June 2, 2023 BY Leah Shahumin News

Four Things You May Not Know About Safe Streets & Roads for All Grants

The first round of federal Safe Streets and Roads for All (SS4A) grants shared $800M to advance Vision Zero in areas covering more than a half of the U.S. population. More than 500 communities – local, regional and tribal – are being supported for their roadway safety work as part of the nation’s first-ever commitment to the goal of zero traffic deaths, as outlined in the new National Roadway Safety Strategy.

This new funding program is significant not only because it directly supports on-the-ground Vision Zero planning and implementation but also because it invests in key areas – many of which have been disregarded for too long – such as prioritizing safety for people walking and biking and people of color and low-income communities, all of whom are disproportionately harmed by today’s transportation setup. And SS4A encourages important Safe System actions, including managing speeds for safety, building Complete Streets, and other proactive, upstream strategies to support safety over speed.

Check out our slides showcasing ideas for strong SS4A projects and watch our 1-hour webinar to get more inspired by bold examples.

Round 2 of SS4A is now open – until July 10, 2023. Below, we highlight four of the most exciting aspects of this round of funding:

1. Your chances of securing funds may be better than you think!

First, some basics: The eligible entities to apply, according to USDOT’s informative SS4A website, include counties, cities, towns, transit agencies, and other special districts that are political subdivisions of a state; Metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs); federally recognized Tribal governments. Also, you can apply as a multijurisdictional group of entities. And only entities that have an existing Action Plan or have an existing plan that is substantially similar and meets the eligibility requirements of an Action Plan can apply for Implementation funding, which will be far more competitive.

Here’s the part we want to flag: If your community is part of another entity that already has or is developing a Plan (e.g., yours is a town or city within a County or MPO that received a round 1 SS4A Action Plan grant that covers your town/city or that County or MPO already has a qualifying Action Plan in place), your community can apply for Supplemental Planning and/or Demonstration activities in coordination with the regional government.

Is your community within one of the more than 100 regional government organizations (MPO, COG, RPC, large county etc.) selected for round 1 SS4A grant awards? If so, this may be an important chance to apply for round 2 funds to further some local work that informs that regional Plan. Maybe that’s a more in-depth speed management analysis and plan for your community or piloting lower speed limits and traffic calming measures or building out an equity analysis and framework (see more examples in #4 below).

And if you are in a position to apply for an Implementation grant, don’t forget to include Supplemental Planning and/or Demonstration activities, in addition to the Implementation components. Why? The Implementation category is expected to be oversubscribed with not enough funds to go around ($600M). And USDOT has been clear that even if your Implementation activity is not funded, your community can still be awarded for Supplemental Planning and/or Demonstration activities – but only if you include them!

2. You Can Make Complete Streets a Reality

If you are working toward the goal of Vision Zero and believe that safe mobility is a right everyone deserves, then designing – and redesigning – Complete Streets is essential. This means to put safety over speed, balance the needs of different modes, and support local land uses, economies and cultures, and ensure the physical environment that we move around in is proactively built for safety more than speed.

Many communities have Complete Streets policies on the books; this SS4A funding is a chance to put that commitment into practice. This could be via Demonstration activities to add quick build traffic calming measures or testing out adaptive signal timing, or via an Implementation grant to convert arterial streets into safer routes. Find more examples in our conversation with Mike Lydon, Street Plans Principal and a respected expert on quick-build projects and planning for safe, inviting streets.

This could be creating an Action Plan or using Supplemental Planning to develop a High-Injury Network and prioritize steps to convert problematic streets to Complete Streets, via road diets and/or traffic calming and/or lowering speed limits. And remember, don’t forget about the problematic roads that your local community doesn’t own – these are often some of the most high-speed, dangerous roads and need to be part of your planning and actions. Read more about ways to address safety on state- and county-owned roads.

3. This is an Opportunity to Elevate Equity

The SS4A program recognizes that some communities have been historically underserved when it comes to roadway safety efforts, as evidenced by the stark statistics showing that Black people are 80% more likely to be killed by drivers while walking than white, non-Hispanic Americans; and people in low-income communities are 3 times more likely to be killed by drivers while walking than those in high-income areas. This is an opportunity to invest more in communities that are suffering most. And SS4A grants will be evaluated, in part, on their attention to addressing equity disparities. So, whether you’re applying to develop a Vision Zero Action Plan or to try for Supplemental Planning or Demonstration activities, or an Implementation grant (or a combination of these, see #1 above!), make sure you are centering equity considerations and actions front and center. Some ideas include:

  • Developing an equity framework for your community’s roadway safety work. Check out this strong example of equity analysis from Arlington County, MD developed for their existing Vision Zero Action Plan. Like Arlington County, maybe you already have a Vision Zero Action Plan, but it doesn’t sufficiently address health equity needs. SS4A is a chance to apply for Supplemental Planning dollars to add an important layer of analysis and actions based on key equity needs.
  • Piloting more effective and equitable activities than traditional enforcement/criminal justice approaches. For example, perhaps your community could test a restorative justice program, such as this one in Brooklyn, and/or an income-based fine system for safety infractions, as referenced on p.64 in USDOT Speed Safety Camera Program Planning and Operations Guide.
  • Using Supplemental Planning funds to evolve an E’s-based local roadway safety plan to better reflect the Safe System approach – one focused more on upstream, preventative solutions that are grounded in efficacy and equity (see some examples here).
  • Prioritizing meaningful safety improvements in communities that have been underserved and engaging community members there to understand the history, desires and many factors that can help safety projects be community-driven. Note that this is important in any kind of proposal – planning and implementation.

4. Be Bold: Try New Approaches!

The SS4A grant program is a chance to “reimagine what roadway safety looks like”, as was shared on a recent USDOT webinar, and we couldn’t agree more. The reality is that small tweaks to the status quo is not going to be enough. We need bigger, bolder improvements to make our roadway safety system safe for all users. So, now is the time for your community to step up for change.

This round of SS4A funds are emphasizing Demonstration activities, with a plan to commit an estimated $250M toward this specifically. We suggest that no matter which category of grant you’re applying for – Planning or Implementation – you also include Demonstration activities that can inform your ongoing safety work (read more about the categories on USDOT’s site).

Here are a few ideas of Demonstration activities to get your creative juices flowing:

Delve into our SS4A slides, brimming with ideas to make the most of your SS4A proposals, and check out the recording our 1-hour webinar on this topic:

A few important reminders: the deadline for submitting technical questions is June 16th 2023, and the deadline for submitting grant applications is July 10th. Please visit the USDOT website for important official grant information, including their informative webinars.

Check out Vision Zero Network’s Fundamentals of Vision Zero Action Planning webinar series and sign up for our monthly e-news to stay in touch.

Learn more: funding, ss4a

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