SALT LAKE CITY — While bike lanes exist through many parts of town, cycling is still a dangerous mode of transportation, according to a local personal injury law firm.
Fielding Law compared more than two years' worth of accident and injury data from the Utah Department of Transportation to find that downtown Salt Lake City and downtown Provo are some of the most dangerous places for cyclists to ride.
As two of the state's most populous cities, Salt Lake City and Provo are also places where the most cyclists tend to ride, including "some of the heaviest bicycle activity in the state," said Salt Lake City Transportation Director Jon Larsen. Salt Lake City, he said, has 313 miles of marked on-street bikeways and bicycle lanes — some of the best infrastructure in the state, with plans for more.
City officials, Larsen said, have a goal of making the city "a place that gets better every year for people to ride a bike."
That said, there are still dozens of bike crashes every year, and Fielding Law hopes that its recent study puts the brakes on at least one of those.
"Given the nature of our jobs, we unfortunately see many tragic accidents," Mitchell Fielding, co-founder and attorney at Fielding Law. He also said most of those are preventable.
"We think a lot of bicycle accidents can be avoided," Fielding said.
The firm's analysis found that from 2014 to 2017, there were 412 bicycle collisions across 33 distinct zones — 24 of which are in Salt Lake City — leading to nearly 250 injuries. Most of the crashes resulted in minor injuries, though, there was one bicycle-related death, in West Valley City in 2017.
Salt Lake City has unique issues when it comes to cycling, the study notes, because of the historically wider streets and longer blocks, increasing the time bikers spend in motorist lanes making turns or changing lanes. Drivers, the law firm asserts, also "tend to view wide streets as an opportunity to drive faster and potentially recklessly," making it more dangerous for cyclists who don't have much between them and the road.
Phil Sarnoff, executive director at Bike Utah, a local nonprofit bicyclist advocacy and education group, said Utah's biking infrastructure could be a lot better, leading to more people getting out on their bikes, which could also result in better air quality and better overall physical health for Utahns.
"Much of what we have in Utah is not family-friendly, and, really, if we want to get more people out riding bicycles on a regular basis, we need to create infrastructure that meets the needs of everybody, from a small child to a senior citizen and everything in between," Sarnoff said.
Many of Utah's communities, he added, are developed for automobiles, which makes it challenging for people who want to bike or walk to work, school or the grocery store.
"If you create better infrastructure for people, you're going to see decreases in crashes," Sarnoff said.
The study notes that a swath of State Street is of particular concern in Salt Lake City, as there are no designated bike lanes or infrastructure in place to separate bikes and cars. The firm found that 141 crashes occurred in seven zones along State Street — nearly 35 percent of all crashes analyzed.
They city, Larsen said, is actively working on various methods to separate bikes from cars wherever possible, including bridges, tunnels and urban trailways.
Provo, Utah's third-most populous city and home to BYU, "is prone to bicycle crashes as well," the study states, with the downtown area accounting for 70 bike accidents during the time studied, with more than 65 percent of those resulting in injury.
Among other hot spots for bike crashes resulting in injury, the study points out, are Washington Boulevard in Ogden, 400 North and Main Street in Logan, the 1300 South campus of Salt Lake Community College and well-traveled parts of Sugar House.
The Utah Department of Health reports an annual average of 372 bicyclist crashes with injuries in Utah, including an average of five deaths each year. The majority of cyclists injured are 25 and under.
"Not surprisingly, bicycle crashes are not always caused by the cyclists themselves — they can frequently be caused by the inattention of others," Fielding said, adding there are things cyclists can do to avoid accidents.
"By understanding the risks involved, both cyclists and drivers will be better able to protect themselves," he said.
The health department and Fielding Law both advise drivers to put away all distractions — one of the biggest causes of collisions — but also not to drive intoxicated or excessively drowsy. Both the state agency and the firm also encourage drivers to be respectful of cyclists and vice versa.
Cyclists are "heavily recommended" to wear a helmet to prevent serious injury, always ride in designated lanes where available and with traffic on the rightmost side of the road. Bikers are also encouraged to follow road rules.
Sarnoff said collisions between bikes and cars are the most frequent, and responsibility is often equally attributed to cyclists and drivers.9 comments on this story
Educating cyclists and others on the roads helps, he said, but research shows that having a designated space for bikers to ride results in fewer crashes altogether.
"All accidents are really preventable," Sarnoff said, adding that more people would ride their bikes if they felt safe doing so.
"The lower the likelihood of me getting in a crash whenever I get on my bike, it's only going to make me ride more and it's going to make other people ride more as well, because they see that it is a safer activity to do," he said. "A lot of people do want to ride bikes, but they're concerned about safety."