Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Safety in numbers for cyclists

More evidence is showing that as the number of bicyclists increases, the crash rate does not show a corresponding increase.
Research has been steadily showing, actually, that the more people are out there riding bicycles, the safer bicycling becomes. As ridership goes up, crash rates stay flat. It's happening in Portland (see page 11 of this report [PDF]). It's happening in New York City.

Much of the ridership increase is due to cities' investments in bicycle-specific infrastructure. But the efficacy of that infrastructure for safety is often questioned. And there's one theory—based on a growing body of data—that suggests that a few painted lines on the road, bike racks, and traffic lights form only part of the safety equation. And maybe a smaller part than we tend to assume.

The phenomenon, dubbed "safety in numbers," was first identified in 2003, in an academic paper by public health researcher Peter Jacobsen [PDF]. After being asked by officials in Pasadena, Calif., if their city "was a dangerous place to bicycle," Jacobsen began looking at crash data from various communities where bicycle ridership had fluctuated over time.

What he found surprised him: The number of crashes involving bikes correlated with the number of riders in a community. As ridership fluctuated, so did the crash rate. More riders, fewer crashes; fewer riders, more crashes.
Hat tip to TheWashCycle



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