The data is in for 2018 and, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the streets got safer for only one group: motorists. Overall, an estimated 36,750 died in traffic crashes in 2018, a decrease of roughly 1 percent from 2017. For pedestrians and cyclists, on the other hand, fatalities rose 4 and 10 percent respectively.
Because the data is still being finalized, the NHTSA wrote in its brief that, "It is too soon to speculate on the contributing factors or potential implications of any changes in deaths on our roadways." But pedestrian and cyclist deaths have now increased for the past two years in a row. And many researchers and advocates have already weighed in on why that might be, as Aaron Short at Streetsblog USA explained:
New cars in the American market, for example, are becoming significantly safer and more reliable for drivers than older ones, the NHTSA has found, but those bigger cars tend to be safer only for people inside the vehicle.
Meanwhile, cities and suburbs are increasingly promoting walkable and bikeable neighborhoods and commutes, which often cause increases in pedestrian and bike travel even before streets have been properly redesigned for safety.
Though traffic fatalities fell overall, according to the NHTSA estimates, some regions actually saw increases, including in the South and Southeast where traffic deaths rose by 1 and 3 percent respectively between 2017 and 2018.
After a motorist hit and killed two people: Lesha Adams and Jesus Perez, who was in a wheelchair, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner announced in June that the city would look to "drastically reduce or eliminate" traffic injuries and deaths by 2030, along with other improvements near the site of that deadly crash. The city also announced, "a new data-collection category for 311 calls related to accessibility issues, the creation of a new liaison between the city and accessibility advocates, and a plan to fast-track over 40 sidewalk improvement projects totaling $10 million by the end of 2019," according to Community Impact. The state department of transportation, meanwhile, said in May it aimed to eliminate traffic deaths across the state by 2050.
Advocates for safer multimodal streets have often said that improvements for the road's most vulnerable users will benefit everyone. Indeed, a recent study that looked at crash data from 12 cities over a period of 13 years found that protected bike lanes made streets safer for cyclists and motorists alike.
As part of the Houston's April 2018 promise to build 50 new miles of "high-comfort" bikeways within one year, the city created its first parking-protected bike lane on the northside. But it didn't quite hit the 50-mile mark, according to BikeHouston. In June, to push for the completion of the last seven miles, the group asked riders to share photos of themselves using a newly improved bikeway or of a street in need of improvement.
"Too much is at stake," Turner said at the 2018 press conference when the city pleged to build more bikeways. "We must act quickly to make Houston a safer, more bicycle-friendly city."