Today’s head-scratcher: From London to D.C., Bike-Sharing Is Safer Than Riding Your Own Bike. Hmmmm… what’s up with that? Here’s some speculation:
For now, we can only speculate as to the reasons for this phenomenon. Streetsblog spoke with two experts on road safety, Professors Norman Garrick of the University of Connecticut and Ian Walker of the University of Bath. Each offered a number of possible explanations for the discrepancy in safety numbers.
“It’s shorter trips, maybe,” proposed Garrick. If bike-sharing users are generally taking trips of less than thirty minutes so as to avoid additional fees, each trip might be fewer miles, leading to a lower crash rate per trip.
Considering there is no actual study about why sharing appears to be safer, this sounds entirely possible/reasonable to me. How about this:
Walker hypothesized that bike-sharing users might be less experienced riders than those who own their own bike. “They therefore avoid mixing with traffic as much as regular riders, and ride slower, and so have fewer serious collisions,” he theorized. That might be easier to achieve if bike-sharing stations are sited near bike lanes, added Garrick.
That does not sound right to me because, frankly, urban bicycle lanes and bicycle tracks tend to put bicyclists in more danger in cities. For example, people mixing in traffic usually don’t get right-hooked by trucks. This happens when bicyclists ride to the front of an intersection and stop to the right of traffic. Some stunningly bad bicycle lanes put riders in exactly this position (e.g. Seattle and Portland) , yet they keep building lanes that put novice riders in exactly this danger. (That’s immoral.)
I’ve thought about this a bit and have come to the conclusion that I do not have a hypothesis. What I’d like to see first is a map of bicycle accidents in these cities. I suspect that the reason bicycle sharing appears to be safer (OK, this is an hypothesis) is that such programs may be confined to immediate downtown areas, i.e. narrower lanes and lower speeds. I’ll bet a crash map would show a donut shape with most bicycle accidents occurring outside immediate downtown areas — those transition areas between an urban core and housing (this assumes the concentric zone model of urban places).
I hope someone studies this further.