Saving the World - on a bicycle

"Are you NUTS? It's so dangerous. I would never ride a bike in New York."

A day doesn't go by that I don't get warned about my impending vehicular doom. Friends, family, even a guy on the street have said I'm on a suicide mission. Of course, that guy was taking a smoke break.

I respond with a combination of practicality (helmet, ear-drum rattling air horn and enough reflective lights to make me look like Las Vegas on Wheels) and magical thinking (since my best friend's former babysitter's cycling boyfriend was decapitated by a UPS truck, what are the odds?). So I figured perhaps it was best I actually get informed.

The results may surprise you.

According to this study, It turns out cycling in Manhattan is no more dangerous than any other city. About 3 out of every million people die in bike accidents here and elsewhere, accounting for just 2% of all traffic fatalities.

Nationally, bicycle accidents are the 17th cause of death, just before falling over furniture and choking on food. In other words, bikes are about as dangerous as the opening of the old Dick Van Dyke Show. Or eating a hot dog. In 2008, that amounted to 716 people total nationally.

Of course, last year 51,000 other people were hurt in bike accidents. That's out of an estimated 50-100 million regular cyclists, which means there's something less than a 1% chance of injury. To put that in perspective, that number is anywhere from the same to half the rate of injury as riding in a car, a risk almost every American takes daily.

But despite the efforts of Mayor Bloomberg to make NY more bike-friendly, there's still a lot of resistance, like from this yahoo from the New York Post, who makes the argument that the needs of 1 million cars outweigh those of 50,000 cyclists.

The problem with that thinking -- beyond its continued dependence on foreign oil -- is that it's shortsighted. New York's streets cannot get any wider to accommodate more cars, but it will have to absorb a million more people by 2030. And those people are getting wider every year, a problem solved by, hello, getting on a bicycle.

And with heart disease the number one cause of death, a cardiovascular solution should be a cause for rejoicing.

So for those of you who'd like to join me in living healthier and improving our nation, consider the following safety tips:

1) Pay attention. Most bike fatalities occur near intersections. And are, sorry to say, the result of cyclists not following the rules of the road.

2) Protect your brain. With 91% of cyclists dying without helmets, anyone who doesn't wear one is obviously too stupid to worry about being brain dead. Why legislators don't make them a requirement like seatbelts makes me wonder whether they've already had a head injury, too.

3) Pedal where you belong. In New York last year, only one fatality occurred when a cyclist was in a marked bike lane. Moreover, the most fatalities in Manhattan occurred in the neighborhood without bike lanes (55th to 64th between 1st and 5th Avenues). So how much more evidence do we need that bike lanes save lives?

The answers to so many of our nation's problems really are as easy as, well, riding a bicycle.

And that, my friends, is The Upside.

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