May 24, 2023 - News

Philly roads getting more dangerous for bike riders

Bicyclist fatalities in major U.S. cities
Data: The League of American Bicyclists via NHTSA; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Philadelphia bicyclists face danger every time they're on the roadways, and now there's a troubling increase in hit-and-runs that advocates say they must worry about, too.

Driving the news: There were 2.5 fatal bicycle crashes on average for every million Philadelphia residents between 2017-2021, per data from the League of American Bicyclists via National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That's up 9% from 2012-2016, Axios' Alex Fitzpatrick and Kavya Beheraj report.

Why it matters: Bicycle use surged during the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving many cities scrambling to install new bike lanes and adopt other measures to keep riders safe and encourage cycling.

Zoom in: Last year, 35 Philadelphians were killed in hit-and-runs, more than double the fatalities of 2019, per the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, citing police data.

  • The deaths included bicyclists, pedestrians, motorcyclists, skateboarders and at least two people struck while riding electric scooters.
  • The city has tried addressing the problem by installing protected bike lanes on more than 24 miles of streets. Officials pledged to increase that to 40 miles by 2025.

What they're saying: The "trend line is going in the wrong direction," Sarah Clark Stuart, executive director of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, tells Axios.

Zoom out: Philly cyclists have fared slightly better compared to the national average. There were 2.7 fatal bicycle crashes for every million U.S. residents between 2017-2021.

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

The latest: Some of the country's best new bike lane projects are in Seattle, Portland and Bethesda, Maryland, per advocacy group PeopleForBikes.

  • Jersey City and Hoboken, meanwhile, got a shoutout for an innovative project meant to better connect the neighboring cities, which have historically been frustratingly disconnected despite their proximity and well-developed internal bike lane networks.

The intrigue: Cities are grappling not just with an upswing in traditional bicycle use, but also a boom in e-bikes used by residents, tourists and delivery workers.

  • The challenge is figuring out how to best integrate the zippier, pedal-assist bikes — do they belong in bike lanes with slower, traditional two-wheelers, or should they be among the cars and trucks, where Vespa-style scooters travel?

Reality check: Protected bike lanes and other measures designed to keep cyclists safe are often met with fierce pushback from urban drivers who lament the loss of any lanes or parking spots.

What's next: Cities nationwide are applying for state and federal money — including some set aside as part of the 2021 infrastructure law — to further develop their bike trail networks and other cycling infrastructure.

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