Making American cities safer for pedestrians and cyclists

Americans are walking or cycling to their destinations with renewed enthusiasm and frequency.

Today, approximately 50% of all trips under one mile and 10% of all trips of any length are made on foot or on bike.

However, with this increase in interest has come corresponding risk: pedestrian and cyclist injuries and fatalities have climbed steadily every year since 2009. In fact, in 2012, bicyclist and pedestrian fatalities were over 16% of all traffic-related fatalities, highly disproportionate to their numbers, and primarily in urban areas.

USDOT calls for safer people, safer streets

The rise in popularity and challenges in walking and cycling are among the key trends identified by Anthony R. Foxx, Secretary of the US Department of Traffic, in his forward-looking vision of an improved transportation system for. In the DOT’s draft of Beyond Traffic 2045, they predict a significant growth in walking and cycling in the next 30 years.

They note that metropolitan areas will burgeon and be higher density. That, combined with the Millennials’ lifestyle preferences for healthier and more environmentally sound activities, raises both opportunities and alarm.

Accommodating this simple form of transportation, and doing so safely, must become “an increasingly pressing issue for policymakers, particularly in urban areas,” the document urges.

Bixi bicycle renals in Boston

Some gains are already being made. Beyond Traffic relays that throughout the States, large and mid-sized cities are expanding their bike-lane networks in. Bicycle-sharing programs are making them accessible for short-term rental in many centres, and they’re meeting with great success enabling commuters to connect to public transit.

These are encouraging steps, but elected officials and transportation planners realize that much more needs to be done, beginning immediately. As of April 13, 2011 cities of all sizes have voluntarily accepted Secretary Foxx’s Mayors’ Challenge for Safer People, Safer Streets. They have eagerly joined in the mandate of improving roadway safety this year.

Challenge initiatives include identifying and addressing barriers; improving walking and biking safety laws and regulations; educating and enforcing proper road-use behaviour by all users; and gathering and tracking biking and walking data.

“Communities that routinely collect walking and biking data are better positioned to track trends and prioritize investments,” states the master document.

Cities rely on better data collection

Collecting safer, more accurate data efficiently, while being able to differentiate between ped and bike counts, will be critical to success. Those benefits are what distinguish Miovision from other providers as we re-think traffic, but all of us seek to enhance the road-user experience.

That is the goal shared by Miovision’s clients and non-clients alike. Public sector planners and engineers want to make significant improvements for their communities, but have to deal with the harsh realities of budget constraints and conflicting priorities. Any recommendation made must be backed up with hard data, and their reputations, even their livelihood, rest on the decisions they make.

Advocates, so vital to the movement for safer, friendlier roads and transportation, sometimes have difficulty understanding what an engineer is attempting to explain to them. The reverse is also true; engineers don’t always comprehend the advocates’ positions or claims.

In March, Miovision sponsored and attended the National Bike Summit in Washington, DC. We were pleased to attend the session on “How to Speak to An Engineer.” It is critical that advocates be able to communicate with and understand municipal staff, and vice-versa. The two are integral to improvement and must find synergy and common ground.

Naturally, advocates would urgently like to see ped-and-bike infrastructure improved at pretty well every turn. So would engineers and elected officials. So would Miovision.

Hard, defensible data, though, is the only thing that will get all of us there. We’re encouraged to see Secretary Foxx and US DOT call for precisely that.