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The Critical Importance of Bicycle Infrastructure to Public Health

The lead editorial in the December issue of American Journal of Public Health provides the introduction for two research papers on the relationship between bicycling safety and infrastructure expansion in Boston and Vision Zero in U.S. and Sweden.
November 15, 2016, 7am PST | Irvin Dawid
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American cities that have adopted Vision Zero goals for walking and biking have their work cut out. Compared to other advanced nations, it's undeniable that cycling in the United States is less safe.

According to a study last year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, deaths and injuries, associated with an increase in bicycling activity, have risen among older Americans, just as a reduction in juvenile deaths is related to a reduction in that group's cycling.

What's more, some studies have inferred blame lies with cyclists themselves, e.g., cyclists failing to use bike lights and helmets.

Thus, it's refreshing to read what urban planners have to report on this critical topic in next month's issue of the American Journal of Public Health. As many cyclists and planners know, while the use of bike lights, helmets, and reflective clothing is important, it is the design of cycling facilities that is paramount.

"Traffic safety experts now use the term 'crashes' instead of 'accidents' to emphasize that the design of the transportation system contributes to most traffic fatalities and injuries," write John Pucher, Professor Emeritus, Urban Planning, Rutgers University and Ralph BuehlerProfessor of Urban Affairs & Planning, Virginia Tech. The two present hard data that may lead some ardent cyclists to consider migrating abroad.

Controlling for exposure levels, cyclist fatalities in 2010 per 100 million kilometers cycled were 4.7 in the United States versus 1.0 in the Netherlands, 1.1 in Denmark, and 1.3 in Germany.1

The editorial introduces two full-length research articles in the Dec 2016 issue of AJPH focusing on cycling safety that are fully accessible:

Pucher and Buehler present detailed data on trends in cycling safety for 10 cities, looking at the relationship between the increase in bike lane miles, bicycle trips, crashes, and fatalities and injuries between 2000 and 2015.

TABLE 1— Better Bicycle Infrastructure, Improved Cyclist Safety, and Increased Cycling

City Years Growth in Bikeway Network,a % Growth in Bicycle Trips, % Change in Crashes per 100 000 Trips, % Change in Fatalities and Severe Injuries per 100 000 Trips,%
Portland, OR 2000–2015 53 391 −62 −72
Washington, DC 2000–2015 101 384 −46 −50
New York, NY 2000–2015 381 207 NA −72
Minneapolis, MN 2000–2015 113 203 −75 −79
San Francisco, CA 2000–2015 172 167 −36 NA
Cambridge, MA 2000–2015 27 134 −57 NA
Chicago, IL 2005–2015 135 167 −54 −60
Seattle, WA 2005–2015 236 123 −25 −53
Los Angeles, CA 2005–2015 130 114 NA −43
Philadelphia, PA 2008–2015 17 51 NA


Courtesy of American Journal of Public Health

Like the National Safety Council, research is based on data provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, particularly from their injury statistics website, WISQARS, which indicates that in 2014, there were 902 cyclist fatalities and 35 206 serious cyclist injuries (requiring hospitalization).

Planetizen also posts traffic fatality reports from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) which uses the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) run by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Hat tip to John Holtzclaw

Correspondent's notes on related Planetizen posts:

Full Story:
Published on Thursday, November 10, 2016 in American Journal Of Public Health
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