Pedestrian Deaths in New York and San Francisco Are Down, but Cyclist Deaths Are Up

Traffic deaths hit an all-time low in San Francisco and New York City in 2017, an improvement from previous years in terms of pedestrian deaths—despite an increase in the number of cyclist and motorcyclist casualties.

The two cities have bucked the national trend, in which the number of traffic deaths has risen more than 13 percent since 2013. In New York, there was a 32-percent drop in traffic fatalities in the past year, and San Francisco saw a 33-percent decrease.

But the decline is largely among pedestrian deaths alone. For cyclists, motorcyclists and people in vehicles, the rate actually increased in 2017. Twenty-three people on bicycles died in New York last year, close to double the number of cyclist deaths in 2013. The majority of deaths in San Francisco involve pedestrians, with four motorcycle deaths and two cycling incidents, a rate that has remained fairly steady in recent years.

606176448 Over 1,000 protesters ride down 5th Ave in Manhattan, New York City, to call for safer streets, bringing attention to the city's safety record and the number of cyclist deaths. Michael Nigro via Getty Images

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio touted the city’s Vision Zero program, an effort to eliminate traffic deaths through updated road infrastructure and policy, as the reason for the improvement. The program, which has been adopted by several cities across the country, emphasizes lower speed limits, altered street designs and increased resources dedicated to safety enforcement. Many other cities involved in Vision Zero have not yet seen significant drops in traffic fatalities.

“The City installed 25 miles of protected bike lanes in 2017, the most of any year and more than triple the pre-Vision Zero annual average,” read a statement from de Blasio’s office. “This year’s increase in fatalities among cyclists was nevertheless troubling; the study’s findings about cycling deaths and serious injury are helping guide DOT’s ambitious plans for cycling infrastructure in 2018”

Both de Blasio and San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Sustainable Streets director Tom Maguire celebrated the projects that contributed to the decline, focusing more heavily on the decrease in pedestrian deaths than the continued safety concerns for cyclists and motorcyclists.

The historic low “is hopefully just the beginning of a very long-term decline in fatalities,” said Maguire. “This is not a victory lap. The only acceptable number is zero.”