Study: Infrastructure investment tied to pedestrian, biker safety

Public investment in infrastructure appears closely tied to pedestrian and bicyclist safety, according to a new study. Researchers compared fatality rates in 46 U.S. regions with each region’s ‘Bicycle Friendly Community’ and ‘Walk Friendly Community’ rankings and found a surprisingly large difference between the safest and most dangerous communities.

“The five most dangerous regions for walking had an average fatality rate five times higher than the five safest regions,” said one of the researchers. “For bicycling, the most dangerous regions had a fatality rate six times higher.”

The study was performed by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Global Health Institute and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s School of Architecture and Urban Planning. Rather than relying on limited U.S. Census data, they brought in statistics from the National Household Travel Survey, which includes accident information about travel related to work, school, recreation, shopping, and social events. This goes beyond the Census data, which only includes data about accidents that occur on journeys to and from work.

Using this enhanced data and a meta-analysis, the researchers ranked 56 U.S. regions with more than a million people. Even at this point, it was clear that there was a substantial differential between the safest and most dangerous areas.

Next, they compared their fatality data with each city’s rankings as a “Walk Friendly” or “Bicycle Friendly” community. These rankings are based on how much each city invests in good infrastructure and safety programs.

That comparison yielded lists of the safest and most dangerous communities in America.

How did California rank in terms of safety?

California apparently fell in the middle range. Of California cities, only San Francisco was listed as one of the safest or most dangerous areas for walking or biking -- 7th safest for pedestrians.

For pedestrians, the safest cities included Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Minneapolis, New York City, Portland, San Francisco and Seattle. The most dangerous regions for pedestrians were Houston, Jacksonville, Miami, and Orlando, Florida, San Antonio and Tampa, Florida.

For bicyclists, the safest city was Portland, Oregon. The most dangerous cities included Jacksonville, New York City, and Orlando, Tampa and West Palm Beach, Florida.

Interestingly, the analysis also supported the hypothesis that there is “safety in numbers” -- that having a large bicycling or pedestrian community reduces the accident risk for each person. That may indicate that these communities have been successful at lobbying for additional infrastructure investment and safety programs.

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