A common theme among cycling advocates is that the more people cycle, the safer people on bicycles are. Recent evidence from New York appears to bear this out. This phenomenon has been backed up by various studies and reports.
A somewhat contrary view is presented by David Hembrow (of View from the Cycle Path) who holds that the very safe cycling environment in the Netherlands is not the result of safety in numbers but of good infrastructure that separates people on bikes from people in cars. There is something to be said for that but I think we all know how much better it feels to see other people on bikes around us. It at least increases the feeling of subjective safety (i.e. feeling safe is more important than being safe), a concept David Hembrow is very big on (rightly, in my opinion).
A very recent study in Australia has shown that the safety in numbers theory certainly seems to work if we expand it to cover the changed attitudes of people in cars when they are also (at least sometimes) a person on a bicycle. That would also match up with the experience in the Netherlands where almost everyone is on a bicycle at some stage. From the article on the study:
Garry Brennan, General Manager of government & external relations at cycling advocacy group Bicycle Network, told CyclingTips that the findings of Dr Johnson’s paper are consistent with what’s been observed in Melbourne in recent years.
“We started counting [rider numbers] on streets in Melbourne maybe 15 years ago, and on some of those streets we’ve matched the crash rate with the numbers of riders”, Mr Brennan said. “That shows that where we’ve got a five-fold increase in rider numbers, the crash rate only doubles.”
So how do we get these people out on bikes? Well I think we have to come full circle and embrace David Hembrow’s point – until the infrastructure and environment is in place to make people on bikes (especially people who are new to the experience) feel safe, we can’t get those numbers that create safety. We know, for example, that separated cycle paths encourage women to cycle – and women are a great indicator of cycling health for a city.
So what do we need? Separated cycle infrastructure on arterials, more direct routes for people on bikes and 30km/h speed limits on non-arterials.
And the best way to achieve those things? More money, so don’t forget to sign up to the campaign!