Home > Archived: Reduce Pedestrian and Bicyclist Fatalities

Archived: Reduce Pedestrian and Bicyclist Fatalities

The chart above (Figure 1) shows the total annual pedestrian (including people using mobility assistive devices such as wheelchairs) and bicyclist fatalities in Washington state compared to the Target Zero reduction goal. In order to reach zero pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities by 2030, the number of fatalities will need to be reduced by 8 to 9 per year between 2017 and 2030. Figure 2 shows the annual pedestrian fatalities and the annual bicyclist fatalities separately. Bicyclist and pedestrian fatalities have increased slightly since 2000. However, the numbers of people walking and biking may also have increased; preliminary results from counters in Bainbridge Island, Bellevue, Lacey, Redmond, Spokane and Wenatchee indicate a 12% increase in biking and walking between 2015 and 2016 (the latest data point available) alone.

Supplemental Information
Why is this a priority?

Walking and biking are part of a balanced and efficient transportation system. Many Washingtonians walk or bike out of necessity as well as by choice. Pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities are 20% of all traffic fatalities in Washington state, but fewer than 20% of trips in Washington are made by bicycle or on foot. This indicates a need to identify and address factors that lead to crashes that result in pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities and serious injuries.

Walking and biking make the transportation system more sustainable and provide healthy transportation options for citizens and communities. Bicycling and walking infrastructure is essential to support people who bike or walk for transportation and who use these modes to access transit. Research shows that designing for pedestrians and bicyclists also reduces the likelihood of crashes for people taking transit and driving, reducing crash potential for all road users. Research also shows that people are more likely to bike and walk in environments where they feel reasonably safe and secure while doing so.

In many cases, relatively low-cost solutions can lower pedestrian crash potential. Road reconfigurations that restripe a road to reduce the number or width of general purpose lanes reduce crossing distance and the time a pedestrian or bicyclist is exposed to traffic. Road reconfigurations may also include adding bicycle lanes, access control, or making space for crosswalk median islands that reduce conflict with vehicles. These reconfigurations may help to reduce vehicle speeds as well as separate pedestrians and bicyclists from heavier and faster vehicles, reducing the likelihood of fatalities and serious injuries should a crash occur. Reducing pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities and serious injuries will move us closer to reaching Washington's Highway Safety Plan goals and Target Zero. This measure also aligns with the goals for reducing these fatalities and injuries in Washington State's Bicycle Facilities and Pedestrian Walkways Plan.

Providing bicycling and walking infrastructure supports a prosperous economy by improving access to goods, services, transit, and employment centers. As part of a vibrant community, such infrastructure has also been shown to increase the real estate value of nearby commercial and residential properties. In addition, bicycling and walking are less expensive than driving, and provide options for lower income and less mobile residents and visitors.

How are we doing?

The number of pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities increasedfrom 105 in 2016 to 122 in 2017. The majority of these fatalities werepedestrians - there were 109 pedestrian fatalities in 2017, an increase from 88in 2016. Bicyclist fatalities decreased in 2017, dropping to 13 from 17bicyclist fatalities in 2016. The number of pedestrian and bicyclist seriousinjuries decreased by 7% between 2016 and 2017, from 496 to 461.

Certain age groups are over-represented in bicyclist andpedestrian fatalities. From 2013 through 2017, persons in their 20’s made up14% of the population, but were involved in 18% of fatal non-motorist trafficincidents. Income also correlates with the risk of a fatal crash. From 2013through 2017, locations with poverty rates above Washington's average saw 59%offatal injury crashes involving pedestrians and bicyclists, even though theseareas are home to only 43% of the state's population.

WSDOT is collecting data in order to improve its understandingof bicyclist and pedestrian travel. In addition to data from counters, whichtrack how many people are biking and walking in specific locations, WSDOT usesdata from crashes to increase its understanding of how driver, bicyclist andpedestrian actions, as well as design factors, can affect the probability of acrash. As interactions between drivers, bicyclists and pedestriansincrease,this understanding will become increasingly important in identifyingand addressing the factors that contribute to these crashes.

Getting to the Target Zero goal for pedestrians and bicyclists means focusing on exposure, vehicle speeds and crossing opportunities:

  • Volume exposure: Locations with both high vehicle traffic and large numbers of pedestrians and/or bicyclists in places not well designed for managing multiple modes have a higher potential for conflicts (situations involving two or more road users in which a collision would take place unless at least one of the road users took action to avoid it). The more conflicts, the greater the potential for crashes involving multiple modes. However, evidence from research published in the 2004 Journal of Injury Prevention suggests that when pedestrian and bicyclist volumes are high drivers will often adjust their behaviors to accommodate the mix of the modes. The likelihood that a given person walking or bicycling will be struck by a motorist goes down as the amount of walking/bicycling goes up; this is referred to as the “safety in numbers” effect.
  • Speed and severity exposure: The faster a driver is traveling, the higher the likelihood that the crash will result in a fatality or serious injury. Between 2013 and 2017, the majority of fatal and serious injury crashes statewide involving pedestrians (74%) and bicyclists (69%) occurred on roads with a posted speed of 30 mph or greater. A recent National Transportation Safety Board study pointed to the need for greater attention to driving speed, emphasizing “safety over speed” through a multimodal approach to establishing speed limits, design changes, and targeted enforcement practices and technology. Transportation agencies continue to search for new ways to use design and operational measures to get drivers to reduce speeds consistently in contexts where people are walking and bicycling.
  • Event Exposure: The longer it takes a pedestrian or bicyclist to cross the roadway or the more times a bicyclist or pedestrian is exposed to traffic conflicts from turning or exiting (by crossing driveways or intersections, for example), the higher the crash potential. Wider crossings at intersections increase crossing times for all pedestrians, and to a higher extent for very young, elderly or disabled road users. Sixty-two percent of fatal crashes in Washington between 2013 and 2017 involving a person walking or biking occurred while the person was crossing the road. Sixty-six percent of those crashes occurred where there was no crosswalk or crosswalk markings. The availability of pedestrian/bicyclist crossing facilities(designed specific to the needs of the road conditions)that do not require people to go out of their way to reach their destinations are essential parts of the transportation network.

In conditions where visibility is lower, crash potential may increase. It is important for all road users to recognize and understand how human factors affect visibility (e.g, perception, reaction, speed recognition) for all road users. Drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians all need information about actions they might take or consider in different conditions and roadway contexts.

Speed also contributes to event exposure. The faster a driver is traveling, the longer their stopping distance will be, and the harder it will be to react to the presence of a pedestrian or bicyclist quickly enough to avoid a crash. The ability of pedestrians and bicyclists to react to vehicles is also affected by the driver’s speed. In addition, motorists traveling at higher speeds are less likely to see pedestrians and bicyclists on the side of the road due to a narrowing of peripheral vision. Higher speeds make it more difficult for motorists to perceive other road users and react in time to prevent a crash. Pedestrians and bicyclists are more likely to underestimate a vehicle’s speed (and thus fail to move out of the path of a vehicle quickly enough) when the driver is traveling fast, or when visibility is poor.

Behaviors that impair judgement (using drugs or alcohol, or being distracted) are also leading contributing factors in crashes. A 2015 NHTSA analysis of vehicle crash causation found that 94 percent of crashes are caused by driver behaviors (recognition errors, decision errors, and performance errors).

What are we working on?

There are a multitude of variables involved in fatal and serious injury crashes (see https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812115 for details). WSDOT’s focus is on addressing the contributing factors that lead to crashes without assigning fault. The following strategies are ways in which WSDOT and its partners are working to reduce bicyclist and pedestrian serious injuries and fatalities:

  • Practical Solutions– Implementing multi-modal planning, design and operations that consider transportation and land use interactions through engagement of local partners and community members as well as through data-driven decision-making. By doing so, bicyclist and pedestrian considerations are accounted for, and designs can explicitly focus on reducing the three areas of bicyclist and pedestrian exposure. This process requires fully understanding the context and characteristics of locations, and using land use and community needs to guide design choices.
  • Education – Working internally to provide WSDOT staff with multi-modal, Practical Solutions and Safe Transportation for Every Pedestrian trainings. WSDOT is coordinating with partners and citizens to raise awareness about driver, bicyclist and pedestrian behavioral actions that can increase the risk of a crash (such as speeding, drug and alcohol impairment and distraction).The agency is also developing a future update to the state driver’s manual in partnership with the Department of Licensing. Additionally, WSDOT is working on raising awareness of other human factors related to visibility, age, and modal capabilities.
  • Research--Proactively using results from available data and expanding research to increase the use of new countermeasures designed to reduce pedestrian and bicycle fatalities and serious injuries. WSDOT is revising transportation priorities in light of new advances, and taking a fresh look at the trade-offs needed to achieve our Target Zero goals. WSDOT will continue to look closely at the conditions and contributing factors leading to crashes in order to help select counter measures and make recommendations to our partner agencies. Additionally, WSDOT is collecting data and working to understand the number of trips taken by walking or biking as well as the trends associated with those trips. The Pedestrian Safety Advisory Council and the Cooper Jones Bicyclist Safety Advisory Council will both develop recommendations based on reviews of contributing factors and the results of new research.
  • Planning– Updating the State Active Transportation Plan to address policies and practices that support safe, comfortable and complete connections for people walking and biking. WSDOT is coordinating this update with other modal plans and with the Washington Transportation Plan so that safety for pedestrians and bicyclists is addressed in every transportation plan.
How can you help?

For additional information about pedestrian and bicyclist safety, see WSDOT's quarterly accountability report,the Gray Notebook 69, pp. 11-15.

For more information about Washington's Safe Routes to School program.

For more information about WSDOT's Active Transportation Programs.

For more information on Washington's Target Zero program.