Safety in Numbers: It’s Happening in NYC

safety_in_numbers.jpg

The city’s expanding bike network is paying dividends — boosting the level of cycling and making streets safer in the process. Snagged from the latest issue of TA’s StreetBeat, this graph is a great illustration of the "safety in numbers" effect identified by researcher Peter Jacobsen in a landmark 2003 paper published in Injury Prevention. The stats in New York reinforce Jacobsen’s body of evidence that the more bicyclists and pedestrians are out on the street, the safer biking and walking become.

"Safety in numbers" also explains why the U.S. has such a high rate
of cyclist injuries and fatalities compared to countries like the
Netherlands and Denmark
, where biking is much more common. And it’s pretty much Exhibit A when it comes to proving the folly of "safety campaigns" like the one currently underway in Savannah, which Sarah wrote about in her post today. Fine pedestrians or otherwise discourage walking, and you only make streets less safe.

  • anonymous

    Now plot ridership and bike thefts.

  • Striking numbers. I wish our city recorded bicycle and pedestrian data.

  • Woody

    The current reforms on Broadway will push this movement along in NYC. The pedestrians have taken over Times Square as if the city belonged to them, even if they are tourists! Then they seem more assertive at nearby intersections, while the cars and cabbies seem inhibited, at last. (Having cops on every corner helps too, of course.)

    Completely closing a few blocks of Broadway got the publicity, but narrowing half a mile of the avenue may have a larger effect on safety. The existing experimental “Broadway Boulevard” stretch from 42nd to 34th St, has already become a pedestrian way, which it never was before. Tourists and locals now stroll along toward Macy’s and the shopping district around Herald Square. Street artists and a few tabletop merchants follow their customers into what had been a dull and dreary section, now almost one long and lively sidewalk cafe.

    With a lane given over to bikes, and a wider lane to be instant park with chairs, tables, and planters, auto traffic is already contained in two lanes and psychologically constrained by it. And of course, for pedestrians, it is much easier to make it across two lanes at the crosswalk than four the way it used to be.

    Yesterday I saw the new striping being put on Broadway from Herald Square down to 23rd St. That will create a new protected bike path, separated from auto traffic. Not sure there will be room for the park-like lanes, but it will still be safer for cyclists and walkers. The whole city will benefit from these changes.

  • Woody, you’re sh*ttin’ me–a cycle track down Broadway from Herald Square to Madison Square?

  • Dan Kaempff

    Outstanding news! Portland has had a similar experience with injuries and fatalities going down as cycling increased. You can see the graph at http://www.portlandonline.com/TRANSPORTATION/index.cfm?&c=46717&a=185776

  • funky

    this is screaming for a scatterplot. x axis = ridership y axis = casualties

  • Zac Frank

    Is the decline in casualties really statistically significant post 2003 when you have the ridership surge? I’d guess no from the graph, but it’s hard to tell. Regardless, ridership numbers are awesome.

  • Zac Frank

    Is the decline in casualties really statistically significant post 2003 when you have the ridership surge? I’d guess no from the graph, but it’s hard to tell. Regardless, ridership numbers are awesome.

  • Chris in Sacramento

    What’s striking about the graph is that injuries+fatalities are actually decreasing (instead of merely growing at a rate slower than ridership, as prediced by “Safety-in-Numbers”).

    Fatalities, more easily and reliably measureed than injuries, might offer more precise evidence of what is really happening. I’m also quite skeptical of ridership numbers.

    But enough with my curmudgeonly self. Taken at face value, this is very, very encouraging.

  • Sam McLeod

    Now all we need is a concerted education and enforcement campaign so cyclists, especially casual ones, stop breaking laws left and right. We can’t expect respect as users of the road if we don’t act like legitimate vehicles.

  • Sam — we’ve got that too! Check out http://bikingrules.org.

  • I like the graph, and I agree with the post, but another message that can be drawn is that bicycling in NYC is less popular than taking the PATH train (240k daily riders) and lots more lethal.

  • The Other Ed

    Ahhh but Jonathan, you are only taking into account fatalities that occurred on the PATH train. Add in avoidable deaths due to lack of cardiovascular activity for those commuters and biking may be well out in front in safety.

  • Ed, I still affirm that the PATH train is safer. After all, according to Streetsblog, it’s OK to ride slow, thereby omitting any real cardiovascular benefit: riding at 8 mph for a half-hour burns less than 200 calories. And stationary bikes or rollers are widely available; nothing’s stopping those commuters from reaching home, getting on the trainer, and burning calories with an old Paris-Roubaix video.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Nothing’s stopping those commuters from reaching home, getting on the trainer, and burning calories with an old Paris-Roubaix video.”

    Time time time. Some of us don’t have time, particularly with a need for down time and family time.

    And a bicycle is less boring than an exercise machine.

  • Time time time.

    Excellent point, Larry.

  • Simon

    It would be interesting to see how this is shaping up. In the UK we are improving all the time especially in the capital London where provisions are made for cyclists and cycling commuters. There are a set of general rules that all cyclists should adhere to to minimise risks on the road. A good set of basic safety tips for the road are published here: http://www.ridein.co.uk/safety/cycling-safety-tips/

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  • Fine pedestrians or otherwise discourage walking, and you only make streets less safe.