May 23, 2023 - News

Raleigh sees large drop in bicyclist fatalities

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

Bicyclist fatalities in Raleigh have fallen significantly over the past decade, according to the League of American Bicyclists via National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — but there's still much room for improvement when it comes to making the city friendlier to cyclists.

  • Raleigh had less than one bicycle crash fatality on average for every million of the city's residents between 2017 and 2021, down from 2.3 the previous five-year period — a more than 60% drop.
  • Data for Durham was not included.

Why it matters: Bicycle use exploded during the pandemic, leaving many cities scrambling to install new bike lanes and adopt other measures to keep riders safe and encourage cycling, which is tied to myriad associated benefits for city residents, including cleaner air and better public health, Axios' Alex Fitzpatrick reports.

  • Our city's fatality numbers show that, for the most part, Raleigh has been succeeding in keeping riders safe.
  • Still, fewer than 1% of Raleigh metro area residents use a bicycle as their main mode of transportation to work, WRAL reported.

Yes, but: Walk Score, which aims to help people assess transportation and walkability when choosing where to live, has rated Raleigh car-dependent because most errands require a car, giving the city a "bikeability" score of just 39 out of 100.

  • Raleigh's bikeshare program was suspended in April and will reopen with a new vendor in June, the city announced last week.
  • Durham's bikescore was just 38. Chapel Hill's was 50 and Carrboro had the highest in the Triangle at 58.

Worth noting: Pedestrian deaths, however, have been on the rise. Deaths spiked last year, making 2022 the deadliest of the last eight years for pedestrians.

State of play: 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.

  • And a way to travel to Triangle cities by bike is in the works, with numerous agencies planning a 17-mile, shared-use path linking Raleigh, Cary, Morrisville, Research Triangle Park, Durham, and Chapel Hill along the I-40 and NC54 corridor.

By the numbers: Between 2007 to 2019, there were 474 crashes along or near the future bikeway's corridor, according to the Triangle Bikeway Study — most of which occurred near UNC-Chapel Hill or N.C. State.

  • 12 crashes resulted in injuries, and eight were fatal.
  • Raleigh has also averaged around one crash involving a cyclist every week this year, WRAL reported.

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

  • New Jersey's 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.

Zoom in: The number of bike lanes in Raleigh jumped 3,000 percent between 2009 — when the city had just four miles of bike lanes — and 2021, with 124 miles of bike lanes, the bikeway study found.

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.

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.

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