Working in a NYC emergency room, I fear July 31, the opening day of the New York Citi Bike Share program. There will be an influx of 10,000 bikes on city streets — that is, 10,000 bikers who don’t ride a bike regularly in NYC (or else why would they be renting a bike?) and, therefore, might be more focused on improving their biking skills than on the road.
Most worrying, Citi Bike will not be providing helmets with the bike rental. While they do highly recommend helmet use (the GPS system on the bike will show you where you can purchase one nearby), it is unlikely that riders will do so, especially if they are only renting the bike for the day or for a week. In Washington, D.C., only 3 out of 10 Capital Bikeshare users wear a helmet, compared to 7 out of 10 private bicycle commuters who wear one. This is alarming considering the NY Department of Transportation (DOT) found that in 97% of fatal cyclist accidents, the rider was not wearing a helmet.
From October through December 2011, there were 799 reported bicyclists injured in NYC according to the NY DOT, with an average of 19,000 commuting cyclists. With a comparable city population, London had 4,007 reported bicyclist injuries in 2010, of which 10 were fatal and 457 were serious. Surprisingly enough, the rate of injury for bike share programs in London, DC, and Boston is extremely low. Yet, being a daily cyclist myself, I know that even if one is a defensive rider, there are extreme risks associated with city riding, particularly for people with minimal experience: all it takes is one pedestrian who jaywalks into the bike lane, or that one car which doesn’t yield to you when turning, or a taxi which jumps the red light as you cross the intersection, or that delivery guy who rides against traffic forcing you to push into motorized traffic.
Although NYC has almost 300 miles of bike lanes with another 20 miles planned for 2012, and Citi Bikes will be low velocity bikes due to their weight and single speed and equipped with front and rear lights, I urge all Citi Bike users to exercise caution, follow all traffic rules, and anticipate every pedestrian and motorized vehicle. If you haven’t ridden in a while, get used to the bike on safe ground in a park or dedicated bike lane. Practice turning, using the brakes, and starting up again. Buy a helmet and pick up a free bike lane map at any bike store to familiarize yourself with the safer travel roads.
I encourage you to bike as a means of transportation and exercise. Just keep this information in mind when hopping on the saddle.