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How Bicycling Makes Bicycling Safer

Streetsblog nabs a nice graph showing that bike accidents in New York are falling even as bike ridership is rising.

safety_in_numbers.jpg

"By my calculations," writes Felix Salmon, "these numbers mean that you’d need to ride your bike in NYC for 7,300 days, on average, before getting injured. At 200 days a year, that’s over 35 years." That's a long time!

It's not necessarily surprising, though. Streetsblog's Ben Fried ties this back to the "safety in numbers" effect: the observation that "the risk of an individual pedestrian or bicyclist being hit by a motor vehicle decreases as the number of pedestrians or bicyclists increases." If drivers are used to watching out for bicyclists and pedestrians, then they'll watch out for bicyclists and pedestrians. If drivers are not accustomed to watching for bikers in the left turn lane, then they, well, won't. Intuitive!

I'd suggest another mechanism, too: As the number of cyclists and pedestrians increase, city hall increasingly sets policy in accordance with biker preferences. Bike lanes appears, as do bike boxes, and even bike tax breaks. That in turn increases bike ridership. Which in turn increases bike safety. Which in turn increases bike ridership. Which in turn increase pro-biker policy. Which in turn...

Related: For more on New York's radical pro-bicyclist agenda, check out this piece by my friend Dana Goldstein. Big Bike cannot be stopped!

By Ezra Klein  |  June 8, 2009; 9:00 AM ET
Categories:  Urban Policy  
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Comments

C'mon! This is the perfect example of mixing up correlation vs. causation. Why not say more people are riding simply because it got safer to ride? Or maybe the two aren't connected at all? See, for example, the link between lemon imports and highway safety:

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3325/3601371003_aeb52ea225_o.jpg

Posted by: goinupnup | June 8, 2009 10:24 AM | Report abuse

What would be the mechanism by which they'd learn that riding got safer and then be able to respond accordingly?

Posted by: Ezra Klein | June 8, 2009 10:44 AM | Report abuse

Newspapers? Most likely, though, there's signaling from friends/colleagues who bike. It may be a small effect on each person, but I reckon on aggregate it could add up to produce the above effect.

I'm not saying the effect isn't what you say it is - I'm just saying be careful in your interpretation of correlations. It's what caused the banking crash, yeah? ;)

They could have made the point better if, say, the overall number of traffic injuries was included as well.

Posted by: goinupnup | June 8, 2009 11:40 AM | Report abuse

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