August 25, 2022 BY Tiffany Smithin News

How to Advance Vision Zero with Safe Streets Grants

So you know that Vision Zero – a fundamental shift in how we approach roadway safety – takes strong leadership, a willingness to change the status quo, and a focus on equitable and effective safety strategies. Of course, money helps too.

You’re in luck! The new Safe Streets & Roads for All (SS4A) federal grants program will provide $1billion/year to municipalities, regional governments and tribal communities for their Vision Zero-specific work, including planning and implementation. The program will invest in projects that place an emphasis on improving safety for people walking, biking, and moving outside of cars, along with projects focused on traditionally underserved communities.  

This is your chance to GO BIG and GO BOLD in your Vision Zero efforts! Please check out our easy to read guide on the SS4A program which compiles SS4A basics, resources, and key takeaways. 

Below are more timely tips and reminders on how to make the most of this opportunity, many of which were shared in recent webinars led by the National League of Cities, National Center for Rural Roadway Safety, Vision Zero Network and others.

First, Register ASAP to Qualify to Apply 

Before submitting an SS4A application, applicants MUST complete the registration process to get a Unique Entity Identifier (UEI) BEFORE submitting the final application. Applicants can read more about the steps registration process here. This process usually takes 2-4 weeks to complete, so be sure to complete this step as early as possible. This shouldn’t be a tough step, but it is very time-sensitive and crucial to do well before the September 15th deadline.

Getting Started: Which Path? 

It’s time to decide whether your community should be applying for a Planning or Implementation grant – you must choose one or the other. Check out this helpful guide, and below, from the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) for guidance on which path is appropriate for your community.

USDOT Safe Streets and Roads for All Application Decision Flow Chart

For those communities who already have a roadway safety plan, or some components of one, you may be wondering if this “counts” as a Safety Action Plan, based on USDOT’s criteria. Take the time to go through the self-certification process worksheet. This will let you know whether or not your Action Plan will qualify and whether you can apply for an Implementation grant. Still not sure? We suggest checking out USDOT’s helpful Q&A list, where more details are shared.

Applying for a Planning Grant to Develop an Action Plan

This is a great opportunity to not only develop a clear Vision Zero Action Plan in your community (or further the work on earlier planning), but also a chance to galvanize key stakeholders to step up to the USDOT’s recent call for a shift in how we’re doing business in the roadway safety world. The new National Roadway Safety Strategy has set the first-ever national goal of zero roadway fatalities and represents a national commitment to adopting a Safe System approach to advancing safe mobility for all people. 

This means now is the time to help your community adopt a Safe System approach that evolves beyond the traditional “E’s” of roadway safety (engineering, education, enforcement, etc.). It is a chance to prioritize a more equitable and human-centered approach to safety, especially for road users who deserve more attention, including people walking and biking, and people in neighborhoods that have been traditionally underserved. 

You will want each step of your Action Plan to identify the lead agency responsible, along with supporting/partner agencies, a projected timeline, and budget needs. These help bring more transparency, accountability and urgency to the work. We know that can be daunting, so feel free to check out this Vision Zero Network guide on what makes an effective Vision Zero Action Plan

Tips & Reminders for Action Plan Grants

Remember that this grant program is focused on all types of transportation users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, public transportation users, and other micromobility users, specifically in underserved communities. So, this is the time to emphasize the (often-overlooked) safety needs of these communities. Ways to make change include planning for the following:

  • Add to the traditional analysis of high-injury areas, usually based on police reports, with feedback from your community about areas that feel threatening, especially in underserved communities. For example, are there complaints about poor lighting near bus stops and along important walking or biking routes? Even if those areas do not “show up” on an official list of past high-injury areas, the feedback and lived experiences from community members is important to solicit and incorporate.
  • Plan to add in layers of other key demographic and health-related data, in addition to crash data, to prioritize areas that need safety improvements. For instance, are some high-crash areas also in low-income communities? Near school zones? Near senior centers? Or close to other places with more vulnerable community members who would walk more if crossing the street felt safer or if sidewalks were better connected with destinations? 
  • Budget to compensate community partners who can play important roles in Action Plan development and outreach. Community engagement is important in how these grants will be evaluated, so include organizations on the ground who know the environment, history and community best. Here are some examples of compensating community partners here and here
  • Use this opportunity to create and deepen meaningful partnerships. In addition to community engagement, this is also a chance to lift up the important work of your partnering public health agency. They can help integrate non-crash data and build bridges with groups in traditionally underserved communities.
  • This isn’t *only* traditional planning! You can include funds in your grant proposal to add quick-build and pilot projects to test ideas that address issues in your community and are expected themes of your Action Plan. Consider including and implementing quick-build, low-cost safety improvements as part of your planning efforts. 

NYC Asphalt Art Activations: “Birds – Eye View” by Mary Carter Taub. Photo credit: NYC DOT.

Tips & Reminders for Implementation Grants

So, you’re confident your Action Plan qualifies under USDOT’s criteria, and you want to apply for an Implementation grant. Here are some suggestions: 

  • Make sure that the projects and strategies that you intend to carry out center a Safe System approach. This includes a focus on Complete Streets designs, emphasizing safety for people walking, biking, and others outside of cars; self-enforcing roadways and safe speeds; and prioritizing equitable strategies & outcomes, without an over-reliance on enforcement & education measures.
  • Think beyond “spot” improvements to implement safety changes that will benefit people community-wide, or at least a larger range of neighborhoods or regions. This includes moving beyond a reactive view of past danger areas and instead proactively identifying future problem areas, based on roadway designs and/or speeds. Here are some examples.
  • Prioritize safety improvements in communities that have been traditionally underserved. Engage local community members meaningfully in decisions and potential changes. This is another chance to budget for the important work of community members engaging in the projects’ development and outreach (examples here).
  • THINK BIGGER & ACT BOLDER! Your Implementation grant can include a portion of funds for “Supplemental Planning.” For example, if you’re applying for funds to implement changes on a problematic street (ex: re-designing a high-injury, high-speed street in a low-income community by lowering speeds & re-timing traffic lights, reducing the number of travel lanes and lane widths, adding separated bikeways and more pedestrian crossings and better lighting), you could also apply for Supplemental Planning activities such as the following:
      • Conduct feasibility studies of other locations that suffer similar problems and need re-designs;
      • Add quick-build design changes in some of those locations to respond more quickly with safety changes and inform other projects in the future; 
      • Develop a citywide speed management plan, racial and health equity plan, or a lighting management plan;
      • Add missing components to your existing Action Plan, such as developing an annual progress report that measures investments in traditionally underserved communities, such as the specific Implementation proposal;
      • Develop and pilot alternatives to traffic stops for non-dangerous offenses, or pretext stops, to move toward more equitable enforcement strategies.  
      • More ideas listed here.
  • Don’t get too caught up in concept plans or detailed budget estimates. If you are concerned about needing to make changes in the budget, be sure to build in a financial cushion, as the budget requirements are broad.
Other Considerations for Your Proposal
  • Be intentional about how you identify the lead applicant, secondary applicants, and stakeholders in your proposal. Not all key players will be operating at the same capacity level. So, including an organization, agency, etc. as a joint applicant with designated funding may make it easier to garner more collaboration. 
  • If you’re a small community, it might be beneficial to work with your regional planning agency (MPO, TPO, etc.), combining forces with other small jurisdictions in the region that would also benefit from shared efforts.
  • Consider how mobility and transportation intersect with public health and other issues important to your community and include agencies in that space, budgeting for them to be partners in the work.
  • Engage and include the community in which you intend to benefit or who will be most affected in the process —  particularly those in low-income communities and communities of color.
Common Questions and Concerns

See USDOT’s extensive Q&A page for important information. 

Q: Can small communities really compete? And what about rural communities? 

Absolutely! This grant is for everybody, including small and rural communities. (In fact, did you know that Vision Zero actually started 30 years ago on rural roads?!) Small communities can combine forces with other jurisdictions and partner on shared goals for safety. And just because your community is smaller and has fewer traffic deaths and severe injuries, this does not count you out. Think about the injury and fatality rates (not just overall numbers) and what kinds of communities may be disproportionately impacted. Are they low-income? Young people? People with health issues related to limited physical activity options in their area?

Q: What if my community is not racially diverse? How can I integrate equity into my application?

Rural communities can be considered underserved communities. An underserved community can be one that is at an income, health, transportation, environmental, or resiliency disadvantage. We recommend you check out the SS4A Communities Census Tracts mapping tool to see how this information can be incorporated into your application. In addition to the crash and injury data, we encourage you to look at qualitative data, or records of complaints, on what areas community members feel unsafe walking and biking. This may help uncover opportunities to integrate equity into your proposal. 

Final Thoughts

If there’s one thing we hope you take away from this article, it is that the SS4A grant is a chance to move out of traditional transportation silos and engage different stakeholders in order to invest in safe, accessible, equitable, and sustainable mobility options. Whether you’re a community advocate or someone who works for a city, town, county, Metropolitan Planning Organization, or a tribal government, this is your chance to make Vision Zero change! 

For additional information on how to submit strong applications, along with resources and application aids, visit the USDOT SS4A website and slides with our top takeaways. And to learn more about how to start on the road to Vision Zero, click here. 

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