Walking and Biking are Hurt by Lack of National Leadership: Report

Photo:  IIHS
Photo: IIHS

Pedestrian fatalities are soaring and bike commuting is leveling off nationally, despite progress in some cities and states — the latest evidence that we need leadership willing to do what works and willing to stop doing what doesn’t, a new report reveals.

“The way we’re investing in infrastructure isn’t working,” said Ken McLeod, policy director with the League of American Bicyclists, and lead author of the group’s semi-annual “Benchmarking” report. “There is a crisis in traffic safety and we have the tools to reduce the number of bicyclists and pedestrians killed on our roads every year. We need leaders at the national and state levels to take action: adopt Complete Streets policies, draft and implement bike and pedestrian master plans, and build protected infrastructure.”

Despite the progress in some cities and states, the overall national picture is mixed. Here are some of the top-line take-aways:

Biking and walking have leveled off

A decade ago, it seemed biking was on a steady upward trajectory. And it has increased substantially — about 20 percent — on the national level. But lately it seems to have hit a ceiling.

Biking to work has held mostly steady since 2013, Meanwhile, biking for other activities has been unchanged, according to the National Household Travel Survey, Bike League reports.

biking to work

Walking to work has grown meanwhile, but it mostly seems to be a function of more people working compared to recessionary years.

walk to work

They’re getting more dangerous

Meanwhile, transportation authorities have been failing to keep bicyclists and pedestrians safe.

Since the Bike League began compiling this report in 2012, bike fatalities have increased 15 percent and pedestrian fatalities have increased 16 percent (using three-year rolling averages). There were more pedestrians deaths in 2016 that at any time in the last 25 years.

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pedestrian fatalities

Bicyclist deaths are mainly an urban phenomenon with 71 percent occurring in urban areas. Meanwhile, a tiny segment of streets — arterial roadways — accounted for 61 percent of bike deaths in 2016. That’s despite the fact that these roadways make up only about 10 percent of the nation’s total.

Cities and states need complete streets policies and they need to follow through on them, the Bike League says. That is especially important on urban arterials — higher traffic collector roadways with a mix of commercial and residential development.

Funding has stabilized

The number of new biking and walking projects being started and the total funding levels have fallen since the end of the last decade, when Obama passed his stimulus bill.

The most recent transportation bill, the FAST Act, passed in 2015, was a step backward in many ways on pedestrian and bike funding. It allowed state agencies to transfer to small pool of money — about $800 million a year, or 2 percent of federal surface transportation funding — to highways and other projects.

Screen Shot 2019-02-08 at 12.41.35 PM

The per-capita spending on biking and walking has nearly doubled since 2007, but it’s still less than $3 per person per year. That’s about half what England spends per capita and just one-tenth of what the Netherlands spends.

Many cities are investing. But states and feds have to step up

A number of cities and a few states have made significant progress in increasing biking and walking and improving safety since the Bike League started keeping track in 2012. For example, Oregon — a safety standout — had decreased cycling fatalities 30 percent since 2010, while increasing bike commuters 46 percent.

Unfortunately, investment has been uneven. Many of the safest places for biking and walking are getting safer — like Washington state and Massachusetts — are getting safer. But the places with the lowest levels of walking and biking — Mississippi and Alabama — are getting worse.

Of all new bike commuters since 2010, 44 percent came from growth in just the 10 highest-cycling cities.

As you can see in the below graph, the places with the highest number of bicyclists and pedestrians tend to be the safest as well, an example of the “virtuous cycle” of sustainable transportation.

Graph: League of American Bicyclists
Graph: League of American Bicyclists

44 thoughts on Walking and Biking are Hurt by Lack of National Leadership: Report

  1. Massachusetts is safe to walk and bike? Man, I must have missed when I was hit by a car in Newton Center while running. …

  2. There’s lots of reasons walking, and especially biking, may have plateaued:

    1) Lack of investment in more facilities to make cycling or walking safer.

    2) In some places it may just be that only a small percentage of trips are even amenable to cycling or walking. No matter what you do, you’re not getting most people to walk 3 miles or bike 25 miles.

    3) The perception that biking isn’t safe, a perception reinforced by the generally monolithic position of both governments and cycling advocacy groups that cyclists should wear helmets.

    4) Police harassment of cyclists for violating laws designed for motor vehicles. I wouldn’t doubt this is a major factor in NYC. All it takes is one expensive red light ticket to turn some people off cycling for good. To the extent that jaywalking laws are enforced against pedestrians, a similar line of thought applies but in general jaywalking doesn’t seem to merit the police response that cyclist violations do.

  3. Of course there is no leadership for biking and cycling. What is the political constituency that would require politicians to pay attention to such things? Activists tend to mistake themselves for a political constituency of significance. Cue complaints about politicians leading instead of following. Which is just a disguised way of saying “Politicians should listen to we enlightened activists instead of the ignorant masses. We know best how the ignorant masses should live.”

  4. Cities are too focused on capital projects paid for with outside money. That is understandable, since cities are net losers in the national tax game. But they need to look for cheaper solutions instead of chasing outside money.

  5. I agree with you on #2. There’s definitely a jump on bookin for each new bike lane yay opens, but there’s only so many people for whom such corridor works. Until next bike lane is made which over here you a new bump… Hopefully larger due to network effect.

  6. https://helmets.org/stats.htm
    Yeah those helmets don’t do anything and cycling is so safe. Except that both those statements are proven over and over to be false!
    Bicycling is 17 to 78 times more dangerous than driving or riding in an automobile…
    Also I guess you believe that cyclists shouldn’t have to obey traffic laws as these were designed only for cars…. Bicyclists are above traffic laws. Stop signs and red lights shouldn’t apply to them…. Why not?

  7. The death rates per hour of exposure are similar for drivers and cyclists. Also worth noting is over 90% of cyclist deaths involve a motor vehicle. In other words, if we got motor vehicles out of the picture, cycling would be about ten times safer than driving. Here’s a good analysis which also takes into account the average increase in life span due to the benefits of cycling:

    http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2013/06/13/bicycling-the-safest-form-of-transportation/

    Also I guess you believe that cyclists shouldn’t have to obey traffic laws as these were designed only for cars…. Bicyclists are above traffic laws. Stop signs and red lights shouldn’t apply to them…. Why not?

    Because it’s usually more dangerous for a cyclist to wait at red lights, then start out with the pack of cars jockeying for position. Also, staying in motion, instead of stopping, makes it easier to avoid potentially dangerous situations.

    Another reason is there are simply too many stop signs and traffic lights. A cyclist stopping at all of them could take 2 to 3 times as long to get where they’re going, and use more than twice as much energy. If we want people to bike, it must be made safe AND efficient. In the Netherlands they’ve systematically removed traffic lights from bike routes for exactly that reason. If you require cyclists to stop too often, they just won’t.

  8. The per hour of exposure stastics is interesting. Can you please provide a citation for that, I have never seen it broken down that way. (Seriously).
    I question the relavance however of the stastiic because it’s going to take a cyclist a significantly longer time to get most places than the driver is and therefore be exposed to a much higher risk in most cases.
    I and many others have almost hit or have hit bicyclists that do not stop for traffic control devices. I do admit that
    when I was an active rider I did occasionally blow off a stop sign, only when I could see that there were no other cars at all on the street. Either facing me or crossing me.
    Having cars have to pass you multiple times if you proceed to the start of every red light was always dangerous to me, running the red lights would have only made this worse. Most people would get visably upset if they had to pass me multiple times once for each red light. I definitely slow down traffic when I have to ride in it, (how can I not i have a top sustainable speed less than that of an automobile and am slower off of the line than an automobile.) and there is no way around that. Especially if i seek maximum safety by “claiming my lane”. Slowing other people down wasn’t what I was doing it for, I didn’t feel ever that I had the right to inflict the penalties of my chosen transportation method on other people, especially when I am in the minority. Even if I did want to exercise that right and force them to my speed, their visably anger and annoyance with my actions did not allow me to trust their judgement in protecting my frail little body against their massive steel machinery.
    Mostly though I gave it up after 2 too many close calls, and one concussion that probably would have killed me if I didn’t have a helmet on.
    Biking on the streets isn’t fun or relaxing, I didn’t feel free from owning a car, I felt I was a war with all of traffic, and that a single misstep would cause my death.
    Note I didn’t suck at biking, I have biked with a lot of people that are regionally noted for being very good at it, they were impressed for the most part.
    It just was too scary, and to nerve wracking for me.
    I also didn’t like getting to meetings and having to make sure to stand downwind of my clients. 🙂
    People that love bicycling want more people to bike, people that like being comfortable, and getting places in a timely manner without arriving looking and smelling like you biked there want to drive.
    I believe we are seeing the maximum number of people in the US that will volentarily want to bike. We may be able to force more people into begrudging doing it, but it isn’t going to be voluntary at that point.
    Biking efficiently isn’t biking safely. Skipping existing traffic control devices means that you are doing things that are unexpected to other road users, most of them can’t handle the expected let alone the unexpected. Bike safe my friend bike safe.

  9. There’s a reason why heavy rail and automobiles don’t share common facilities. Likewise, bicycles shouldn’t have to share facilities with automobiles.

    Bicycling will not thrive, it will continue to be unsafe, and it will continue to be an underutilized means of transportation until adequate facilities are in place to separate cyclists from automobiles.

  10. That site mrmustache is really bad math. That is not how a good study or even stastics analysis of other data is done. Every piece of his math is bad assumptions some based on other bad math and bad assumptions. It doesn’t use the data the way the data was collected. It’s like saying; people eating apples never fall off roofs, there for if all roofers were to eat apples while doing their job they would never fall off the roof. Eating applesa while roofing would eliminate the need for expensive and time consuming safety gear.
    Not being a jerk here I was really looking forward to a site with good data to test or even refute the dominant paradigm.
    If you want to see why statistics doesn’t work the way he is using them let’s findfa way to connect off of hereh and I will take it apart piece by piece for you at a computer instead of on my phone.
    🙂

  11. This was a reply to your other post which disappeared but I’ll post it here. Generally using per hour of exposure metrics is the only valid method of comparison. Sure, cyclists are slower than cars but the average length of cycling trips are also shorter. Typical car trips and bike trips are both anywhere from a few minutes to perhaps an hour. A car on a highway might cover 5 or 6 times the distance of a bike but the point remains that using per hour statistics is the only thing which makes sense. When we do that, we also find out flying isn’t quite as safe as its made out to be. A plane covers ten times the distance of a car on a highway in an hour. If the per hour death rates are the same, the plane would look ten times safer than the car if we used per mile death rates instead.

    There may not be much we can grow cycling in very rural areas but it still has huge potential for growth in urban and suburban areas. We just need to separate it more from motor traffic. I have no idea what the ultimate numbers cycling could be with ideal infrastructure, but I do know they would be a lot higher than now. E-bikes are one thing which can make cycling appeal to the masses by letting people avoid getting sweaty, while also shortening trip times.

    As for passing traffic control devices, why every time someone mentions this the assumption is always that cyclists just blow red lights or stop signs without even bothering to look? That’s not how most people ride. I’ve never once had a close call passing a red light or a stop sign. I’ve probably passed hundreds of thousands of them over my life. Even laws which legalize this practice explicitly state cyclists must yield to any cross traffic with the right-of-way before proceeding. Basically, cyclists can treat red lights or stop signs as yield signs under such laws. As far as other road users are concerned, they’re not doing anything unexpected because they’re still giving legal right-of-way to anyone who has it.

    Leaving yourself an out is one key for safety. I always assume everyone will do the most stupid thing at the worst possible moment. I make sure I have a plan B if that happens. I never got seriously injured in over 40 years and over 74,000 miles of riding. In fact, until I fell hitting a crack in a concrete bus stop last October I went over 22 years without even a fall. Even before then, I rarely fell. Most of the time I did, it was on account of poor street conditions. That can easily be rectified if we wanted to rectify it.

  12. Statistics can be used very creatively to make dupes think that a 3000 pound block of metal at 60 mph is as safe as a 30 pound piece of metal at 12 mph.

    This is true in the same way that an AK-47 is “safer” than an espresso machine.

  13. The federal government is not the solution to everything. Let local governments solve local safety issues. Pedestrian and bike safety solutions just aren’t the same as, say, drug safety or air quality. Do you really want some bureaucrat from Washington telling you how to design your neighborhood crosswalk or bike path?

  14. The overwhelming majority of commuters prefer to drive and will continue to drive. The failure to recognize this fact leads to failed plans and abusive enforcement for profits.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  15. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration implements standards driven by legislation from Congress to make cars safer by design, so why not roads?

    We don’t need pedestrian and bike safety solutions, we need road safety solutions. The risk to riders and walkers comes not from their own activity, but from the presence of motor vehicles. Like air quality, the issue is a matter of public domain.

  16. We could also have federal standards for motor vehicles which make them safer when they collide with pedestrians or cyclists.

  17. In 99% of the US commuters simply don’t have any other options, even in places where population density and land use patterns are amenable to other options. I wouldn’t call that a preference. More like a captive audience.

  18. In my city, about sixty percent of residents say they would bike more if it felt safer. That’s a pretty big constituency who want better bike facilities.

  19. That’s a good question. There are a lot of reasons. Money is probably the biggest one. The state transportation department is much more likely to fund road designs that serve primarily cars.

    Car infrastructure is often prioritized at the expense of other modes because the general public, and sadly many traffic engineers, believe that you can build your way out of congestion. Many of the manuals that inform street design are outdated, with little information on how to accommodate vehicles other than automobiles, and when it is included it’s often not best practices. Engineers tend to be a conservative bunch; there’s a reluctance to look outside the manual.

    Politics also plays a role: people might want bicycle lanes near where they live, but bicycling tends to be much more localized than other modes. While someone might happily pay for bike infrastructure in their neighborhood, much funding for bicycling comes in the form of bonds, and bonds are voted on city-wide. Someone 20 miles from downtown isn’t going to see much personal benefit in a cycle track far from where they live and travel. Meanwhile car-centered infrastructure is often funded without a vote of any kind.

    People who bicycle for transportation are often poorly represented in the public processes that guide city projects as well; for instance, a recent plan to add protective bollards along a bicycle route heavily utilized by university students was abandoned because a handful of nearby homeowners were concerned about the aesthetics; the people who would benefit did not hear about the change until after the decision had been made.

    There are probably other factors I’m missing, but it shouldn’t really surprise anyone that governments are often not perfectly responsive to the desires of the public.

    All that aside, we’ve consistently elected bicycle-friendly officials for quite a while. When you’re tasked with correcting 60 years of poor design, with limited funding and little guidance, things take time.

  20. In many states, most urban arterials are designed, built, and maintained by the state DOT, which has very different priorities from municipal DOTs. State DOTs are funded by motor fuel taxes with a mission of moving motor vehicles long distances at high speeds, generating more motor fuel tax revenue for building more high speed roads. State DOTs don’t consider pedestrians and bicyclists to be their customers – they have no incentive to support walking and cycling. Municipal DOTs, however, prioritize the quality of life for residents, which includes supporting walking and cycling, and are politically sensitive to local social justice issues. Unless control of urban arterials is shifted to municipalities, or the incentive system that drives state DOTs changes, we will continue to get toxic engineering of arterials.

    Meanwhile municipalities can provide pedestrians and cyclists alternatives to state arterials by providing a well-connected local street system that is redundant to arterial routes for the purpose of local travel. Municipalities that have done this enjoy higher volumes of walking and cycling than those with a dendritic road topology that strictly aligns with the performance hierarchy per the common ethos of highway engineering.

  21. Amen – likewise, if we actually did this, as in provide safe road space for bicycles and other little vehicles, we would probably see a spike in ridership like we could not expect. Most European and many Asian cities experienced just that not too long ago. We should try it somewhere, wholeheartedly, and see what could happen.

  22. They only drive because in most places they feel that they have to due to the completely car-focused way that most streets are developed and the way that we’ve allowed our cities and towns to sprawl, making travel any other way very difficult, if not impossible.

  23. Just like the European Union has done since 2005!
    From Automotive News back in 2012:

    “Pedestrian protection is one of the last frontiers of vehicle safety,” said Clarence Ditlow, executive director for the Center for Auto Safety in Washington. But he added: “NHTSA has been reluctant to regulate it because it so closely relates to styling.”

    Any action is better than none, but I’d argue that preventing collisions should be a higher priority than mitigating them.

  24. Sorry to hear about your crash. Hope you’ve recovered. Road conditions (or unconditions) are the primary cause of bicycle crashes and even many falls while walking. Took a few tumbles myself, but the most injurious are usually collisions with motor vehicles.

  25. Really nothing to recover from. My right hand and left knee were a little sore for about a week, and there was a slight amount of road rash, but I was pretty much fine. Fortunately the crash occurred at the end of a long upgrade, so I was only going 11 mph. That said, I’ve had crashes at speeds as high as 37 mph and still never had more than road rash. I’d say easily 4 out of 5 of my crashes were caused by poor pavement conditions. I’ve mostly learned to avoid that, but very occasionally I just miss something. In this case the cause was poor lighting.

  26. Before you blame “effective cyclists” or share the roaders again for killing off bike lanes and paths in the 80’s, look at the funding graph. Bicycle and pedestrian facilities and programs were zeroed out by Republican administrations federally and in California then. Florida reduced funding significantly but not to zero, because they had regional do nothing DOT bicycle coordinators. Not sure about other states. No federal funding until Clinton in office, and by then most of the institutional knowledge about the dangers of bike lanes and inadequacies of separate but unequal paths were lost.

    Engineers are always happy to add pavement, while education gets shafted. The spike from 2006-2014, reflects a federal five year pilot program limited to 4 regions across the country, Marin County, the Twin Cities, and two others I don’t recall. Some state and local spending was generated around those efforts, but in Marin almost all monies went towards paving and painting. In the end, a little over a dozen miles of lanes and paths,with a rebuilt tunnel, a bike bridge and a few hundred yards of sidewalks built. Oh yeah, a bunch of Share the Road sloganed signs were put up, with no graphs on how to do this, even though I offered my original sign for free use to those in charge, welcome to modify it if they wanted to. Not even the courtesy of a reply, they were so sure they knew the best way to make cycling safer. Felt like the crazy old uncle in the corner.

  27. I live 4 blocks from a bus stop with 15 minute intervals that would take me most downtown destinations. I NEVER use it, driving is far more pleasant in private, comfort, and far less weather exposure.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  28. Well, thanks for admitting that you are traffic, you are a polluter, you cause congestion, you are selfish and take up public space to drive and park your car when you have perfectly good options to not do so. Therefore, you have no right to ever, ever, ever complain about traffic congestion or parking. Have fun sitting in traffic as I whiz by on my bike!

  29. Congestion in my city is only at peak rush hours, and particularly on a very inappropriate road diet area where the bike lanes start and stop in the middle of the diet. The only safe way for cyclists to use them is to fly in and out like the kids in the movie ET.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  30. Why not roads? Because cars move from state to state – like air pollution – but roads don’t. Except interstates, I suppose, which are under the federal umbrella. Not every issue is best resolved by the “experts” in DC. Some things just get worse when DC tries to get involved (schools, for example). I don’t think the feds are going to have a better idea about how to design a bike path or where to position a stop light.

  31. Relax. We’re in America. We have freedom of expression and limited but generally socially accepted freedom of speech.

    Bikes are great, and it’s awesome that you can lane split or drive by slower cars on city roads. For California highways, you can lanesplit on a motorcycle. I think the best option is to lanesplit legally in a 100% electric short narrow track vehicle with narrow lane and narrow parking space privileges. Lanesplitting on highways regularly beats current Google commute time predictions by over 40%.

  32. What you have said is that local majorities can be formed in support of bicycle infrastructure but that these majorities cannot be extended outside of isolated pockets. These pockets are too small to finance their own projects and lack the influence to motivate those outside the pocket to help. In other words, there is no broad constituency supporting bicycle infrastructure – which correlates with the observation that there is no leadership at the state and national level. Or even at the regional level for that matter.

    You may want bicycle infrastructure, but there are far more people like me who do not. And we are much more broadly distributed. So as the size of the political region grows, the political support for bicycles will fall.

  33. So you’re in favor of more government control over local decisions. That’s a philosophical disagreement that I suspect we won’t be able to resolve.

  34. When the local authority goes hat on hand looking for non-local money, it rather gives up the right to claim “local control”. If your city wishes to construct bike infrastructure, who am I to object – just so long as you pay for it yourself.

  35. In my city it’s 60%, but other cities have similar levels of support for bike infrastructure.

    I think it’s a little naive to believe that federal transportation policy, much of it formulated when traffic engineering was a young discipline and we didn’t understand much about the consequences it limitations of unfettered car use, represents the will of the majority instead of the inertia of a bureaucracy. Even on issues that get a great deal of public attention and the position of the majority is clear, it’s been shown that Congress is less than responsive.

    Maybe you’re okay with facilitating that disregard for the citizenry on this issue because it fits your prejudices, but it seems unwise to take government inaction or unresponsiveness as indicative of the will of the people.

  36. I’m still going to (partly) blame the vehicular cycling crowd. It’s not hard to see their influence in the lack of funding when they explicitly fought for wider traffic lanes in lieu of bike lanes and opposed cycling-specific projects.

  37. FDOT’s national standard for a signed bike route required a 14′ curb lane in the mid 70’s. That was a class 3 bike facility. Class I was a separate but unequal path at least 8′ wide as I recall. These was a huge push for 4′ painted bike lanes in the early 80’s, and I was part of that in Broward county, FL. We did get a few miles paved, but then Reagan cut federal grants off. He wasn’t consulting with Effective or Ineffective cyclists that I ever heard about. Cyclists are often blamed for bicycle policy as if they really had any political power, even here in Marin County, CA, but the funding and engineers run the show about what gets built or not.

  38. Engineers were heavily influenced by fellow engineer Forester. He was kind enough to give them an excuse not to continue to build the protected bike facilities that first began to appear in the ’60s in the US. When the people of the Netherlands in the 1970s were demanding safer facilities for cyclists there, Forester was doing all he could to stop them here. We are lucky that his misguided views are almost completely dead in cycling advocacy circles.

  39. I was in the Netherlands in 1979. They had some separate fietspads that were about 6′ wide. I read about bike “riots” in Amsterdam in the 80’s due to dangerous drivers that galvanized their movement and separate facilities works for Holland, but there’s several million miles of roadway in the U.S. and at most several hundred miles of bike lanes/paths/tracks.

    If there was no or very limited bicycle facility funding in the 80’s in the states, then how could engineers have built protected lanes? Signed bicycle routes were the cheapest option, but they stuck with the headless horseman bike graph, which is a waste of an educational opportunity.

    Forester’s “influence” was limited to California, but Deukmejian zero funded all bike/ped programs in 84. I took an Effective Cycling “certification” course with Forester at a national bicycle policy convention in Miami in 81 or 2?, There were about 8 engineers out of several hundred attending the convention. I know there are limjts to sharing the road safety. I was hit twice by motorists while riding legally and visibly, but the alternative at that time was ride on the sidewalks (if they existed) or suffer abuse from drivers who had never heard of share the road.
    Thanks for the dialogue, btw. sincerely.

  40. The report by Bill Schultheiss, Rebecca Sanders, and Jennifer Toole of Toole Design Group gives a great history abut why funding for bicycle safety improvements stopped being a priority in the 1980s. I know it’s hard to believe that a wrong-headed zealot like Forester could stunt cycling in the US for decades, but there’s a direct line from his ill-considered opinions to the 1980s AASHTO guidelines, which was based on Caltrans’ bicycle guide.

  41. I’ll read it, searchable on line I hope? I disagree that bike lanes are safer than riding with traffic, protected or not. I do like to ride on standard Class I separate paths without traffic intersections. Most crashes on them come from gravel, dropoffs, cracks, so they have to be maintained, and other cyclists, walkers, dogs. Collisions with cars are another order of magnitude in fear factor, and unpleasant to be near, so I understand that riders want some distance. Bike lanes only remove riders from drivers visual focus.

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