Note: We’re not covering all aspects of the Safe System approach, but rather introducing key principles that apply to street design.
Designing roadways that:
Actively managing speeds:
>> Center vulnerable populations experiencing a disproportionate rate of injuries & fatalities <<
Safe System Design Examples
People Make Mistakes
A distracted driver swerves on a road that is a popular bicycling route.
Design physically separated bikeways to prevent drivers from crashing into bicyclists (or, at least, minimize a crash).
People are Vulnerable
Drivers making left turns at specific intersections are injuring people in a crosswalk.
Add leading pedestrian intervals, allowing people in crosswalk to get a head start before drivers make turns; or change signal timing so left turns are allowed only when pedestrians have “Don’t Walk” signal; or add pedestrian islands.
Safety is Proactive
If the situation above causes serious injuries at some locations…
Analyze other streets with similar designs to identify if problems are likely elsewhere, then proactively implement solutions systemwide.
Safe System Design: Design streets and public spaces for people — prioritizing people’s safe mobility over the fast movement of cars. Examples include: Complete Streets with protected bike lanes, connected sidewalks and ample room for people walking, biking and riding transit, as well as traffic-calming and streets designed for lower, safer speeds.
Self-Enforcing Streets: The physical environment people move in is the greatest influence on how they move around. We can design for safer behavior.
Less Reliance on Punitive Measures: Effective design solutions can lessen reliance on traffic stops and interactions between road users and police.
Safe & Equitable Streets: The ultimate goal is safe & equitable mobility for all people.
Intersection Safety Program
Started in 2016, this program proactively identified 23 intersections for safety investments.
Started in 2019, this program aims to improve safety and livability by reducing speeds with design interventions.
Proactively assesses locations where speeding is already a documented problem or where it’s likely to be in the future. Criteria include:
Completed in 2016, this study found that people making left turns in vehicles caused 3x more severe injuries and fatalities amongst people walking and biking compared to right turning vehicles.
In response, NYC piloted left-turn street design interventions to soften crash angles, reduce kinetic energy and impact, and separate users in time and space. The results of this study were used to implement safety improvements citywide at locations with similar, high-risk, left-turn configurations.
Intersections with Turn Calming treatments experienced a 20% decrease in pedestrian injuries. These safety improvements are being made proactively and city-wide at locations fitting this high-risk design.
In 2022, NYC DOT completed a study showing that older New Yorkers were disproportionately at risk of being injured or killed while walking in traffic.
In 2022, Detroit focused on proactively addressing dangerous speeds throughout the city. The City plans to install 3,000 speed humps in locations that need them the most. Locations will be prioritized by factors including:
In 2019, Jersey City adopted the Let’s Ride JC: Bicycle Master Plan, which sets a citywide goal of no resident being more than a few blocks from a bikeway. The Plan calls for re-designing most segments of the City’s High Injury Network, including adding bikeways where needed and prioritizing safety of people walking and biking above other demands for street space.
Looking for a deeper dive? Check out this new webinar on the "do's" and "don'ts" of Safe System based street design.
Photo credits: Halsey-Weidler Streetscape Project, Oregon DOT (cover)