Major roads undercut safety benefits of highly accessible places

In working with transportation agencies across the U.S., our team often faces questions about the role of safety in accessibility analysis. While we know the safety and comfort of streets clearly impacts access for people on foot or bicycle, the effects of accessibility on overall safety haven’t been clear. Fortunately, leading experts in both accessibility and traffic safety recently teamed up to answer this question.

Is bigger better?

New analysis of FARS data by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety points to crashes being more survivable for drivers of large SUVs than for drivers of smaller cars. While driver death is one measure of safety, there are a number of other criteria that offer a richer story of SUV safety, such as their contribution to emissions and increased dangers to those not inside the vehicle.

Windshield bias among transportation professionals shifts safety burden onto pedestrians

Transportation professionals who spend more time behind the wheel tend to believe distracted walking plays an overstated role in pedestrian deaths, according to a new Rutgers study. This belief can steer professionals toward trying to correct pedestrian behavior, rather than focusing on the change that would reduce pedestrian deaths most: lowering vehicle speeds.

What states and cities can do to mitigate speeding during the pandemic

Traffic volumes have plummeted since the pandemic. While that has led to fewer crashes overall in some states and cities, a growing number report large increases in speeding citations. In California, the number of tickets issued for driving above 100 miles per hour is 87 percent higher than this time last year. Similar reports have emerged across the country. Besides enforcement, what can states and cities do to reduce dangerous driving?

Oregon moves toward a safer speed-limit approach

The Oregon Transportation Commission last month approved a revised speed-limit guidance that abandons the long-standing-but-arbitrary 85th percentile rule in many cases. Instead of relying on drivers to set speeds by their behavior, the new guidance provides context-based safe speed ranges for urban and suburban roadways, ranging from 20-25 mph in urban cores to 25-35 mph in more suburban areas. The rule gives leeway for setting limits outside of those ranges. Rationales for exceptions do include observed motorist speeds, but they are based on the slower 50th percentile rather than the 85th.

Has reduced travel during the COVID-19 crisis made streets safer?

As more data begins to emerge, COVID-19’s impact on traffic crashes and severity is proving complicated. Collisions and fatalities have declined in many places with data available, though not everywhere. However, collision rates and injury and fatality rates appear to be up in a number of cities for both drivers and vulnerable pedestrians once you account for the significant drops in VMT, likely due to higher speeds made possible by less traffic.

Cities open streets to create more space for walking, biking during pandemic

Cities across the country are restricting motor vehicle use on some streets and reallocating road space to give residents more space to move by foot and bicycle while still maintaining appropriate distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many cities are finding that residents using active transportation face two problems: drivers speeding on the empty streets and insufficient space to stay six feet apart on sidewalks, paths, and trails.

The incompatibility of Vision Zero and VMT growth

The U.S. transportation field has tried many things to reduce traffic crashes, fatalities, and injuries: drunk-driving and seatbelt laws; in-vehicle safety improvements; wide, straight roads with crash zones; graduated licensing; and more. Yet traffic crashes still kill 35,000-40,000 Americans each year and injure millions. A new online resource that helps explain the situation. Fatalities are largely a function of miles driven, so you can’t be serious about Vision Zero without also being serious about VMT management.