According to data released by the NJ Division of Highway Traffic Safety, 2008 has seen the highest number of bicyclist fatalities in the state in at least six years. Director Pam Fischer announced yesterday that 21 cyclists were killed through December 17 of this year – up from 11 fatalities each in 2006 and 2007. The 91% spike in bicyclist fatalities contrasts starkly with a 21% decline in overall traffic deaths from 2006 to 2008.
MTR called Highway Traffic Safety to confirm these numbers, which differ slightly from some published reports. Officials from Highway Traffic Safety said that most of the victims were adults, and that most of the crashes occurred in the state’s urbanized areas. Those officials speculated that the slow economy and fluctuating gas prices have encouraged increasing numbers of New Jerseyans to bicycle for local errands and to commute to work.
In response, Highway Traffic Safety has planned new programs to educate adults about safe bicycling and to increase helmet use. These are a good step in the right direction, but bicyclists need safer roads too. New Jersey’s bike-friendly infrastructure has been making progress in recent years, but has not been keeping pace with the growth in cycling. According to TSTC’s Skimping on Sidewalks report, NJDOT will spend less of its capital budget on bicycle/pedestrian projects in fiscal year 2009 than it did in FYs 2007 and 2008.
Bicycling is an inexpensive and environmentally-friendly way to get around – New Jersey needs to ensure that it is safe as well.