Re-examining Bike Share Safety

Bike share systems are exploding around the globe as an alternative means of sustainable transportation.  According to Wikipedia, there are currently 180 functioning systems around the world, with 6 more planned.  Among the planned systems, is New York City’s – set to launch in 2013 with 600 stations and 10,000 bikes.

But as popularity for these systems grows, so do concerns over safety.  Studies have found bike share users much less likely to use helmets than cyclists using their own bikes.  A Georgetown study found that Capital Bike Share users wear helmets only 30% of the time, as opposed to 70% of people using their own bikes.  A study of the Bixi system in Toronto found similar results – only 20.9% of Bixi users wear helmets , as opposed to 51.7% of riders with their own bicycles.

Rates of helmet use may be lower do to the fact that bike share trips are sometimes unplanned, and people do not carry helmets around with them at all times.  It could be do to the fact that these bicycle users are inexperienced, and perhaps do not own their own helmets.  Franny talked about some of her own struggles with helmet use, as well as some proposed solutions in her post about Boris Bikes.

However, I hypothesize that the lower helmet use is innate in how people view and use the system.

Bike share is essentially a bike taxi system, designed for short trips in one direction.  And in taxis, people display a similar disregard for safety precautions as they do when using bike share.  A majority of private vehicle occupants use seat belts.  In Canada, 95.5% of front seat occupants and 89.2% of back seat occupants wear seatbelts, according to a 2010 study completed by Census Canada.  According to a 2011 study, 84% of private vehicle occupants in the United States use seatbelts.  In New York City, this number is closer to 90%.  However, passengers in taxis do not exhibit the same rates of seat belt use.

According to a PSA put out by the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission, only 40% of passengers of cabs wear their seatbelts.  Though I could not find studies for other cities, we can assume from this (and perhaps our own experiences) that seatbelt use is much lower in taxis than in private vehicles.

Is there a mental connection between users of taxi cabs and “bike taxis”?  Do people feel differently about safety measures when in a private vehicle as opposed to a public one?  Or perhaps this correlation is just chance. However, if we want to encourage helmet use – we should broaden our thinking to WHY helmet usage is so much lower in bike share than on personal bicycles.  Only then can we start to think about how to fix it.

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6 thoughts on “Re-examining Bike Share Safety

  1. peter c says:

    interesting observation. busses don’t have seatbelts but national express coaches in the uk do. are those private stats for adult short rides in cities, or everything? I suspect everything and this may skew the contrasting numbers

    • ritchiei says:

      Good point – buses here also don’t have seatbelts, nor do school buses.

      Those private stats are for everything. BUT – if you just look at urban trips, seat belt usage is the same or even higher ( 81-85% in the Unite States; 95.8% usage in Canada). However, the data unfortunately isn’t broken down by length of trip.

  2. Leonard says:

    I care less about seat belt and helmet use by others (I use seat belts in cars whether in front or back seat and helmet when cycling) but am more concerned about proper vehicle operation by other operators. Motorized users have some degree of education/training/licensing whereas most cyclist have no education/training/certification. That is why I’m opposed to putting Bike Share into operation. Cycle operation by Bike Share puts forth a danger to their bike operators and other cyclist on the street.

    • ritchiei says:

      I have heard this concern before – that bike share leads to more inexperienced cyclists on the road, leading to more dangerous cyclists… I’m not sure I buy it though. I’m not sure about systems around the globe, but in London – cyclists on bike share are 3x less likely to be in accidents than the average cyclist.

      No doubt cyclists need to be more aware of the rules of the road – I learned recently that I was breaking a couple of laws when riding around. I don’t know that bike share users are any more likely to ride dangerously, though, than your average cyclist.

      Perhaps when you sign up for bike share, you should at least get a pamphlet on the “rules of the road”?

  3. franny says:

    In Paris, bike accidents went up in the first year of Velib, but then went back down to pre-cycle share levels the following year. There was also widespread concern about accidents when Hubway was unveiled in Boston, but I couldn’t find any news items on a spike in accidents after the system was operational, nor could I find any articles that continued to suggest bikesharing was especially dangerous. And in fact, while more bikes on the roads will lead to more bike accidents in absolute numbers, accidents involving bike-share vehicles are lower than for people on bikes they own – and that’s been true across systems (see http://www.streetsblog.org/2011/06/16/from-london-to-d-c-bike-sharing-is-safer-than-riding-your-own-bike/)

  4. Joe says:

    Does the NYC Tax & Limousine Commission not realize how many NYC taxis have had their rear seatbelts removed?

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