Study Finds DC Bike Sharing Safer Than Bike Owning

Capital Bikeshare opened in September 2010. The bicycle sharing program allows users to access more than 2,500 bikes located at 300 stations throughout the DC metro area. These bikes are popular with both DC residents and tourists. Yet, when the program began, many people worried that the increase in bike use would mean an increase in DC bike accidents. However, initial studies show that bike sharing may be actually be safer than owning a bike.

DC bicyclists make an estimated 28,400 bike trips per weekday; 5,000 of these trips take place on a Capital Bikeshare bikes. The rest are made on privately-owned bicycles.

During the first seven months of operation, Capital Bikeshare users made 330,000 bike trips. During this period, only seven Bikeshare accidents were reported. None of the crashes involved serious injuries. In comparison, the District Department of Transportation received a total of 338 reports of cyclist injuries and fatalities in 2010. When you do the math, the accident rate for bike owners is 13 crashes per 330,000 trips. This is twice the crash rate for Bikeshare users.

But the lower accident rate isn’t the only sign that bike-sharing may be safer than bike-owning. While Bikeshare riders suffered no serious injuries during the study period, many riders who used their own bikes suffered serious or even fatal injuries.

Why do Bikeshare riders have extremely low injury rates?

Experts propose several reasons for low injury rates among Bikeshare users:

  • Bikeshare users make shorter trips. Bike-sharing users may use a bike for only 30 minutes at a time. They are assessed extra fees if they do not return their bike to a station within those 30 minutes. This means that the injury per-mile-ridden rates for bike-sharers and bike-owners may not be significantly different.
  • Bike-sharing stations are often located near bike lanes and bike paths. Bikers who use routes designated for bicycles are less likely to be injured than those who ride in traffic.
  • Bike-sharers may be less likely to take risks. This explanation assumes that bike owners are more experienced than bike sharers. Less-experienced riders tend to ride slower and be more conservative when riding in areas with heavy traffic.
  • The bright red Capital Bikeshare bikes are easy to see and have a number of safety features that may not be present on other bikes.

We have our own hypothesis. The study was performed from September 2010 to April 2011. However, most DC bicycle crashes occur in the warmer months between April and September. The timing of the study may partly account for the low accident rate.

One should never assume that riding a Bikeshare bike is enough to guarantee one’s safety. Since 2011, there have been some serious accidents involving Bikeshare riders. All bikers should take precautions to prevent accidents.

Lewis & Tompkins, P.C. helps injured bicyclists. If you are a bicycle commuter, download our free accident app. The app contains a step-by-step guide to help you protect your health and your insurance claim after a crash.