When Mike reported on the fact that there have been 23 million bike-sharing trips in the US since 2007 and 0 deaths, one of the first things I thought was, "How could that be?" A couple of ideas rather quickly popped into my head.
Before I get started, I will attempt to avert some expected backlash by acknowledging that I'm well aware many (if not most) biker deaths are caused by driver mistakes rather than biker mistakes, and that many (if not most) biker deaths are related to poorly designed transportation infrastructure and urban design. But, really, 23 million rides and 0 deaths hints that some things are at play that make biking on a bike-sharing bike safer than normal biking.
The first idea that popped into my head was that bike-sharing bikes are typically cruisers, bikes that encourage people to take it easy and bike at a Dutch pace. When doing so, it's simply easier to not miss an encroaching car and not surprise one as well. If you do happen to crash, you're also likely to hit the ground at a much safer speed. There are several big reasons why the Dutch (and the Danes) have a lot fewer serious injuries and deaths on bicycles per capita than Americans, even despite extremely limited helmet use, but I do think that one of those reasons (not often discussed) is the pace at which the Dutch and Danes bike.
The second idea that popped into my head was even simpler: visibility. It's well known that places with more bicyclists have lower rates of bicyclist injuries and deaths. The hypothesis is simple: the more bicyclists there are, the more drivers are aware that there are bicyclists around, and the more careful they are. Furthermore, it's easier to see bunches of bicyclists than individual bicyclists, and there's also a greater chance that the drivers are also bicyclists some of the time.
One more idea that came a bit later was that the bikers themselves are more careful. Ages back, I remember learning that the majority of car accidents happen very close to home. Of course, that could partly be related to how often you are close to home. However, what I was told was it was because we get complacent when we are close to home because we are so used to those roads. Many if not most people using bike-sharing programs are not that familiar with the routes they are biking, at least not on a bike. Naturally, not being familiar with a route makes many of us more cautious, which I'm sure prevents some accidents. ("One can never be too cautious," as some overly cautious person once said.)
When I pitched this story idea to Lloyd, he also quickly came up with a few ideas. His first one matches my first one well... but colored in a slightly different way: "[the bikes] are heavy and slow and it is really hard to ride like a jerk." I love that line so much. Well said.
Other thoughts Lloyd had, all of which seem important as well, were as follows:
- All of the bikes have LED lights on the front and back (I'm not sure if that's the case in all bike-sharing programs, but even if not, I'm sure all the programs have lights or reflectors on the front and back and most probably have lights).
- Riders are older and have credit cards which sort of self selects for more responsible types.
- They are set up in mostly nice dense, white, middle class areas where there is in fact more traffic and cars drive more slowly than say in the dark suburban areas where most people get squished by cars. It is very much a class and race thing I think.
I think those are all good ideas. Taken together, all of these factors seem to combine for much safer bicycling. Still, 23 million rides and no deaths surprises me. What a nice surprise for a change!
If you have more ideas, please drop them in the comments below. I'm curious.