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Safety in Numbers


More bikes = safer streets?

Research continues surfacing that shows that the more bicyclists and pedestrians out on the roads, the safer the roads become.  It may seem like the opposite should be true.  That more people on the roads would lead to more crashes.  But safety in numbers holds true for bicycling and walking, too.

Here's what an article on the Liveable Streets blog summarizes from a 2003 research paper:

*The likelihood of injury to a pedestrian or bicyclist in 68 California cities decreased as the percent of commuters walking or bicycling increased. 

*A study of walking, bicycling, and moped use in 47 Danish towns found that walking was safer where there were more walkers and bicycling/moped use was safer where these modes were higher.

 *The number of bicyclist fatalities per distance bicycled in 14 European countries decreased as the distance of bicycling per capita increased.

*In 8 European countries where data were available, the number of bicycling and pedestrian fatalities each decreased as per capita biking and walking trips increased, respectively.

*In Britain, bicycling varied up and down with different factors, such as the Arab Oil Embargo and new traffic speed laws, from 1950 to 1999. Whenever bicycling increased, per capita bicycling fatalities decreased, and the inverse was also true.

*In the Netherlands, where bicycling facilities and traffic law changes from 1980 to 1998 have greatly increased the amount of bicyclists and bicycle mileage, per capita bicycle fatalities have fallen equally dramatically.

 (Here is a link to the actual study)

Some researchers are coining the phenomenon a "virtuous cycle" and pointing to familiarity and empathy as two of the key reasons safety increases.  So what do you think?  With Portland's explosion in cyclists do you think its safer out there?



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April 14, 2009 at 9:44 PM

Well, just looking at statistics, as the number of people riding bikes has gone up 500%, the number of crashes has only gone up a few percent, so statistically, it's much safer.

Generally in my rides around town, I don't feel that riding a bicycle is dangerous, and I don't feel in danger riding. I'm a slow cyclist, and I have no athletic ambitions, but still, I feel quite safe riding, as long as I'm paying attention and riding responsibly.

A statement I saw in a document here on Portland Online lately summed it up really well - it was something like "It seems that as the roads become safer for the most vulnerable users, they become safer for everyone." It's exciting to see that starting to happen here in Portland, and I hope it continues.


Scott Cohen

April 16, 2009 at 11:40 AM

I agree, Dave. I am always excited to see more vulnerable road users out on the streets - kids, grandparents, disabled people. It not only means our streets are safer, but that these Portlanders feel safe enough to be out on the roads. That is really important!

My rule, no matter if I am driving, biking, walking, or pogo sticking around town is - SLOW DOWN! I tell myself those two little words all the time. I've noticed (not coincidentally, I think) that whenever I am in rush I seem to have more "close calls," regardless of the mode of transportation I am using.

My esteemed co-worker, Roger Geller, wrote a great article (aimed at cyclists) but pertinent for everyone about road courtesy. You can read it here:

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