Study: Bike Sharing is the Safest Way to Ride

Here’s another reason to love bike sharing: It’s incredibly safe. That’s not just our stance either, but rather the conclusion of a new study that determined bike-share systems have seen exactly zero fatalities in the United States. What’s more, the study found that bike sharing nationwide has a lower accident rate compared to traditional urban cycling. That is, riding a bike share is actually safer than riding a personal bike.

The study, from the Mineta Transportation Institute, examined three large bike-share programs in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Minneapolis. In each system, the number of collisions per ride was lower than the regional collision rate. In the most remarkable case, D.C.'s Capital Bikeshare collision rate was 35 percent lower than the collision rate for traditional cycling.

Given the comparative experience of hardcore cyclists versus casual bike-share riders, that may come as a big surprise. So what’s going on here? The study proposed a few theories.

For one, bike shares typically operate in the densest urban areas where traffic is slowest, both de facto (traffic congestion) and by design (reduced speed limits.) The study specifically noted traffic speeds of 20-30 mph were reliably safe for cyclists. Moreover, drivers are at their most attentive in denser areas because of the higher rates of pedestrian activity. Understandably, more attentive drivers means safer spaces for cyclists.

Bike design also plays a role. Bike-share bikes are sturdier than average roadie wheels, with additional heft and wider tires making them exceptionally stable in urban environments where bumps and potholes are a constant threat. The beefier bike design also means slower speeds, while automatic, built-in lights — a typical feature of modern models — heightens visibility.

Then there’s a counterintuitive conclusion: Bike-share riders, despite their inexperience, are actually pretty good at riding bikes. That’s because they’re liable to know their limits and bike with extra caution compared to their more confident cycling peers, the study concludes.

Finally, there’s some evidence to suggest a “safety in numbers” phenomenon. That is, by increasing the number of bikes on the road, bike shares make biking safer for everyone. The study concludes the evidence on that front remains inconclusive, though it does not rule it out.

So there you have it. Would-be riders need not shy away from bike sharing simply because they think its dangerous. In fact, bike sharing is the safest way to ride.