What We Learned from Tracking Cycling Deaths for a Year

(Map data collected through December 31, 2020, by Outside; map created by BikeMaps.org.)

States with the Most Total Deaths

Louisiana, New York, California, Florida, and Texas were the five deadliest states for cyclists in terms of total fatalities. The latter three have been the most deadly states for cyclists for years, and New York’s fatalities have been on the rise as well—in 2019, it reported 46 cyclist deaths, with 29 in New York City alone. While these three states are also the most populous in the country, Florida and California have among the most cycling deaths per million people, as well. And Louisiana recorded 7.3 cycling deaths per million people, the most of any state. Louisiana’s total fatal crash numbers have remained in the twenties and thirties for the past five years, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

(Illustration: Jonathan Ver Steegh)

Deaths by Location

Surprisingly, our data showed us that cyclists were dying from crashes in rural areas at nearly the same rate as in urban ones. Rural arterial roads can lack four-way-stop intersections with traffic lights and rarely have a shoulder for cyclists to ride along.

(Illustration: Jonathan Ver Steegh)

Deaths by Road Type

The most dangerous place to be a cyclist, however, was on an arterial road, which we defined as a busy, multilane thoroughfare with traffic signals at intersections and speeds limits exceeding 30 miles per hour. Arterials accounted for 65 percent of the fatal crashes in our database. We saw that poorly designed intersections along these roads presented serious hazards for cyclists. While many had multiple lanes for cars, they had none for bikes. Furthermore, many had speed limits as high as 45 miles per hour. (Speed limits have been increasing in many parts of the country.) And numerous intersections on arterials allow vehicles to turn right on a red light, or have several turning lanes, which makes it much more likely that a driver won’t see a cyclist while they are turning.

BikeMaps.org executive director Karen Laberee adds that cars making unprotected left turns—those with no dedicated left-turn light—are especially hazardous, because a driver may be watching for other cars coming in the opposite direction but not for cyclists or pedestrians. “A left turn is a particularly challenging maneuver cognitively for a driver—there’s a lot going on for them to process,” Laberee says. One solution is to restrict concurrent movement, with separate light cycles for left-turning vehicles, vehicles driving straight, and pedestrians and cyclists, she says. That way, only vehicles or pedestrians are going through the intersection at one time.

(Illustration: Jonathan Ver Steegh)

Some of the deadliest roads in the country were Military Trail in West Palm Beach, Florida; Beach Boulevard in Huntington Beach, California; and First and Second Avenues in Manhattan. These roads each had three cyclist fatalities in 2020, and we noted a couple factors that may point to why. Military Trail is a multilane arterial that only has a protected bike lane at some intersections; Beach Boulevard lacks a bike lane altogether; and First and Second Avenues are busy city streets with little room for cyclists, pedestrians, and vehicles to all share the road.

Katherine E. Ackerman

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