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Safer People, Safer Streets: Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Initiative

Individuals bicycling on roadway shoulder, courtesy of Pedestrian and Bicycle Informaton Center

Photo caption: Individuals bicycling on roadway shoulder, courtesy of Pedestrian and Bicycle Informaton Center

DOT launched the Safer People, Safer Streets Initiative in early 2015. Over the course of a year and a half, the Department increased its work to address non-motorized safety issues and help communities create safer, better connected bicycling and walking networks. We rolled out a variety of new resources, issued new research, and highlighted existing tools for a range of transportation professionals. We engaged safety experts, existing and new stakeholders, local officials, and the public on a range of targeted strategies to help us get these materials into use and encourage safety in and around our streets, including bus stops, transit stations, and other multi-modal connections.

As part of the Safer People, Safer Streets Initiative the Department's field offices convened transportation agencies to conduct road safety assessments in every state. We also launched a Mayors' Challenge for Safer People and Safer Streets, and worked with stakeholders to identify and remove barriers to improving non-motorized safety.

Please use the left column to navigate through the activities that are being conducted through the initiative. The right column provides related pedestrian and bicycle links through the different departmental modes and contact information pertaining to the initiative.

Bicycle and Pedestrian Trends

Data is limited about the full extent of bicycle and pedestrian use, but the evidence indicates that the use of these modes is on the rise. Data from the National Household Travel Surveys (NHTS) from 2001 and 2009—a period during which bicyclist and pedestrian fatalities was decreasing—identified a slight increase in walking, and almost no change in the number of people bicycling. Although NHTS data is not available for the period in which fatalities have increased, other sources indicate walking and biking have been on the rise in these years.

NHTSA conducted the National Survey of Bicyclist and Pedestrian Attitudes and Behaviors in 2002 and again in 2012 to understand attitudes and self-reported behavior of bicyclists and pedestrians. In 2002, fewer than 30 percent of participants reported cycling more often than they had a year earlier, and in 2012 nearly 40 percent of respondents reported cycling more often than they had a year earlier. By 2012, there was a 14 percent increase among respondents who said they had walked in the past 30 days, and who had walked more often than they had a year earlier. Local bicyclist and pedestrian counts corroborate this finding of recent increases in bicycling and walking. Improving this data on bicycling and walking rates is essential to understanding the safety problem, and will be a critical component of the U.S. DOT initiative to improve safety.

Younger people in particular (i.e., “Millennials”) are driving fewer miles, waiting longer to get driver’s licenses, and using public transportation more frequently. The number of miles driven alongside car ownership and licensing rates among young people are at their lowest figures in decades. The advent of ridesharing and taxi mobile apps are providing alternative mobility choices that reduce reliance on personally-owned automobiles.  If this age group maintains these habits, there could be significant changes in national travel behavior.

At the same time, bicyclist and pedestrian injuries and fatalities have steadily increased since 2009. The 5-year trend for bicyclist fatalities rose to 726 fatalities in 2012—the highest in 5 years. Pedestrian fatalities followed the same trend; rising to 4,743 fatalities in 2012—also the highest number in 5 years. Additionally, 76,000 pedestrians and 49,000 bicyclists were injured in 2012. As a percentage of the total motor vehicle-related deaths in 2012, pedestrian fatalities represented 14.1 percent and bicyclist fatalities represented 2.2 percent, for a total of 16.3 percent of the total. 

Environmental Characteristics of Crashes

Bicycle and pedestrian crashes are a problem for all places, as they can occur anywhere that people choose to walk or bike. The majority of pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities occur in urban areas. In 2012, nearly three-quarters of all pedestrian fatalities (73%) and more than two-thirds of all bicyclist fatalities (69%) occurred in urban areas. Studies of pedestrian fatalities at the local level have found that compared to rural areas, the rate of pedestrian crashes per number of residents is four times as high in large urban areas, and twice as high in small or midsize urban areas. However, the crash rates per number of miles walked are similar in all urban areas, but still twice the crash rate of rural areas. In other words, the fact that people walk at higher rates in urban areas accounts for some -but not all- of the prevalence of crashes in urban areas. Analysis also indicates that not only are large cities home to the majority of pedestrian deaths, but also the lowest income neighborhoods within large cities have disproportionate number of fatalities. Larger facilities, the time of the day, and uneven walkways or roadway surfaces also play an important role in pedestrian and bicyclist injuries and fatalities.

Behavioral Characteristics of Crashes

In 2012, alcohol involvement by either the driver or non-motorist was reported in more than 37 percent of the traffic crashes that killed a bicyclist and 48 percent of the traffic crashes that killed a pedestrian. Nearly one-fourth (24%) of bicyclists and one-third (34%) of pedestrians killed in traffic crashes were alcohol-impaired, meaning they had blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) of .08 grams per deciliter (g/dL) or higher. Among drivers, 14 percent of those involved in fatal pedestrian crashes had a BAC of .08g/dL or higher and 12 percent of those involved in fatal bicyclist crashes involved a BAC of .08g/dL or higher. Bicyclist and pedestrian behaviors can affect their likelihood of being victims of a crash with a motor vehicle, as well as their likelihood of surviving that crash. Crossing streets outside of the intersections increases the risk of a crash. In fact, 70 percent of pedestrian fatalities occur at non-intersection locations. For bicyclists wearing a properly fitted helmet is the single most effective piece of personal protective equipment to lower the cyclist's risk of injury or fatality in the event of a crash.

Demographic Characteristics of Crash Victims

Pedestrian injuries and fatalities disproportionately occur among older adults. Individuals who are 65 and older accounted for 20 percent (935) of all pedestrian fatalities and an estimated 9 percent of all pedestrian injured in 2012. Also of note, of children between the ages of 5 and 15 killed in traffic crashes, over one-fifth (22%) were pedestrians. Minorities are also overrepresented in pedestrian fatalities. Deaths of African Americans and Hispanics as pedestrians are disproportionately high: although African Americans represent only 12.7 percent of the total U.S. population, they compose 17.3 percent of total pedestrian fatalities, while Hispanics are 15.1 percent of the population but 18.6 percent of pedestrian fatalities.

Read more about pedestrian characteristics of crash victims

Read more about bicyclist characteristics of crash victims

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Walking and Biking Support National Goals

Walking and bicycling are not only healthy and environmentally friendly travel modes, they also complement public transportation and driving, and help to complete a safe, efficient, and reliable transportation network. Because of the these attributes, this seemingly modest, very local activity support national goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve health through prevention, and increase access to opportunity. Walking and biking provide critical first and last mile connections to transit, and are often relied upon as a primary mode of travel—particularly among those without access to cars, including many youth and low income individuals. Recognizing that an increase in walking and biking will mean increased exposure to vehicles and other risks, the U.S. Department of Transportation is focused on ensuring safe accommodations for pedestrians and bicyclists through a series of focused efforts.

According to the 2009 American Community Survey (ACS), 3.4 percent of commuters nationwide are bicyclists (0.55%) or pedestrians (2.86%). According to the 2009 National Household Travel Survey (NHTS), 1 percent of all trips were by bicycle and 10.5 percent of all trips were by foot. However, the Department recognizes challenges in counting walking and biking trips and distance. There is not a national mechanism in place for regular and consistent collection of non-motorized travel data. For this reason, locally collected data on walking and biking trips likely provides a more accurate picture of pedestrian and bicycle activity. Data collected by large metropolitan areas also show large numbers of people traveling to work by foot and bicycle. Pedestrian and bicycle counts also help indicate where the largest share of bicyclist traffic is located, and where adequate infrastructure might be lacking. This information helps decision makers prioritize infrastructure design improvements and investments to make walking and biking safer.

Biking and Walking Help Complete a Reliable Multimodal Transportation Network

Bicycling and walking - often used as travel modes for short local trips - can provide access to the broader transportation network, including public transportation. The transportation network encompasses not just a person’s immediate neighborhood or community, but also the entire region or metropolitan area. Connected bicycle and walking networks and designated pedestrian zones and amenities can provide safe, reliable, and equitable access to robust transit networks, providing viable and reliable travel options for all.

Walking and Biking are good for Public Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a lack of physical activity is a major contributor to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and other chronic health conditions in the United States. The CDC recommends expanding multimodal transportation infrastructure as one strategy for increasing physical activity.

A study published in the American Journal of Public Health found a link between walkable and bikable physical environments and lower obesity rates. Researchers analyzed city- and State- level data from the United States and international data from 15 countries to study the relationship between "active travel" – bicycling or walking rather than driving – and physical activity, obesity, and diabetes. Comparing all 50 States and 47 of the 50 largest American cities, the researchers found that States with higher rates of walking and cycling were home to a higher percentage of adults who achieved recommended levels of physical activity, a lower percentage of adults who were obese, and a lower percentage of adults with diabetes.

The FHWA’s Non-motorized Transportation Pilot Program also estimated the economic savings resulting from reduced mortality as a result of increased bicycling in the pilot communities from 2007 to 2013. This study found that the additional bicycling trips taken in the pilot communities in 2013 reduced the economic cost of mortality by an average of $46.3 million, plus or minus $6.7 million, in just a single year. These are conservatives estimates for the health benefits, because they only calculate reduced mortality due to increased physical activity, and do not the health benefits of improved air quality.

Read more about CDC recommendations for Improving Health through Transportation Policy

Read more about FHWA Non-motorized Transportation Pilot Program

Biking and Walking are Affordable Transportation Options that Create Ladders of Opportunity

The American Automobile Association’s (AAA) annual study “Your Driving Costs” showed in 2013 that owning and operating a motor vehicle in the United States continues to become more expensive. Based on driving 15,000 miles per year, depending on vehicle type, owning and operating a vehicle can cost an average of 60.8 cents per mile or $9,722 per year. Safe non-motorized transportation options, combined with access to public transportation, are critical components of a transportation network that connects people— especially low-income households—with jobs, education, and essential services, providing “ladders of opportunity."

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USDOT Responsibility

U.S. DOT includes several Agencies or Operating Administrations, each with a specific focus and authority. These include the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Federal Transit Administration (FTA), Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration (FMCSA), Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), and others. Each of these agencies is participating in the effort to improve bicycling and pedestrian safety, and each has particular roles and responsibilities in this effort.

Federal Highway Administration

FHWA provides stewardship over the construction, maintenance and preservation of the Nation’s highways, bridges and tunnels through financial and technical assistance, and guidance to State DOTs and Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs). FHWA coordinates with State DOTs to promote and facilitate the increased use of non-motorized transportation, including developing facilities for the use of pedestrians and bicyclists and public educational, promotional, and safety programs for using such facilities. FHWA has a responsibility to provide State and local agencies with guidance on safe roadway design standards. In August 2013, FHWA released a Bicycle and Pedestrian Facility Design Flexibility guidance memo that expresses the agency’s support for taking a flexible approach to bicycle and pedestrian facility design. FHWA grant funding, primarily in the form of formula grants to State DOTs and MPOs, can be used to build and improve bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. FHWA and FTA maintain a table indicating potential eligibility for bicycle and pedestrian projects under current funding opportunities.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

NHTSA ensures the safety of motor vehicles and highways through highway safety grants to States and through guidance and regulations on States, including the requirement for States to have a performance-based highway safety program designed to reduce traffic crashes, which must include performance measures and targets related to non-motorized fatalities. NHTSA maintains a bicycle safety program focus is on research, education, and enforcement of motorists', bicyclists', and pedestrians’ behavior to enhance roadway safety and reduce injuries and fatalities. NHTSA’s website includes resources and more information about safe bicycling and walking.

Read more about NHTSA resources pertaining to safe bicycling

Read more about NHTSA resources pertaining to safe walking

Federal Transit Administration

FTA provides financial and technical assistance to local public transit systems. The FTA oversees grants to state and local transit providers; multiple FTA grant programs are available to help cities and towns invest in pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, which improves mobility and helps people access public transportation. FTA maintains a list of grant programs with funding eligibility for bicycle projects.

Read more about FTA grant programs with funding eligibility for bicycle projects

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration

FMCSA prevents commercial motor vehicle-related fatalities and injuries by enforcing safety regulations, supporting research on safety information systems and safer vehicle technology, and providing States with financial assistance for roadside inspections and other commercial motor vehicle safety programs. These programs are designed to reduce commercial motor vehicle collisions, including those that involve bicyclists and pedestrians.

Federal Railroad Administration

FRA ensures the safe movement of people and goods by rail, through regulatory and inspection work, investments to develop and improve the rail network, and through research and technology development. FRA has worked to identify safety risks and to improve the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists at grade crossings, gathering information on signals, signs, and other devices used to prevent non-motorized fatalities.

U.S. DOT also manages the TIGER Discretionary Grant Program, which has funded important planning and capital investments for bicycle and pedestrian safety. Over six rounds of TIGER grants, $153 million have been awarded specifically for bicycle and pedestrian improvements, in addition to many more roadway and transit projects that included pedestrian and bicyclist amenities as one element. In the sixth round of TIGER, $25 million was awarded to New York City DOT for street safety and greenway projects that are critical components of the city’s Vision Zero safety agenda.

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Responsibility of States and Local Transportation and Enforcement Agencies

There are many agencies and individuals at the State and local jurisdictional level who have a significant role in determining how safe the transportation network will be. The decision to create and maintain a safe space in the transportation infrastructure to accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists is the responsibility of State and local transportation agencies and MPOs, who plan, design, build, and maintain the roads, sidewalks, and stations. State and local safety enforcement agencies also have a responsibility to ensure that the public is aware of safety laws and regulations, and that these laws are enforced. Finally, the elected officials for these jurisdictions can choose to sponsor and pass laws that further enhance the behavioral, infrastructural, and vehicular safety.

During this initiative, the USDOT will partner with these entities to provide tools to better help them meet their responsibilities. U.S. DOT has compiled a list of actions that our State and local partners can undertake to promote this critical safety initiative.

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Updated: Friday, January 20, 2017
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