In the shadow of a recent string of crashes that killed bicyclists in Albany, Braselton, Milton, Molena and Savannah, the League of American Bicyclists (LAB) has released its latest ranking of Bicycle Friendly States. In the eighth annual assessment, Georgia achieved a 25th place ranking nationally, moving up one spot since 2014.
“It’s a bittersweet moment for bicycling in Georgia,” said Brent Buice, Executive Director of Georgia Bikes. “We are proud of our upward movement in the ranks, thanks to our advocacy efforts and some state policies that support safer bicycling. However, we are deeply saddened by the recent tragic crashes from across the state.”
Safety advocates recommend that Georgia adopt legislation, known as a Vulnerable Road User law, to increase penalties for motorists who injure or kill law enforcement, EMS workers, people on foot or on bicycles, and other road users who are at greater risk of injury. The Georgia General Assembly considered such a law in 2013, but the bill did not pass the state House after leaving the Senate. One of LAB’s key recommendations for Georgia is that it enact such a law.
Since late March, five Georgians have been killed by motorists while riding bicycles. In Brooks County, a man was hit and killed by a semi-truck driver on March 26. By all accounts, he was riding safely and obeying the law. April 26, a man in Savannah was struck by a motor vehicle, and ultimately succumbed to his injuries. On April 29, Jason Young, a 45-year-old father of three, was killed when struck head-on by a motorist in Milton. Two other men who were riding with Mr. Young were also seriously injured. Days later, a bicyclist was hit from behind and killed by a drunk driver in Braselton. May 7, a man was hit from behind and killed in Pike County.
Overall, traffic fatalities in Georgia are up 19% from 2014. Bicyclist fatalities are 67% higher than in 2014, while the state’s already alarmingly high pedestrian fatalities (67 in 2015 so far) have increased 10% from this time last year.
“Ultimately, most, if not all, crashes are preventable,” says Buice. “ Through better engineering of our streets we can safely accommodate all users, ages, and abilities. In addition, through more rigorous driver education and targeted enforcement campaigns, we can crack down on speeding, distracted driving and impaired driving.”
The idea that all traffic fatalities are preventable is known as “Vision Zero,” a policy adopted by several U.S. cities, including New York and Seattle. In praise of the policy, Seattle Department of Transportation Director Scott Kubly observes that, “No one should accept a traffic fatality as a byproduct of [their] commute.”
Funding to proactively implement safe, family-friendly streets is an area where Georgia needs significant improvement, according to the League’s Bicycle Friendly State report card. Despite passage of a major transportation funding bill in the 2015 General Assembly session, no explicit provision was made for improving the safety of Georgia’s most vulnerable road users. Georgia also fails to fully leverage its apportioned federal transportation dollars for eligible walking and bicycling improvements. This lack of investment in safe streets and neighborhoods results in our relatively low ranking as a Bicycle Friendly State.
At the local level, several cities in Georgia have accepted USDOT Secretary Foxx’s Mayors’ Challenge for Safer People and Safer Streets. The cities of Atlanta, Columbus, Macon, and Stone Mountain have formally pledged to advance safety and accessibility for people who walk or bike. Major components of the Mayors’ Challenge include adoption and implementation of local Complete Streets policies and addressing barriers to safe walking and bicycling, such as high motor vehicle speeds. “City scale commitment to safer streets is essential,’ says Buice, “and those Georgia communities with high rates of bicycling – Athens, Decatur, and Savannah, for instance – need to accept the USDOT Challenge and proactively implement safer street designs and outreach programs.”
“There is so much that cities and mayors can do to address these needs,” notes Rebecca Serna, Executive Director of the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition. ” For instance, the City of Atlanta Mayor’s Office is establishing a Safer Streets committee that will focus on Complete Streets implementation and better data collection on bike crashes.”
The Bicycle Friendly States ranking is based on a number of key indicators, including infrastructure and funding that provide on-the-ground bicycle facilities; education and encouragement programs that promote cycling; and passage and enforcement of bicycle-friendly laws that make it safe and comfortable for people of all ages to ride.