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Report: The More People Bike In San Francisco, The Fewer Accidents Happen

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And yet, accidents still on the rise

The National Association of City Transportation Officials has some news for San Francisco cyclists that’s a little hard to parse.

Cycling deaths are up overall in the city. But NACTO says that if we keep doing what we’re doing already, they will probably go down—and indeed, they’re already not as high as they should be.

While it’s hard to measure precisely how many people in the city are biking on a daily basis, SFMTA’s counters recorded 200,000 more trips in 2015 than the year prior.

From 2006 to 2014, the city probably gained about 12,000 new bike commuters, 14 percent of the total increase in new commutes overall. The city’s cycling rate has almost doubled since 2006.

This has, of course, come paired with an increase in bike accidents and bike fatalities. But the spike in accidents is not equivalent to the spike in use, according to a NACTO study of seven US cities, including San Francisco.

Indeed, it appears that the more bike riders we have, the less likely each of them is to suffer an accident.

Streetsblog points out that this grooves with an established statistical phenomena, observed in the medical journal Injury Prevention back in 2003. Across the 68 California cities surveyed (including San Francisco), "The likelihood of an injury is not constant, but decreases as walking or bicycling increases."

And here’s something for the strange-but-true file: Prior to the July 2016 death of a cyclist in Chicago, there had never been a death recorded among users of bike-share programs (like the one San Francisco launched in 2013) in the country.

Even NACTO says it’s not precisely sure why bike sharing is evidently so much safer than using your own bike. But the data, weird though it may be, is hard to ignore.

And yet, even though cycling in the city is becoming that much safer, accidents are still on the rise. Unlike, say, Portland, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Minneapolis, which have all managed to diminish their per capita rate of bike fatalities using most of the same methods.

This, of course, continues to be an incredibly sensitive topic in San Francisco, where bicycles have long been an oddly politically charged issue. The deaths of two cyclists within hours of each other in June punctuated cries that the city is simply not doing enough to curb these kinds of fatalities.

This despite the fact that NACTO says we rank number three in the nation in growth for bike networks, even above cities with better results. Is our implementation lacking? Or are we just waiting for established dividends to pay off?

The numbers don’t yet say. The city’s Vision Zero map records two cycling deaths so far for the year in the relevant areas, plus nine pedestrian deaths.