Pedaling into Peril: The Rising Dangers of Cycling in the USA
The Covid-19 pandemic was perhaps the deadliest epidemic to hit mankind in the last century. The devastation and destruction it caused, along with the loss of life, were unparalleled. With life coming to a complete standstill, it allowed people more time for introspection and understanding the importance of health and wellbeing.
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There is a stark rise in wellness awareness among the citizens of the USA, with more and more people taking their health seriously. A direct result of this was a change in the mode of commute. Large number of people turned either to walking or cycling in order to move from one place to another. The act of cycling also became a recreational activity for a large section of the population, especially for the people aged 50 and above.
How did cycling become an American mainstay in the past few years?
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This change in behavior and pattern was not an overnight thought but something that was a result of advocacy efforts on part of the state governments and also rising health awareness. The pandemic taught people to take their health more seriously. Another major reason for people adopting to walk or cycle to and fro is the increasing awareness of environmental sustainability.
The pandemic truly changed the shape of people’s mindsets and how they perceive certain industries. The automobile industry in the United States is in the middle of an electric boom, with increasing efforts from the government and industry lobbies to make a tectonic shift. This narrative once again has pushed people into the realm of cycling in order to create a sustainable present and build on it in the future.
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Efforts to make roads and streets more cycling friendly are visible all across the country, with an increase in bike lanes and trails. Municipals across the country have developed plans to redesign the street in order to make cycling a safer activity, but advocates argue that they have failed to do. There is great disconnect between cyclists and the people at the helm for designing these lanes.
The numbers paint a worrisome picture
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently released a report that showed the alarming rise in cyclist accidents and deaths. The numbers indeed paint a dark and worrisome picture. In the year 2021, 966 bicyclists lost their lives in traffic related accidents. This number is the highest fatalities in any year since 1975.
In 2020, the number of fatalities was at 948, an increase from 859 in 2019 and 871 in 2018. The upward trend in the number of deaths is truly a dreadful and alarming statistic, one that will not garner any confidence in the hearts and minds of avid cyclists.
“Traffic fatality data in the United States is trending in the wrong direction,” said Ken McLeod, policy director of The League of American Bicyclists in an email. “Especially for people outside of vehicles, the last decade has seen consistent increases in traffic deaths leading to multi-decade highs.”
Cycling fatalities happened in every state in the USA in the year 2021. This statistic alone should be an alarm loud enough for the concerned authorities to step up and take notice. More than half of these fatalities occurred in just five states: Florida, California, Texas, New York and Arizona.
A closer look at the deadly numbers
The NHTSA partnered with U.S Census Bureau to churn out data for the years 20170-2021. The result of which was that there were 2.7 fatal bicycle accidents on an average for every million US resident between 2017-2021, a rise of 5% from the 2012-2016 period. Pedal cycling deaths have drastically increased in the urban areas since 2012, with a 62% rise.
This is mainly down to the poor design and structure of the roads. The overall number of people killed “outside a vehicle” have gone from a low of 20% in 1996 to a deadly high of 34% in 2021. Out of the 42,239 motor vehicle traffic crashes, cycling fatalities made up for 2.1% of them. The NHTSA also reported that fatalities aside, the number of cyclist related injuries in 2021 stood at an alarming 41,615, a 7% rise from the previous year.
The number of motor vehicle crashes in 2021 is the highest since 2005 and there was an increase of 10% from the fatalities in 2020. Which meant that over 3900 people lost their lives because of improper planning and inadequate road facilities for cycling enthusiasts.
Why is there a cycling epidemic?
Experts argue that there seems to be a lack of synergy between the people responsible for creating a safer environment and the cyclist population of the country. The prevalent road designs and structures were made keeping in mind motor vehicular movements and primarily built in order to incorporate a larger number of vehicles.
The designs and tweaks made for cyclists are nothing but a mere afterthought. Since the pandemic, the number of cyclists on the too has increased drastically, making it all the more dangerous since the road safety signs and signals do nothing to help create awareness. According to a research carried out in the University of Toronto, there exists a problem of drivers being unable to identify cyclists at turns and intersections.
There is also a rise in the average driving speeds of cars on the roads that have led to multiple accidents. The rise of technology in motor vehicles too is a highly contributing factor, with a number of drivers now swaying their attention away from the roads and to the screens. The sentiment on the roads now is that it is the job of pedestrian or cyclist to avoid a car and not vice versa.
What can be done to reduce this deadly trend?
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Experts argue that the Vision Zero initiative that the officials took up years ago needs a complete rejig. The road designs and safety measures are all outdated and not in tune with today’s driving style and driver sentiment. With such a steep rise in the number of cyclists on the roads, there is a need for drivers to acknowledge that cyclists are now part of the ecosystem too.
Just creating bike lanes or wider road will not solve the issue but only increase problems as more cars make their way onto the roads. There is a need for systemic change. At present, the roadway design and cyclist infrastructure has the motor vehicles as top priority but in order both to co-exist peacefully, officials must into consideration the perils of cyclists.
“Traffic fatality data in the United States is trending in the wrong direction,” Ken McLeod, policy director of The League of American Bicyclists, wrote in an email. “Especially for people outside of vehicles, the last decade has seen consistent increases in traffic deaths leading to multi-decade highs.”
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Addressing the surge in cyclist accidents is a shared responsibility that calls for collaboration between all the stakeholders involved. As cycling continues to grow as a sustainable mode of travel, it is imperative that officials in the USA wake up to need for better road safety.
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