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Are Divvy Riders Safer Than Other Cyclists? Data Says Yes

By Alex Parker | February 10, 2015 5:58am
 Divvy bikes lined up at a station at Daley Plaza.
Divvy bikes lined up at a station at Daley Plaza.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

CHICAGO — Riding a Divvy is not as dangerous as you might think.

Despite widely shared videos showing Divvy cyclists riding on busy roadways like the Dan Ryan Expressway and Lake Shore Drive, data released by the Chicago Department of Transportation shows only 18 cyclists have been in accidents since the program's inception in June 2013.

The data includes information reported to the city by cyclists involved in accidents with motor vehicles, as well as those injured on Divvy bikes. The data does not include crashes that went unreported, which studies indicate is common with accidents involving any type of bike.

Alex Parker says Divvy claims their bikes are "like tanks." 

 A woman rides a Divvy rental southbound on the Dan Ryan Expressway.
A woman rides a Divvy rental southbound on the Dan Ryan Expressway.
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Stephanie Kemen

Questions about the safety of Divvy users arose after the videos aired and after a medical student was badly injured when he was hit by a car while cycling on Lake Shore Drive in November. The 24-year-old suffered brain trauma, according to the Divvy report.

Divvy users have logged more than 3.2 million rides in the last 2½ years, and the small number of injuries suffered by riders may surprise skeptics, particularly because helmets aren't required or even included with the rentals. But the Divvy data lines up with national statistics showing bike-sharing cyclists are generally safe, or at least lucky.

"It's not really particularly surprising," said Jason Jenkins, education director for the Active Transportation Alliance. "You find similar safety data and crash-rate data from other bike-share programs in other cities."

Since the first bike-sharing program debuted in Tulsa, Okla., in 2007, no one has been killed. In New York, which runs the Citibike program, of 10 million rides taken, 40 people have been injured,  Reuters reported last year.

That's good news for cyclists in Chicago, which saw the number of deaths of all types of cyclists more than double last year. Seven cyclists were killed in 2014 versus three the year before.

Of the 18 reported incidents involving Divvy bikes, one involved a cyclist hitting a pothole, and another person suffered scrapes when the chain fell off a bike.

But other cyclists reported broken bones, "trauma" to the body and other injuries after crashes that included being hit by a CTA bus, getting doored and being sideswiped by a taxi.

Five crashes took place in the Loop and West Loop, and multiple crashes occurred in River North, Old Town, Lincoln Park and Lakeview. Crashes also occurred in Greektown, Little Italy, Ukrainian Village, the Near North Side, Printer's Row and Roscoe Village.

Most crashes occurred from 6-10 a.m. and 4-8 p.m., according to the data. The number of crashes in 2013 and 2014 were about the same.

A cyclist was hit by a CTA bus in July near Madison and State streets.

"The bus driver thought he had passed me, but did not. The bus hit me and the handle bars and sent me into the side of bus then onto [the] ground," the cyclist said, according to the reports released by the city. The rider's injuries included two broken ribs and "body trauma to the left side."

One cyclist was doored by a moving car in Roscoe Village when a passenger opened the car door on Damen Avenue near Roscoe Street.

"I think I probably hit my head on the pavement," the rider said in the report. "But probably not too hard, and I was wearing a helmet."

Another cyclist reported being doored and falling onto the street near Franklin and Hubbard streets in River North.

"Thank God, there was no car running in the opposite lane," reported the cyclist, who suffered scrapes and bruises.

Divvy gives cyclists a number of ways to learn about safety, from rules of the road posted near bicycle handlebars and maps on kiosks, to a link to a website called Ride the City, which gives cyclists information on how to get from A to B, including a "safe" route, and "safer" and direct routes. The program promotes helmet use, Divvy spokesman Elliot Greenberger said.

"We're very focused on safety," Greenberger said. "Generally the public will assume there’s constantly crashes occurring, but it’s actually quite rare."

In the wake of the widely publicized adventures of cyclists on busy streets and the medical student's injuries, Greenberger said Divvy kiosks soon may include information on the streets cyclists should avoid and the streets that are optimized for cyclists.

More cyclists signing up for Divvy can only be a good thing for cyclists, Jenkins said. There is "safety in numbers," he said, adding that safety has been improved throughout the city's network of bike lanes.

"A lot of those people transition to their own bikes, and the overall number of people riding goes up," he said. As ridership increases, so do awareness and safety. Greenberger said two-thirds of Divvy members have their own bikes.

The  bikes involved in the crashes did not escape unscathed. Several suffered bent or broken wheels. Others were scratched.

But one cyclist who was hit by a car marveled at the bike's resilience, the report states: "The bike was solid as a rock! Wow! I looked over the bike after the crash, and more damage was done to the car. There was no damage sustained to the bicycle."

The Divvy bike is designed for safety, Greenberger said, from its sturdy frame, blinking lights and a design that's made for cyclists to sit upright.

"It's a tank," he said.

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