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.
The total number of traffic deaths on U.S. roads might have finally leveled off following a concerning pandemic-related surge, according to early estimates. For people walking, however, the alarming rise in deaths for over a decade is not showing signs of slowing.
Transit continues to face challenges from low ridership and workforce shortages. Several places are successfully tackling these obstacles while offering key insights into their strategies and opportunities.
When gas prices rise it seems reasonable to expect people to economize by driving less. According to one indicator brought to light by Eno Center for Transportation, gasoline usage in the U.S.—and by extension driving—hit an all-time high during fiscal year 2022. During the same period gas prices were the highest we’ve seen—adjusted for inflation—since the great recession that began in 2008. But the U.S. is swiftly returning to pre-pandemic levels of vehicle miles traveled (VMT), perhaps due to pandemic-era travel patterns and relocations.
In California, during the stay-at-home period of COVID-19, people drove less and the total number of crashes went down; but the frequency of fatal crashes increased due to drivers driving faster on open roads. New research leverages pandemic-era speed, volume, and crash data in that state to show that in an urban setting adding lanes to relieve congestion and decrease the number of fender benders can make room for risky behavior and higher speeds that increase the severity of crashes.
Many agencies have renewed their focus on making transportation systems more equitable for all travelers, or they are being pressured to do so by advocates. Travelers who are Black, Latino, Native, or Asian can feel unsafe in public spaces due to exposure to law enforcement, or the hateful or racist behaviors of others. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought awareness of this situation to the fore. The ability to stay active during the pandemic—especially by walking—contributed to better physical and mental health. For those who did not have access, or felt unsafe outside, and could not stay active, outcomes were not so rosy. New pandemic-era research from Melbourne, Australia, shows that Asians may have walked less in order to avoid racist confrontations and because they didn’t have access to good places to walk.
Numerous studies have raised concerns that self-driving cars could flood our roads with more traffic, as commuters travel longer distances and cars drive themselves in and out of central cities to avoid parking. Fully autonomous vehicles are probably a ways off, giving policymakers time to grapple with the potential impacts, but new research suggests that even common features found in cars today like adaptive cruise control and lane guidance lead to increased vehicle miles traveled.
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 consumption choices and lifestyle preferences of Millennials—those born between 1981 and 1996—and their differences from those of the previous generations have repeatedly piqued academic and policy makers’ interests. Although some suggest they might just be slower in adopting previous trends, a recent study from the University of Texas at Austin suggests that they are a generation that prefers to drive about 8-9 percent less than Generation X and Baby Boomers, and that they might continue to drive less as they get older.
Distracted driving has long been a concern of traffic safety advocates and transportation professionals, and the pandemic has potentially made things worse. Reports by data and insurance companies suggest distracted driving contributed to the dramatic recent surge in traffic deaths. Fortunately, a growing body of research shows how road design and the built environment can help make crashes involving distracted drivers less serious.