Are Bicycle Accidents and Injuries Common in Pennsylvania?

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As generations change, so do decisions regarding a large variety of personal and consumer preferences. Whereas the suburbs were part of the quintessential American dream for more than half a century, a changing economy and changing preferences has created a renewed interest in car-free urban living. Cities across the nation have begun experiencing something of a modern renaissance driven by both young and established professionals deciding that they prefer the short commute, culture, and economic opportunities of the city over the space and quiet provided by the suburbs.

One of the changes brought about by altered preferences is that more and more people are using bicycles as a legitimate form of transportation rather than as a recreational activity. People are running errands, commuting to and from work, and meeting friends by riding a bicycle. Philadelphia is part of this national trend. The relatively recently launched Indigo has increased bike ridership rates throughout the city. While there are many health benefits to be gained from riding, cyclists must be sure to remain wary as the re-familiarize themselves with riding and as drivers adjust to sharing the roadways with an increased number of bicycles. When cyclists and drivers fail to understand and respect each other’s rights on the road, the likelihood of an accident potentially producing life-altering personal injuries increases significantly.

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Trend Shows More Philadelphians Are Using Bikes for Transportation

A 2014 report by the Bicycle Coalition of Philadelphia reported that Philadelphia is a leading city in the emerging trend of using a bicycle to commute. In fact, from 2005 to 2013 – prior to the launch of the IndeGo bike share system – the report found that bicycling commuting grew by more than 260 percent. From 2008 to 2013, the increase was about 44 percent.

The study reports that the South Street Bridge is, by far, the preferred route for cyclists to cross the Schuylkill. While other bridges like the Market Street Bridge offer similar access to Center City, they lack the many of the bike-friendly features in place at the South Street Bridge. In fact, The South Street Bridge was closed in 2009 and 2010 to improve bike access. It is currently the most bicycle-friendly Schuylkill crossing point in Philadelphia. By contrast, the Market Street Bridge continues to see a reduction in its traffic despite an arguably superior location than the South Street Bridge. The reason for this decline? The lack of any bike lanes or any other design features to make bicycle crossings safer. The study concludes that the presence of high-quality infrastructure attracts more riders while keeping them safer.

The same study found that this effect was present for both male and female bike riders, but it was especially pronounced for women. The study found that streets equipped with buffered bike lanes to protect cyclists against vehicular traffic carry 78 percent more bicycle traffic than streets with standard bike lanes and 20 percent more female riders. Compared to streets with no bike lanes, roads with buffered lanes carry 131 percent more bikes.

The US Census Bureau’s 1-year American Community Survey for 2012 reported that 2.3 percent of Philadelphians were using a bike to commute to and from work. However, this estimate is known to be rather conservative since it does not include riders who ride to a train station, ride less than 3 days a week, or bike for any purpose other than a commute. Furthermore, this statistic was calculated long prior to the launch of the Philadelphia bike share program. In fact, the study predicts:

The implementation of bike share will be key to Philadelphia maintaining its leading position. Cities that recently implemented bike share systems, such as Chicago and New York, are experiencing increases that are not yet reflected in the census data.

The Indego Program in Philadelphia only launched in April 2015, thus data regarding the exact effects on commuter ridership is still unclear. However, a PhillyMag.com article from early June reported that after approximately two months, more than 65,000 trips were completed. Two-thirds of those trips were completed by the 4,900 members IndeGo had at the beginning of June while 11,000 unique walk-up users accounted for the remainder of the rides.

Study Finds Injuries among Older Bicyclists Have Skyrocketed in Recent Years

A University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) has found that the risk of accidents for all adult bicyclists increased from the period from 1998 to 2013. As a cohort, there was an increase of 28 percent in bicycle injuries suffered by all adults over age 18. Unfortunately, these injuries seem to be serious in nature as over the same period admissions to hospitals to treat bicycle injuries more than doubled increasing by 120 percent. Thus serious injuries like broken bones, traumatic brain injuries, and other severe traumas are increasingly likely.

The statistics reveal that the majority of this increase can be attributed to a drastic spike in injuries to older adults who bike for recreation, transportation, or other purposes. Adults older than 45 years, experienced a reported an 81 percent increase. This spike increased older adult’s share of overall injuries from 23 percent to making up 42 percent of all bicycle injuries.

A separate study performed by Jason Vargo, an assistant scientist at the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and Global Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, confirmed that the majority of bicycle injuries are no longer merely a childhood injury. This study found that the rate of fatal injuries increased the most among adults aged between 35 and 54 years. Among this cohort, the rate of death increased by nearly 3 times. The study also found that men are the most likely to suffer a bicycling fatality making up 87 percent of the total.

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What Are the Reasons Behind the Increase in Bicycling Injuries & Deaths?

The reasons behind the increase in bike injuries are numerous. In fact, the drastic uptick in accidents simply cannot be attributed to a single reason. The causes behind this increase in injuries include:

  • Bike infrastructure buildouts are still in their infancy meaning that riders must navigate streets and roads that were not designed with mixed traffic in mind.
  • The increased availability of bicycles through the bike-share program is leading to an increase in inexperienced riders. Inexperienced riders and tentative and can make mistakes.
  • Drivers are still adjusting to the increase in bicycle traffic and sharing the road with riders.
  • The classic “Share the Road” signage is still in the process of being replaced by signs that shows a picture of a bike followed by “May Use Full Lane.” This type of signage should help motorists and cyclists alike understand their rights and responsibilities on the roadways.
  • An increased focus on heart health means that additional older adults are seeking impact-free workouts. These weekend warriors may still need more time to become more sure of their riding ability.

It remains to be seen if injury rates will level-off or even decrease as many of the inexperienced and increasing numbers of riders become more comfortable with operating their bicycle and sharing the roads with cars, SUVs, and other motor vehicles. Of course, it is also possible that ridership numbers will continue to increase to the point where congestion and jockeying for position offset the benefits of a more experienced ridership.

Hurt? Rely on Our Bicycle Accident & Injury Experience

For more than 34 years the experienced and dedicated personal injury attorneys of The Reiff Law Firm have fought for injury victims and their bike accident claims. When you work with our firm you can expect us to provide aggressive and strategic representation. We work to hold the careless, reckless, or negligent party financially accountable for your severe injuries or your loved one’s wrongful death. To schedule a free, private bicycle injury legal consultation call our firm at (215) 246-9000 today.

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