PeopleForBikes' Tim Blumenthal Responds to the New Report from the GHSA on Bike Safey

Boulder, CO. (October 30, 2014) -- At a time when urban biking is booming, new bike share systems are opening, and cities are resdesigning streets to support all travel modes, the new report from the Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA) on bicycle safety is a narrowly focused document that misses several key points.

  • The report leads with the alarming news that bike fatalities are up 16%, and accompanies the sensationalist headline with dire graphics. But the report fails to put those numbers in context. In truth, simple analysis shows that biking has increased 220% since 1977, while annual fatalities have fallen 25 percent - a significant reduction in the risk of riding. Though the report is built on national data on fatal crashes, it chooses not to mention that the last two years may well be just a modest and expected variation amid what has been a steady, though admittedly slow, decline in fatalities. Analysis of these trends is available here and here.

  • Surprisingly, the report and follow-up tweets from GHSA then claim that bike safety is not a national issue, based on their findings that increases in fatalities have been concentrated in a handful of states and among specific demographics. We strongly believe that bike safety is a national issue, and that fatalities in every state are a concern. A more thorough look at the data shows that the rapid rise in biking since the 1970s has correlated with far more public safety, not less. We applaud USDOT Secretary Anthony Foxx’s decision to make bike and pedestrian safety one of his top priority areas. The federal government continues to be the largest investor in all types of transportation, including more than 29,000 bike projects that support more than four billion bike trips per year.

  • The GHSA report pinpoints helmet use and biking while drinking as the main focus areas for bike safety efforts. The report fails to connect these behaviors with fault in the fatal car/bike collisions and minimizes the role of driver behaviors such as speeding and distracted driving. Efforts to change behaviors to prevent crashes are laudable, but they should be directed at all road users with a specific focus on mitigating the primary causes of crashes and deaths.

  • And finally, the report minimizes the overwhelming importance of street design in crashes, calling protected bike lanes “rarely feasible” although the designs are now on the ground in 53 cities in 26 states, with many more in the pipeline. At a time when Secretary Foxx and city leaders across the country are implementing a host of new design approaches to make streets safer for all users and encourage walking and biking, the GHSA team’s dismissal of this popular tool seems counterproductive to their mission of traffic safety.

The safety of our streets is a broad national concern. The emerging Vision Zero efforts emphasize that deaths of people walking, biking and driving are preventable, not an unavoidable outcome. We call on all leaders across the country to renew their efforts to encourage safer behaviors by all and to champion better street design that improves safety for all users.

- Tim Blumenthal, president of PeopleForBikes

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