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Bicycle and pedestrian safety increasingly relevant during pandemic

Bicycle fatalities rise while automotive fatalities drop, NTSB reports

In a year in which, bicycling and walking became increasingly popular as people sought outlets during stay-at-home orders and social distancing because of COVID-19, individual safety is of utmost importance.

Recent national data – especially for bicyclists - isn’t encouraging, however.

Bicycle fatalities increased 22% between 2007 and 2018, while automotive fatalities dropped 11% in the same period, according to the latest National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) statistics.

The NTSB released its first report on bicycle safety in nearly 50 years at the end of 2019. “Bicyclist Safety on U.S. Roadways: Crash Risks and Countermeasures” includes statistics and recommendations for addressing safety concerns.

“This country needs a multi-faceted approach to deal with a problem that is only getting worse: more Americans are dying in collisions involving bikes and motor vehicles,” NTSB Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt said in a statement related to the report.

Today marks the start of “United for Infrastructure: A Week to Champion America’s Infrastructure,” a nationwide effort to draw the attention of policymakers and the public about the significance of infrastructure to the economy and communities. It encompasses a broad range of infrastructure issues including bicycle and pedestrian safety.

The NTSB report highlighted three key aspects for improving bicycle safety: upgrading infrastructure; enhancing “conspicuity,” or visibility, of bicyclists and signage; and mitigating head injuries, with a focus on helmet use.

Many of the recommendations mirror approaches used for automobiles such as utilizing Artificial Intelligence technology and separating bicyclists from automobiles in roadways and at intersections.

Previous ATSSA studies from 2010 and 2019 identified similar trends in bicycle use and safety as well as identifying approaches to make cycling safer. Separating bikes from automobiles is one key approach.

ATSSA’s 2019 case study by Jeffrey Trombly & Associates, “Traffic Control Device Innovations to Improve Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety at Signalized Intersections,” highlighted such an infrastructure approach in the form of “bike boxes.” This safety measure is meant to make left turns for cyclists safer. The so-called bike boxes -- areas marked off at the head of a traffic lane -- were added to streets in Portland, Ore., where a 2019 study by Portland State University concluded the safety measure had positive effects.

The bike box approach aligns with the NTSB’s interest in making bicyclists -- and things such as signage and curbing -- clearer and more visible to drivers.

Those ideas align with NTSB’s recommendation to the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO) that it incorporate separate bike lanes and intersection improvements in its design guidelines.

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