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Study: Infrastructure investments keep pedestrians, bikers safer

Fatal bicycling accidents are on the rise. According to a study for the Governors Highway Safety Association, biking deaths rose by 12.2 percent in 2015, outpacing the overall rate of traffic fatalities.

What do we know about biking fatalities? They are more likely to take place at night, according to the study. That is, an approximately equal number of deadly bike accidents occurred during daylight hours and at night, but only 20 percent of bikers ride after dark.

They are often caused by distracted drivers -- the deaths of 76 cyclists were caused by driver distraction in 2015, out of 818 total.

They aren't limited to intersections. 72 percent of 2015's fatalities took place on roadways, not intersections.

Another recent study had some additional insight. An analysis by University of Wisconsin researchers suggests that one of the more important causes of biking fatalities may be poor investment in infrastructure. They discovered a large differential between the safest and the most dangerous cities in America, and that lined up with previous measures of infrastructure investment.

What is the safest city in America for biking?

Portland, Oregon, is the safest city for bicyclists, according to researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Global Health Institute and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's School of Architecture and Urban Planning.

The most dangerous cities for biking are:

  • Jacksonville
  • New York City
  • Orlando
  • Tampa
  • West Palm Beach

No California cities made the Top 5, meaning that we probably fell somewhere in the middle.

To determine the safest and most dangerous cities for bicycling, the researchers examined 46 U.S. regions with more than a million residents. They then used the National Household Travel Survey to track the number of fatal accidents that occurred in those cities. The travel survey offered more data than the U.S. Census, which tracks fatal accidents on trips to and from work. The travel survey also considers trips to school, shopping and recreational and social events.

The findings from the travel survey already pointed to there being substantially more accidents in some cities than in others.

Next, the researchers compared their lists of safest and most dangerous cities with those cities' "Bicycle Friendly Community" rankings. Those rankings are based on investments in infrastructure and safety programming that cities make.

The combination of the fatality rates with the "Bicycle Friendly Community" rankings matched up, indicating that infrastructure and safety investments are closely tied to fatality rates.

"The most dangerous regions had a fatality rate six times higher" than the safest regions, according to one researcher.

Is California investing enough in safety programming and infrastructure around bicycling? The first study suggests more action is needed, and the second indicates where productive improvements might be made.

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