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Mia Birk asks Greenlick to withdraw bill, says he “misinterpreted” bike injury study

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“I appreciate that your intentions were good, but the facts do not support this bill. Please withdraw it.”
— Mia Birk, in a letter to Rep. Greenlick about HB 2228

Let the education continue

Below is a letter written to Rep. Mitch Greenlick from Mia Birk. Birk is the former bicycle coordinator at the City of Portland, CEO of Alta Planning and Design, and currently spends much of her time speaking around the country about bicycling to promote her new book, “Joyride.”

Dear Rep. Greenlick,

I believe you have misinterpreted the OHSU bike commute study.

First, there is nothing in that study that relates to the transportation of small children by bicycle. In fact, there is absolutely no evidence to support the notion that transporting a child by bike leads to injuries.

Second, the leading cause of death in children is car crashes. [CDC. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System [online]. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (producer). Available from URL: [2008 May 5].

So we’d do far better to outlaw the transportation of children by automobile.

Third, the report in reality concludes that the risk of serious injury being incurred while bicycle commuting is very small. The terminology “traumatic event” actually means “minor injury.” The author explained in an interview with Sarah Mirk of the Portland Mercury:

    MERC: Your study shows that over 20 percent of cyclists experience a “traumatic or serious” injury. What qualified as traumatic?
    DR. MAYBERRY: You had to actually be injured. It could just be skinning your knee or spraining your ankle, but it couldn’t just be a near miss.

So we’re talking about bumps and scrapes, not major injuries.

Fourth, according to the authors: if we commute by bike to work approximately six miles a day, we’ll experience a minor mishap once every four years. That sounds perfectly reasonable and shouldn’t dissuade anyone from riding a bike for transportation. Shoot, I get injured every few months playing tennis. My son comes home from basketball practice with a scrape or bump pretty much daily. My daughter, who isn’t into sports, regularly manages to injure herself on the playground or in the house.

I wish the researchers had reported their results in comparison to other physical or accident-inducing activities, rather than in a vacuum. Quick research reveals common injury-inducing activities include cooking (slicing a finger or burning a hand), swimming, and participating in any and all sports.

I conducted a survey in my office of 21 regular bike commuters. The results:

  • 69% suffered a minor injury in the last year NOT related to bike commuting;
  • 19% had a minor injury related to bike commuting;
  • 15% suffered a major injury (requiring medical attention) in the last year NOT related to bike commuting
  • 5% had a major injury (requiring medical attention) related to bike commuting.

In other words, people living physically active lives suffer injuries, with bicycle commuting no worse an activity than anything else. And, as confirmed recently by a Dutch study, the benefits far outweigh the risks.

The use of the emotion-laden word ‘trauma’ and context-lacking statistics contribute to a culture of fear about bicycling as a dangerous activity. This fear then suppresses bike use, a real shame considering the extremely high level of individual and societal benefits and the fact that bicycling is actually getting safer. This we know from Portland’s extensive annual analysis of reported bike-motor crashes, which clearly show that the number of crashes is holding steady while the crash rate is declining precipitously. [See p. 9 of PBOT’s recent study].

In sum, the OHSU study helps confirm that the risk of injury is small and far outweighed by the individual and societal health and environmental benefits of bicycle commuting.

I appreciate that your intentions were good, but the facts do not support this bill. Please withdraw it.

Mia Birk
President, Alta Planning + Design

Read background on this story and on Greenlick’s bill here.