The magazine Outside tracked every death of a bicyclist in a collision with a car so far in 2020 and found that despite COVID-19 dropping traffic rates and road miles traveled in the U.S., death rates for cyclists remain high.
According to recently released data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 871 bicyclists were killed in 2018, the deadliest year for bike riders since 1990. Last year saw a slight decrease in both pedestrian and cyclists fatalities, with 846 deaths. Outside magazine pegs the 2020 cyclist deaths at 675 to date, but that’s with COVID-19 cutting traffic by as much as 41 percent for months at a time, according to Bloomberg. So while 675 is apparently a decrease compared with the previous two years, it’s not as much as you’d expect. Also, Outside is tracking deaths of cyclists only for vehicular collisions, while NHTSA does not break down cyclists’ deaths by cause.
What is causing this havoc on our roadways? There are many different factors, one I’ve been personally yelling about all year: Vehicles sold in the U.S. are not crash tested for pedestrian safety under the federal NCAP program, so automakers have little incentive to make their cars smaller and safer for those outside the vehicle. In fact, it’s just the opposite, as our roads fill up with SUVs and giant trucks. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, in 1994 such large vehicles made up 40 percent of the cars on the road. Today, it is 72 percent.
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Outside magazine also points to higher speed limits and increased rates of distracted driving for the rise in deaths, which definitely tracks. But there’s also a lot to be said for how our garbage infrastructure doesn’t value anyone not inside a car. Take the Bronx in NY, for example: Four cyclists were fatally struck in a three-month time frame over the summer. Did the borough decide to add robustly protected bike lanes? Nope! From Streetsblog:
After four cyclist fatalities in the Bronx in just three months — and months of steadily rising bike injuries — the Department of Transportation is refusing to commit to providing the beleaguered borough with anything like a robust, protected bike-lane network.
Instead, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg is doubling down on throwing cops at the problem, even though a four-week enforcement blitz earlier this summer did nothing to bring down the soaring number of bike injuries and crashes, according to NYPD Chief of Transportation Nilda Hofmann.
Hofmann said Tuesday during a press conference in the South Bronx that the NYPD conducted a four-week educational operation and ticket sting, starting on June 29, to crack down on speeding and reckless drivers, especially at high-crash corridors, such as the Bruckner Boulevard, where the city is lowering the speed limit from 30 miles per hour to 25 miles per hour.
Pedestrian injuries did fall 80 percent — from 16 to 3 — during the police crackdown, which ended on July 26, but bike injuries didn’t budge, Hofmann said. The operation focused on dangerous driver behaviors, such as speeding and failure to yield.
Outside found that cyclists’ deaths actually jumped in New York City, to 29 this year from 10 in 2018. NHTSA also found that injuries to cyclists jumped 4.3 percent between 2018 and 2019.
Making our public streets safe for everyone to use is going to be a big task and take a lot of regulation, planning and oversight to see it through. In other words, don’t hold your breath.