How to Approach Safe Streets and Roads for All: Key Considerations for Local Leaders

With the passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law in 2021, the U.S. Department of Transportation is making safer streets a major priority to the tune of $5 billion in funding opportunities, through the Safe Streets and Roads for All (SS4A) program. That’s because traffic injuries and deaths on our roadways are on the rise. In fact, last year, pedestrian deaths in the U.S hit a 40-year high.  

Cities or counties that stay on top of things can bring much needed funding and solutions to their local communities. The SS4A program puts money directly in the hands of local governments, offering both planning/demonstration grants and implementation grants. Planning and demonstration grants provide funds to develop, complete or supplement comprehensive safety action plans, while implementation grants fund projects and strategies identified in safety action plans to address key safety issues.  

A safety action plan is the basic building block of the local effort. It needs to be comprehensive, to address serious injury and fatal crashes, and it should be backed up by data analysis to characterize the roadway safety issues facing your community, according to USDOT

Gresham Smith developed a Safety Action Plan for Cobb County, Georgia, which includes a range of safety countermeasures, ranging from “quick fixes” such as leading pedestrian intervals (which have been shown to reduce vehicle-pedestrian crashes at intersections by up to 13%) to longer-term solutions such as road diets or the addition of sidewalks and bike lanes.  

Here are some tips to consider when developing a Safety Action Plan: 

Consider what other cities are doing. The New York City Department of Transportation released a study that showed major reductions (30% or more) in serious injuries and fatalities after implementing improvements such as road diets, pedestrian islands, curb and sidewalk extensions, and leading pedestrian intervals. In 2020, the City of Seattle lowered speed limits on most major streets to 25 mph, effectively reducing the number of crashes by 20-40% in several neighborhoods. Here at Gresham Smith, we helped prepare the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Regional Safety Strategy, developing a series of before and after “Safe Street” visualizations that depict high-risk scenarios and application of proven safety countermeasures in a variety of roadway contexts. 

This Safe Street visualization from the ARC Regional Safety Strategy shows how various countermeasures can lower risk for all travelers.

Develop a diverse stakeholder group. Improving roadway safety doesn’t and shouldn’t happen in a silo. It is important to include a wide range of local government and community representatives that understand your community’s safety issues and who observe and/or experience those issues on a daily basis. This might include first responders (fire, police, EMS, etc.), public works agencies or departments of transportation, schools, transit providers, and organizations that represent historically disadvantaged communities, among others. Collectively, these stakeholders can guide development of your safety plan, identifying issues and potential solutions to complement data-informed analysis.  

Address equity. Equity must be top of mind because disadvantaged communities are disproportionately impacted by the rise of pedestrian injuries and deaths on roadways. Low-income communities spend a higher proportion of their annual income on transportation than wealthier communities, and the neighborhoods they live in have historically received a lower share of investments in safer, multimodal transportation options. In Kentucky, Gresham Smith is working with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, Kentucky Office of Highway Safety and the City of Louisville to conduct road safety assessments with a focus on vulnerable roadway users in disadvantaged communities. The project aims to deliver safer and better infrastructure in these communities that increases mobility to eliminate barriers.  

Use data and technology. Planners have always had crash studies and anecdotal evidence about where the problem areas are, but with MPATH, Gresham Smith has developed a revolutionary, patented approach that quantifies how people experience places. By analyzing heart rates, we are able to tell if users are at ease when walking, biking, or crossing the road, or where traffic, narrow infrastructure, or other factors may contribute to higher stress levels. MPATH effectively measures levels of stress and comfort by spatially analyzing community-shared biometric data from modern wearables. It enables the identification of critical pain-points, which are often indicative of potential safety issues, confusing routing, and other aspects of the built environment that make it more difficult to walk or bike. We are currently deploying MPATH for the Vision Zero program in Denver, Colorado, to inform and involve the community on the development of safety projects.  

Developing thoughtful plans for improving safety requires taking a deep dive into the data, considering equity throughout the process and engaging with a diverse group of stakeholders. Following these steps will put municipalities in a strong position to leverage federal safety dollars for local design projects.

Consistently ranked as a “best place to work,” Gresham Smith is committed to creating a culture that fosters diversity of experience combined with a common goal of genuine care for each other, our partners and the outcome of our work.

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If you’d like to learn more about how we can work together in your community, email Eric Lusher, AICP or call 678-268-4285.