More and more cyclists are being killed by cars. Proponents say US streets are the problem

More and more cyclists are being killed by cars.  Proponents say US streets are the problem

One good thing that happened during the pandemic is that people took their old bikes or bought new ones and started riding them.

And across the country, cities are trying to accommodate this boom in cycling by developing more bike lanes and trails.

But despite a sharp increase in the number of fatalities and serious injuries among cyclists who are hit by cars and trucks, some cycling advocates say there is often a gap between efforts to encourage more cycling and ensure the safety of cyclists using streets. which are mainly designed to move cars and trucks. trucks fast through city districts and city centers.

Our roads weren’t always built to prioritize cars because the first vehicles to use the country’s streets weren’t cars; they were carriages and bicycles. In fact, the League of American Bicyclists has been around since 1880, way before automobiles.

“We lobbied Congress at the end of that century to get the first paved roads in the United States,” said Bill Nesper, the League’s executive director, adding that our streets didn’t become so car-centric until after World War II. became. †

“And it continues to this day, a priority of moving vehicles through places as quickly as possible,” says Nesper. “And it’s absolutely true that people moving and moving around on foot and by bike is an afterthought, you know, if it’s even thought of.”

But many cities, including Chicago, are now trying to change that.

“We’ve all had our own close calls”

Earlier this spring, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Transportation Commissioner Gia Biagi announced a new $15 million plan to develop and connect 48 new miles of bike paths and corridors, promising to “build out the most connected system of paths and corridors anywhere in the country,” as Biagi said in a recent speech to the City Club of Chicago .

That’s in addition to 125 miles of new city-street bike lanes, with the goal of having a total of 500 miles of city-wide bike lanes over the next two to three years.

“We have never built a cycling infrastructure so quickly in the history of our city,” said Biagi. And to encourage more Chicagoans to get out and about, Biagi said, “We’re going to give away 5,000 bikes to Chicago residents. Free bikes! And a helmet and a bike lock!”

The line drew applause at the civic group’s lunch, but many of those who cycle in Chicago don’t clap. In fact, they’ve been more often than not in a gloomy mood lately, as three cyclists have been hit and killed by cars in recent weeks in incidents bike advocates say could have been prevented with safer infrastructure and road design.

“I hate wearing these. I hate everything about this,” Christina Whitehouse, founder of the “Bike Lane Uprising” group, said at a recent memorial service for Gerardo Marciales. She and dozens of other cyclists joined the 41-year-old’s fiancée and family in placing a ghost bike, a bicycle painted white, at the intersection where he was killed by a driver who was using an exit lane to divert traffic ahead of him. a red light was bypassing.

“The reason so many people are here is because we’ve all had our own close calls,” Whitehouse told the crowd, nodding in agreement.

The number of cyclists hit by vehicles has increased at an alarming rate since the start of the pandemic

Whitehouse says she was painting Gerardo’s ghost bike the night before when she learned that another cyclist had been murdered across town.

“I can’t keep up with this. We’ve been buying materials for ghost bikes in droves,” Whitehouse says. “We need to refill now.”

Since the start of the pandemic, the number of cyclists hit by vehicles has increased at an alarming rate; pedestrians too. And Whitehouse and others say the problem isn’t just drivers speeding and breaking traffic rules, but the design of roads and intersections and the way infrastructure is built and maintained can put cyclists at risk.

At the scene of the second fatal collision, a motorist on a two-lane street veered over the center line and collided head-on with the cyclist driving from the opposite direction.

Amy Rynell of Chicago’s Active Transportation Alliance says that street used to have a concrete planter in the median, but the city has removed it.

“If that had been the case, that cyclist would still be alive today,” says Rynell. “So removing that infrastructure under the auspices of speeding up cars made that street much more dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists.”

Like many cities, Chicago has added bike lanes to its street pattern, painting white stripes 4 to 6 feet apart on certain roads, giving cyclists their own lane.

But Rynell says drivers often don’t respect them. She speaks from a spot on Chicago’s busiest bike street, Milwaukee Avenue, where two cyclists died riding on the bike path, one of them earlier this month.

Rynell says she drove that bike path to get there.

“Every minute I ran into a car parked in the lane, which meant it wasn’t a safe bike path for me to ride on, because I can only move forward by going into traffic,” says Rynell.

“Paint is not protection,” Whitehouse added. “It won’t stop someone from running me over.”

Bike Lane Uprising documents bike lane violations on its website and maps problem areas in the city. Volunteer members upload photos and videos of cars and trucks stopping, parking and driving on bike paths as they are commonly used by cars queuing for car washes, e-commerce and food delivery vehicles, Uber and Lyft drivers picking up and taking away riders, and even city department of transportation (DOT) and police vehicles. Violations are rarely, if ever, enforced.

Proponents say concrete curbs or barriers can better separate bike paths and protect them from speeding vehicles

Across the country, the number of cyclists who are seriously injured or killed is rising. According to the National Security Council, In 2020 1,260 cyclists lost their lives, a 16% increase from the previous year and a 44% increase over the past decade.

Preliminary figures recently released According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the number of cycling deaths will increase by another 5% by 2021.

“While a lot of infrastructure has been built in the last 20 years, such as bike paths and protected bike paths, more connected off-street paths, there are still no safe places to ride in most communities where people feel safe,” said Bill Nesper. of the League of American Bicyclists.

“We believe that (for) all our streets there is a technical solution for this,” adds Nesper.

Experts recommend at least painting bike paths green to make them stand out, and adding plastic bollards between car and bike lanes for more separation, although those posts can be easily run over by cars and trucks with little damage to the vehicle. In Chicago and other northern cities, snow plows often overturn during the winter months.

Proponents say concrete curbs or barriers can better separate bike paths and protect them from speeding cars and trucks, even if that means eliminating a lane for traffic or street parking.

Infrastructure improvements have been made in many cities to create safer conditions for cyclists

Chicago and many other cities have made such infrastructure upgrades. In fact, the city Chicago has already made traffic design changes and added safety features at two of the locations where cyclists have been hit by cars this year and plans are in the works to redesign the streetscape at the third location

And with billions in infrastructure money coming out of Washington, DC, Cycling advocates say there’s a chance much more to do.

Earlier this month, the Biden administration opened grant applications for funding made available under the new “Safe Streets and Roads for All” program Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that the president signed into law last November. The program will allocate $6 billion over five years to reducing traffic accidents and fatalities by helping cities and states identify the most dangerous corridors and intersections and prioritizing safety improvement projects that will protect pedestrians and cyclists, in addition to drivers of motor vehicles.

Improving the safety of urban transportation for all users starts with putting cyclists, pedestrians and people using scooters, e-bikes and other alternative modes of mobility on a level playing field with car and truck drivers, said PS Sriraj, director of the Urban Transportation Center from the University of Illinois-Chicago.

“There is a lack of awareness about road sharing between different modes, between drivers and cyclists,” he says.

“The US feels that modes of transport other than cars are inferior and that needs to be addressed from the start,” added Sriraj.

The way forward to creating safer transportation spaces, Sriraj says, should include what he calls “the three E’s”: education, engineering and enforcement.

“You have to educate the drivers, you have to teach the cyclists how they should use that space on that priority road,” he says. “You have to design the system to be better…and there’s the enforcement angle too,” to make sure those who break the traffic laws are held accountable.

But he adds that city planners have to walk a delicate line in balancing the need to build safe cycling infrastructure at a time when traffic congestion is getting worse because cars and trucks aren’t going away anytime soon.

“It’s easy to say that you need to create car-free zones and a draconian policy (that restricts or disables driving),” says Sriraj. (But) they will never happen. Not in this country.”

“We just need to find a way out of the situation based on some common sensible goals.”

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