Whose safety? The race of Detroit bicycle & pedestrian fatalities

Studies show that building Complete Streets designed for safer bicyclist and pedestrian travel saves lives. Complete Streets even reduce crashes for motorists by reducing bad behavior.

Studies show that adding on-road bike lanes can cut bicycle-vehicle collisions in half. Bike lanes, bump outs, and medians also reduce pedestrian collisions by effectively shortening the crosswalks.

Complete Streets are invaluable in Detroit given the large number of people dying on our roads each year.

In 2015, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found Detroit has 6.79 pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 residents — the most of any major U.S. city. That 58% higher than second place Dallas with 4.31. Absolutely unacceptable.

They also reported Detroit’s bicycle fatality rate at 1.48 per 100,000 residents, which is for 26th among the 34 largest U.S. cities. Since bicycle fatalities fluctuate more year to year, we’re not sure how valuable this ranking is.

NHTSA also keeps all road fatalities in their Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) that includes race. We thought it would be interesting to see how bicycle and pedestrian fatalities aligned with Detroit’s overall demographics.

As it turns out, they align very closely.

2010-2016 Detroit Bicycle and Pedestrian Fatalities

 All Residents (2010)Fatalities
Black83%84%
White8%8%
Latino7%5%

Looking at just bicyclists, there were 20 fatalities in Detroit between 2010 and 2016. Among them, 17 were Black (89%), 1 was Mexican, 1 was White/Non-Hispanic, and 1 was unknown.

The average age among these fatalities? 46 years old. 73% are men though that is trending downward.

Some have said we’re building Complete Streets and bike lanes for the new Detroit — a more white, more young. That’s not the case. We’re building them for all, but especially to decrease road fatalities.

The data shows we have a great opportunity to do that.

Detroit Needs Complete and Safer Streets Now

Worst US Cities for Pedestrian FatalitiesLast month the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released their 2013 Traffic Safety Facts for Pedestrians report.

The statistics are grim. Every two hours a pedestrian is killed in the U.S. Fourteen percent of all road fatalities are pedestrians and that continues to trend upwards.

Among U.S. cities above 500,000 people, Detroit has the highest pedestrian fatality rate. It’s not even close. With 6.1 fatalities per 100,000 people, Detroit is well above second-place Jacksonville at 3.92.

Sadly enough, Detroit fatality rate has risen every year since 2010 when it was “only” 3.2 fatalities per 100,000.

This is a major public safety issue that everyone has a role in solving.

  • Last year Detroit City Council updated and modernized its traffic ordinances – a good first step. We expect them to take up a Complete Streets ordinance this year that makes the city consider all modes of transportation when reconstructing roadst.
  • To its credit, the Department of Public Works has been building Complete Streets projects in high-crash areas. As the statistics show, more work needs to be done. Even adding more bike lanes and road diets can help reduce speeding and make it easier for pedestrians to cross Detroit’s often wide streets.
  • Improvements in public lighting should also help reduce pedestrian crashes. Since 2010, over 80% of Detroit’s pedestrian fatalities have occurred at night and nearly half of those were in unlit areas.
  • We urge Mayor Mike Duggan to join the other 177 cities that have already signed on to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Mayors’ Challenge. This is a nationwide effort to create more seamless, convenient and safe biking and walking communities. The city with the worst pedestrian fatality rate needs to be at this table.
  • Residents and businesses should commit to clearing snow and ice from their sidewalks. During the summer, sidewalks should be cleared of debris and vegetation trimmed for good sight lines. Pedestrians are more likely to use sidewalks when they feel safe on them.
  • impact-of-speed-on-pedestrians1And lastly, all motorists need to use extra caution around pedestrians and bicyclists. Everyone needs to drive the speed limit. A “harmless” five MPH over is not harmless. At 20 MPH, a pedestrian has a 5% chance of being killed. It’s 45% at 30 MPH and 85% at 40 MPH. Unlike the Metro Detroit suburbs, most city streets have low posted speed limits. We’d like to see more people following them. Speed does kill.

Detroit has the basic underlying structure for a very walkable city. We just need to make sure it’s safe for everyone in every neighborhood. It’s about quality of life, social equity, and public health – and it needs to be everyone’s priority.

We submitted the above commentary nearly a couple weeks ago to one of Detroit’s major papers. That paper never returned our emails or voice mail, so we decided to publish it ourselves. That paper did publish their own commentary on the “full-blown public safety emergency” of potholes and bridges — neither of which can match the 312 pedestrians and 26 bicyclists killed on Detroit roads during the past decade.