Even as the number of people killed by drivers in the U.S. continues to climb—due to what many attribute to pandemic-related reckless driving—studies keep rolling out that point to predictable patterns in where those crashes are likely to occur and who is most likely to be impacted. Two of the most recent studies come from opposite corners of the U.S., well before the pandemic began.
Housing and transportation are the top two expenses for the average household in the U.S. Increased housing near high-quality transit can reduce transportation costs, but does not come without the risk of higher housing costs and potential displacement. Two studies released this year can help us understand the ways in which transit can be a net benefit, and some of the pitfalls to watch out for.
There is no doubt that Americans love big vehicles. In 2010 just under 53 percent of estimated new vehicle sales were made up of trucks and SUVs. That number has jumped to 78.5 percent in 2021 according to JD Power. Unfortunately, the rate of pedestrian fatalities has also risen during that time frame. Pedestrian deaths have increased by 46 percent in the last decade, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association, with over 6,500 pedestrians killed in 2020 alone. A new study provides one explanation for why these two trends may be connected.
A unique public funding structure called Transportation Reinvestment Zones is a new strategy to increase funds available for public transportation and expanded housing near transit. TRZs work on the principle that improved amenities, access, and convenience will lead to increased property taxes, generating funds for transit and other public services.
Even before the pandemic sent a shockwave through transit systems, ridership across the U.S. was on a slow but steady downward trajectory. A new report from Transit Cooperative Research Program points to some of the leading causes and, more importantly, ways that thoughtful planning and transit investments could help reverse the trend in the next decade.
The Seattle DOT, in seeking to improve pedestrian mobility, is installing marked crosswalks in areas with anticipated demand, which is an important shift away from the conventional warrant-based system. The final form that these installations take—paint alone, or paint with enhancements such as medians or flashing beacons—will depend on the location, and ultimately still be a matter of engineering judgment and available funding.
Many transportation agencies throughout the U.S.—some working directly with SSTI—are beginning to think about service in terms of access to destinations. A few, like the Washington and Virginia DOTs, are measuring accessibility in planning and project selection. New research suggests that accessibility analysis can also be helpful in predicting travel outcomes like transit ridership.
The death of a well-known cyclist in Phoenix, Arizona, persuaded the city DOT to scrap changes it had proposed for an essential local street, in favor of protected bike lanes. As the Phoenix New Times reported, the death of a cyclist and downtown ambassador in central Phoenix galvanized supporters to call for protected bike lanes in the area of the crash. The city Street Transportation Department moved away from installing lanes shared by drivers and bicyclists, to painted, buffered bicycle lanes, and, on some blocks, fully protected bike lanes.
Culture change at large agencies like state DOTs is slow but steady. In California’s case, the agency has taken several important steps, prompted partly by SSTI’s 2014 external review. The agency started by updating its mission, vision, and goals—shifting its focus from strictly “mobility” to “a safe, sustainable, integrated and efficient transportation system.” It is now formalizing that mission in its design process through a Complete Streets policy directive.
Transit agencies across the country are weighing the potential impacts of lowering transit fares or making transit free to passengers, but riders and transit advocates are concerned the fare cuts could translate into worse service. Research suggests there may be better ways to improve service and increase ridership, including leaning on partners to help cover costs. Many agencies suspended fares during the pandemic, partly as relief for frontline workers, but also because fare collection became challenging. Now local governments across greater DC are considering lower fares or transit subsidies for low-income riders.