In response to mounting safety issues, more transportation agencies are recognizing the importance of managing traffic speeds—a shift from long-held practices that prioritize vehicle speed. In the long run, this will require widespread changes in road design that reinforce lower travel speeds through physical and visual cues. Until then, however, authorities are turning to more immediate strategies like setting lower speed limits in urbanized areas. As the leading authorities across much of the U.S., state DOTs are stepping up to the task.
Transportation engineering is a highly skilled job. Not only does it require the obvious technical expertise, but it also requires working closely with the public, speaking their language, and knowing how to assess tough tradeoffs in meeting their needs. Most engineers only learn these skills on the job, which raises important questions about how the educational system can leave them better prepared.
Since early in the highway era, road designers have tended to favor wide, rounded corners, and dedicated slip lanes that let drivers turn through an intersection without having to slow down quite as much. As many engineers and transportation advocates know, however, those wide turning radii can create issues for people trying to cross on foot. They create longer crossing distances, exposing people to traffic longer, and they increase the chance of a pedestrian crash by 50 percent or more, according to one new study.
Many highways that once cut through cities across the country are now coming of age, and the state DOTs responsible for maintaining them are beginning to wrestle with what those facilities should look like in the coming decades and, in some cases, whether they should be there at all. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has signaled strong interest in rethinking these highways and USDOT will soon be inviting applications for its $1B Reconnecting Communities program, authorized through IIJA. That will be good news for a small number of agencies facing mounting pressure from community members pushing for innovative thinking on urban freeways.
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.
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.
The state DOTs in Washington (WSDOT) and Utah (UDOT) recently developed methods to evaluate the comfort, safety, and connectivity of active transportation networks, focusing on bicycle and pedestrian connectivity across highways. The studies leverage newer data sources and GIS techniques to think about how highways can create barriers for nearby communities and how major corridors can be made more permeable.
Bike sharing—both docked and undocked, manual and electric-assist—plus kick and electric scooters have become commonplace in cities across the U.S. But best practices are still emerging, and cities are often not sure if these new micromobility devices will bring positive or negative consequences to their transportation system and neighborhoods. The National League of Cities has provided a history of the rise of micromobility, a guide for what cities should think about as they move forward with regulation and policy, and finally case studies from across the country.
The Mineta Transportation Institute surveyed various levels of government—cities, states, and college campuses— as well as conducted personal interviews with stakeholders, to detail how jurisdictions are regulating electric and kick scooters, skateboards, e-skateboards, hoverboards, Segways, and rollerblades. They then recommended model state laws to bring some standardization to the use of these personal transportation devices.
With the advancements in artificial intelligence, and multiple studies being focused towards developing real-time crash prediction models, the concept of a proactive safety management system has become very close to reality. The linked study conducts an extensive review of the existing real-time crash prediction models, systematically illustrating the various methodologies being used world-wide. It evaluates the universality, design requirements, and associated challenges of various models. The study aims to be a “one stop knowledge source” for future researchers and practitioners for transitioning from the existing real-time crash prediction conceptual models to a real-world operational proactive traffic safety management system.