Winter Bike Commuting & Safety

Bike share of work trips, 2000/2001

Bike share of work trips, 2000/2001

Yesterday’s Detroit Free Press had a decent article on those still commuting by bike during the winter.

Bike enthusiasts, law enforcement and transportation officials say people like Bierman are among a growing number of commuters in metro Detroit who are responding to the sluggish economy and rising gas costs by riding bikes to work during the winter — despite a total snowfall that measures more than 21 inches above average so far.

We’ve heard from naysayers that Detroit won’t be popular for biking because of our winters.

Not true.

A higher percentage of people bike to work in Canada than the U.S. — three times higher according to one report. In fact a much higher percentage of people bike to work in the Yukon Territory than either California or Florida.

This same report offers some explanations as to why.

One explanation is safety, and that was a highlighted concern in the Free Press article. Since 1988 Canada has done a signficantly better job at making biking safer compared with the U.S.

In fact, compared with many European countries, the U.S. is much more dangerous.

Due to the lack of comparable time-series data on cycling levels in Canada and the United States, we can only attempt a standardized comparison for the latest available year. We also include selected European countries as a basis for comparison, since cycling is generally considered safer in Europe than in North America (Pucher and Dijkstra, 2003). That impression is certainly confirmed by Fig. 4, which shows rates of cycling fatalities per 100 million km cycled in each country. Fatality rates range from a low of 1.03 in Denmark to a high of 5.74 in the USA. With fatality rates well under 2.0, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Sweden have the safest cycling. Canada has 2.39 cycling fatalities per 100 million km cycled, just about the same rate as France (2.04) and Germany (2.43). The United States has, by far, the most dangerous cycling, with a fatality rate of 5.74 almost six times as high as in Denmark, almost three times as high as in Canada, and about twice the rates in Italy and the UK.

Besides safety, the report notes one other statistically significant explanation for biking levels: the price of gas.

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