I was, as usual, mouthing off a bit yesterday with my statements of affection for (largely helmet-less) Dutch bike and cargobike culture. But DadWagon friend and colleague Carly brought up a fine point: are there any statistics?
Yes, there are.
Amidst the many blogs devoted to the Bakfiets, the traditional Dutch cargobike, there are some numbers about Dutch death and mayhem on bikes.
Turns out it’s not much mayhem. Holland has the safest streets–for all forms of transport–in Europe. The Bakfiets en Meer blog has a good post quoting the stats culled a couple years back by an expat American living in Holland named Toby Sterling:
Here are some quick excerpts though Toby’s original text is more fun to read. Basically the message is simple: despite extremely high rates of cycling and negligible helmet use the odds of being killed while cycling in the Netherlands are extremely low.
Nationally the total of bicycle accident deaths hovers around 200. In Amsterdam about 6 people die in bike-related accidents yearly. 16 million Dutch own 18 million bikes. About half the population of the NL rides a bike once a day. The average distance traveled by bike per person per day was 2.5km in 2006. The bicycle is used for almost a quarter of all journeys, and 35% of journeys below 7.5km. Overall traffic safety in NL is the best in Europe with 45 deaths per million inhabitants per year. The US has 147 deaths per million inhabitants per year. You’re more likely to die of murder in the US than by cycling in the Netherlands. You’re more likely to die by drowning in the Netherlands than by cycling
So there you have it: fewer helmets, less death than in the U.S. But Carly was right: you can’t just translate one part of Amsterdam transport (bikes) to the U.S. and expect safety to follow. The streets need to change. The mindset of drivers needs to change. That’s what will save lives, not cargobikes.
Not that cargobikes don’t have their charms. They clearly are fetish objects, among expats living there as well (something like the gaijin who spend their days cataloging their Ramen experience. As we’ve noted before, they seem to be catching on in the states (across the Bay from where I am at UC Berkeley for the week, in SF, there’s importers My Dutch Bike, for example). But we may be a long way before us Americans can compete in feats of strength and agility like these Dutch mamas at a bakfiets competition: