20 October 2013

More Bike Safety Mythology

A brief article on Yahoo Finance outlines the growth of the Citibike bike share program in New York City.

What's particularly striking is that the data shows a steady, consistent growth in the number of trips taken and number of miles ridden.  I haven't taken a math or a statistics class in a long time, so if there's a term (which, I believe, there is) for the sort of curve plotted in those charts, I've forgotten it.  But, even to a decidedly un-numeric person like me, the graph and figures are remarkable.

The writer of the article did a pretty good job until the last two paragraphs.  "Wondering how all of this extra biking has impacted New York's emergency rooms?" he asks.  He attempts to answer it by the city's Department of Transportation studies that show the average risk of serious injury to a cyclist plummeted 73 percent between 2000 and 2011. 

Now, perhaps I'm reading something into his article that isn't there, but I had the impression that he was implicitly relating the decrease to the Citibike program. If he is, then there's a problem:  the bike share didn't start until May of this year.

Then he goes on to promulgate a fallacy: that the decrease in the number of injuries and fatalities is, in part, a result of the construction of bike lanes.

As I've said in earlier posts,  bike lanes don't necessarily make cycling safer, especially if they are poorly-designed or constructed.  In fact, they can put cyclists in more peril when they have to turn or exit the lane--or if it ends--and they are thrust into a traffic lane with motorists and pedestrians who do not anticipate them.

I maintain (again, as in earlier posts) that nothing does more to make cycling safer on urban streets and byways than what I call the human infrastructure of cycling.  Even more important than the best-conceived and -constructed bike lanes is cyclists',motorists' and pedestrians' cognizance of each other.  That is achieved, I think, over a generation or two of cyclists and motorists sharing the streets on more-or-less equal terms and of not thinking of each other as, essentially, different races of people.  Such a state of affairs--which I have found in much of Europe--comes about from not only sheer numbers of everyday cyclists (commuters and people who use ride their bikes to shop, go to the movies and such) but also from large numbers of motorists who are (or recently were) regular cyclists themselves.

That is the reason why I always felt safer riding even in those European cities like Paris, where there are relatively few bike lanes, than in almost any American city in which I cycled.  And, by the way, the City of Light and other European capitals didn't have bike share programs until recently.


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  3. Oakley sunglasses? Personally, I think most bike infrastructure is pretty much unrelated to cycling safety and that opinion is consistent with the FARS data.

  4. Steve--Since reading your comment, I have edited the post a bit. I was referring to what I like to call the "human infrastructure", which consists of people's awareness and acceptance of cyclists on the road. It has little, if anything, to do with bike lanes and such.

    To the Anonymous commenters: I really don't want to limit comments on this blog just to prevent spam. Please keep your comments relevant to the topic(s) of the post.