This won’t surprise you: bicycle injuries are bad for your health. That’s (partially) the conclusion of a yearlong bicycle commuter study released by the Oregon Health & Science University about the impact increased Portland bicycle use, reports The Oregonian. Portland is often referred to as “Bike City USA,” since its growth in bicycle ridership and city support for bicycle programs has accelerated in recent years. (California’s Bay Area is also considered a major bicycle hub.) But some bicycle supporters are worried that the study, which credits bicycles for being green and health-inducing, could dissuade would-be cyclists with the finding that 22 percent of Portland’s bicycle commuters reported injuries between 2007 and 2008.

Among other findings, the study reports that bicycle riders are 12 times more likely than auto commuters to experience serious injuries because even while wearing a helmet, they are much more vulnerable. But some bicycle enthusiasts say the report exaggerates the seriousness of even the most minor injuries. North Portland’s Robin Bogert, 27, complained that “when I fell the first time in three years and skinned my hand, that counted.” Rob Sadowski, executive director of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance agreed that the injury numbers seemed high. “Obviously, I know a lot of folks who are bicycling,” he said. “I don’t know that many who have had a serious crash.”

Even if the study overstates the number of serious injuries resulting from bicycle accidents, it does so for a good cause: increasing bicycle safety on public roads. Portland’s City Council has approved $613 million toward 681 miles of new bicycle paths over the next twenty years, but remains haunted by bicycle fatalities due to poor road conditions, reckless drivers, and lack of safety equipment use.

Each year, California mourns more than 130 bicycle accident deaths and more than 11,000 injuries. Many major cities and smaller towns have implemented safety plans to improve this statistic. California’s transit agency, for example, will put $50 million toward Federal Highway Administration funds to improve bicycle and pedestrian paths across the state. But to get really serious about bicycle safety, the city should do more to boost funding for bicycle paths, and implement stricter bicycle safety laws to keep cyclists in helmets, and increase awareness among vehicle drivers.

It’s no doubt that choosing to commute to work on a bicycle carries additional injury risks compared to driving. But the health and environment benefits often outweigh those risks, especially if cyclists wear appropriate safety gear and obey all traffic signals. So even if the Portland bicycle report scares some timid cyclists away, if it also coaxes the city to boost bicycle safety paths and laws, then it will be a long term net gain for the city and cyclists alike.

Photo credit: mikebaird