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Transportation

The Real Risks in Urban Cycling

Does the danger and pollution outweigh the health benefits of the exercise?
Watch that lorry! London cyclists have a far lower fatal crash rate than those in most U.S. cities.
Watch that lorry! London cyclists have a far lower fatal crash rate than those in most U.S. cities. Stefan Wermuth/Reuters

Anyone who spends much time on a bicycle in a city, dodging diesel-belching buses and wayward motorists, has wondered at some point whether the overall health benefits of cycling are gnawed away by pollution exposure and the risks of being killed or seriously injured. The facts, as the data journalists of the UK’s Financial Times Magazine explain, are somewhat reassuring: Unless you live in a small handful of extremely polluted cities, you should get on a bike.

The FT team looked most closely at London, which is safer for cyclists than most U.S. cities, with an average of 1.1 deaths per 10,000 bike commuters. New York City, by comparison, has 3.8 fatalities, which is at least safer than Sydney, Australia, with 8.3. (The safest big city for cyclists: Copenhagen, Denmark, with a mere 0.3 fatal crashes for every 10,000 daily commuters.) U.S. figures on bicycle fatalities from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that Florida leads the way as the deadliest state in the U.S. to ride a bike: The 133 cyclists killed in the Sunshine State in 2013 represented 5.5 percent of their total traffic fatalities.