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Bike Share, Bike Lanes, and Cyclist Safety USA

Why Bike Shares and Bike Lanes Will Revolutionize Cycling Safety

In 2015, 818 cyclists lost their lives on U.S. roads, representing a 13% increase on the previous year. This included 167 children under the age of 18.

It’s no secret that the number of people cycling in the U.S. is growing, with the U.S. Census Bureau highlighting a 62% nationwide increase in bicycle commuting between 2000 and 2012. This was even before the explosive growth of the bike share industry in recent years.

So, what can be done to improve cyclist safety in the U.S.?

We’ll start by looking at the most dangerous states for cyclists. This includes a map of all fatal cycling accident locations in 2014 and 2015, using Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

This information has been used to show the demographic (age and gender) of cyclists and drivers, as well as the vehicles involved in these accidents.

We’ve also included a quick guide to bike lanes, which are becoming a key part of city infrastructure for commuters and recreational cyclists. Are they really improving cycle safety?

For anyone looking to use a bike share scheme but not sure where to find one, we’ve added an interactive map of all bike share locations currently in the U.S. (frequently updated).

Tips on how to stay safe while cycling on U.S. roads are also available towards the end of our guide. These are designed to keep you safe while cycling, with recommendations on everything from road positioning to clothing choice and safety equipment.

Cyclist fatality data on U.S. roads

Cycling participation in the U.S.

The Alliance for Biking & Walking has been tracking walking and cycling data across the U.S. since 2003, releasing a report into their findings every 2 years (most recently in 2016). This is in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to highlight the connection between cycling, walking and healthy lifestyles.

Since 2007, across the U.S., more States and Cities are publishing goals to increase bicycling participation. This jumped from 16 states in 2007, to 36 states in 2016. There has also been a 56% rise in the average level of federal funds each state allocates to cycling and pedestrians across the same period.

Bike share programs have seen rapid adoption across 25 U.S. States, after no systems at all were reported as recently as 2010. This is in addition to Bike to Work Day events, which were organized by 48 States as of 2016.

But there’s still a lot of work to do if cycling is to become a more viable method of commuting in many cities. Biking trips were found to be used as transportation in just 1% of U.S. trips. In contrast, car, van, SUV, and RV trips were found to make up 83%, and walking made up 10%.

The study also highlighted a difference in the proportion of men and women participating in cycling, with 24% of all U.S. biking trips made by females, and 76% by males.

A separate study by Dutzik et al in 2013 found that an increase in the use of devices with GPS capabilities, such as smartphones (owned by 68% of the U.S. population in 2013), was encouraging a shift away from car travel and towards active transportation.

Cyclist commutes across the Brooklyn Bridge in New York CityCyclist commutes across the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City

A large proportion of trips by foot, bike, and public transport were found to be made by households with an annual income less than $20,000, which equates to 17% of the U.S. population. This includes 35% of transit trips, 21% of walking trips, and 13% of all biking trips, which is why it’s important that bike share schemes are affordable.

Useful references:

  1. American Community Survey – U.S. commuter data and demographics
  2. National Bicycle and Pedestrian Documentation Project (NBPD)

What’s stopping more people from cycling?
To help highlight the number of Americans who cycle each year, PeopleForBikes commissioned the U.S. Bicycling Participation Benchmarking Study, which was released in 2015.

This included the results of a 10‐minute survey completed by 16,193 U.S. adults and 8,858 children (completed by the parents, with child ages from 3 to 17 years). The sample data was then weighted to represent the U.S. population.

Results indicated that 34% (103.7 million) of Americans ages 3 and older rode a bicycle in the 2014‐2015 year. 32% of Americans were found to ride recreationally, and 15% rode for transportation, with an average of 30 minutes spent cycling each day.

However, 52% of people surveyed were worried about being hit by a motor vehicle, with 46% of adults saying they would be more likely to ride if bicycles were physically separated from cars. Availability of a working bicycle is also a limiting factor, with 48% of adults reporting they don’t have access to one.

Lack of cycling infrastructure was found to be a major issue across the U.S., but particularly in Southern States, where the ease of combining cycling and public transport was reported at just 26%.

Importance of bike lanes for cyclist safety

Segregated bike lane in NYCSegregated bike lane in NYC

In 2013, 4,735 pedestrians and 743 bicyclists were killed on U.S. roads. By 2015 this had risen to pedestrians and bicyclists (FARS data). A study by Anderson, C. L. et al. (2010) found that locations with higher poverty rates had four times as many pedestrian collisions as census tracts with lower poverty rates.

So, what can be done to improve cycle safety on our roads?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) distributes a list of safety measures to state highway offices. One measure that’s proven particularly effective is the development of pedestrian safety zones which characterizes high crash areas and assigns them a

So, what can be done to improve cycle safety on our roads?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) distributes a list of safety measures to state highway offices. One measure that’s proven particularly effective is the development of pedestrian safety zones, which characterizes high crash areas and assigns them a higher priority for resources.

Cycling is perceived as a safer method of travel than walking, with 14.1% of traffic fatalities being pedestrian, compared to 2.2% that are bicyclists (FARS 2011‐2013). But when you consider that over the same period, 10.4% of trips were by foot, and just 1% by bike, you’re 62% more likely to be involved in a fatal cycling accident compared to walking.

To stay safe while cycling, there’s a lot of responsibility on the cyclist to ensure their visibility through suitable lighting and clothing, and wear a correctly fitted helmet. But it’s also the responsibility of local government to implement well‐designed infrastructure, such as protected bike lanes.

The Safer People, Safer Streets Initiative was launched by the U.S. Department of Transportation in 2014. This aims to create a safer walking and cycling environment, through road safety assessments, new research, and the collection of data by University Transportation Centers.

How bike share works

Bike sharing schemes are a low-cost, short-term rental system for bicycles. The bikes themselves are usually docked at purpose-built automated stations, which are often located in and around larger cities.

Urban centers and new housing developments just outside of major cities are the prime location for bike share systems, as they target the estimated 49% of US trips that are less than 3 miles.

Unfortunately bike share isn’t free, but even some of the larger schemes, such as Citi Bike in New York, offer very reasonable prices. Tariffs vary by company and location, but you can usually find day passes for around $12, or annual memberships for $155. Single-journey rides are also available in a select few locations, through programs such as Pittsburgh Bike Share, where a 30-minute ride costs just $2.

Many bike share companies also offer incentives, such as gift certificates, refer-a-friend schemes, and a certain percent saved on your annual membership as part of a loyalty card program.

After buying your day pass or as an annual member, you can then use a ride code to unlock a bike from one of their nearby stations. After completing your rides, simply return the bike to any active station.

Citi Bike station in NYCCitiBike bike share stations in NYC

But this isn’t always convenient. Sometimes you want to leave the bike where a docking station isn’t nearby, which is why a bike share system in Portland, Oregon invented the built-in lock. You pay $2 more to leave a bike away from a station, but other riders can return it to receive a $1 credit.

So why use bike share?
There are three big incentives:

  • 1. Bike share schemes are now firmly established in many states and major cities, such as New York (Citi Bike), Idaho (Boise Green Bike and Mr Bike Share), and District of Columbia (Capital Bike Share). This makes them easily accessible for commuting and recreational cycling.
  • 2. Low cost, with a predictable journey time. Getting around larger cities can be expensive, especially during rush hour. Whether you’re driving, taking taxis, or even the subway, a year of travel can easily cost thousands of dollars. When you compare this with $155 for a Citi Bike membership in the heart of New York, where 600 stations and 10,000 bikes are available, the cost savings are significant.
  • 3. Health benefits. There are obvious health benefits associated with an increase in physical activity, such as increased cardiovascular fitness, improved posture and coordination, improved joint mobility, and even decreased stress levels.

Will we see a Tesla bike?
Bike share is starting to move into the mainstream of U.S. transport, but there are still some big improvements in the pipeline. Social Bicycles, one of the largest providers of bike share bikes in the country, has already started investing heavily in electric bikes with a built-in motor.

Philadelphia has been somewhat of a market leader in this technology, offering monthly passes for $15 and 30-minute rides for $4. Additional ebike schemes are being planned for the near future.

As batteries become more refined and economical through the work car companies are doing in the electric space, it would make sense to see rapid developments in other modes of electric transport soon, such as ebikes.

Having a company such as Tesla producing ebikes also has the potential to improve cycle safety. It’s probably not too forward thinking to suggest ebikes and electric self-drive cars could have some form of interconnection. Detecting if any bikes are in the immediate area, which direction they are travelling and at what speed could save the lives of countless cyclists.

Environmental Benefits of Cycling

According to Dr. Susan Shaheen, “Each mile someone rides on a bike-share bike instead of driving a car means about one pound of carbon dioxide is kept out of the atmosphere.”

Dr Shaheen also published a study in 2012, entitled ‘Public Bike Sharing in North America: Early Operator and User Understanding’. In this study, she concluded that “The ultimate goal of public bike sharing is to expand and integrate cycling into transportation systems, so that it can more readily become a daily transportation mode (for commuting, personal trips, and recreation)”.

But one of the reasons it’s so hard to quantify and correlate environmental benefits of cycling is because there’s very little hard data to analyze. You can’t currently pick up a set of data and say there were ‘X’ motorists driving last year, but ‘Y’ have now switched to cycling, saving ‘Z’ in emissions.

Bike share goes a long way towards reaching that goal. Many bikes involved in the schemes, such as Bay Area Bikes in San Francisco, and any of the systems using Motivate’s bikes (Divvy Bikes in Illinois, Hubway bikes in Massachusetts, and Capital Bike Share in Virginia, to name a few) provide us with access to their open datasets.

This information can be hugely valuable for researchers and analysts to gain an insight into where bike share is growing, who is using the bikes, how long their journeys are, start and end points, and much more.

There are of course the obvious environmental benefits, such as reducing local air pollution, cutting carbon emissions, and the fact that you’re not burning non-renewable fossil fuels. National Geographic also points out that cyclists who ride frequently are typically in better physical shape than someone who relies on cars or public transport for all their journeys, thereby reducing the use of motor vehicles for short trips.

But these are benefits that have been known about for over 20 years. Only now, with the growth of bike share and bike lanes, do we start to see real potential for cycling to have a real impact on commuting.

Health benefits of cycling

Cycling increases your level of physical activity, which can lead to improved physical and mental health, and social stability. (Mindell et al, 2014). Not only can it help to lower your BMI, researchers have also found it’s a more enjoyable form of transportation for commuting.

In 2015, Clemson University researchers carried out a study to determine the least stressful mode of transport, out of walking, driving, and transit. This found that 67% of people who bike or walk to work enjoyed their trip, compared to 58% of commuters who travel by car.

Increased activity levels have also been found to reduce the likelihood of developing heart disease, certain cancers, diabetes, depression, and anxiety (Cohen, Boniface, and Watkins, 2014). This is considered particularly important in America, where 65% of the adult population have a BMI considered above a healthy level for their height and weight (BRFSS 2013).

Health benefits summary:

  • Increased cardiovascular fitness.
  • Reduced anxiety and depression.
  • Decreased body fat levels.
  • Prevention or management of disease.
  • Increased muscle strength and flexibility.
  • Improved joint mobility.
  • Decreased stress levels.
  • Improved posture and coordination.

Economic Benefits of Cycling

Increased employment opportunities, improved real estate values, and increasing revenue for businesses are just a few of the benefits to come from investing in bicycle projects, such as shared bike schemes. That’s the message coming from the studies like the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI), after researching the impact of building pedestrian and bicyclist facilities in the U.S.

For each $1 million invested, bicycling‐specific projects created 11.4 full‐time equivalent (FTE) positions, pedestrian‐specific projects created 10 FTE jobs, multi‐use trails created 9.6 FTE positions, and road‐only projects created 9.6 FTE positions (Garrett‐Peltier, 2011).

A separate study (Buehler and Hamre) of the Capital Bikeshare scheme in Washington, DC, found that 20% of businesses saw an increase in sales, and 23% of riders using the bikes reported they spent more money because of their bike share trip.

Smart Growth America also analyzed the impact of the Complete Streets projects on property prices in the surrounding areas. In 80% of cases the value of properties in the surrounding areas increased, with property values in the remaining 20% of areas staying the same.

Walkable urban places (WalkUPs) are also becoming more desirable for businesses, with office rental premiums 58% higher than in drivable suburban locations ($35.33 per square foot compared to $20.32 per square foot). This was based on a recent study of the 30 largest metro areas in the U.S. (Leinberger and Lynch, 2014).

But an increase in cycling and active transportation doesn’t just benefit local businesses. A study of bicycle commuters in Iowa estimated that over $13 million in health care expenses was saved annually (Lankford, J. et al, 2011). A separate study published in Environmental Health Perspectives looked at the benefits of replacing 50% of short automobile trips with cycling. They estimated this would result in savings of around $3.8 billion/year across the Midwestern United States alone, due to improved air quality and reduced health care costs.

Specialist infrastructure currently being developed for bikes includes:

  • Contraflow Bicycle Lanes
  • Bike Share
  • Bicycle Corrals
  • Bicycle Boulevards
  • Protected Bike Lanes
  • Home Zones
  • Bike Boxes
  • Shared Lane Markings
  • Bicycle Traffic Lights

How to Stay Safe While Cycling

Improving cycling infrastructure goes a long way towards improving the safety of bicyclists in America. But even with this in place, it will always be important to plan your journey and wear effective safety gear, such as a helmet or reflective clothing, especially when cycling at night.

The following advice has been split into two sections. The first covers the equipment you can buy to help keep you visible on the road, and protect you in the event of a collision. The second includes some important guidelines for how best to position yourself on the road, and plan your route.

Cycling safety equipment

  • Headlight

    Required by law, having a front‐mounted headlight will make you much more visible to drivers and pedestrians in low light or darkness. When you’re deciding which one to buy, pay close attention to the battery life and type of light. Look for LED models as they tend to make the most efficient use of battery life.

  • Rear light

    A flashing red light to make the most efficient use of battery life.

  • Handlebar/helmet mirror

    A simple mirror can be a lifesaving investment. Every other vehicle on the road uses them to get a quick perspective on the situation around them, so why shouldn’t cyclists?

    They’re particularly useful when you’re approaching a junction. Some vehicles attempt to overtake you and cut in front at the last second to make a turn. This is incredibly difficult to react to when all you see is what’s happening in front of you.

    Even a quick glance in the mirror as you approach an intersection can tell you if a vehicle is approaching, so that you can slow down or reposition yourself in the road if necessary. It’s also useful for when you need to overtake parked cars and move further out into the road. This is becoming increasingly important as hybrid and electric vehicles become more prominent, as they’re often much quieter than other vehicles.

  • Reflective clothing

    Reflective vests or leg bands are both relatively inexpensive, but are great for increasing your visibility, even during the day.

  • Helmet
    EcoHelmet wins the 2016 James Dyson AwardEcoHelmet wins the James Dyson Award

    There’s plenty of evidence to highlight the safety benefits of helmets for cyclists. This includes a study by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) in the UK, which found in 70% of cycling accidents, their head hit the road first. Of these impact sites, at least 50% would have been covered by a helmet.

    A separate study in 2016, published in the American Journal of Surgery, included 6,267 patients. Helmeted bike riders were found to have 44% reduced odds of mortality, reduced the odds of facial fractures by 31%, and reduced the likelihood of sustaining a traumatic brain injury by 51%.

    But it’s not always practical to carry a helmet around day-to-day. Even the most compact designs can be bulky, and it’s easy to misplace them during a busy commute.

    That’s why the recyclable, foldable helmet produced by EcoHelmet is so intriguing. As the winner of the 2016 International James Dyson Award, it’s specifically tailored towards users of bike share schemes.

    Despite being lightweight and compact, the honeycomb structure has proven incredible effective at distributing impact evenly around the head area. The inexpensive materials also means it can be produced much more cheaply than traditional helmets, making it well-suited to single and multiple journeys.

Road positioning and route planning

If you’re approaching a junction or can see a car about to pull out from a driveway or parking space, slow down. Even with headlights and reflective clothing, you can’t always be certain a driver has seen you. It’s best to slow to a speed where you can stop completely to protect yourself against the driver doing anything unexpected.

  • Position yourself further from the curb

    Many cyclists position themselves as close to the curb as possible, to protect themselves from vehicles behind. But this leaves you with fewer options should a door open from a parked car, or if a pedestrian steps off the pavement without seeing you. It’s also beneficial at intersections, where vehicles approaching from the left or right will see you easier.

  • Don’t ride on the sidewalk

    There are a few exceptions to this rule, such as where there are no driveways or intersections for long periods of time, and if there aren’t any pedestrians, but in general you should only ever cycle on the road. Vehicles drivers are much more used to seeing cyclists in their mirrors and on the road. It’s also safer for pedestrians.

  • Traffic light positioning

    Position yourself in one of two places. Either just in front and to the right of the first vehicle (A), or to the right of the space between the first and second vehicles (B). By choosing position A, you’re able to quickly cross when the light turns green, and the driver of the first vehicle will have a better view of you than if you were directly parallel.

    Position B also has its advantages, as you have the best view of what the first driver plans to do (if they indicate). You’re also in clear view of the second vehicle, allowing them to position themselves a safe distance from you, and give way to you if you’re going straight ahead and they’re turning right.

  • Choose wider and slower streets where possible

    Many wider streets with lower traffic volumes are now being converted into roads with segregated bike lanes. Even if this isn’t the case for your local cycle routes, slower streets mean the driver has more time to see and react to you.

  • Adjust your route for weekends

    Weekends, especially Friday and Saturday nights are particularly dangerous for cyclists. Where possible, stay off the main streets and use the quieter back roads where you’re less likely to come across drunk drivers.

U.S. Cycling infographic – Safety, bike lanes, and more

Cycle Safety, Bike Lanes, and Bike Share Systems in the U.S.

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