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Bike Shares— Safer than You Think

It’s a fine assumption that Bike Share programs are a win-win for all parties involved, sentient and otherwise. The people participating in them are able to stay active, while the planet gets a break from the carbon emissions we’ve come to expect from passenger vehicles. That narrative— that Bike Shares are good for the environment and keep people active in the face of rising rates of obesity and weight-related chronic illnesses— has long been championed by advocates of such programs.

And now, as if there were need for another good reason to participate, there is another justification for this kind of program. Bike Shares, it turns out, are safer than other means of transportation. Not in the sense that they’re necessarily safer than walking, or driving, or using public transit; but in that bike shares are safer than the bike you have in your garage (though, if we’re being honest, garages and Bike Shares really aren’t found in the same city).

Aarian Marshall of City Lab set out to explore why Bike Share programs are safer, and came across several interesting studies and data. The first reason may be the most obvious: design. When you first looked at a Bike Share bicycle, were you no doubt taken aback by how, well, bulky the thing was? It’s thick, heavy, and some would say unwieldy. And they have to be— with programs like Washington, D.C.’s exceeding 5 million riders, the bicycles need to be able to take a beating. All that extra weight slows down the bike, and the reduced speeds associated with them may an added safety bonus. Also, there’s an idea that bike share riders may be more careful than when they ride their own personal bikes. After all we tend to (or should!) be more careful when using a piece of equipment that isn’t ours.

Another reason Aarian highlighted was that the bikes in Bike Share programs are usually painted with easy-to-see bright colors and they light up at night.

Marshall’s article also pointed out the irony inherent in bike helmet laws – these laws don’t result in lower hospitalization rates for helmet users. Put simply, while bike helmets are great to be wearing if you find yourself in a collision, they don’t actually prevent collisions. But I’m sure you knew that already. What is much more interesting, though, is that mandatory helmet laws do reduce the number of bike trips taken. It’s easy to see how a city can hype up fewer bike collisions because of their helmet laws. Yeah, there aren’t as many crashes… because fewer people are riding. How do you make cycling truly safe? By creating bike lanes and other bicycle friendly infrastructure.

Bike helmet laws aside, the bottom line with Bike Share programs is that hey are a huge leap forward in the journey towards sustainable and cleaner living. It’s also keeping us safer in more ways than one,