State of Bicycling & Walking in the United States
The Alliance for Biking and Walking began using the Benchmarking Report on Bicycling and Walking in the United States (Benchmarking Report) to track data on these two modes of transportation in 2007. This is the sixth edition of the Benchmarking Report and the first edition published by the League of American Bicyclists (the League). The League is proud to continue this publication to provide a resource for practitioners and partners interested in making biking and walking better.
Based on the data available from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more people died in 2016 while bicycling and walking than in any year in a quarter century. Over the course of the six editions of the Benchmarking Report, the 3-year average for bicyclist fatalities increased by 102 deaths to 795 (a 14.7% increase) and the 3-year average for pedestrian fatalities has increased by 767 deaths to 5,464 (a 16.3% increase).
The increase in bicyclist and pedestrian deaths exceeds a general increase in traffic fatalities. In 2007, the first year the Benchmarking Report was published, people who biked and walked made up 12.9% of traffic fatalities. The most recent available data, from 2016, show that people who bike and walk now make up 18.2% of traffic fatalities. Although efforts have been made to improve conditions for people who bike and walk, this trend points to a continued need to boost safety.
Despite increases in bicyclist and pedestrian fatalities nationwide, some states and cities experienced more people bicycling and walking – and fewer fatalities. For example, Oregon has the nation’s lowest rate of bicyclist fatalities per bike commuter (1.7 deaths per 10,000 bicycle commuters), with a 30.9% decrease in the number of bicyclist fatalities (from an average of 11 deaths per year from 2007-11 to 7.6 deaths per year from 2012-2016) and a 46.5% increase in the number of bicycle commuters (from 29,156 in 2007 to 42,725 in 2016). This suggests that bicyclist and pedestrian fatalities are not inevitable when people bike and walk more but may be reduced through proactive policy, infrastructure, education, and other community investments in bicycling and walking.
Unfortunately, the data also points toward regional differences that have only widened during the Benchmarking project. For example, nine of the 10 most dangerous states for bicyclists are in the south and seven of the 10 most dangerous states for pedestrians are in the south (based on rates of fatalities per commuters). Between 2011 and 2016, four of those nine most dangerous southern states for bicyclists became more dangerous and six of those seven most dangerous southern states for pedestrians became more dangerous. In contrast, six of the 10 safest states for pedestrians are in the midwest and 6 of the 10 safest states for bicyclists are in the west (based on rates of fatalities per commuters).
The Benchmarking Report tracks four chronic diseases that can be managed or prevented by physical activity, such as bicycling and walking. Unfortunately, for each of these four chronic diseases, at least 42 states saw an increase in the prevalence of each disease over the course of the Benchmarking project.
At the state level, the prevalence of these conditions is associated with rates of bicycling and walking. For example, the five states where less than .2% of workers bike to work – Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and West Virginia – all appear in the top 10 for the prevalence of diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity. Physical activity can help prevent these conditions and making it easier and safer to bike and walk is likely to go a long way towards helping people be more physically active.
» RATES OF BIKING & WALKING
Over the course of the Benchmarking project, both biking and walking have become more prevalent. For bicycling, this appears to be a commute-related change. Data from the National Household Travel Survey (NHTS) shows no change in the percentage of trips by bike, but data from the American Community Survey shows a 50% increase in the rate of people biking to work. For walking, the increase appears outside of commuting to work, where a modest 8% increase in walking to work is surpassed by a 13.3% increase in the percentage of all trips by foot.
Unfortunately, more state and city data on non-commute trips by foot or bike are not available. The reported increase in pedestrian trips from the National Household Travel Survey does not indicate how walking has changed in states and cities. The data on walking to work from the American Community Survey is hard to reconcile with the increase observed in the NHTS: only 14 states saw an increase in the rate of walking to work and only five of these saw an increase larger than the increase for the national percentage of trips by foot from NHTS. More data would help to identify where trips by foot are increasing and what interventions are effective at encouraging more people to choose to walk to improve their health and physical activity.
While increases in the rate of biking to work have been widespread – 88% (44) of the 50 most populous cities in the United States saw an increase in the rate of biking to work between 2010 and 2016 – they have also been concentrated. The 10 cities with the most bicycle commuters in 2016 contributed just over 44% of new bicycle commuters during that time. Some cities with significant increases in the rate of biking to work also saw significant increases in the rate of walking to work: both Detroit and Miami were in the top five for growth in the rate of biking and walking to work.
» REGIONAL DIFFERENCES IN RATES OF BIKING & WALKING
Regional differences continue to appear in studies of bicycling and walking commuter rates. The southern region has lower rates of bicycling and walking to work than elsewhere in the United States – with eight southern states ranking among the lowest 10 state rates of walking to work, and nine southern states ranking among the lowest 10 rates of biking to work. This observation is reinforced by the fact that two southern states are among the bottom 10 for the largest decreases in walk-to-work rates, and four southern states are among the bottom 10 for the largest decreases in bike-to-work rates. However, some southern states show growth in their efforts to support biking and walking to work; South Carolina, Virginia, Arkansas, and West Virginia were in the top 10 rates of growth in walking to work, and four states–Virginia, Louisiana, Georgia, and Kentucky–ranked in the top 10 for rates of growth in biking to work.
States in the west and east make up nine of the top 10 rates for walking to work and all of the top 10 rates of biking to work. While four of the 10 states with the highest rates of walking to work also had a top 10 increase in the rate of walking to work, only one of the top 10 states for biking to work—Massachusetts–had a top 10 increase in the rate of biking to work. Massachusetts is the only state in the top 10 for the rate of biking to work in 2016 outside of the west, and no western state had a top-10 growth rate for the rate of biking to work.
Signs of Progress
There has been incredible progress in planning, programming, and project implementation related to bicycling and walking over the course of the Benchmarking project. Every single indicator for the efforts by federal, state, and local governments collected and compiled by the Benchmarking project saw an increase in effort since the first Benchmarking Report published in 2007. Some of these changes are impressive:
The average obligated dollar value of federal transportation funds spent on biking and walking per capita has more than doubled from $1.41 per person to $2.93 per person
The number of states with a Complete Streets policy has more than tripled, from 9 states to 34
The number of the 50 most populous cities with a Complete Streets policy increased 500%, from 8 cities to 40
- The number of the 50 most populous cities with a public bike share system has increased nearly 9 times, from 5 cities to 44; and
- The average number of bicycle and pedestrian city staff per 100,000 city residents in the 50 most populous cities has at least doubled from 0.4 staff persons per 100,000 to at least 0.82 staff persons per 100,000.
In recent years, the Benchmarking data points towards cities moving more aggressively than states to plan for bicyclists and pedestrians. Complete Streets policies and bicycle/pedestrian master plans now cover almost all of the 50 most populous cities – with 40 and 49 of those cities having each, respectively.
The 34 states with a Complete Streets policy averaged an over 20% growth in the rate of biking to work between 2007 and 2016; the 16 without such a policy averaged 6.1%. Nearly half of the states with decreased rates of people biking to work were states without a Complete Streets policy, despite those states comprising less than a third of total states. Similarly, walk-to-work rates of states without a Complete Streets policy dropped 9.1%, more than double the decrease observed in the 34 states with such a policy (-4.2%).
Differences are also clear in rates of biking and walking to work between states with and without bicycle/pedestrian master plans: States with plans showed better rates of growth or smaller rates of decrease.