'A biking adventure to investigate cycling deaths'

Nick Navarro is a cyclist based in San Francisco who is producing a documentary about “Americas poor bicycle infrastructure.”

Thanks a bunch, Nick.

The film will be called SPOKE. (And, yes, this is a Kickstarter project. They need your money.)

Oh, and the tagline is, “A biking adventure to investigate cycling deaths.”

Directing the film is Em Baker, an Australian who apparently is feeling nostalgic for the crappy cycling infrastructure where she grew grew up. Co-producing is Lauren Gardner, of Nevada who has spent time dodging tigers in Nepal, and now apparently needs to tangle with SUVs across Texas to get her adrenaline thrills.

They are going to ride from San Francisco to Orlando.

Nick an Lauren have no film making experience. Em has has worked on several films, and SPOKE will be her directorial debut.

Their route will take them across some pretty desolate and bike-unfriendly territory. Not that it’s hard to find bike-unfriendly territory in America.

I took the liberty of superimposing their proposed route over the League of American Bicyclists‘ map of Bicycle Friendly America.

SPOKE, a biking adventure to investigate cycling deaths by Spokemovie — Kickstarter
Colored dots mean nice places to ride a bike

Their project page says:

Despite having the lowest percentage of cyclists in the Western world, the US has the highest number of fatalities and injuries.

Yes: relative to the Western world.

But what about relative to using a motor vehicle, climbing stairs, walking, fishing, horseback riding, swimming, athletic training, football and tennis? All of these activities have higher injury and death rates than cycling.

Their purpose is, “to investigate the cause of the US’s burgeoning rate of bicycle fatalities.” I’m not sure I accept the premise. The absolute number of fatalities is up because cycling is up. But is the rate truly burgeoning? I have my doubts. (Help me out, data geeks.)

The three filmmakers are bike commuters, but only Em has done a bit of touring.

I’m hoping they will be able to balance line between stressing the relative safety of cycling and emphasizing how much better it could be. And I’m worried that a few white-knuckle moments across New Mexico and Texas may slant the story they want to tell.

The film is set to consist of their journey as well as interviews along with cyclists along the way.

It’ll be interesting.   I wish I could join them. Give ’em some pledges.

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7 thoughts on “'A biking adventure to investigate cycling deaths'”

  1. Graham says:

    I imagine that traveling along roads designed to move people and goods great distances at high speeds will create some harrowing moments for these intrepid folks.

    I wonder if the documentary wouldn’t be better served in the towns and cities where people are actually cycling? Wouldn’t it be more revealing to demonstrate the hazards of taking the lane to make a left turn or poorly thought out “bike lanes” which are more often than not used as parking spots? For example, not long ago BluesCat described what he has to go through just to get somewhere; and I think that filming that nonsense would go a much longer way to demonstrating what cycling in the US is like for many of us.

    I don’t suppose that such a film would feel as epic, but it might be a whole lot more accurate and informative.

  2. BluesCat says:

    Although some of the data is pretty dated (some US data goes back to 1993; UK data goes back to 1986) Cyclehelmets.org has some very interesting, almost entertaining, statistics on your risks of death engaging in various activities.

    In the UK, did you know you’re at a greater risk of dying while FISHING than bicycling?

    Even taking into account how old the data is, Bicyclinginfo.org has data which shows the risk of dying on a bicycle went down 25% between 1995 and 2010.

  3. JaimeRoberto says:

    The line “Despite having the lowest percentage of cyclists in the Western world, the US has the highest number of fatalities and injuries.” is misleading because it mixes overall counts and percentage. We are 15 times larger than the Netherlands and 55 times larger than Denmark (to pick two bike friendly countries), so one would expect us to have a higher count of fatalities, even if a lower percentage of people ride. A more relevant measure would be fatalities per bike trip or fatalities per mile ridden, but I guess that wouldn’t make for a catchy tagline.

  4. Em Baker says:

    Hi guys,

    Thanks for raising some valid points. Firstly just wanted to address the point on the statistics. The numbers referenced refer to fatalities per kilometers cycled, so they do take population into consideration. The U.S makes the smallest percentage of trips by bicycle, and people making those trips are in the most danger (yes, only looking at developed nations).

    Also, I hope you don’t get the impression that we’re trying to scare people off cycling, because that is precisely the opposite of what we’re aiming for! I’m sure cycling is less dangerous than many, many activities, and that’s great! But cycling in the U.S is more dangerous than in other countries, and our aim is to explore some of the structural, cultural and legal reasons why that’s the case. Our hope is that this exploration may create dialogue about the kind of cities, roads and highways we want to build in the future.

    Thanks for you comments guys! If you think you’d be able to help us at all, we’d be very grateful of any donations.

    Kind regards,

    Em Baker
    Director of SPOKE

  5. Ted Johnson says:

    BTW: My comments on this project are intended to be constructive.

    If I could influence the agenda, it would be to shame and embarrass the states and municipalities that are slow to accept cycling as legitimate transportation — not to focus on fatalities and reinforce the false perception that cycling is dangerous.

  6. Andrew says:

    This looks like a great documentary! It is sad that there are so few places where an individual can ride his bike, and use it as a valid means of transportation not just enjoyment, without the constant threat of being hit by a car. I am going to definitely help spread the word of your project. Hopefully I can get a few people to support the Spoke endeavor 🙂

    On another note, have you looked at Crowdfunding sites to help raise some cash? Those work pretty well if implemented properly.

    Thanks for the great info!

  7. Jane says:

    Hi Spoke team! Great project and great mission.
    I’m from RideAmericaforSafeRoutes and would like to meet up with you as you get close to your destination(east of Texas). You are doing a great public service.

    I think you may be travelling some of the same territory that we did with RASR inaugural ride- we might be able to combine info. We put together a spreadsheet (on our webpage) rating places along our route for bike friendliness/bike infrastructure. It would be great to have your impressions of some of the same places.
    Please contact me when you have a chance. Jane
    PS- just returned from meeting Josh’s family and Ozzie on Cape Cod

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