When Citi Bike opened its docking stations to New York City riders in May of 2013, it also opened to criticism and predictions of high death tolls.
Among those quick to foretell tragedy were former city Comptroller John Liu and Jon Stewart of The Daily Show, who jokingly mentioned his new business plan—a street brain removal service.
Fast forward a year and nearly three months—much to critics (and everyone else’s) surprise, there have been no deaths in the Citi Bike program.
Moreover, according to three industry experts interviewed by Reuters, there have been no recorded deaths in any U.S. bike share program since the first bike share riders began pedaling in 2007 in Tulsa, Ok. That’s right—23 million rides and no rider fatalities.
According to a Citi Bike representative, only 40 people in New York have been hurt and required medical attention after 10.3 million rides. But for the average cyclist, the streets of NYC aren’t as safe. Reuters reported 18 bike fatalities in 2012, 12 fatalities in 2013 and 12 so far this year.
Susan Shaheen, co-director of the University of Berkeley’s Transportation Sustainability Research Center and one of the experts interviewed by Reuters, explains some of the more subtle safety features on Citi Bikes that have helped keep the number of fatalities at zero.
The bikes are heavy, with a very low center of gravity, wide tires, drum brakes that keep the braking system dry even in inclement weather and the bikes are geared so it is difficult to gain considerable speed.
Bike share programs across America have taken advantage of these bike design elements to improve safety, but the majority of cities still don’t offer helmets to bike share riders. While the number of bike share fatalities is lower than the number of general bicycling fatalities, the amount of head injuries is disproportionally high in cities with bike share programs.
Some cities, like Boston, provide helmets to their bike share riders to combat the issue. But in New York, Washington, Minneapolis and many others, the protective headwear is noticeably absent. Though the programs encourage riders to bring and use their own helmets, there are no plans to offer helmets at docking stations in the immediate future.