By Kelsey Bridges
There has been significant concern about increases in bicyclist deaths over the past few years, which has both positive and negative outcomes. Obviously, increased bicyclist deaths is not desired, which is causing politicians and state Departments of Transportation to pay closer attention to their bicycling infrastructure, or rather, lack thereof. A study conducted by the Governors Highway Safety Association, in Washington D.C., found that in 2010, 621 bicyclists were killed in vehicular crashes across the nation, 680 in 2011, and 722 in 2012. The study also found that in 2012, 69% of all crash fatalities were bicycling crashes. Many argue that the increase in bicyclist fatalities correlates with the country-wide increase in bicycling over the past ten years (an increase of 62% since 2000). Regardless of the cause, states need to improve bicycling infrastructure to make roads safe for bicyclists.
In order to better protect bicyclists, numerous efforts have been made to breakdown how serious injuries and fatalities occur. A Canadian research study published in January 2015 observed fatalities and serious injuries of bicyclists. The study looked at 683 adults who were injured while bicycling, and broke them into groups based on their type of injury. They then ran regressions holding constant sex, age, whether they considered themselves experienced bicyclists, time of day, motor vehicle collision, route type, intersection, train tracks, and street grade. The results identified which factors put bicyclists at greater risks. Crashes involving cars was the most common cause of crashes (48%). Only 3% of collisions were between bicyclists, 2% by pedestrians, and 1% by animals.
After identifying the different types of crash types, the research found that bicyclists riding on bicycle lanes or tracks that are physically separated from vehicles had one-ninth the risk compared to streets with no bicycle infrastructure. In addition, bicyclists riding downhill were more likely to sustain worse injuries, while riding in areas with fast moving cars was found to increase injury.
The study also found that there are some factors that do not affect injury severity. Helmet use was not statistically significant in minimizing severe injury. While helmets can protect riders from certain head trauma, they do not protect riders from all injuries. The cases in this study also found that inclement weather such as rain, fog, or snow was not significant in determining injury severity. The findings in this study show that bicyclist infrastructure is a determinant of bicyclist injury. When bicyclists share road space with cars or mixed use paths with pedestrians, they are more likely to have a collision. Thus, bicycling infrastructure needs to improve in order to create a safer environment for bicyclists.
In 2014, New Jersey had 169 pedestrian deaths and 13 bicycle deaths resulting from motor vehicle crashes. Overall, the state has more pedestrian and bicycle fatalities compared to the nation. New Jersey is also the densest state in the nation which means there are more people and cars trying to move around in a small amount of space.
NJDOT has taken efforts to increase mobility for all users. In 2011, NJDOT was recognized as a national leader in Complete Streets policy. This policy focused on improving roadways for all users: bicyclists, pedestrians, transit riders, and motorists. This state initiative spearheaded the way for New Jersey counties and municipalities to move forward with their own policies and this past year, Mercer County has become the first county to have all of its county and local streets covered by a policy. In addition, NJDOT has several safety campaigns that have tips for riding or driving in inclement weather. NJDOT recognizes that there is still a lot that can be done, and they are taking the steps to increase equitable transportation across the state.