Larsen, DeFazio and Norton Focus on Pedestrian and Bicyclist Safety

Dec 18, 2014 Issues: Transportation

WASHINGTON—In response to the troubling increase in pedestrian and cyclist fatalities in recent years, Reps. Rick Larsen, WA-02, Peter DeFazio, OR-04, and Eleanor Holmes Norton, DC, are asking the Government Accountability Office to investigate trends and causes of accidents involving pedestrians and bicycles and to make recommendations about improving safety.

“The safety of everyone on the road should be our top priority. Thanks to coordinated efforts, motor vehicle accident deaths are declining. But the same is not true for the most vulnerable people on our roadways – pedestrians and bicyclists. The GAO can give us a better idea of the reasons behind why pedestrian and cyclist fatalities are going up. We want to know what more Congress can do to ensure the highest level of safety for all of those using our roads,” said Larsen, DeFazio and Norton.

Text of the letter follows.


The Honorable Gene L Dodaro

Comptroller General

U.S. Government Accountability Office

441 G Street, NW

Washington, D.C. 20548


Dear Mr. Dodaro:

While overall traffic-related fatalities have been declining in recent years, our most vulnerable road users—pedestrians and cyclists—have experienced an increase in fatalities.  In 2012, 4,743 pedestrians were killed, or an average of one fatality every two hours.  Also in 2012, 726 cyclists were killed on our roads. These pedestrian and cyclist fatality totals each represent a 6 percent increase from 2011.

Furthermore, we are concerned that conventional engineering practices have encouraged engineers to design roads at 5-15 miles per hour faster than the posted speed for the street. This typically means roads are designed and built with wider, straighter lanes and have fewer objects near the edges, more turn lanes, and wider turning radii at intersections. While these practices improve driving safety, a suspected unintended consequence is that drivers travel faster when they feel safer. Greater speeds can increase the frequency and severity of crashes with pedestrians and cyclists who are moving at much slower speeds and have much less protection than a motorized vehicle affords. 

Because of these increasing fatality numbers among the most vulnerable road users, we request that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigate the trends and causes of these roadway fatalities and the challenges associated with improving pedestrian and cyclist safety. In particular, we are interested in information about the relationship between vehicle speed and roadway fatalities, and how roadway design speeds and other common practices may exacerbate this problem.  Accordingly, we would like for GAO to examine:

•   The trends in pedestrian and cyclist accidents (including causes of such accidents), fatalities, and injuries in the last decade.

•   Challenges that states face in improving pedestrian and cyclist safety (including roadway design speeds and FHWA guidelines for road design), and the initiatives states have undertaken to address this issue. We are particularly interested in the effects of the common road engineering standard that sets speed limits at the rate 85% of drivers would use under regular conditions.

•   The extent that federal initiatives and funds been made available to assist states in improving pedestrian and cyclist safety, and additional federal actions that may be needed.

Thank you for your consideration.




Rick Larsen

Member of Congress


Peter DeFazio

Member of Congress


Eleanor Holmes Norton

Member of Congress