Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Student Hit By Car While Biking to School: Are Road Injuries "Minor"?

Original Post 6/16/09: The crash was reported in the New Haven Independent last week:

A 17-year-old student was struck by a car while riding a bicycle on the way to Wilbur Cross High School Tuesday, police said. The crash took place on Willow Street near the I-91 exit ramp at 7:35 a.m.

The press piece indicates that the boy suffered "minor injuries," thankfully, and was able to continue to bike to school before an ambulance was called to take him to the hospital. We hope that the student will fully recover as soon as possible.

However, in the broader scheme of practice, the word "minor" is often misused when describing traffic collisions. Many studies like this one from Oxford University (Psychological Medicine (2002), 32:4:671-675 Cambridge University Press) show that the impact over time can actually be much greater than initially realized. An excerpt:

Replies were received from 507 (66%) subjects. Although 76% of injuries were medically minor bruises and lacerations, 132 (26%) reported symptoms of psychiatric disorder and 104 (21%) moderate or severe pain at 3 years. There was little evidence of improvement in prevalence between 1 and 3 years, with continuing physical symptoms, psychiatric disorder and reported consequences for everyday life.

Home to Interstate 91 on-and off-ramps, the stretch of Willow Street where the student was hit is known as an extremely hostile, high-speed environment for bicyclists and particularly pedestrians, despite the fact that it is one of the only road connections between the East Rock and Fair Haven neighborhoods of New Haven (it is not exactly like one of the bridges in Portland). The condition of the road prevents thousands of children in the Fair Haven neighborhood from easily using East Rock Park, effectively creating a wall between two directly adjacent neighborhoods. Unfortunately, ConnDOT would have to approve any changes to the current configuration of the roadway.

Apparently, ConnDOT doesn't believe that "minor" road injuries are that big of an issue, considering that they have done nothing to install a simple fix to the situation on the Tomlinson Bridge even after dozens of cyclists have reported being seriously injured crossing its 30-degree railroad track crossing.

Does it take a few deaths before they take action?

A few reactions posted on the Independent article:

Yet we have a responsibility, a moral obligation, to ensure the safety of those students who do walk or bike to school.... The Willow St bridge was constructed in anticipation of the (thankfully scrapped) East Rock Connector. This is a perfect example of excess road capacity leading to unsafe conditions. THIS ROAD NEEDS A DIET.... Anybody want to help me write the Safe Routes to School grant?

It is a good thing the driver was going under 25. When I drive in an urban environment, I try to keep my speed at about 15 mph or below..... I have had several close calls with pedestrians, but luckily have never hit one, and I attribute this in part to driving at a speed that isn't likely to kill.

Making East Rock school more accessible from Fair Haven, via a better pedestrian connection, is crucial. Willow + Blatchley Street, between the school and Erector Square, is currently an unattractive pedestrian "no go" zone, even for able bodied residents. Ask people who live in the area. To say nothing about how a handicapped, blind, elderly or disabled person would feel.

Update 6/18/09: According to reporting in the NH Independent, another student near Fair Haven, this one an 11-year old child, was hit by a car on Tuesday. The crash gave the child "abrasions." According to other reporting the driver was not "at fault."

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