Sunday, June 19, 2011

Portland's World Naked Bike Event Plagued By Accidents And Alcohol Use

Portland, Oregon is a major bicycle city. And Portland's version of the World Naked Bike Ride took place last evening with the full support of Portland Mayor Sam Adams and the Portland Police. The event was supposed to send several messages including one of environmentalism and an opposition to oil, however the event was plagued with a number of accidents and alcohol use by riders. A number of businesses reported brisk alcohol purchases by persons who said that they intended to ride in the event. Merchants warned bicyclists to ride safely and not to use alcohol before the ride. However, such alcohol sales are legal as long as the person is of legal age and not intoxicated at the time of purchase. However, riding a bicycle intoxicated is an offense under the law in oregon and most other places these days. In some places, such as New Zealand, the World Naked Bike Ride had to be canceled before because of growing problems with riders riding under the influence of alcohol and involved in crashes.

Several factors may have contributed to the number of accidents this year, some of which required ambulances due to serious injuries. Many of the riders ride pretty fast, and many are too closely grouped in packs as this is a sort of parade event. And the use of alcohol by some riders adds another threat. In addition, some riders dropped their helmets or other items during the ride but could not safely stop to get the item, creating a hazard. This year, within just a few blocks of Hawthorne Avenue, one big crash took place near the Bagdad Theater around 37th, and another serious crash involving an ambulance took place only a few blocks away near S.E. 24th and Hawthorne. Some riders also did dangerous stunts on their bikes such as standing up or other acts of "hot dogging" meant to show off.

An ambulance driver had to repeatedly warn bicyclists to slow down as the crew responded to the crash near S.E. 24th, yet many riders just continued to whiz by at a good clip of speed, creating additional risk for the ambulance crew as well as the injured riders.

Increased accidents and alcohol use by the riders could force a few new safety rules for future events of this type, such as more spacing between riders, less stunts while riding, and refraining from all alcohol use until after the ride is over. Bicycle riders could learn a few tips from motorcyclists would rarely have crashes during their numerous ride events. Maintaining a safe distance from other riders and riding at a comfortable, but safe speed in case emergency braking is needed, as well as refraining from alcohol use during the ride are important factors in safe motorcycle ride events.

The organizers of the event need to take a long look at a safety issues involved with this event and do a much better job educating their ride participants on safer operation of bicycles to reduce the likelyhood of accidents. What was mostly a fun event for most riders, didn't need to end in serious injuries to a few riders.


At 11:56 AM, Blogger Jack said...

Do you have any information to support your claim of all these accidents and excessive drinking? The Portland police seem to disagree with you.

At 1:09 PM, Blogger Paul Hooson said...

Hello, Jack. For the huge number of riders involved, the event was mostly a success. However, I doucumented two serious accidents only a few blocks apart here. In addition, I personally know alcohol retailers who reported brisk sales by some persons bragging that they were going to this event, despite retailers warning them about not to drink before the ride event or to get arrested downtown with an open bottle.

Compare the number of accidents involved in this event against motorcycle rides or car rallies, in which any accident at all is a real rarity.

The outrageousness of this event likely inspired some foolish behavior by some and some injuries to a few. But, the event was mostly a success by other standards given the large number of riders.

At 1:17 PM, Blogger Mike said...

Any ride with 13,000 people is going to have accidents. To draw parallels with these accidents being alcohol fueled is just wrong.

At 12:13 PM, Blogger Ariza said...

The EMT warning people to slow down occurred on Hawthorne midway through a significant downhill portion of the ride. I caught a bit of speed coming down that hill and she didn't have a bull horn or any way of amplifying her voice. The ambulance was well on the other side of the road and myself and all the cyclists around me did slow down once we were within earshot of her. In other words, we weren't going fast because of alcohol. We were simply going downhill. Bikes go faster downhill. It's physics, not chemistry.

To be fair, there was one guy I rode past offering wine to two girls but that was actually after the ride. No doubt that among the throngs of cyclists there were some who imbibed before the race but, as a participant, I would say that "plagued" is the wrong word. "Peppered," perhaps.

I will say that anyone who is surprised that there were a few crashes is not really all that into cycling. Ever watched a grand tour or even a classic? We lost Wouter, a professional cyclist, in the Giro just last month. Armstrong crashed several times last year. Crashes are common when cycling in large pelotons when your wheel is inches (sometimes centimeters) from the wheels around you. Combine that proximity with darkness, distraction, bat wings and wangers, potholes, flashing lights, and you are bound to have a few crashes. To blame it on alcohol is sensationalist and uninformed.

The last piece of logic and fact I'd like to add here is this: People may have purchased alcohol who intended to participate in this race, but the mere purchase of alcohol does not prove that it was consumed prior to or during the ride. There were several after parties where such alcohol may have been consumed. No doubt some riders needed that liquid courage to shed their shame-based inhibitions but the exception does not make the rule.

At 2:08 PM, Blogger Paul Hooson said...

The event was largely safe for experienced cyclists. However for the more causual rider not used to traveling in closely packed groupings, their skills were put at risk. Further, much of Hawthorne is now a 25mph speed zone, and it appeared that many riders were exceeding that speed. A friend of mine who operates a business along 31st and Hawthorne witnessed a third accident when a female cyclist abruptly made a U-turn causing a crash with other riders. That's three accidents between about 24th and 36th on Hawthorne. That's a pretty poor safety record for what was supposed to be like a parade event.

Better spacing between riders, slower speeds(certainly obeying posted speed limits), all riders avoiding alcohol before the event, etc. would all go a long way towards cutting accidents to near zero for such an event and make a safer ride for everyone. There should be no argument about that. The eve nt should continue each year. But, it needs to be a little safer. People getting injured is no fun at all.

At 1:44 AM, Blogger fogues said...

I agree that there were a couple accidents. I will agree that the ride would have been better as a whole if there had been none. I completely disagree that more rules will prevent them. Rules do not ensure that people make smart decisions.

Also, I would consider myself a casual, if not inexperienced, rider. I did not crash.

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