Deadliest Year for Pedestrians and Cyclists in U.S. Since 1990

by Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs (The New York Times)

On average, 17 pedestrians and two cyclists were killed each day in traffic crashes in 2018. Distracted drivers and bigger vehicles may be the culprits, experts say.

More pedestrians and cyclists were killed last year in the United States than in any year since 1990, according to a report released on Tuesday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Most of the news about traffic safety has been good in recent decades, as vehicle manufacturers have added safety features, drunken driving deaths have fallen and seatbelt use has climbed to nearly 90 percent. But in recent years, pedestrian and cyclist deaths have been a disturbing outlier.

The number of pedestrians killed grew by 3.4 percent last year, to 6,283, and the number of cyclists killed rose by 6.3 percent, to 857, even as total traffic deaths decreased. On average, about 17 pedestrians and two cyclists were killed each day in crashes. Together they accounted for one-fifth of traffic deaths.

Kate Kraft, the executive director of America Walks, a group that advocates for walking safety, said she was infuriated by the report’s findings. She expressed hope that the new data would encourage politicians to make their cities safer for walkers by lowering speed limits, improving traffic signal efforts and creating more pedestrian-only public spaces.

“The fact that we have proven interventions, but we are not likely to implement them, is the tragedy,” Ms. Kraft said. “These are senseless deaths.”

Read more for some of the report’s key findings and their implications.

County Agencies Win State Funds to Reshape Local Pedestrian Safety Programs

by Will Carruthers

After months of suspense, two Sonoma County agencies have been awarded $660,000 to reframe the county’s approach to pedestrian and bicycle safety efforts.

In November, two local agencies – the Sonoma County Transportation Authority and the county’s Department of Health Services – requested state transportation funding to launch an ambitious pedestrian safety program based on a model used in some of the country’s densest cities, including San Francisco and New York.

Vision Zero, the traffic safety framework the Sonoma County program would be based on, was started in Sweden in 1990s and has more recently been implemented in eleven cities in California, according to the Vision Zero Network, a national group representing participating cities.

To gain Vision Zero status a jurisdiction is required to set a goal of eliminating traffic fatalities and severe injuries. Vision Zero programs also reframe the way traffic fatalities are discussed and which solutions are pursued.

“Vision Zero recognizes that people will sometimes make mistakes, so the road system and related policies should be designed to ensure those inevitable mistakes do not result in severe injuries or fatalities,” according to the Vision Zero Network’s website.

The funding will allow local agencies to coordinate efforts to reduce the county’s high rate of fatalities and injuries.

In 2016, there were 8.8 traffic fatalities per 100,000 population in Sonoma County compared with 5.9 in the Bay Area overall, according to data from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission citied in the funding application.

“Between 2010 and 2016 there were 1,163 collisions involving bicycles in the county, with 12 resulting in fatalities, and 855 collisions involving pedestrians, with 52 resulting in fatalities,” according to the application.

Cities with Vision Zero programs. Photo: Vision Zero Network

Cities with Vision Zero programs. Photo: Vision Zero Network

The program would start by improving the way injuries and fatalities are tracked.

“Successful Vision Zero initiatives in other cities cite the importance of having access to accurate, timely, and comprehensive data sets containing injury and crash data. Currently, it’s difficult to get a complete view of the safety issues in Sonoma County due to the lack of a robust data framework,” the county’s funding application states.

Data collected could then be used to more effectively target efforts to improve road safety. For instance, San Francisco’s Vision Zero program splits efforts to eliminate fatalities into four categories: enforcement, education, engineering and evaluation.

Steve Birdlebough, a local transportation activist with the Sonoma County Transportation and Land Use Coalition, agrees that a more data-driven approach could help agencies pursue improvements in a more effective way.

Under the current system, infrastructure improvements seem to be awarded based on how organized and angry neighbors are rather than on which intersection has the highest number of fatalities or injuries, according to Birdlebough.

“No changes are made unless the neighbors get up in arms,” Birdlebough said. “[The process] seems random.”

Brittany Lobo, a health information specialist with the Department of Health Services, says that her department would take the lead on connecting various local departments around the traffic safety goals. SCTA would create an online data dashboard to display information about fatalities.

Although Vision Zero programs have been passed in large cities across the country, Sonoma County’s proposal to include multiple cities and unincorporated county land within the program could be unique.

“This is the only proposal we’ve seen that proposes bringing together multiple jurisdictions,” Lobo said. As well as offering data to small cities, the data dashboard would display information about rural roads where fatality rates can also be high.

Because some transportation funding agencies now ask whether applicants have Vision Zero policies, the program could also make Sonoma County cities more competitive for future funding opportunities, Lobo said.

If the county’s Vision Zero program is successful, it could help the county achieve other transportation goals. For instance, the county intends to reduce carbon emissions by increasing the number of bicycle and pedestrian trips taken from 8.4 percent of total trips in 2010 to 15 percent by 2040.

But, if residents don’t consider active transportation options safe or efficient, they will continue to drive.

However, due to the massive number of variables in any given traffic system, progress under Vision Zero is not quick or guaranteed.

San Francisco launched its own Vision Zero program in 2014 with a goal of eliminating pedestrian deaths by 2024. Although the fatality rate stayed flat for the first two years of the program, the rate dropped significantly in 2017 before rising again this year.

Source: https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/county-agencies-contend-for-funds-to-reshape-pedestrian-safety-programs

Walking & Cycling

Most often we speak of pedestrians and bicyclists separately, but more and more their commonality is emphasized in the term “Bi-Ped” — the self-powered person. Long neglected, they are gaining respect. Planning for them has become central to the planning for the SMART rail system, and increasingly routine in the retrofitting of roads and highways originally designed for motor vehicles.

Saving time and losing space
A number of writers have explored the effect of motorization and increased travel speed on culture, nature, and equity, and the associated denigration of self propulsion. In his book, Transport for a Sustainable Future, John Whitelegg has a chapter on “time pollution”, containing a discourse on “the conquest of distance by the destruction of time”. Whitelegg points out that the acquisition of higher speed comes at the increasing destruction of useful space, because higher speed facilities create a safety conflict with low speed travelers, which must somehow be addressed: longer lengths between people for the safety of the users, and wider rights of way for devices to protect the bystanders, slower travelers and others that may wish to cross the facility or travel with its traffic.

The saving of time, which has been used extensively to justify construction of road projects, is an illusion, because in large measure the gain of time is traded by the individual to travel greater distances. Although this may in the short run produce some satisfaction for the individual, it leads to a scattering of many of the most important travel destinations as land uses gradually change. The scattering initially handicaps the Bi-Ped, and eventually erases any advantage attained by motorized travelers. In Sonoma County this process gradually engulfs the natural landscape that is one of its primary attractions.

Road justifying calculations of time saving are based on time saving for the motorist, and neglect the considerable time losses of others. Increases in speed almost always steal time from the non-motorist, and the inducement to travel more even results in one motorist making the other motorists worse off.

In his thirty years of studies of how people use space and time, Torsten Hagerstrand concluded that it is the ability to make contact with people that determines the success of a transport system or location. Access is what we really value, but the transportation system has been giving us mobility. Not mobility for all. Mobility in proportion to wealth, and reduced access for almost all.

Social speed
Whitelegg discusses the concept of “average social speed”, which is the distance covered by an individual in a year, divided by the accumulated time requirements of the specific mode of travel. In addition to the time actually spent in travel, other time requirements include things such as taking the car to the shop, time spent earning the money to pay for the car, insurance, repairs, etc. In other words, all of the time that wouldn’t be needed in the absence of travel by that mode. He credits Ivan Illich for the underlying idea, and a German author D. Siefried for the calculations comparing bicycle at 15 kph, car at 40 kph and car at 60 kph. When external costs are included, the average social speeds for these three examples are 14, 13 and 18 kph, respectively.

Health effects
Of late, the goals of the public health community and the Bi-Ped community have converged in promotions to increase walking and cycling. In a recent paper, “Promoting Safe Walking and Cycling to Improve Public Health: Lessons from the Netherlands and Germany”, John Pucher and Lewis Dijkstra examined the public health consequences of unsafe and inconvenient walking and bicycling conditions in American cities and suggested improvements based on successful policies in The Netherlands and Germany.

They found that, whereas walking and cycling account for less than a tenth of all urban trips in American cities, they account for a third of all trips in Germany and for half of trips in The Netherlands. American pedestrians and cyclists are much more likely to get killed than Dutch and German pedestrians and cyclists, both on a per-trip and per-km basis. They are also far more likely to be injured.

On the basis of Dutch and German experience, they proposed a wide range of measures to improve the safety of walking and cycling in American cities, both to reduce fatalities and injuries and to encourage more walking and cycling, thus providing much needed physical exercise for increasingly overweight Americans.

Safety in numbers
Another recent paper from the public health field answers the question of whether the public health goal of more walking and bicycling conflicts with another public health goal, reducing injuries. According to research by Peter L. Jacobsen, there isn’t a conflict, because as more people cycle and walk, the rate of injuries per participant goes down.

Motivations for change
In a paper presented early this year at the International Pedestrian Conference, Daniel Sauter builds on the platform constructed by Whitelegg for a discussion of a course of action which could overcome the obstacles facing the pedestrian.He would anchor the actions on three basic desires that people have – longings for freedom, for time and for dignity. These would be addressed respectively by encouraging accessibility for pedestrians, reversing the hierarchies in transport policies and acknowledgment of walking as a human right.