Highway safety officials and cycling advocates are calling on Georgians to make 2013 a safer year for cyclists in Georgia.
Cyclist fatalities increased by 28 percent in 2012, while traffic deaths continued to decline overall in Georgia last year.
Highway safety officials and bicycle safety advocates attribute the increase to the growing numbers of cyclists on the road as more Georgians seek cleaner and healthier commute options.
"Bicycling will only to continue to grow in Georgia, both as a healthy recreational activity and as a sensible, enjoyable means of transportation,” said Brent Buice, executive director of Georgia Bikes!. “To ensure that all of Georgia's road users can return home to friends and family safely, we must respect each others' right to our public roads, obey the law, be attentive, and work together to build safe facilities for all."
Crashes involving bicycles took 18 lives in 2012, compared with 14 in 2011. The 2012 fatality count for cyclists made up less than 2 percent of traffic fatalities in Georgia in 2012.
Still, Harris Blackwood, director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, says Georgians can do better in 2013.
“We are always striving toward zero deaths on Georgia roads,” Mr. Blackwood said. “With cyclists, we must strive harder for that goal, as this section of the transportation population can be much more vulnerable in a crash.”
Nearly 75 percent of all bicycle-involved crashes reported in Georgia in 2012 resulted in injury, according to data released by the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety Monday, and cyclists’ vulnerability in a crash makes a hit-and-run situation even more dangerous.
Hit-and-run crashes accounted for 15 percent of the total number of bicycle-related crashes in Georgia last year. Of those, 47 occurred in the metro Atlanta area.
While hit-and-run crashes did not result in any fatalities for cyclists in 2012, Rebecca Serna, executive director of the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, worries about their potential.
“Hit-and-runs are more likely to result in the vulnerable user - the pedestrian or cyclist - becoming a fatality, because no one was there to call for help,” Ms. Serna said. “While crashes can happen to anyone, leaving the scene of a crash turns it into a crime. We are calling on all Georgians to drive or cycle with care and attention, and to always stop to render aid when they see someone in need.”
Cyclists were one of a few sectors of Georgia commuters who had a deadlier year in 2012 than in 2011.
Pedestrian fatalities also increased in 2012, as did collisions between cars and trains.
Despite the increase in cyclist deaths last year, Ms. Serna said she believes Atlanta has become a safer place for cyclists in recent years.
“This is partly due to the growing numbers of people riding bikes in the city, creating safety in numbers,” Ms. Serna said. “The Atlanta Bicycle Coalition works towards this vision by advocating for better bikeways that are safe and welcoming, and by working with our partners at the Governor's Office of Highway Safety to educate drivers and bikers on how to interact safely on our roadways.”
The city of Atlanta is working with engineers at the Georgia Institute of Technology to better understand Georgia’s cycling population. Through the Cycle Atlanta app, cyclists in the city can map their routes and infrastructure issues that trouble their commutes.
"Atlanta has made great strides to be a bicycle-friendly city," said Atlanta City Council President Ceasar C. Mitchell. "I am committed to working with Director Blackwood and his team to do my part to make cycling safer in the city."
Recent changes in state policy should also improve cyclist safety in and outside of Atlanta.
In 2011, Governor Nathan Deal signed a law that requires motorists to give cyclists three feet of space on the roads, and last year, the Georgia Department of Transportation adopted a Complete Streets policy that seeks to “incorporate bicycle, pedestrian, and transit (user and transit vehicle) accommodations into transportation infrastructure projects as a means for improving mobility, access, and safety for the traveling public.”
Some local governments, including Athens-Clarke County, have adopted similar measures that will include cyclists and pedestrians in future infrastructure projects.
“BikeAthens has long envisioned a comprehensive transportation network all Athenians can use with confidence and ease,” said BikeAthens executive director Tyler Dewey. “Transforming streets into Complete Streets is necessary to make that vision a reality. It will make Athens’ streets vibrant streets. It will make Athens’ streets safe streets.”
Likewise, the City of Atlanta plans to use the data collected from the Cycle Atlanta app to prioritize infrastructure improvements in the city.
“Safety is the number one measure of success for creating a bike-friendly environment. Through deliberate actions from motorists and cyclists alike, we can all come together to share our streets and respect the use of multiple modes of transportation,” said Atlanta City Councilman Aaron Watson.
Until those improvements are made, Kari Watkins, an assistant professor at Georgia Tech and a co developer of the Cycle Atlanta app, says that simply having more cyclists on the road will improve safety for cyclists.
“As the number of cyclists on the road grows, the number of crashes will increase, but not at the same rate as before,” Ms. Watkins said. “We theorize that as more cyclists are on the road, those driving vehicles will get used to seeing cyclists and begin to restructure how they drive, and eventually, sharing the road becomes second nature.”