Two reports examine progress and challenges for biking and walking

By Robbie Webber

The Alliance for Biking and Walking has released its biennial benchmarking report, providing a wealth of information on programs, policies, data, and case studies from all 50 states, the 50 largest U.S. cities, plus 18 additional medium-sized cities. At the same time, a report from the Governors Highway Safety Association released a report on the alarming rise in pedestrian fatalities from 2014 to 2015.

The Alliance will be a helpful resource for policymakers, researchers, advocates, and the media looking for comparisons across the country and also across time. The Alliance has issued a similar report every two years since 2003, and the 2016 report includes information from the earlier years to allow users to see trends.

In addition to data and rankings on biking and walking modes, safety, health outcomes, demographics, state and city policies and programs, legislation, and spending levels, the report includes useful case studies. These highlight best practices and outcomes in a wide range of policy areas and efforts by state and local governments, private companies, non-profits, and social service agencies.

This year’s report provides especially useful information on equity, health, and economic development topics. Case studies examining how to make active transportation both attractive and safe for populations that are often underserved and underrepresented get a starring role in the report.

At the same time that the Alliance benchmarking report celebrates progress and examines continuing challenges to improved biking and walking, the Governors Highway Safety Association reported a 10 percent rise in pedestrian fatalities nationwide. “We are projecting the largest year-to-year increase in pedestrian fatalities since national records have been kept, and therefore we are quite alarmed,” said report author Richard Retting of Sam Schwartz Consulting. For the first time in 25 years, pedestrians will make up 15 percent of all traffic fatalities. Some states reported even worse increases, with Utah seeing a 60 percent rise in pedestrian fatalities.

Over the last 10 years, pedestrians have made up an increasing share of traffic deaths, even as more people are walking, and auto deaths have generally decreased. Distracted walking and driving, safer vehicles while pedestrians remain vulnerable, and recent cheap gas and an improving economy have all been blamed for the recent jump.

Four states with large populations—Florida, New York, California, and Texas—make up 42 percent of all pedestrian fatalities nationally, although they only comprise 33 percent of the U.S. population. In the state of New York 24 percent of all traffic fatalities are pedestrians—the highest share in the country—although the state has a low rate of fatalities based on mode share. Florida still tops the list of states that have the highest number of fatalities based on commute mode share, with 39 pedestrian deaths per 100,000 walking commuters, while Vermont, South Dakota, and Alaska have only 3 deaths per 100,000.

These two reports, both released in the last two weeks, show the opportunities as well as the continuing challenges to increasing active transportation. However, both reports also highlight the importance of walking and biking for transportation choice, equity, health, and economic development.

Robbie Webber is a Senior Associate at SSTI.