No one has died in America since over 30 bike-sharing schemes began to proliferate in 2010. The stat is both macabre and hopeful.
Clearly, if we’re surprised by this fact—revealed in research (pdf) from the Mineta Transport Institute, a US-government-funded body—it’s because we expect cyclists to die. Maybe we expect tourists and occasional cyclists, riding the clunky, unwieldy cycles available from bike-share schemes —and riding them mostly without helmets—to be the most vulnerable of all.
It turns out they’re not. Researchers conducted four focus groups in the Bay Area, talked to experts, and analyzed data on bike journeys from three share schemes. They found that collision and injury rates for bike-sharing were lower than those for personal cycling discovered through previous studies.
No one at all was killed using a bike-share scheme in the US (though there have been two deaths in Canada and one in Mexico, the research noted).
The US national average of cyclist deaths is 21 per 100 million cycle trips, or one in about every 4.7 million trips. At present, with no deaths from bikesharing, the difference seems very large. But the researchers did note that even one death in one of the schemes they studied would have pushed up the comparative bike-share figure up significantly, to somewhere not far behind the national average. (Because far fewer trips are taken by bike-share than personal cycles, numbers have to be extrapolated upwards to make comparisons.) They also pointed out that there have been very serious bikeshare injuries, including head and spinal injuries.
Non-fatal injury rates were similar between the largest bike-share schemes studied and the national average for personal cycles: around 1,400 injuries per 100 million trips on both. But the researchers noted the difficulty of collecting accurate data on collisions and non-fatal injuries—for example, if they’re never reported.
Overall, however: “These metrics suggest that, at present, bike-sharing appears to be operating at reduced injury/fatality rates as compared with personal cycling,” the authors wrote.
Why should that be the case?
According to the researchers and the experts they talked to, design of the bikes turned out to be a big factor. Bike-share bikes are often brightly-colored and equipped with flashing lights, making them easier to see. They’re also heavy and difficult to ride fast. Several other factors also emerged, including that bike-share journeys tend to take place in more pedestrianised and central areas, where traffic tends to move more slowly. They’re ridden less aggressively, and journeys take place predominantly in good weather.