A recent blogpost by the Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research charts out some recent trends in crash statistics. In general, US roads have been getting safer. But at the same time, as more cities encourage walking and biking, pedestrian and bicyclist crashes, injuries, and deaths have become a greater share of the whole than they used to be.
Here’s the chart:
From 2004 to 2013, the number of total traffic fatalities in the U.S. actually declined. But according to the report, “this was not matched by a similar decline in pedestrian and cyclist fatalities.” So, for example, pedestrian fatalities were 10.9 percent of all traffic deaths in 2004. By 2013, they represented 14.5 percent of traffic deaths. The proportion of cyclists’ deaths rose from 1.7 percent to 2.3 percent during that time. The percentage of injuries for both groups also increased.
Various transportation organizations have been updating design standards in recent years to prioritize pedestrian and bicyclist safety. Smart Growth America notes in its report, for example, that the Institute of Transportation Engineers created a guide to “walkable urban thoroughfares.” And the Federal Highway Administration added safer street crossing designs in its Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. The federal Department of Transportation has made safe and convenient walking and bicycling facilities part of its policy. “Almost every transportation improvement is an opportunity to enhance the safety and convenience of walking and bicycling,” reads the policy.
Funding, however remains a persistent problem. Most pedestrian fatalities, some 68 percent between 2003 and 2012, occurred on roads funded at least in part by the federal government, according to Smart Growth America’s findings, and these roads followed federal design guidelines. At the same time, however, the report found that “less than one-half of one percent of all available federal safety related funds was obligated to projects that improve safety for people walking,” between 2009 and 2013.
The takeaway for me is that cities, and especially county and state DOTs, should put a lot more energy into thinking about non-motorized safety. That’s often a challenge for institutions that have spent to much time thinking primarily about traffic safety. And it’s particularly challenging because the solutions for these problems are often at odds. Automobile safety often depends on simplifying roads by making them wider, but non-motorized safety has to take the opposite approach.
The article doesn’t mention it, but another factor might be the increasingly troubling “distracted driving problem.”