Cycling In America

The number of adults in the U.S. getting hurt on bicycles is on the rise. This most likely has to do with the fact that more people are riding.

Since the late 1990s, estimates on ridership have spiked, and so too have the number of injuries and hospitalizations, according to The Journal of the American Medical Association. In one of the more comprehensive studies, JAMA researchers analyzed 15 years of data, concluding bicycle injuries climbed nearly 30 percent between 1998 and 2013.

So for all the benefits of bicycling – the boosts to one’s health and mood, the reduced pollution and easing traffic – there are a host of hidden dangers. At The Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman's BikeAttorney.com, our Boston bicycle accident attorneys recognize that bicycles are no longer simply a “kid’s toy.”

Of course, children are still sometimes injured on their bikes and that remains a serious concern. But bicycles are increasingly used for work commutes, weekend recreation and adult sports. And the truth is, that was always the intended purpose. It turns out, we’re just getting back to the roots.

History of Cycling in America

Many people have claimed credit for the first bicycle, but we do know the devices were first developed sometime in the late 1400s and evolved considerably by the late 1800s, when they first gained popularity among the American public.

In 1884, Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, lamented the fact that he’d recently entered his 48th year and sought to reclaim his youth by attempting a ride on a bicycle. Although only one of his tries was successful, he would later write, “Get a bicycle. You will not regret it, if you live.”

As The New York Times reported, millions of Americans followed his advice over the following decade. In fact, it became so popular, there were clubs (the Boston Bicycle Club was the first in the country, according to the University of Massachusetts Amherst). There was paraphernalia. There were songs. There was art. There were new rules of social conduct, where courting couples could get farther from watchful eyes and women could independently get to and from a paying job. Even women’s fashion was altered to accommodate the ability to ride a bike.

What’s more, it was actually the beginning of our national highway system. Riders who had gotten tired of navigating mud-filled ruts and bumpy gravel paths requested roads that were paved. Bicycle repair shops started popping up along those roads.

This growing fever was only curbed with the introduction of the automobile in the early 20th century. Those bike repair stations were bought by gas filing stations to service motor vehicles.

Although bicycling is 50 times more energy efficient than driving, and four times more efficient than walking, cities poured energy and dollars into building roads intended for the sole purpose of catering to automobile traffic. Cyclists were squeezed out.

Finding our way back to bicycles has taken time. As the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition (also known as MassBike) reports, its founding occurred in 1977, with just four members. It quickly published the first Boston Bike Map and hosted the first Bike Week Event.

In the years that followed, there were a number of initiatives, including support for legislation requiring cyclists to use headlights at night in 1983, and lobbying for new bike paths in the 1988 and 1989. The agency successfully campaigned against legislation that would have required cyclists in the Commonwealth to ride facing traffic.

There are now bike racks on buses, a bike-sharing system called “Hubway” with more than 1,300 bicycles and 140 stations throughout the city and its suburbs, and ongoing initiatives to redesign “complete streets” to make roads more bicycle-friendly.

Further, the city’s Boston Bike Network Plan involves a 30-year vision to substantially increase “bike boulevards,” which include bike and shared lanes, multi-use paths and cycle tracks. As of 2008, there were 55 miles of bike networks. By 2013, there were 120 miles. By 2018, the city hopes to have 195 miles and by 2043, the goal is 356 miles.

Increased Popularity Means Increased Danger

Today, some 67 million Americans say they have ridden a bicycle at least once in the last year – a significant increase from the 47 million who answered affirmatively just six years earlier.

Surveys conducted by the City of Boston show the majority of households in Boston have at least one bicycle, and about 7 percent have a resident who used that bike in the last week. That same survey shows ridership shot up nearly 125 percent in a recent three-year span – and that was before the implementation of Boston’s Bicycle Safety Bill, which promised a host of new protections for cyclists.

The League of American Bicyclists reports nationally, the number of trips made by bicycle has more than doubled in recent years, from 1.7 billion in 2001 to 4 billion in 2009. In Boston, it’s estimated there are more than 56,000 bicycle trips made every single day.

As a sport, the popularity of cycling has soared. Some have referred to bicycling as, “the new golf,” as it coincides with waning interest in that game. The National Sporting Goods Association reports about one-third of riders have household incomes exceeding $100,000, which is nearly 65 percent higher than it was a decade ago. High-priced models can go for as much as $10,000, but people can still find used bikes for $100 or so, and they can rent them fairly cheaply from the city now too.

But along with resurging interest in bicycling has been an uptick in injuries. Between 2010 and 2012, city police reported a total of 1,446 bicycling accidents and 9 deaths, with a two percent increase in incidents during this time frame.

The journey back to bicycling in America has been a winding one, but we hope it will soon be a safer one.

Contact the Boston Bicycle Accident Lawyers at The Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman's BikeAttorney.com.