May 19, 2023 - News

San Francisco sees decline in cyclist fatalities per capita

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

As San Francisco inches closer to its stated vow to eliminate traffic fatalities by 2024, a new analysis shows the city has some of the lowest rates of bicyclist fatalities per capita among major U.S. cities.

Why it matters: Bicycle use exploded 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.

  • Cycling is tied to myriad associated benefits for city residents, including cleaner air and better public health.

What's happening: There were 1.4 fatal bicycle crashes on average for every million San Francisco residents between 2017-21, per data from the League of American Bicyclists via National Highway Traffic Safety Administration β€” down 58% from 2012-16 averages.

Zoom in: San Francisco residents take about 128,000 bicycle trips daily, with 16% of residents identifying as "frequent cyclists" who bike two or more days a week, according to city estimates.

  • The city has more than 43 miles of protected bike lanes, adding the first protected bike lane in the Financial District in December.
  • In 2014, San Francisco committed to eliminating traffic-related deaths by 2024 as part of its "Vision Zero" plan.

Yes, but: The fatality of cyclist Ethan Boyes, who died after a driver struck him while he was riding his bike on Arguello Boulevard in the Presidio in April, reignited calls for protected bike lanes on Arguello and better bike infrastructure throughout the city.

What they're saying: "The single most effective thing the City can do to increase safety is build protected bike lanes and protected intersections," Luke Bornheimer, a sustainable transportation advocate, told Axios San Francisco in a text message. "It’s also the most cost effective thing the City can do and will increase the number of people riding bikes for transportation (sustainable mode shift/share)."

  • The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency acknowledges "any traffic injury or death is unacceptable and that much more is needed," spokesperson Stephen Chun told Axios via email.
  • The SFMTA, Chun added, is working to add about five to 10 miles of additional protected bike lanes this year and is facilitating the creation of a community plan to guide SFMTA's future investments.

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.

Zoom out: Nationwide, there were 2.7 fatal bicycle crashes on average for every million U.S. residents between 2017-21 β€” up 5% from 2012-16.

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

What to watch: San Francisco began construction on the center-running protected bike lane on Valencia Street in April.

  • Meanwhile, amid calls for protected bike infrastructure on Arguello, the SFMTA and the Presidio Trust this month developed a plan to add protected bike lanes along the corridor, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.

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