Has The US Failed Cyclists and Pedestrians?

Research undertaken by Virginia Tech and Rutgers University has found that compared to four similar nations in the European Union, the United States has fallen short in its efforts to reduce pedestrian and cyclist deaths. According to a report on the research by StreetsBlog, the researchers propose that the US adopt the same fatality-mitigation policies as those countries: Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.

The study showed that all four of those countries, which are similar to the US in terms of national travel surveys and affluence, “reduced per capita pedestrian fatalities by at least 61 percent over the course of the study period — and standout Denmark did so by a whopping 69 percent — but the U.S. reduced ours by just 36 percent.” StreetsBlog notes that in US pedestrian deaths in fact rose substantially between 2010 and 2018, with none of the peer countries experiencing a comparable increase during the same period.

Moreover, the report notes, road safety has not improved for cyclists since 1990: currently, the fatality rate for cyclists “is at least 80 percent higher” than the four EU nations, and “in the last two years, it was nearly three times as high as the next most dangerous nation,” the UK. As the researchers demonstrate, this figure is particularly notable given that “less than one percent of all trips” undertaken in the US are on bicycles, meaning the number of trips studied by the researchers “was far smaller than any other nation on the list.” As for pedestrians, 11.2 died for 100 million kilometers traveled from 2016-2018, compared to one per the same distance during the same period in the Netherlands.

The study proposes a few key reasons for the US’s performance compared to its peers, including traffic laws that favor motorists, high speed limits, drunk and distracted driving, and “a preponderance of dangerous, car-focused road designs in neighborhoods,” according to StreetsBlog. One of the researchers suggested to StreetBlog that policy tweaks can solve these problems. “These European countries offer people a choice of how to get around,” he said, noting how those countries offer separated cyclist and pedestrian lanes, quality public transit systems, and automated traffic enforcement mechanisms like speed cameras supported by routinely enforced penalties. “In a lot of U.S. cities, you don’t really have options,” he said. “American drivers aren’t mean, nasty people… It’s that the police and the courts allow them to get away with murder, frankly.” He observed that in cities across the US, there are laws banning the use of speed cameras, leaving pedestrians and cyclists vulnerable.

More information on the study, including an analysis of the role of structural racism in the US’s traffic problems, is available via StreetsBlog.

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