Just last month North Carolina was named the eight deadliest state in the U.S. for bicyclists.
From 2010-2013, 66 cycling crashes were reported in Chapel Hill and Carrboro. In a country where 56 percent of crashes go unreported, the number provided by Chapel Hill and Carrboro most likely underestimates actual crashes.
A report from the Highway Safety Research Center found the bicycle crashes are clustered around campus streets and downtown Chapel Hill and Carrboro. The Oct. 3 death of cyclist Pamela Lane and the launch of the Watch For Me NC campaign have brought bike safety to the forefront in Chapel Hill in recent months.
The perfect solution to improve safety conditions and reduce the number of cycling crashes in Chapel Hill? More cyclists.
This might seem counterintuitive. How could putting more bikes on the road result in fewer crashes? The phenomena is known as “safety in numbers” and its effect has been documented world-wide.
These safety trends are also reflected in bike sharing programs across the U.S. Reuters reports that over seven years, across 36 cities, with about 23 million rides, zero fatalities have been recorded in any public bike-sharing program. Research has also shown that in cities with bike shares, it actually becomes safer for everyone who bikes, not just those using a bike share.
A study published in the American Journal of Public Health compared five cities with bike shares to five cities without. In the cities with bike shares, all types of cycling injuries decreased by 28 percent. Head injuries overall decreased and an even greater decrease was documented in moderate to severe head injuries, the head injury that occurs most commonly when a motor vehicle is involved. In control cities injuries actually increased by 2 percent.
Peter Jacobsen, who published the initial study on safety in numbers, provides some insight into what might be happening in these cities. In a July post on StreetsBlog USA Jacobsen argues that the increase in cycling actually makes drivers better drivers, something that provides broad benefit to other motorists, pedestrians and the community as a whole. Motorist expect to see people biking, and so they become more aware of other things on the road as well.
A bike-share program can decrease traffic congestion, improve physical and mental health among riders, and provide a low-cost, high-efficiency means of transportation. In 2012, Tar Heel Bikes launched a pilot bike-sharing program at UNC. In two years, and with only 30 bikes, the program provided over 10,000 rides to students eligible for the pilot. Expanding this program campus-wide and establishing a bike-sharing program in Chapel Hill and Carrboro could distribute these benefits throughout our community.
The Watch For Me NC campaign will help educate both motorists and cyclists on how to be safer. The partnership with the Chapel Hill police will also ensure that both driving and cycling laws are enforced. However, if we are truly committed to improving the safety of cyclists in our community, one of the most meaningful things we can do is increase the number of people who cycle. A bike-sharing program will do just that, making our roads safer for everyone.
Katie Byerly lives in Carrboro.