Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Bicycle accidents and demography

Demographers truly earn their wings when they are involved in bicycle accidents. Personally, I've been "doored" in San Francisco around 2003, resulting in a hip pointer; and a motorist turned right into me on Broadway in Oakland around 2015, breaking the car's side mirror and bruising me pretty good.

But that's nothing compared to the bicycling high jinks of the great Ansley J. Coale, briefly noted toward the end of his biographical memoirs at the National Academy:

There are so many other memories: the annual office picnic softball games in which we would each pitch for opposing teams; the trips we took together to the Caribbean; his accidents on his bike and especially the accident diving into the shallow pool in a Manila hotel (that resulted in his appearance with a huge Band-Aid on his face on the stage at the opening ceremony of an international population conference with President Ferdinand Marcos); and the many lovely dinners at the Coale’s home.

In chapter 13 of his 2000 autobiography, Coale describes an event while visiting UC Berkeley in 1987, right after a funny quote of Gene Hammell regarding "the plural of 'pedantic'":

Our friends had found us a wonderful house in Berkeley to rent, perhaps a mile and a half from the office. It was on the side of the steep hill that rises above the Bay in Berkeley, and had a view out through the Golden Gate as well as across to San Francisco, from the study in the basement and the porch on the first floor to the picture window in the main bedroom on the second floor. I had bought a bicycle and rode to work each day up and down the steep inclines along the way. Traveling down hill one morning at probably 25 miles per hour, I caught the front tire in a tarry slot, yanked on the handle bar, and soared over it to land on my head. Fortunately I had bought a sturdy plastic helmet; it was cracked; in its absence my skull would have surely been crushed. I was wearing a bag over my shoulder in which I carried a husky steel cable to lock the bike. Carried over by momentum I was severely bruised in my back by this cable. Picking myself up and waving off the motorist who had stopped to help if needed, I decided to walk back to the house and ask Sue to drive me to the office. When I first stood up I could not remember where the house was, so I simply started back uphill as the right direction, and by the end of the block I remembered how to go. Sue took me to a hospital on the campus and a very nice female doctor took x-rays in the area of the bruises on my back.

Coale had probably been taken to Cowell Memorial Hospital, which was demolished in 1993 to make way for the Haas Business School, located a few doors north of the Demography Department at 2232 Piedmont Avenue. Presumably other than not getting into a bike accident in the first place, the morals of this story are to wear a helmet, and to secure your bike lock so that it doesn't hurt you.

In Princeton's Town Topics on January 10, 1990, the following article appeared. The first sentence says it all:

A 72-year-old bicyclist suffered partial amputation of his right ring finger Thursday when his hand was struck by the side view mirror of a passing car.

Coale was apparently biking on the wrong side of Washington Road, probably heading from the old Office of Population Research building (Notestein Hall or "Cannon Club"), to get to the path past McCosh Hall.

I recalled hearing about the incident in Berkeley from members of the Demography Department when I was a graduate student in economics and spent much of my time in Demography in the late 1990s and early 2000s. While on sabbatical there in 2012-13, I wrote an article about bicycle accidents with Carl Mason, "Spinning the wheels and rolling the dice," where we argued that despite the possible benefits to cardiovascular health, bicycle commuting was probably best left to the middle-aged and older, at least in the U.S.