Better bike infrastructure cuts injury risk in half

It's amazing what a little paint can do to make bicyclists safer.

It's amazing what a little paint can do to create safer streets for cyclists.

Researchers at the University of British Colombia published a new study in the American Journal of Public Health looking at the cause of bicycle injuries. The study analyzed 690 biking accidents that lead to injury, in Vancouver and Toronto between 2008 and 2009, and noted the types of bike infrastructure in place when the injury occured.

Not surprisingly the greatest risk to bikers is when no bike infrastructure is present, especially on major streets. But what's amazing is just how much the risk of injury is reduced when bicycle infrastructure is in place. Bicycle-specific infrastructure -- like bike lanes on major streets without parked cars, residential street bike routes, and off-street paths -- cuts a bicyclist's risk of injury in half. But if a city really wants to go all out for bike safety they can create a cycle track -- bike lanes that are physically separated from cars by a barrier instead of just paint -- which carries one-tenth the risk compared with a biker on a street without bicycle-specific infrastructure.

"Cycle tracks and other bike-specific infrastructure are prevalent in the cycling cities of Northern Europe, but have been slow to catch on in North America," says Kay Teschke, a professor in UBC's School of Population and Public Health and lead author of the study. "Adoption of safer route infrastructure would prevent crashes from occurring in the first place, while encouraging cycling. Since cycling offers major health benefits, this is a win-win."

And in addition to biking being a public health concern in cities, creating safe streets for bikers is important for the health of the local economy. One neighborhood that recently looked into the impact of bicyclists on the local economy found that bicyclists spent more money at local businesses than drivers, subway riders, and walkers.

Health of people and the economy? That's a win-win.

Photo: Flickr/Paul Krueger

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