Bike Safety

"taking a header"

Let's "take a header" into the nerdy topic of bike safety.

Early bikes were not so great.  In 1880 the "safety bicycle" was invented and the basic design has remained the same ever since!

The new safety bikes featured improvements such a stable design, chain driven gears, and the first pneumatic tires.

With this even wheeled and even keeled advancement, bicycles became widely popular around the world.  

True to it's name, the safety bike can be remarkably safe.  The places that bike the most have the safest streets in the world!

The Netherlands and Denmark prove that bike transportation can be remarkably safe and practical.  Starting in the 1970's these nations invested in cycling and the benefits have attracted international interest.

One third of trips is by bike, making the world's safest streets

Some prominent factors that create safe cycling for the Dutch include-
  • safety in numbers (less drivers, drivers who look for cyclists)
  • slower car traffic. 1/3 of the roads have a 22 mph speed limit
  • building streets that promote cycling while calming vehicular traffic
  • schools teach biking and driving from a young age
  • laws and law enforcement protects cyclists
  • a shared sense of compassion (most drivers also bike)
Even in the United States, riding a bike is safer than most people believe.  In the US there is 1 bike death per 5 million bike trips, or 85 lifetimes of riding twice a day.

If biking is so safe, why are we terrified of it?

1.  Many people do not ride regularly, making it unfamiliar and scary.

Road design usually does not accommodate bicyclists.

3.  On a bike your senses are exposed.  In a car your senses are sheltered.

For new riders, I believe part of the problem is also the bikes we choose.

For regular people an upright posture safety-bike is still the best.  It has improved stability, improved line of sight (easier to look around) and a relaxed upper body position favorable to most people.

upright safety bikes (city bikesutility bikes)

Bike Share is proof that the general public is best served with safety bikes.

It should be easy to reach the handlebar!!!

What about riding with cars?

The Dutch and Danes have proved that even with vehicular traffic, cycling can be extremely safe.  These nations lead the world in traffic safety and have been refining the craft for over 40 years.

Roudabouts save lives and are more efficient. Stop STOP signs!

Roads in the United States are five times more dangerous by comparison.

US road design needs to be improved for the safety of all road users.

We have over 250 million cars and drive over 3 trillion miles annually.
More drivers means more accidents.

Is biking more dangerous than driving?

Biking is nearly as safe as driving in the US for injuries per hour of activity.

For many who lack regular exercise, building walking and biking into their daily routine has an overwhelming positive outcome on overall health.  The overall benefit is why doctors continue to recommend walking and biking as a healthy activity.

Anyone near a moving car is at risk for severe injury or death.  Moving thousands of pounds in public is never safe, especially at speeds over 20 mph.

But the car is much safer when used in northern Europe.  High levels of traffic safety are obtained by building safe streets, enforcing laws to protect the vulnerable, minimizing the need for cars, and educating the youth.  

Sweden has reduced all traffic deaths even during a period of increased car usage!

Get people riding, get safer streets.

Accident rate declines as more people ride, Minneapolis.

Accident rate declines as more people ride, Portland.

Marin County saw 34% decrease in accidents with 66% biking growth.

To get more people riding, bicyclists must feel safe when they are riding.

Generally the best way to make people feel safe it to physically separate them from fast vehicular traffic.  More about that in the next section "Our Streets".