A Year of Cycling Deaths on American Roads

Arterial roads and poorly designed intersections pose significant threats to cyclist and pedestrian safety.

February 8, 2021, 6:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Bike Lane

Daniel Oines / Flickr

In a collaboration with BikeMaps.org dubbed the #2020CyclingDeaths project, Maura Fox and Luke Whelan assess cycling deaths on American roads in the past year to see where, how, and how many bicyclists are dying. "Record numbers of cyclists (and thousands of pedestrians) on our nation’s roads are being killed by drivers often without any media attention beyond a brief local news story," the authors write.

Their study captured 697 deaths between January 2020 and January 2021. "Since we were only able to count deaths reported by local media, the actual total is likely significantly higher." BikeMaps.org, a project started by Trisalyn Nelson, crowdsources information about cyclist crashes, near misses, traffic hazards, and bike thefts in the United States and Canada.

Key takeaways from the study show that more than a quarter of crashes are hit-and-runs, and cycling deaths occur all over (project data came from 47 states), with the highest numbers of deaths occurring in California and Florida, followed by New York and Texas. Surprisingly, rural, suburban, and urban areas have similar rates of cycling deaths. Despite lower density and less traffic, rural roads aren't designed to protect people on bikes. According to the data, the most dangerous place for cyclists is an arterial road, "a busy, multilane thoroughfare with traffic signals at intersections and speeds limits exceeding 30 miles per hour," which account for 65% of fatal crashes.

The authors suggest some solutions for planners and policymakers, including incorporating a car’s potential risk to cyclists and pedestrians with vehicle-safety ratings, improving education for drivers, and incentivizing cycling to induce more ridership.

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