Bike Share Riders Safer than Other Cyclists: Study

Citi Bikers are more likely to obey traffic laws, ride in bike lanes

It’s been almost nine months since Citi Bike, the nation’s largest experiment in bike sharing, took to the streets of New York with its fleet of 6,000 bikes.

There was a lot of hand-wringing at the time about introducing thousands of new, inexperienced cyclists to New York’s crowded streets. There would be more accidents, critics said, more cyclists riding illegally on the sidewalks, more cyclists running red lights and going against traffic. (One Chicken Little writing for PolicyMic in 2012 predicted that the program “will bring total carnage.”)

Well, the numbers are in, and despite the gruesome predictions, the sky isn’t falling. In fact, according to a new study out of Hunter College in New York City, Citi Bikers are actually safer riders than their non-Citi Bike counterparts.

The study, by authors Peter Tuckel of the Hunter College Department of Sociology and William Milczarski of the Department of Urban Affairs and Planning, found that, during the first five months of Citi Bike’s existence, users of the public bikes were more likely to stop at red lights than other cyclists, more likely to ride in the direction of traffic, and more likely to ride in bike lanes. Furthermore, Citi Bike is helping to close the gender gap between cyclists.

The authors conclude: “The Citi Bike riders appear to be more cautious and even more compliant with traffic rules than other cyclists.”

However, helmet use among Citi Bike riders was lower, but overall there were few accidents among Citi Bikers, resulting in no fatalities or serious injuries, and only a handful of minor injuries. 

The data was gathered by Hunter College students over a five-month period from June 10 through November 1, 2013 at 98 sites in a broad swath of Manhattan, from the tip of the island to 86th street. Using “strict methodological guidelines,” the students recorded observational data on 4,316 randomly passing cyclists.

Some other key findings:

• Citi Bike riders made up nearly a quarter (23.2%) of all cyclists.

• Compared to an earlier study by the same authors, female riders in a comparable geographical area went from only 9% of all riders in 2009 to 18.5% in 2013. Overall, women make up a greater proportion of Citi Bike riders (31.1%) than they do of general cyclists (23.6%) and tend to be safer riders by almost every metric.

• While males tend to be bigger risk takers on their bikes, Citi Bike tamed them—somewhat. Only 28.4% of male non-Citi Bikers stopped fully at red lights, versus 35.3% of those on the public bikes. Citi Bikers of both genders were also more likely to pause before running a red than non-Citi Bikers.

Because this was only an observational study, the authors could only hypothesize for the reasons Citi Bike riders are a safer bunch. It could be because of the safety programs promoted by Citi Bike, or the fact that inexperience riders are cautious on “unexplored” terrain, or because they’re hesitant to take risks with rented bikes.

Or, lastly, “on a more idealistic plane,” the authors suggest that Citi Bike riders may consider themselves part of a group and feel the need “to comport themselves in a manner that reflects positively on cyclists in general.”

Whatever the reason, this study ought to help quell some of those initial fears.


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