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Wiki Wednesday: Safety in Numbers

5:28 PM EDT on October 22, 2008

walking_crowd_burden.jpgIn a StreetsWiki entry on Safety in Numbers, Andy Hamilton points to the theory stating that the more cyclists and pedestrians use the streets, the less likely they are to be injured. It's an observation advanced by public health consultant Peter Jacobsen, but others have weighed in as well.

Traffic engineer and amatuer bicycling expert John Forester believesthe relationship is a spurious correlation, with no proven cause.But safety experts appear to disagree, and believe that motorists drivemore cautiously when there are a larger number of walkers and bicylistsin their environment. For example, Dr. Chris Rissel of SydneyUniversity in Australia stated in a 2008 interview, "It appears thatmotorists adjust their behavior in the presence of increasing numbersof people bicycling because they expect or experience more peoplecycling. Also, rising cycling rates mean motorists are more likely tobe cyclists, and therefore be more conscious of, and sympathetictowards, cyclists."

Jacobsen cites evidence from three studies that showdrivers slow down when they see bicyclists and pedestrians, and speedup when they don't.

An unscientific look at New York stats appears to support the Safety in Numbers theory. While the number of city cyclists has increased dramatically in the past 10 years, the number of fatalities and injuries have dropped. Though most agree that one death is too many.

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