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Effect of bike sharing program on accident rates is uncertain

Could New York City's new bicycle-sharing program, Citi Bike, lead to a spike in bicycle accidents in the coming months and years? Or, could it actually help calm traffic? The answer to these questions could affect the safety of thousands of commuters and tourists looking for a way to get around Manhattan and other boroughs. Because the program is so new, the answer depends on which expert is asked.

On one hand, some experts predict a significant increase in bicycle accidents as the program becomes fully operational. The bike-sharing program could accommodate as many as 10,000 people, including many tourists.

Helmets are not required to ride the bikes, and cyclists already face significant hazards on New York's roads. The city has laid miles of bike lanes designed to keep bicycle riders out of traffic, but these are often blocked by vehicles. Bicyclists must also deal with buses, cabs and distracted pedestrians.

One public policy professor predicts that these hazards, combined with the potential for inexperienced bike riders using the system, could cause the number of bicycle accidents to double or triple in the first year of the program.

Others are more optimistic. Some research supports an idea that bicycle-sharing programs can actually make traffic safer. This is because drivers may be more cautious when bikers are sharing the roads with them.

Which will it be? As the program continues to expand, New York's bicyclists will find out. The program recently opened with 6,000 bikes available to rent, and the city plans to expand the program to 10,000 bikes.

Source: The Associated Press, "No helmets required for bike share in busy NYC," Bethan McKernan, July 1, 2013

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