As the City of Albany contemplates whether to spend a little extra money to install and maintain its first protected bike lane on Madison Avenue, new data from the NYS Department of Health (NYSDOH) brings home the true cost of bicycle crashes in Albany.
Data compiled for TSTC by NYSDOH’s Bureau of Occupational Health and Injury Prevention found that emergency room and hospital costs to treat bicycle crash victims totaled in excess of $2 million over a three-year period (2010-2012) in Albany County. Approximately 13 percent of bicyclists involved in crashes in the county come to emergency rooms with a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). TBI patients account for 42 percent of bicyclists hospitalized for treatment. The mean charge per bicyclist emergency room visit is $1,838, and a cyclist who has to be hospitalized will incur a whopping charge of $56,442.
While two million is a large number, it does not account for a whole host of other public costs. Medical and other expenses of cyclists who died in crashes are not included. Nor are the costs of rehabilitation, lost mobility, emotional duress or long-term disability. Non-health related expenses such as police and emergency worker costs, legal fees, lost work productivity and tax revenues and family impacts are also not taken into account.
Given that bicyclists are disproportionately people of color and lower income and that the NYSDOH data shows children are the most likely group of cyclists to make ER visits in Albany, these massive costs are an obvious equity concern that could be largely remedied by the implementation of protected infrastructure for bicyclists. The expenses are also a concern for local budgets. For example, a portion of Medicare bills (which cover medical expenses for low-income residents) must be paid by local government—local government pays 25 percent of acute care costs and nine percent of long-term care costs incurred within county borders.
Albany sees a significant number of crashes involving pedestrians and bicyclists each year, and the Madison Avenue arterial is no exception. The City of Albany’s June 2013 Madison Avenue Traffic Study/Road Diet Feasibility Study, prepared by Creighton Manning Engineering, found 481 crashes in the Madison Avenue corridor over a three-year time period from November 2008 to October 2011, of which 32 involved pedestrians or bicyclists. At least 16.4 percent of all crashes in the corridor resulted in injury, and there were two fatalities. The study found that at least 55 percent of all crashes could potentially have been prevented by a road diet.
The Madison Avenue road diet plan holds the potential to improve safety for everyone who uses the road. Implementation of protected bike lanes along the corridor will separate cyclists from traffic, increasing their safety considerably and reducing costs to society, the healthcare system and government. The City of Albany has had a tough time with its budget, but pinching pennies on its roads is decidedly not going to help the bottom line.