May 19, 2023 - News

As Chicago bike use rises, so do fatalities

Bicyclist fatalities in major U.S. metro areas
The League of American Bicyclists via NHTSA; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios (edited)

Chicago saw 2.6 fatal bicycle crashes on average for every million residents from 2017 to 2021, per data from the League of American Bicyclists via National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

  • That's up 19% from the same average for 2012-2016.

Why it matters: Bicycle use spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving many cities scrambling to install new bike lanes and adopt other measures to keep riders safe while encouraging cycling, Axios' Alex Fitzpatrick reports.

  • Biking is linked to better air quality, lighter traffic and better health for city residents.
  • And it's National Bike Month.

Zoom out: Chicago bike fatality averages fall just under the nation's 2.7 per million average for 2017-2021.

  • New Orleans (9.9), Tucson (8.9) and Jacksonville (7.9) had the country's highest rates of fatal accidents per million residents.

Driving the news: Bike-share use has expanded nationwide and in Chicago, where Divvy saw a record high of more than 6.3 million bike and scooter trips last year. That's a 60% increase over 2019 levels, per the city's Department of Transportation.

  • This year, ridership is up nearly 40% year over year.

Zoom in: In bike safety circles, "low-stress" bikeways (protected lanes, off-street trails or lanes on quieter streets) are seen as the key to increasing bike safety and participation.

  • Today about half of Chicagoans live within a half-mile of a "low-stress" bikeway.

The intrigue: Chicago, like many other U.S. cities, is also dealing with a boom in e-bikes used by residents, tourists and delivery workers.

  • It's still not clear whether they belong in bike lanes with slower, traditional two-wheelers, or among the cars and trucks, where Vespa-style scooters travel.

What's next: This spring the city released an updated plan aiming to add 150 miles of bikeway in "the next few years" — 85% of which would be "low-stress."

  • The city estimates that once complete, 70% of residents will live within a half-mile of a low-stress place to bike.
  • This month the city is also promoting free bike safety lessons.

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