Is the Hawai’i Bike Share Initiative a Recipe for Disaster?

hawaii-bike-shareA new bike-sharing initiative is gearing up in Honolulu, and organizers say it will help reduce traffic woes, encourage physical fitness, boost retail business and cut dependence on fossil fuels.

Cycling can be a dangerous way to travel in the United States. In 2013, bicyclist fatalities totaled 743 across the country. That same year, 48,000 bicyclists were injured. Compared to other modes of travel, bicycling appears to be over represented in crash data, with cyclists accounting for close to 2 percent of traffic fatalities but just 1 percent of all trips.

According to proponents, though, bike sharing is different. A recent study found that no one has died in the United States while participating in a bike-share program.

Bike Sharing: Significantly Safer Than Typical Cycling

Since 2007, bike sharing has grown by leaps and bounds in the United States. In more than 35 million trips, some serious injuries have occurred. To date, however, there have been no fatalities. With traditional cycling, the death rate is 21 for every 100 million trips.

According to a recent study, the as-yet nonexistent fatality rate of bike sharing may not be just an accident of good fortune. Riders in bike-share programs are involved in significantly fewer crashes than are other cyclists. In three cities — San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Minneapolis — bike-share bicycles had lower rates of both collisions and injuries than the rates among individually owned bikes.

What Makes Bike Sharing Safer?

bike-share

Researchers note several reasons why bike sharing consistently appears to be safer than bike riding in general:

  • Bike Design. Bicycles used in public bike-sharing programs tend to have wider tires and to be heavier, so they’re more sturdy than typical bikes. The increased sturdiness may help riders better deal with potholes and uneven roads, which are blamed for many bike crashes. Bike-share bikes also typically are painted in bright colors and use flashing lights that make them more visible. And the seats keep riders sitting up straight, which also improves visibility.
  • Slower Traffic. Trips using bike-share bicycles usually occur in urban areas with slower-moving traffic.
  • Less-Experienced Riders. Bicyclists with less experience than typical cyclists may be more cautious and take fewer risks.

Cyclist Safety in Hawai’i

In 2013, Hawai’i had 1.42 cyclist fatalities — a total of two deaths — per million population, constituting 2 percent of total traffic fatalities in the state. For comparison, that same year Florida had 6.8 fatalities per million people. Several colder states — including Nebraska, South Dakota and Vermont — had none. The weather appears to play a significant role in how many people ride bicycles and in the corresponding number of fatalities.

In 2014, Hawai’i reported four cyclist fatalities. In spite of the increase, Hawai’i remains a very safe state for cycling.

A Step Toward Bike-Friendliness in Honolulu?

bike-friendly-state

Despite its relative safety levels and beautiful weather, Hawai’i is regarded as somewhat unfriendly for cyclists. In its 2015 Bicycle Friendly State Ranking, the League of American Bicyclists ranked the state 43rd. In 2014, the state ranked 40th in overall friendliness to cyclists.

Factors in the ranking included poor marks in legislation and enforcement, policies and programs, infrastructure and funding, education and encouragement, and evaluation and planning. In three of the five measures, Hawai’i achieved only 20 to 40 percent of the possible points it could have earned. In two categories — policies and programs, and infrastructure and funding — the state achieved 0 to 20 percent of possible points.

Honolulu officials note that they are working to make Oahu friendly to bicyclists. In 2012, the city and county’s Department of Transportation Services published a bike plan that updated the area’s 1999 Bicycle Master Plan. The island currently includes the following areas devoted to cycling:

  • Protected bike lanes, 2 miles.
  • Bike paths, 46 miles.
  • Bike lanes, 59 miles.
  • Bike routes, 40 miles.

In addition, Honolulu’s transit buses include bike racks. The addition of the bike-sharing program appears to be a step in the right direction for making the city friendlier to cyclists.

Staying Safe on Your Bike

Whether you opt to use the upcoming bike-sharing program or get around on your own bicycle, the Honolulu Police Department offers tips for staying safe:

  • Always wear a helmet. Research has found that wearing one can decrease injuries by as much as 80 percent.
  • Wear clothing that increases your visibility, including reflective or brightly colored items.
  • Be especially careful when riding your bike in the evening. Have proper lights installed on your bike, and wear reflective clothing.
  • Make sure any loose items are properly stowed in a backpack or carrier that’s installed on your bike.

In addition, make sure you understand Hawai’i’s laws for riding a bike. You’re considered the “driver” of your bike, and you have the same responsibilities and rights as other drivers. Under the law, you must obey all traffic signs and signals, and you’re required to:

  • Ride to the right if you’re moving more slowly than traffic.
  • Ride in the middle of your lane to avoid hazards, when you’re about to make a left turn, when the lane is too narrow to ride safely beside a car, and when you’re moving at the speed of traffic.
  • Follow all lane markings; for instance, you may not go straight in lanes that are marked for turns only.
  • Ride single-file on roads. Two bicycles may ride side by side on bike lanes or paths that are sufficiently wide.
  • Avoid holding on to moving vehicles.
  • Avoid carrying more people than a bike is designed to carry.
  • Avoid riding against traffic.

If you’ve been injured in a bicycle accident, it’s important to consult with an experienced attorney. For a consultation, please contact Davis Levin Livingston today.

Photo Credit: betterbikeshare, MrTinDC cc

Posted in Hawaii, Personal Injury

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