classes legal? No.

Finally, do we see any mention, in this study, to the “rights to the road”? No.

Another shibboleth that we waste a ton of time on is the number of “turning conflicts that facilities cause.”

Looking at the Cross study, we realize that this is total nonsense.

Of all the types of fatalities caused by cyclists, 2.4% are caused by motorists going through an intersection and hitting a cyclist.

In fact, out of the 5 categories of Class C accidents, only two yield any deaths at all. Yet there are a great number of collisions for this type of accident as would be expected when vehicles come into conflict with one another.

This is where the VC people make a classic bait and switch where they confuse collisions with lethality then they pretend that all collisions are deadly.

Page 211-212″

“The vast majority of collisions occurred shortly after the motorist accelerated from a stopped position. This fact accounts for the low inci­dence of fatalities for Class C accidents. When the motor vehicle struck the bicycle, the impact velocity was low and the bicyclist usually careened off the front of the motor vehicle. When the bicyclist struck the motor vehicle, the impact velocity was solely a function of the bicyclist’s speed.

Apparently, the bicycle speed was not often great enough to produce fatal injuries.Because of the low incidence of fatal accidents, Class C accidents must be considered less important than other types of accidents that account for fewer accidents but more fatal injuries.”

Thus, it is clear from Cross’ study that if you were going to increase cyclist safety, you’d argue against taking the lane (untested still), against “rights to the road”, in favor of facilities, and for classes that taught one to ride where the least number of deaths were observed and not merely to satisfy an ideology.


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