Tuesday, November 18, 2014

US and Burlington Walk/Bike Fatalities Discussion

         Burlington, VT is a small City of 42,000 population with 16,000 students mostly at the University of Vermont and Champlain College, 38 percent of the population.  The following discusses national, international and local walk and bike fatalities and lack of U.S./local action on walk/bike safety infrastructure:
Unfortunately  StreetsblogUSA's rosy scenario of bicycle safety improving over time as more bike trips occur depends more on misinterpretation of statistics than reality.  

StreetsblogUSA--pushing for walk/bike modes, sustainable communities, etc.--uses a timeline of 1977-to date of bike trips against bike fatalities.  Then criticizes the report author, Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), for blaming the "victim," the cyclist for fatalities by reporting about a quarter of adult bicyclists killed were BUI (biking under the influence).  Welcome to highway statistics--half of all walkers killed in the young adult ages--20-40--also were WUI (walking under the influence).   The conclusion from the data is that one should no more bike home after a few drinks than drive--and if you must walk home after a few drinks, do so with a designated sober "walker buddy."

The use of the 1977 to recent fatalities and trips for U.S. cyclists happens to parallel roughly the drop of the U.S. from first to 14th in highway fatalities rates internationally (per vehicle mile).  Gains everywhere in reduction of highway fatalities during the period were particularly helped by better incident management and medical advancements, including better trained EMS personnel, improved emergency medical facilities, etc.  But the U.S. failed to invest in safety, does not have a high priority for safety and as a result relatively for those who walk and bike---and yes travel by car--our streets are far more dangerous up to twice as dangerous as the nations with lower fatalities rates, many in Western Europe. 

Meanwhile during the last four decades when the U.S. did practically nothing many nations--particularly European--actually made great progress in walk/bike safety through substantial investments in roundabouts, traffic calming, protected bike lanes, grade separations, etc.  While the U.S. urban street changed very little in a half century the streets in many nations changed radically.  For example, France which long lagged the U.S. in highway safety in one year 1993-2003 built more roundabouts when adjusted for population than the U.S. has from the first in 1991 to date, about 5,000 to 6,000 roundabouts now in the U.S. which includes residential traffic calming circles.

Note that while just about everyone in Europe urban total trips share--bicycle and walking--ranging around the 30% mark, the U.S. urban share is about 11% with home to work urban trips by bicycle recently reported by U.S. Census at 0.6 %.  Bicycling on U.S. urban streets--yes, Canada too--remains mostly the province of young, adult, white males while in Europe a cross section of the population by age and gender bikes regularly in addition to walk trips. 
And--most important--how about our walk/bike fatality rates (remember our riders are young adult males and their population includes kids, women and oldsters)?  Well not much of a surprise, our fatality rates for those who walk and bike per mile of travel is about three times the rate of the urban Germany and the Netherlands (John Pucher of Rutgers study).  And the most disturbing statistic are the U.S. bike injury rates per mile of travel 20 (twenty) times  that of the two European nations.  

            Burlington Fatalaties

Our four Burlington walk/bike fatalities since 1998--one cyclist and three walkers--amounts to a rate of one walk/bike fatality every four years.  (Included in the Burlington four is Julia Gorda, 20, killed adjacent to the City limit on U.S. in September at the crossing between Staples Plaza and the Sheraton.)  All our fatalities occurred at signalized intersections as did two car occupant fatalities.  Note that practically all the fatalities outlined here could have been avoided if those intersections were roundabouts--and all the intersections involved are obviously good candidates for roundabout conversion. 

Meanwhile, Burlington also experiences a high rate of walk/bike injuries including the critical injury which occurred at the new "flasher" signal on Pine Street in September.  

The lessons here are at least twofold.  First and foremost, each of us needs to be very careful in walking and bicycling in Burlington as the streets are relatively dangerous compared to communities--predominately found in European nations--where quality walk/bke infra predominate.  Second, we need to accelerate the investment and installation of safe walk bike infra, like that contained in the North Avenue Corridor Plan adopted by the City Council in October.  

There are other glimmers of change in Vermont urban walk/bike safety with roundabouts now in downtown Middlebury, Manchester Center (first Vermont roundabout "corridor" of three), Montpelier and now Waterbury.  In addition to the North Avenue Corridor Plan with its end-to-end cycle track an three roundabouts replacing signals, Brattleboro's long awaited commercial roundabout corridor on Putney Road my move ahead.

And, finally, Burlington will get the first busy street roundabout on a public street in Chittenden County in 2017--perhaps the Burlington Walk Bike Council requested roundabout demo along with funding of $12,000 will beat that 2017 date. 

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