Safety in numbers

Hum of the city

There is a theory in cycling literature that there is a safety in numbers effect for bicycles. This stems from the observation that where bicycles are not commonly found on streets, injury rates are higher, and where bicycles are commonly found on streets, injury rates are lower. Thus, goes the logic, if you get more people riding then all of them will be safer, presumably because drivers will know to watch for them.

I’ve always been suspicious of this theory, as it seems to confuse correlation and causality (although correlation can serve as a big causal hint). There are a lot of omitted variables that could both increase the number of bikes on the road and increase safety, like creating separated cycle tracks and instituting strict liability for drivers that hit cyclists and pedestrians. If people assess, correctly, that the infrastructure and legal system protects them, they’re both more likely…

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