Bicyclists and pedestrian fatalities were up nationally in 2011, according to newly released data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) 2011 annual report on traffic fatalities. This increase in fatalities comes as cycling and walking modes have increased over the past decade, but also as investments in safe street infrastructure haven’t kept up with these changing travel habits. A recent TSTC analysis, found that state departments of transportation only spend an average of 2 percent of their federal and state dollars on bike-ped infrastructure, even though twelve percent of trips in the United States are on bike or foot. As a result, cyclists and pedestrians make up a disproportionate amount of total traffic fatalities (16%).
But how much should federal and state governments spend on this type of infrastructure?
One could argue that the share of transportation dollars directed toward each mode should match each mode’s share of trips. Or, morbid as it may seem, government agencies could use its “value of life” metric that determines how much money they should spend on safety. The U.S Department of Transportation has valued a life at around $6 million. With 5,109 bicyclist and pedestrian fatalities in 2011, one could make the argument that states should be spending roughly $30 billion on traffic calming infrastructure like bike lanes and pedestrian islands. As much as safe streets advocates would be thrilled with this level of funding, $30 billion for cycling and walking infrastructure is clearly unrealistic, but nonetheless, the $2.17 per capita, or $700 million nationwide according to the Alliance for Biking and Walking’s 2012 Benchmarking Report, is clearly insufficient to meet the safe roadway needs.
Ivan Vamos of the New York Bicycling Coalition has proposed another method of aligning infrastructure spending with how much these crashes cost the health care system. Using New York State Department of Health data, Vamos estimates that annual hospital and health care costs for bicycle and pedestrian traffic injuries and deaths in New York State are $5.39 for every dollar spent on bike-ped improvements. NYS Department of Health data shows that cyclists and pedestrians have higher average medical costs than vehicular accidents, and that a good portion of those costs (12 percent or $60 million) are picked up by Medicaid, Medicare, Veterans Affairs health care, and correction facilities.
Regardless of the cost-benefit determination, at a time when bicycle and pedestrian fatalities are increasing, states must do more to improve safety for all users of the roads. Doing so will not only save lives, but save money in the long run.