The release of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) annual report on traffic fatalities made the news last week for one significant reason: for the first time since 2005 the number of people killed on U.S. roads increased - up 3.3 percent from 2011.
What does this mean for those of us who walk or bike for our daily transportation needs?
The NHTSA data finds that pedestrians and bicyclists accounted for nearly a third of the increase in deaths (327 out of 1082) over 2011. This is the third straight year that walking fatalities have increased and the second for biking. And the increase has been particularly marked in the past 12 months - up 6.5 percent for people walking and 6.4 percent for people riding bikes.
It is troubling to see that not enough is being done to protect those of us who walk and bike for our mobility needs.
In an effort to better understand what these numbers tell us about broader transportation patterns, we took a closer look at the NHTSA data over the past few days, and here a few key takeaways.
People are driving less. Americans are increasingly choosing to avoid single occupancy car trips, whether that means carpooling, walking or biking, transit, or just keeping close to home.
People are walking and biking more. It is terrific to see the explosive growth in walking and biking in communities of all sizes, as we have so much to gain in terms of our health, wealth and well-being.
Walking and biking are both extremely safe activities, but for conflicts with cars. And here is the rub: designing transportation systems that reflect the fact that cars are not the only way to get around is a key to addressing overall safety.
On the whole, we have not realigned our transportation spending to match what we now know about how Americans are choosing to travel. Our everyday patterns of movement are changing, but our transportation investments in many places are still driven by outmoded assumptions, that more roads to move cars at faster speeds are the only solution to our mobility needs.
As we see in this new data, this misalignment has public safety implications. It makes even more pressing the need to align transportation policy and investment with current trends in how people travel. Increased investment in safe places to walk and ride, especially trail networks and complete streets, are the primary antidote to the tragedy of high pedestrian and bike fatality rates.