An “epidemic of traffic violence” has struck our nation’s streets and roadways, yet despite ambitious government plans and millions of dollars spent to combat the problem, the number of deaths and serious injuries has increased.
The recent rise in fatalities has been the most significant among those who are most vulnerable – cyclists, motorcyclists, and pedestrians. In Chicago alone, there were 33,000 hit-and-run crashes in Chicago in the year which just ended. Drivers fatally struck at least 3 pedestrians and 8 bicyclists in 2022.
A story in the New York Times concurs with the trend. As car travel plummeted worldwide due to the pandemic, it reports, traffic fatalities broadly fell – except in the U.S. where that streak continued through 2021 and 2022. The article’s co-authors noted the irony: Americans die in rising numbers even when they drive less. They die in rising numbers even as roads around the world grow safer.
Moving Cars Quickly, Not People Safely
America’s transportation system is primarily designed to move cars quickly, not to move people safely. A revolution in car safety brought more seatbelt usage, standard-issue airbags, and safer car frames, according to Yonah Freemark, a researcher at the Urban Institute. Fatalities fell as a result, but the U.S. didn’t progress as other countries did to prioritize the safety of people outside them, he says.
In the bipartisan infrastructure bill passed last year, more federal money was allotted for pedestrian and cycling infrastructure. States will now be required to analyze fatalities and serious injuries among “vulnerable road users” – people outside of cars – to identify the most dangerous traffic corridors and potential ways to fix them.
Chicago’s Track Record
In Chicago, progress has been slow, but the city’s transportation department met or came close to hitting several infrastructure benchmarks, according to Streetsblog Chicago. Dozens of pedestrian and bicycle accommodations were incorporated into road resurfacing projects, including over 800 curb extensions and over 50 bump-outs.
The Divvy bike-share system expanded significantly. CDOT also exceeded its goal for traffic signal upgrades, adding countdown signals, audible and tactile walk indicators for visually impaired pedestrians, and traffic data collection equipment to more than 80 intersections. The Better Streets for Buses plan should be implemented soon and will modernize bus service, shorten commutes and hopefully draw more people back to transit.
Ending the epidemic of traffic violence in Chicago will take a real commitment that prioritizes the safety and experience of all users over cars and enforcement of traffic violations that endanger pedestrians and bicyclists. The question is, will it happen soon enough to reduce the high death and injury rate?
Sadly, more people may fall victim to injuries in our streets. If you or a loved one suffer a catastrophic accident or wrongful death, you need an experienced automobile accident attorney on your side. Smith LaCien LLP offers free, no-obligation consultations to accident victims and their families.