Crowd-Sourced Bike Accident Apps & Resources Rise in Popularity
Nothing is quite as helpful for cyclists as recognizing which roadways and intersections can be troublesome. For the most part, learning those areas comes with experience or being part of an avid cycling community. That’s one reason why crowd-sourced bike accident apps are on the rise in California and across the nation.
Crowd-sourced apps are hardly new, but they’re only just finally catching on in the cycling community. Apps that rely on users to track everything from car-sharing to finding a public bathroom have become an important part of urban life, so it makes sense that they would be adapted to our daily bike commutes and making sure they are safer and more accessible.
In San Diego, residents can finally track accidents involving cyclists and pedestrians in real time thanks to social media and advocacy group Streets For All.
It works like this: Special software monitors local police and other public safety scanners and reports of accidents involving people on foot or on bikes are tweeted out to followers. Because the system is automated, it doesn’t matter what time of day the accident occurs, it’ll always be recorded.
Will Rhatigan, advocacy manager with the San Diego County Bike Coalition, told the San Diego Tribune the Twitter account raises awareness, especially as many bike accidents go unreported because there isn’t serious injury or death. “Pedestrians and people riding their bikes are being hit pretty much every day several times a day in San Diego,” he said.
That’s likely the case in major cities across the nation, too. There isn’t an official tally of all bicycle and pedestrian crashes, and estimates are likely just the “tip of the iceberg,” advocates say.
In 2021, two bicycle fatalities and 13 pedestrian deaths were reported in San Francisco, according to city data. More select data, like crashes in general, is much more difficult to pin down, mostly because they just aren’t being reported. Officials don’t even know they’ve happened most of the time. Bicycle accident lawyers will tell you that bicycle crashes are far more common than these numbers reflect, as our attorneys at Bay Area Bicycle Law get calls almost every day.
San Francisco adopted its Vision Zero plan, which aims to virtually eliminate traffic deaths of all kinds over the course of a decade, in 2014, but it doesn’t go as far to track crashes altogether.
Some apps have found a niche in cyclist safety by tracking users and sending an alert for help if it senses the user has been involved in an accident. The Flare Safety app will wait 30 seconds after a detected accident and then send GPS coordinates to the proper responders, so even if a person is unconscious they can still be helped.
Even though it’s not technically a crowd-sourced app, it does have features that make it ideal for small groups. The app will alert others if one member strays too far or has had an accident. This makes it perfect for families on the road.
In just a few short months the San Diego StreetsForAll Twitter account has garnered almost 400 followers. In Los Angeles, where Streets For All, launched its first crash tracker, there’s a similar following.
The Streets For All system works particularly well in cities where police departments aren’t encrypting radio transmission — which isn’t the case in San Francisco. The department rolled out a new encryption system in December, making previously accessible streaming effectively unavailable to the public.
Even so, that doesn’t mean there aren’t options for cyclists in cities where scanner broadcasts aren’t available.
Bikemaps.org, a worldwide organization, allows users to self-report collisions, near misses and other hazards that may impact a commute. For example, the map warns users of a bike path that was once overgrown with vegetation near 16th Street. Other reports around the city include tricky intersections or areas where parked cars may be blocking bike lanes. These hazards can also cause collisions and be helpful for riders to know about.
Crowdsourced maps grow more useful as more users report more. Like most data sets, as the amount of information grows, so does its helpfulness.
While a major tool for cyclists to stay in the know, such technology and tracking can have long-term benefits for the community as well. Hotspots can help determine where more infrastructure is needed, for example. In Tampa, the Florida Department of Transportation started tracking pedestrian crashes in an effort to see where more crosswalks may be necessary.
The same may be true with more data about bike crashes and hazards. Policy makers and city planners often designate bike lanes where they are most needed. As resources with relevant data grow more popular, it could be a key element in making cities more bike-friendly.
Similarly, Fill That Hole is an app where riders can share the exact location of a pothole to alert other riders. If you spot one dangerous for riders and drivers alike, note the location, snap a picture and the information will be forwarded on to the proper municipal officials to get it taken care of. In addition, if a cyclist is injured by hitting a pothole, they are more likely to success in a personal injury case if the pothole has been reported. Because of that, this app can also be an important resources for bicycle accident attorneys.
For now, cyclists in San Francisco can turn to resources like bikemaps.org to self-report accidents and near misses. Other resources can help make commuting safer, too.
The San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association and Streetsblog, developed a list of Bay Area “slow streets” in 2020. The idea — listing roadways where thru-traffic is banned — is starting to catch on in major cities across the country, so much so that Google Maps has even started including them on its app.
Four streets in San Francisco were made permanent this summer because they’ve been so successful. San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Director Jeffrey Tumlin said on Twitter that the closed off streets, first designated during the COVID-19 pandemic, attracted more people than the city had expected, and the agency even thinks more slow streets may become part of the post-pandemic framework in the city, according to SFGate.com.