California’s Safety Priorities Improving

California’s traffic safety priorities are steered by the Strategic Highway Safety Plan (SHSP), a federally-required document being updated by Caltrans this year. The draft new plan is available for review and it’s a great improvement over the previous version, thanks to the involvement of your California Bicycle Coalition and our allies. The SHSP could direct millions more dollars to bicycle safety and save lives.

The last SHSP, from 1996, focused heavily on automobile passenger safety at the expense of bicycle and pedestrian safety. Even though a quarter of all fatalities are to bicyclists and pedestrians, only a tenth of safety funds works to prevent those crashes. Along with California Walks, we’ve pushed the SHSP to call for directing funds where they’re needed. We have also pressed Caltrans to prioritize obtaining better data. While the state measures car trips and car crashes meticulously, it doesn’t show the same attention to biking and walking trips so we don’t have as much official information as we need to direct safety funds most effectively.

The SHSP is organized into “challenge areas.” Each challenge area includes creating a culture of safetyfour to five strategies and a larger number of action items to implement those strategies. Thanks to the participation of our members across the state, the draft strategies for the bicycle safety challenge are great:

  1. Improve roadway and bikeway planning, design, operations, and connectivity to enhance bicycling safety and mobility to all destinations.
  2. Improve data collection regarding bicyclist trips, injuries, and fatalities on California roadways and bicycle paths.
  3. Improve education and enforcement to promote safe multi-modal travel.
  4. Encourage more bicycle travel by improving public attitudes about bicycling as a safe mode of transportation.

We are especially excited that Caltrans has included the goal of promoting “more bicycle travel.” Considering the power of safety in numbers, and the success we’ve had in the last decade in improving bicycling safety by getting more people on bikes, we see this as the most important thing Caltrans can do to promote safety — for bicyclists, yes, but also for pedestrians and motorists. Contrary to that success, however, the chapter’s introduction includes a misleading chart that shows the increase in bicycling injuries and fatalities out of context of the increase in bicycling. Placed in context, the data show a 45% decrease in the rate of injuries and a 39% decrease in the rate of fatalities!

Keep your eyes on the CalBike Report and we’ll keep you up-to-date on our work to improve bicycling safety through the Strategic Highway Safety Plan.