SC Pedestrian and Bicycle Crash Analysis Completed:  Surprising Trends


January 12, 2017 — [Columbia, SC] – The Palmetto Cycling Coalition (PCC) analyzed pedestrian and bicycle crashes within South Carolina (SC) from 2009-2015 and found some startling trends, specifically comparing 10 regions of our state, including a finding that shows some regions with significant over-representation of African Americans.  Smart Growth America (SGA) also analyzed similar data, though focusing on pedestrians only, and found similar trends across the country.  Many factors contribute to this, including infrastructure primarily and education and enforcement secondarily.

Palmetto Cycling Coalitions research

Researcher Chris Clark, working as a Policy Fellow for the PCC, found many regions had a significantly higher number of African Americans represented in crashes statistics of people walking and bicycling. Overall, South Carolina’s population consists of 28% African American; yet approximately 39% of all pedestrian and bicycle crashes are African American, in an analysis of crash data from 2009-2015.  Four regions showed consistent over-representation of African Americans involved in crashes as pedestrians and bicyclists over this 7 year period:

  • the Appalachian region (Oconee, Pickens, Anderson, Greenville, Spartanburg, and Cherokee counties),
  • the Waccamaw region (Horry, Williamsburg, and Georgetown counties), and
  • the Catawba region (York, Union, Chester, and Lancaster counties).
  • Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester region

Further, while approximately 65% of South Carolina’s roads are state owned, approximately 95% of all pedestrian and bicycle fatalities and approximately 85% of injuries are on state owned roads.  This last finding alters previously held misconceptions – that pedestrian and bicycle safety is more a local concern than a state concern.

And last, Mr. Clark stated that given bicycle crashes in the Appalachian region occur at a much lower frequency than in other regions of the state, African American bicyclists are still involved in crashes at a much higher rate than should be expected.  The most surprising finding was the amount of variation in whether the victim was deemed to contribute to the crash. African Americans on bicycle were deemed to contribute much more often than Caucasians. Likewise, individuals who died as a result of the crash were deemed to contribute much more often than those who were merely injured.  The PCC feels further academic analysis is necessary to more fully analyze the data, though they are confident these trends will remain consistent.

Smart Growth Americas research:  Dangerous by Design 2016

A national non-profit also analyzed similar statistics and compared South Carolina with other states, resulting in even more surprising trends and patterns across the United States.  This national organization, called Smart Growth America (SGA), Tuesday published the 4th edition of their biannual report: Dangerous by Design 2016.  The report “examines the metro areas that are the most dangerous for people walking. It also includes a racial and income based examination of the people who are most at risk, and for the first time also ranks states by their danger to pedestrians.”

In 2016, South Carolina ranked 4th in the United States for the number of pedestrian deaths per 100,000 people, and it ranked 7th for its Pedestrian Danger Index (PDI) which is the pedestrian fatality rate (fatalities per capita) divided by the estimated number of people walking to work.  South Carolina’s PDI actually decreased over the years, from 124.1 in 2011, 110.4 in 2014, and 106.5 in 2016.  Of the US’s 104 largest metropolitan statistical areas, Greenville PDI ranked 31st, Charleston ranked 46th, and Columbia ranked 57th (rank 104 is the safest).

South Carolina, while 34.3% non-white, had 46.8% of all pedestrian deaths represented by non-whites.  While 5.3% of SC’s population is Hispanic, 7.9% of all pedestrian deaths are Hispanic.  While 27.4% of SC’s population is black, 39.3% of SC’s pedestrian deaths are black.  Yet of all 50 states, South Carolina only ranks 19th highest relative risk of their PDI for non-whites, indicating over-representation of people of color in pedestrian crash statistics is a national problem.

Other SGA findings across the United States:

  1. Wealthier areas typically have a lower PDI.
  2. Older adults (65+) are typically disproportionately represented and are 50% more likely to be struck by a car than those younger. 8 million Americans no longer drive.  By 2030, the 65+ population will double to 70 million people.  “A crosswalk safe for a senior is a crosswalk safe for a child”, and “safe and complete streets are designed, operated, constructed, and maintained for all to use the road, regardless of their age or ability.” Nancy LeaMond, Executive VP and Chief Advocacy and Engagement Officer for AARP.
  3. Charles Brown, a Senior Research Specialist with the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center (VTC) and adjunct professor at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University said “these communities suffer from a disproportionate amount of political power [and] therefore their concerns are not adequately being addressed”, “it is time for cities to give a disproportionate amount of their funding to mitigate [these disproportionate safety problems].”

SGA found that the most important action to move the needle on these numbers is designing streets for all people, instead of just cars.


  • Columbia Urban Leagues CEO, J.T. McLawhorn, weighed in on both studies, stating “This data is most alarming in highlighting a pattern of disproportionate pedestrians and bicycle injuries and fatalities based on race and zip codes. Also, it shows that persons living in low income communities are less likely to have safe pedestrian and bicycle infrastructures such as sidewalks and bicycle paths which will greatly reduce these injuries and fatalities.”
  • Director of Programming for Charleston Moves, Savannah Brennan, felt this way: ”Our neighborhoods and our public spaces are not highways, yet they are planned and maintained as such. With progressive street redesign, as outlined by NACTO, we can mitigate the injuries and fatalities that disproportionately affect people of color and lower-income communities. The reality is, with continued poor land use and infrastructure practices, the historically marginalized people of our communities, our cities, our counties and our states will continue to be grossly over-represented in our crash data. To change this, we must prioritize people.”
  • Chair of Bike Walk Greenville, Meredith Rigdon, felt compelled to state “Greenville is a media darling of late, receiving numerous accolades as a destination city with walkability as a key factor in the positive attention our city is receiving. We can attribute the safe walking routes we do have to the GHS Swamp Rabbit Trail, and our beautiful revitalized downtown.  However, if we are to continue to be a desirable city to both visit and live, we must consider reports like this one.  Unless you are a tourist, or someone who lives or works near downtown, our actual infrastructure for safe modes of walking and biking are of critical concern.  Our Mayor said it recently, and we will hold him and City and County leaders accountable, we must design our city for people first.”

A Note on Methods: a comparison
SGA conducted their analysis slightly differently than the PCC.  First, the PCC measured both bicycle and pedestrian safety, while SGA only measured pedestrian safety.  Second, the PCC safety metric measured all crashes involving people on bike and foot, per capita; SGA, on the other hand, measured just fatalities per capita, and then refined that metric by dividing by the number of people the US Census estimated to commute to work on foot (an estimate of the general amount of walking in that Census district).  The PCC’s research found studies that showed this refined approach is problematic because the commute statistic only represents approximately 15% of all trips.  In other words, people travel on foot, bike, transit and car for many reasons, only 15% that include trips to work.  Therefore, while the commute stat might show areas in South Carolina with relatively more walking and biking (Charleston is always high in this area), there are enough areas in South Carolina with either high student populations or high relative unemployment, that the commute statistic would misrepresent the actual underlying patterns.  PCC felt summary stats on pedestrian and bike safety necessarily needed to represent the full population, not just those going to work.

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Amy Johnson Ely

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