I still remember the call. A local Huntsville attorney was struck by a truck while riding his bike. He suffered serious injuries, including two ruptured discs in his neck. He wanted me to handle his accident case. We eventually tried the case and recovered damages for his injuries. My attorney friend was an avid bike rider, often riding around downtown Huntsville. He was a safe, experienced biker. How can our communities plan for bicycle safety? How can our communities plan for growing numbers of cyclists and pedestrians? How can our communities prevent other serious bike accidents and injuries?
Recent Federal Study Addresses Increasing Bicyclist Accident Deaths
Last year, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released a new study on bicyclist safety. Although cyclists commonly share our roads with cars and trucks, it had been over 45 years since the NTSB last studied the issue. We’ve seen a lot of traffic changes during those decades! This study was long over-due.
The NTSB report begins by noting that in 2017, alone, 806 bicyclists died in crashes with cars on U.S. roads. According to the report, police crash data likely underestimates the scope of non-fatal accidents and injuries. That means many more cyclists may be seriously injured each year.
On a local level, we continue to see increasing numbers of cyclists making this a growing safety issue. As the NTSB noted:
The increasing availability of bicycles, their growing use as a means of transportation, and the resulting trends and safety issues require attention.
What key safety issues did the NTSB report identify? The report identified three key safety issues:
- Improving Roadway Infrastructure For Cyclists
This is a major safety issue. Where and how do fatal bike crashes occur? The NTSB study notes many fatal crashes occur at intersections as well as on stretches of roadway where rapidly moving cars overtake bikes sharing the road. The NTSB had several recommendations, including intersection changes and the creation of separate bike lanes in some places. These proposals should be studied and implemented in areas with bike traffic.
- Enhancing Conspicuity
The NTSB report discusses fatal bike accidents at several different points on our roads, including travel lanes and intersections. A large number of cyclist deaths occur in accidents involving a car overtaking a bicycle. Usually, these crashes involve drivers who did not see the cyclist in time. Visibility improvements involve three areas: cars, bicycles and roads. The report details some of the potential improvements in vehicle and roadway visibility.
- Mitigating Head Injury
According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, 74% of all fatal bike accidents involve head injuries. Yet, only 35% of cyclists wear helmets. Those are difficult stats to see.
I’ve seen many traumatic brain injuries (TBI) in many motorcycle and bicycle accidents during recent years. Last year, I represented a motorcycle driver who was struck by a car on a busy Huntsville street. We were able to retrieve video from a local business on that street. The video graphically showed the motorcyclist fly from his bike, flip in mid-air and land on his head. It was tough to watch. But, it showed how vulnerable bike riders are to potential head and neck injuries. In many accidents, a proper helmet can prevent major head injuries.
Alabama Sees Increasing Cyclist Traffic
How does Alabama rank? Among the states, Alabama currently has one of the lowest percentages of workers bicycling to work. Our rate of public bicycle use is low compared to many other states. Historically, Alabama has had low rates of both pedestrians and cyclists. Of course, you would expect more people biking to work and other activities in states with larger, more crowded metro areas.
But, the stats are changing. Cities like Huntsville and Tuscaloosa are growing rapidly. And, Birmingham has developed areas downtown into living and working areas. Coming years will likely see increasing amounts of cyclist traffic around our metro areas. We need to be proactive in creating a safe environment for both cyclists and pedestrians. In recent years, the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) and other regional planning agencies have begun incorporating bicycle infrastructure into their long-range planning.
Huntsville Leads In Planning For Cyclist And Pedestrian Safety
A couple years ago, Huntsville began transforming several downtown blocks to create areas where bicycles could safely co-exist with cars. This effort started with the makeover of Spragins Street. It’s more than just some painted lines and barriers. The development contains some serious built-in safety technology, including sensors and signal indicators.
City planners called the Spragins Street bicycle makeover a small step in a growing bike path. For years, Huntsville has planned and developed greenways for pedestrians and cyclists. It will be interesting to see future progress as bike areas are gradually connected so people can commute safely across the area. You can read a blog article from the City of Huntsville on the project here — Pedal Pushing: Spragins Cycle Track Opening Is First Step In Bigger Picture.
In Alabama, cities like Huntsville are growing and seeing increasing interest in safe pedestrian and cyclist areas. People want safe areas to work, live and enjoy. In Tuscaloosa and Auburn, our college campuses are growing. That means more students who need to commute safely to class from their dorms and apartments. These cities and campuses have spent considerable time planning for traffic safety. In future years, pedestrian and cyclist safety planning will become increasingly important issues. With proper planning, we can avoid many needless personal injuries and deaths.
From its office in Huntsville, the Blackwell Law Firm represents people across Alabama. We help individuals and families struggling to recover from a serious personal injury or wrongful death. If you have questions about a personal injury issue, let us know. We are happy to answer your questions. Consultations are always free and confidential.