A report released earlier this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlights both the health benefits of cycling and the potential risks. As the report notes, “only about 1% of trips across all modes of transportation” are made by bicycle here in the United States, but the number of deaths associated with cycling remains disproportionately high – and in some places much higher than in others.
The report examines nearly 30,000 cyclist deaths on American roads over a 38 year period – 1975 to 2012 – and leads with some good news: “annual cyclist fatalities declined from a high of 955 in 1975 to 717 in 2012” with the proportion of cyclist deaths among all motor vehicle-involved fatalities dropping from 2.3 to 1.4 percent from 1975 to 2003. In the decade since, however, the figure has risen back to 2.2 percent – meaning that proportionately we are pretty much where we started 40 years ago.
A table accompanying the CDC news release shows that over the period measured by the study fatal Oregon bicycle and car accidents have fallen by 45.9% – a figure that places our state 35th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The greatest improvement was shown by Vermont, where fatalities dropped by more than 82%. Florida (9.7%) and Wyoming (6.7%) had the worst improvement rates.
A middling result for Oregon is both disappointing and a little bit surprising considering all of the effort Portland and the Oregon have invested in making our city and state bike-friendly. The lesson, perhaps, should be that it is important for all of us to redouble our efforts – for lawmakers to invest more in bike infrastructure (particularly bike lanes genuinely separated from motorized traffic), for activists to keep the issue in the public eye and for drivers to pay closer attention to bike riders (no one is eager to be facing an Oregon wrongful death suit as a result of his or her own carelessness behind the wheel).
As a Portland bike community attorney I am always proud of the efforts our city and state have made to make Oregon a bike-friendly state, but that does not mean that any of us can rest on our accomplishments. As the CDC study shows, much work remains to be done. It is disappointing to read that after so much progress from the 1970s through the early years of this century the country as a whole has lost ground where bicycle safety is concerned. Let all of us take that disappointment as a summons to improve bike safety here in Oregon and around the country.
Tampa Tribune: Florida’s bike death rate highest in nation