Bike-sharing fans love to point out all the benefits; it’s an efficient, fast, and inexpensive way to get around, all while minimizing pollution, relieving congestion, and getting an aerobic workout.
But with all the cars and trucks on city roads, is bike sharing safe?
Somewhat surprisingly, yes! Since 2007, there have been 35,000 trips taken in the U.S. via bike-sharing programs. Out of all those trips, what do you think the number of fatalities would be? Get this — there were none. Zero.
What accounts for this astonishing fact? A recent study pointed to several likely reasons:
- Heavier bikes. The bikes used in bike share programs are heavier than typical road bikes, have wider tires, fewer gears, and a lower center of gravity. These design features slow down the riders, which makes them safer. Seats are also designed for an upright posture, as opposed to the more aerodynamic bent-over posture typical of faster riders, which also helps prevent accidents and injuries.
- Safety features: Bike-share bicycles usually have lights and are painted bright colors, making them more visible to drivers. They often have bells and written safety warnings.
- Inexperienced riders. It’s seems counter-intuitive, to say the least, that inexperienced riders would have a lower fatal-accident The explanation is that new riders are more cautious. Also, vehicle drivers, aware that many bike-share riders are inexperienced, may be more careful when driving next to them.
- Slower flow of traffic: Bike-sharing programs are usually found in urban areas that are crowded with people and car traffic. That means the cars are moving more slowly than they would on an open highway, which increases the safety of bicyclists.
- Presence of pedestrians: Drivers in dense urban areas are already used to looking out for pedestrians, and looking out for bike riders is an extension of that.
- More bicycles on the streets: Bike-sharing programs put more bicycles on the street. That makes car drivers more aware that bicycles are sharing the road with them. In fact, safety for all bike riders, not just bike-sharing riders, increases after bike-sharing programs are introduced in an area.
And there’s more good news. Even when looking at non-fatal collisions, bike-share riders do better than their private-bike friends. In Washington, D.C., for example, the collision rate was 65 percent lower for bike-share riders.
What’s the bottom line?
If you have avoided bike-sharing programs because of apparent dangers, you should give it a try. Be cautious when you ride, and better yet, increase your safety even more by doing what not enough bike-share riders do — wear a helmet.
Photo via Flickr by nickfalbo