Cities have seen an explosion in the popularity of micromobility,a term typically referring to the increased use of lightweight, low-speed, personal vehicles such as bicycles, e-bikes or e-scooters, but can also include an array of smaller transportation devices such as skateboards, mobility scooters, and even electric unicycles.
These alternative transportation modes provide a vital tool for establishing healthier cities. Many micromobility modes promote increased physical activity. These modes are also considerably better for the environment, as there are no exhaust emissions going directly into the air, and the production cost and charging costs (for electric options) cause significantly less emissions than both conventional and electric cars.
Safety is one of the primary issues preventing widespread adoption of cycling and other micromobility options in the United States. Louisville is no exception to this. While the city is great for recreational biking, skating, etc., the city lacks infrastructure that makes it safer to bike or use any other micromobility method to commute. Louisville’s shared use paths are often within or adjacent to parks, and the city currently only has one (!) protected bike lane on Castlewood that runs about a quarter mile along Tyler Park.
Sufficient bike infrastructure is paramount to increasing micromobility in general, as they are usually also utilized by other forms of personal transport. Bike lanes create a space that allows for intermediate speeds; bikes, mobility scooters, skateboards, and so on can all move at an accelerated speed without fear of hitting a car or a pedestrian.
Looking at the crash data for Bikes between 2018-2022 reveals some interesting trends. Bike collisions are the only ones that seem to be recorded in the datasets provided by the city government, so that is what we will focus on. According to Kentucky State Police data, Louisville saw 464 bike collisions between 2018 and 2022, 13 of these resulted in a fatality. When the data is mapped, the locations pop immediately. The majority of collisions happen with the “old city”of Louisville: the borders of the city before the 2003 county merger. Interestingly, the majority of deaths, occur outside of the old city
This difference likely stems from how traffic flows within the old, more urban city versus the more suburban outer county. Urban roads are more likely to have some semblance of human scale infrastructure that are generally safer for bicyclists including narrower lanes lanes, lower speeds, and a denser street network. Roads outside of the old city boundaries are more likely to fit the description of a stroad, leading to higher speeds, fewer alternate routes, and little-if-any bike infrastructure, making conditions less safe for bicyclists and other micromobility users.
Most collisions that occurred were at an intersection, but 11 of the 13 deaths did not occur at an intersection. The roads these deaths occurred on tended to be stroads or stroad-like, with wide lanes encouraging high speeds regardless of posted limits.
The streets with the most collisions were overwhelmingly urban streets, these tended to be the same streets where most intersection collisions occurred. Broadway in particular, would see collisions at most intersections between South Campbell Street and South 12th Street. Many sections of Broadway, one of the widest roads in the old city of Louisville, present stroad-like conditions, although it is expected to see a big makeover that will hopefully draw down these numbers.
Weather and time of day are often used as excuses for why collisions occur, suggesting the bicyclist wasn’t wearing proper gear for the dark or roadway conditions made them impossible to see. The numbers in Louisville indicate that those roadway conditions are not a significant factor in the vast majority of collisions involving a bicyclist. Most collisions occur during clear days, on dry roads.
The total rate of collisions seems to be quite variable, but Louisville has seen a decline in total collisions since 2019. The VisionZero Louisville Safety Report indicates crashes ranged between 124-190 between 2013-2017, indicating a generally decline in the amount of bike collisions. It is difficult to see a trend in bicycling fatalities over the past 5 years due to seemingly random fluctuations.
Hit and runs make up a sizable portion of collisions, accounting for nearly a quarter of all instances since 2018.
If you want people to embrace alternative transit options that are better for personal and environmental health, incentivize it by making sure they can get around the city safely without a car, at least within the urban core. Studies show people are more likely to bike when the infrastructure is there to support them and make them feel safe. The path to a healthier Louisville is a bike lane, not a highway expansion.