It’s been a couple of years since the Department of Transportation (DOT) launched an extensive pedestrian and bicycle safety initiative called Safer People, Safer Streets: Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Initiative. The plan was implemented to see if communities could create better and safer environments for those walking and biking. Just how well has this initiative been going? While some headway has been made, DOT officials say there’s much more that needs to be done to cut down on bicycle and pedestrian accidents that create serious injuries and many deaths.
The Upside and Downside to Biking and Walking
There’s no argument that biking is good for you. Getting some fresh air and putting your feet to the pedals of a bike or going for a walk is a great way to get some exercise. The Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT) noted that in 2016, not only did these two activities save billions in health care costs, but they also contributed a massive amount of money to local economies. In a study the organization highlighted, it noted that on average, residents in Colorado spent $217 per household on items needed for biking and $248 on equipment for walking or hiking. The same study also found 43 percent of residents who were 18-years of age or older rode a bike in the past year and more than 30 percent walked more than 100 days. Both of these statistics make Colorado one of the most active states in the nation. All good news, you would think.
However, this past June, a local newspaper reported on another study that showed that medical costs from non-fatal bike injuries are soaring and to the tune of millions of dollars. The study recorded reported injuries across the United States from 1997 – 2013 and noted that medical costs increased, on average, $789 million each year. More eye-opening was the cost alone in 2013, which was reportedly $24.4 billion.
What’s causing these skyrocketing amounts? Thomas W. Gaither, a University of California at San Francisco medical student and one of the study’s authors, said the severity of injuries is because more bicycle accidents today occur on congested streets, something that has changed over the years. Two decades or more ago, injuries occurred but were not as severe as city and neighborhood streets were not as busy as they are now. As Gaither noted:
“Streets might also predispose to more injuries due to the coexisting environment with urban areas, increased population density or the presence of more unyielding street furniture, such as telephone poles, fire hydrants, parking meters.”
When it comes to walking, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that in 2015, more than 5300 pedestrians were killed while another 129,000 walkers were injured. Those in safety note the biggest reasons why pedestrians are killed and injured are due to crossing in unmarked crosswalks, drivers turning left and not seeing a pedestrian, electric vehicles that can make it difficult for a pedestrian to hear a car coming, alcohol use and yes, electronics. A New York City survey found that a high number of both walkers and bike riders injured in accidents were using an electronic device, including the use of earphones to hear music, which causes a huge distraction and a dangerous situation.
Working With Communities Remains Key
All of these numbers give more urgency to the DOT’s Safer People, Safer Streets initiative as it continues to work with communities across the country to make the streets safer for those biking or walking. Locally, some Colorado cities are also pushing their visions for safer streets, including right here in Denver, which spent over five million dollars on bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure last year; a good start, but far below other cities, such as Las Vegas and Seattle. Moving forward, not only is up to officials to make our streets safer, but it’s also up to each one of us, whether we are driving, biking, or walking. We all must do our part to cut down on accidents that can lead to death or serious injury.