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Brain Injury Rates on the Rise in Cities With Bike-Share Programs

Brain Injury Rates on the Rise in Cities With Bike-Share Programs

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First Posted: Jun 16, 2014 06:49 AM EDT
Public bike-share programs have both their advantages and disadvantages.
Bike-share programs are an effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while also getting people around a city conveniently. But researchers found that brain injury rates in cities with these programs were higher than those without. (Photo : New York City Department of Transportation)

Bike-share programs are an effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while also getting people around a city conveniently. But researchers found that brain injury rates in cities with these programs were higher than those without.

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The American and Canadian researchers analyzed ten cities: five with bike-share programs and five without. Montreal, Washington D.C., Minneapolis, Boston, and Miami Beach were among those with such programs, attributing to a 14% increase in bicycle-related head injuries. The cities without a bike program witnessed a 2.3% decrease in the same injuries.

Information was collected from trauma centers in the five cities before and after bike programs were initiated. But the greater presence of bikes is not all to blame for this increase in brain injuries - it's the riders who choose not to wear helmets. The programs don't supply helmets for riders, so they must provide themselves with the proper safety equipment.

"Certainly the data are solid enough that we need to look more carefully at these kinds of programs," said Andrea Gielin, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy, in this NPR article. "I think it's an important study that raises some concerns that we need to pay attention to. When we're trying to promote more bicycling, we need to do that in the context of increasing helmet use."

The first-of-its-kind study, "Public Bicycle Share Programs and Head Injuries," was published in the American Journal of Public Health. The authors sought to determine the occurrence of bicycle-related head injuries in North American cities with bike-share programs because helmet rentals aren't offered with the bikes. As a result, the authors concluded that helmet availability should be incorporated into bike-share planning and funding.

Boston is actually planning to soon include helmets with bike rentals. They will be stored in boxes next to each bike, and after each use they will be taken back to a warehouse for a cleaning and safety inspection before they're returned. But New York, Washington, and Minneapolis have no such plans to offer helmets, which could change if this study becomes more widely considered.

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