Chicago traffic deaths were up 45% last year as speeding increased during COVID
Tragically, total on-street Chicago traffic deaths spiked from 96 in 2019, to 139 last year, a 45 percent increase, according to preliminary Chicago Police Department data released today by the Chicago Department of Transportation. This was also well above the 2014-2018 Chicago crash fatality average of 111.2, based on final Illinois Department of Transportation numbers.
The rise in fatalities can likely be attributed in part to the documented increase in speeding in our city during the COVID-19 pandemic, when fewer people have been driving and the roads are less congested.
This reflects a national trend, but Chicago’s increase in deaths was far worse than the nationwide average. According the advocacy group the National Safety Council, within the first nine months of 2020 the total number of miles driven in the U.S. dropped 14.5 percent compared to the previous year, but crash deaths were up by 5 percent.
Most of the rise in total 2020 Chicago traffic deaths was due to more motorist fatalities. The number of motor vehicle drivers and passengers killed in crashes increased from 52 in 2019, to 92 last year, a staggering 77 percent increase. That’s also far above the five-year average of 65.4 motorist fatalities.
During the pandemic, more people have turned to cycling as a form of socially-distanced transportation and recreation. Chicago has also saw a spike in cycling deaths in 2020, with nine total on-street fatalities, more than any other year in the past decade, and a 125 percent increase from 2019. (CDOT’s chart only shows 8 biking deaths — see a list of the nine fatal on-street crashes at the end of this post.) That’s well above the five-year average of six cycling fatalities.
The only silver lining to the new figures is that pedestrian deaths were down slightly, from 40 last year, to 39 in 2020, just under the five-year average of 39.4 fatalities. One possible explanation for why there was no increase in walking deaths while other modes spiked may be a decrease in foot traffic due to fewer people commuting to work, especially in the Loop.
Back in October the Mayor Lori Lightfoot administration used the rising traffic fatality rate during the pandemic as an argument for lowering the threshold for speed camera tickets from 10 mph over the limit to 6 mph. Streetsblog Chicago didn’t endorse that change, since it’s unclear whether people going only 6-9 mph over the limit, as opposed to truly egregious 10 mph+ speeders, are to blame for the spike in deaths, and the pandemic seems like a bad time to be issuing a flurry of new fines since many people are already struggling financially. But since the change passed the City Council, hopefully it will have a positive impact on reducing speeding and serious crashes this year, without inflicting undue fiscal pain on low-income and working-class Chicagoans.
Here’s a list of the nine 2020 bike fatality cases.
- On February 29 a hit-and-run driver fatally struck a 61-year-old male cyclist on the 3700 block of West Lake Street in East Garfield Park.
- On May 20 a motorist fatally struck Andrew Peterson, 37, at Taylor and Ruble streets on the Near West Side.
- On June 18 Louis Jacobson, 67, was biking on the 6400 block on North Western Avenue in West Ridge when he struck a pothole and suffered a fatal head injury.
- On June 28 an allegedly intoxicated hit-and-run driver struck and killed 13-year-old Issac Martinez on his bike on the 8300 block of South Lawndale Avenue in Ashburn.
- On July 13 a hit-and-run driver struck and killed Walter M. Williams, 72, on his bike on the 1500 block of South Central Park Avenue in North Lawndale.
- On August 21, a driver struck and killed 83-year-old Jan Kopec as he rode his bike at Kostner and Archer avenues in Archer Heights.
- On September 9, a motorist fatally struck Andrew Ryan Biesen, 28, on an electric Divvy bike at Warren Boulevard and Damen Avenue on the Near West Side.
- On Friday, October 23, a driver struck and killed Czeslaw Kosma, 78, on the 6200 block of West Higgins Avenue in Jefferson Park.
- On December 27, Demetrio Ruiz Macias, 47, struck on his bike by a hit-and-run driver earlier that month in Gage Park, died from his injuries.
A tenth person, Mark Goodman, 56, died after suffering brain injuries in a crash with another cyclist on the Lakefront Trail near Belmont Avenue.