Cycling Fatalities Hit Multi-Decade High; New York, Los Angeles Rank as Deadliest Cities

Henry Hoenig
Updated on May 19, 2022 · 5 min read
The U.S. has seen a boom in urban cycling over the past two decades, with many cities building bike lanes and paths to accommodate the growing number of cyclists, particularly as more people, especially young ones, bike to work. 
With better infrastructure in place, the number of cyclists killed in traffic crashes declined during the first decade of the new millennium. But starting in 2011 the total number of traffic cycling fatalities rose steadily, jumping 58% from 2010 through 2021, when it hit a multi-decade high. The number of cyclists killed in urban areas has also risen steeply.

Key Insights

  • New York City and Los Angeles saw the most cycling deaths from 2011 through 2020, with Phoenix a distant third, according to Jerry’s analysis.
  • From 2011-2020, the New York City and Los Angeles metropolitan areas, the stretch of coastal South Florida from Palm Beach to Miami, and the Phoenix and Tucson areas in Arizona ranked among the deadliest large metro regions on a per capita basis.
  • The counties containing New Orleans, Louisiana; Jacksonville, Florida; and Charleston, South Carolina saw the highest numbers of deaths per capita among counties with a population of more than 250,000.
In 2021, 985 cyclists lost their lives in traffic crashes, the most since 1975 and a 5% increase from a year earlier. In the past 10 years, 8,353 cyclists have been killed in vehicle crashes, with cyclist fatalities rising both in total numbers and as a percentage of all fatal crashes.
Many people think of New York City when they think of the most dangerous places to ride a bike in traffic. And rightfully so. New York recorded the most overall cyclist deaths during the decade from 2011 to 2020, with 138. Los Angeles, a city associated with packed freeways more than cycling, ranked right behind it with 137.

Surrounding Counties Are Often Deadlier Than City Centers

The city totals do not include fatalities that took place within the broader metro area or even, in some cases, the county in which the city is located. Looking at the county-level results offers a more comprehensive view of how dangerous a city might be.
Consider that in the New York metro area, Kings and Queens counties — home to Brooklyn and Queens, respectively — both ranked among the 10 worst counties for cycling deaths nationwide, while Suffolk and Nassau counties on Long Island both ranked among the 20 deadliest counties. Brooklyn, Queens and Suffolk and Nassau counties all saw more fatalities than Manhattan.
Los Angeles County saw the most cyclist deaths of any county nationwide, with 276. Orange (112) and Riverside (66) counties to the southeast and San Bernardino (57) county to the northeast all ranked among the 15 worst nationwide. 
The stretch of coastal South Florida from Palm Beach to Miami also ranked among the worst in the nation, both in total fatalities and deaths per capita. Broward County, home to Fort Lauderdale, was by far the deadliest on a per capita basis among counties with a population of more than 1 million, and it ranked third nationwide in total deaths (121) during the decade through 2020. Miami-Dade ranked ninth in total deaths (68), while Palm Beach County ranked 19th (50).
The counties surrounding Phoenix and Tucson both ranked among the five deadliest counties per capita among counties with a population of more than 1 million.
On a per capita basis, some smaller counties were deadlier than any in the New York, Los Angeles, or South Florida areas. Among counties with a population of more than 250,000, Louisiana’s Orleans County, home to New Orleans, ranked as the deadliest, followed by the counties that are home to Jacksonville, Florida and Charleston, South Carolina.
The high rates of fatal cycling crashes in New Orleans and Baton Rouge made Louisiana the deadliest state in the U.S. on a per capita basis. It was followed by Florida, Arizona, and California.

Conclusion

It’s difficult to determine exactly why more cyclists are dying on the nation’s roads and streets. Some point to the fact that Americans are driving bigger vehicles that deliver more force to a cyclist in an accident, raising the likelihood of serious injury and death. Others note that the trend reversal for cyclist deaths coincided roughly with the widespread adoption of smartphones and an increase in deadly crashes involving distracted drivers.
It’s also worth noting that, with the exception of New York, the deadliest cities for cyclists all enjoy warm, sunny climates nearly all year, making them more conducive to cycling and bike commuting.

Methodology

Jerry analyzed data from the NHTSA on more than 8,000 fatal crashes involving cyclists and vehicles from 2011 through 2020, as well as population data for states and counties from the U.S. Census Bureau. Due to the highly specific ways the NHTSA data was collected and formatted, the results for metropolitan areas were determined by looking at the data for the counties surrounding the cities in question.
Note: The NHTSA has released statistical estimates for total cyclist deaths for 2021 but has not released the underlying data. The latest data used in the geographical analysis is from 2020.

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