May 18, 2023 - News

Seattle area sees increase in bike deaths per capita

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

There were 2.8 fatal bicycle crashes on average for every million Seattle-area residents between 2017-2021 — a 15% increase over the previous five years, per data from the League of American Bicyclists via the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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.

  • Such projects have gained renewed urgency as bike-sharing platforms such as Lime in Seattle and Divvy Bikes in Chicago have become popular options for quick A-to-B hops around cities nationwide.
  • Cycling is tied to myriad associated benefits for city residents, including cleaner air and better public health.

Zoom out: There were 2.7 fatal bicycle crashes on average for every million U.S. residents between 2017-2021 — up 5% from 2012-2016.

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

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

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, however, 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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