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Study: Funding infrastructure reduces bicycle, pedestrian deaths

Does investing in the appropriate infrastructure actually increase safety for bicyclists and pedestrians? Yes, says a new study -- or at least, there's a strong correlation between infrastructure investment and lower rates of traffic fatalities among pedestrian and bicyclists.

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin did a two-part analysis to determine the correlation, which is statistically strong. First, they used travel data from the National Household Travel Survey to gauge the bicyclist and pedestrian traffic fatality rate in 46 U.S. regions with a million or more people. The National Household Travel Survey includes trips to and from work, school, shopping, social and recreational trips.

It was immediately obvious that some regions had far higher fatality rates among walkers and bikers than others, according to the researchers.

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

The next question was how to determine whether the safer regions were investing more in bike and pedestrian infrastructure, and whether more dangerous regions were not. The researchers decided to compare those regions with their ratings under the "Bicycle Friendly Community" and "Walk Friendly Community" programs.

The reason these community award programs were chosen is because part of each community's ranking is determined by how much they invest in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.

The researchers used a meta-analysis of other data to fill in gaps in the data set. Then, they lined up the safest and most dangerous regions with those deemed most bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly. That comparison easily yielded a short list of the safest and most dangerous regions.

Only one city in California made either list -- San Francisco was ranked 7th safest for pedestrians (the safest was Chicago). The safest region for bicycling was Portland.

The most dangerous area for walking was Houston (before Hurricane Harvey). In the top five most dangerous, three were in Florida: Jacksonville, Miami and Orlando. San Antonio rounded out that list.

Four of the five most dangerous areas for biking were also in Florida: Jacksonville, Orlando, Tampa and West Palm Beach. New York City ranked second most dangerous for biking.

In addition to the correlation between safety and investments in infrastructure, the researchers also noted that there is safety in numbers: More biking and walking traffic overall is correlated with a lower crash risk for each pedestrian and biker.

Naturally, biking and pedestrian accidents are not inevitable, and statistics cannot show why any single accident occurred. If you've been injured in a traffic accident, an experienced lawyer can help you understand your legal rights and options.

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