A cyclist was killed (by a car) yesterday afternoon at about 2:30, on University Avenue, Waterloo Region’s first cycling fatality this year. It comes on the heels of a report about how much safer our roads are. The story that appeared in the August 11 edition of the Waterloo Region Record was about local traffic collisions and deaths, and how much lower they are. It was filled with numbers, and raw data.
A number of years ago, when I lived in Ottawa, there was a story in the Ottawa Citizen about how Gatineau’s crime rate was so much higher than Ottawa’s. It was a story much like the Record’s story.
Statistics are just numbers. It’s how you interpret them that’s important.
In the case of the Ottawa vs. Gatineau crime rates, Gatineau’s were much higher, higher across the board: higher petty crime, traffic infractions, higher assault…but then Gatineau’s mayor said “the reason our numbers are higher is because we do a better job reporting crime and of catching the criminals”.
It was a good argument. I don’t know if it was completely true and the same can be said for our report on traffic. It says the number of collisions are down, down too are the number of traffic deaths but it credits better roads, better cars and better drivers.
I think not.
I lived in Taiwan during their quick transition from motor scooters to automobiles. It was once as dangerous a country as many African countries to be on the road. Their worst year was in the early 80’s, before the roads got so congested that you could never get up enough speed to kill yourself or anyone else.
I went around in a big circle with this blog post to get to the point. Just like I often go around in a big circle when driving around Kitchener Waterloo to avoid construction and congestion.
The point is this: I contend that if the roads are safer in Waterloo Region, it’s because they are so congested and full of construction zones that we are usually driving well below the speed limit. The statistics in the report do not mention two terrible winters, followed by a mild one. Winter weather has a huge impact on the number of traffic accidents. Better cars, better drivers? I think not.
And now, six weeks after the story in the newspaper about how safe our roads are, sadly we have a cyclist killed in the middle of a sunny afternoon.
I’m for bike lanes and light rail. I’m not a big fan of statistics.