The yellow-and-green bicycles of the California bike-sharing startup LimeBike have popped up in more than a dozen Massachusetts communities in recent weeks, the latest fleet to follow in the tracks of Blue Bikes, which launched as Hubway in 2011. Anne Lusk studies bike environments, including safety and crashes, as a researcher at the Harvard Chan School. She’s also a cyclist. We asked her about the progress of bike-sharing systems.
GAZETTE: Some research has found that bike-sharing riders are less prone to collisions with cars than regular cyclists. Is there a safety lesson that can be drawn from that data?
LUSK: Research has shown that if a bicyclist appears to be confident on the road — drop handlebars, cleats, no fenders, no wicker basket with flowers and a loaf of French bread — drivers feel they can pass more closely.
Bicyclists riding their own bikes are more confident and may take more risks because the route is one they ride often and they are very comfortable in their saddle. Bicyclists on shared bikes may be more timid because they are riding on what is perhaps an unfamiliar route and they are riding a heavier bike that is unfamiliar to them.
GAZETTE: How much of a concern is it that shared bikes don’t come with helmets?
LUSK: The issue of helmets really speaks to the need for a city to create safe bike infrastructure if they also offer docked and dockless bikes. The city could feel that if a person is going to ride a bike-share bike, they should always carry a helmet. That doesn’t happen.
GAZETTE: Many of these sharing programs also have scooter components, but certain cities have banned them. How do you view dockless electric scooters versus bikes?