Throughout the United States, cities are experiencing an unprecedented increase in bicycle use. Fifty years after the country’s major investment in an interstate highway system, many city dwellers are trying to take the streets back from vehicles with traffic proposals designed to improve safety and congestion for cyclists and pedestrians. Many of these proposals, which have spread like a wave through California, advocate the creation of new bicycle lanes at the expense of parking spaces and vehicle lanes. Many residents oppose these plans in fear that they will lead to an increase in traffic congestion, but recent studies have shown that similar bike-friendly programs have reduced accident deaths for cyclists and motorists alike.
The most important benefit of the complete streets proposals is their potential to reduce traffic deaths for cyclists, pedestrians, and motorists alike. A recent study published in the journal Environmental Practice found that the most bike-friendly cities report the lowest rate of bike accident deaths. Cities with many cyclists, for example, reported 2.5 bike deaths per 100,000 residents, compared to 9 deaths per 100,000 people in low bike traffic cities. And by promoting a “share the road” attitude among all commuters, city officials have predicted that the projects will also help to reduce traffic fatalities for pedestrians and motorists.
Complete streets projects have enormous potential to increase traffic efficiency and reduce traffic accident deaths. But in order for them to be successful, city officials should improve outreach skills to minimize public opposition to these measures that have such clear potential.
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