Report summarizes Wisconsin bicycle and pedestrian crash circumstances

By Robbie Webber

A report released by University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee researcher Robert Schneider looks at crashes involving pedestrians and bicyclists throughout Wisconsin from 2011-2013 to determine the conditions behind the most serious crashes, those resulting in fatalities and serious injuries. Schneider details the type of roadway, time of day, traffic controls, presence of bicycle or pedestrian facilities, and direction of travel for the parties involved. He also looked at age and gender and whether alcohol was involved.

The study, funded by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation Bureau of Transportation Safety, made engineering recommendations for crash hot spots as well as education, evaluation, and enforcement programs that could reduce the number of crashes.

Schneider also used historical data and past studies to determine trends in crashes. Pedestrian fatalities and severe injuries have declined even as the state’s population and the number of people commuting by foot both have increased, resulting in a lower rate per 100,000 population or 1,000 commuters. The decline in bicyclist fatalities and severe injuries per 1,000 commuters has been even more dramatic. As more people bicycle to work, the overall safety for these riders has increased. This finding—that more pedestrians and bicyclists on the roads make walking and bicycling safer modes of transportation for everyone—has been borne out by multiple studies.

bike crash reduction

Although crashes occurred in all types of environments, from rural to urban, and 2-lane to multilane, Schneider found that hot spots for both pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities and severe injuries had a number of characteristics. They tended to be multilane arterials with speed limits above 30 mph, many driveways, bus stops, and mixed-use development. They also featured additional turn lanes that allow greater traffic capacity and allow drivers to maintain faster speeds.  Although these location were signalized corridors, the majority of severe crashes happened between signals, at non-signalized intersections. Schneider theorizes that the mixed land uses and bus stops are associated with higher levels of pedestrian and bicycle activity, but the hot spots are also more complex environments for drivers to negotiate.

Engineering recommendations included slowing speeds, eliminating dedicated turn lanes, and reducing crossing distances for pedestrians, as well as improving crosswalk visibility and adding sidewalks on both sides of the road. For bicyclists, some of the same solutions are recommended in addition to paved shoulders in rural areas and bike lanes in urban and suburban areas, since many crash locations did not have these features.

Schneider notes that there is not good information on exposure in any of the environments associated with crashes. Since pedestrian or bicycle counts are mostly lacking, it is unclear if the hot spots found were due to more bicyclists and pedestrians being present or due to environmental and engineering conditions. This is especially true in his discussion of the drop in crashes involving younger bicyclists (defined here as under age 20), which went from 62 percent of bicycle crashes in 2003, to only 33 percent between 2011 and 2013.  This change may reflect improvements in young bicyclist education and behavior, reductions in bicycling by this age group, or increases in bicycling by other age groups.

Deep analysis of data such as this does not happen frequently. Typologies of bicycle and pedestrian crashes—including roadway configuration, direction of travel, and turning movements involved—can help determine engineering solutions as well as inform education and enforcement efforts to keep all road users safe.

Both the executive summary  and the full study can be downloaded from the Wisconsin DOT website.

Robbie Webber is a Senior Associate at SSTI.