Make Vision Zero Change: New SS4A Funding Available (Deadline Sept. 15, 2022)

by Leah Shahum | June 1, 2022 | in News

Update: please visit our page about Safe Streets and Roads for All grant program here.

Do you want your community to get serious about Vision Zero? Significant new funding can help make it possible.

Safe Streets and Roads for All grant program
Image: USDOT

The new Safe Streets and Roads for All (SS4A) program – open now with a deadline of September 15, 2022 – is a prime opportunity to help your community invest in meaningful Safe System strategies. This competitive grant program, part of the new Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) and administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), encourages local, regional, and tribal entities to apply to this new pot of $1 billion/year directly supporting Vision Zero planning and implementation efforts.

Whether you’re a community advocate or someone who works for a city, town, county, Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), or a tribal government, this is a time to bring in new funding for meaningful, lasting roadway safety projects and programs that prioritize walking, biking, and transit use, as well as investing in underserved communities.

We suggest the following steps:

Step #1: Learn the Basics

  • Check out USDOT’s informative site for all the SS4A details, including examples of proposals that are encouraged: https://www.transportation.gov/grants/SS4A.
  • Dig into USDOT’s “How to apply” page and pay special attention to instructions about requesting a Unique Entity Identifier (UEI), which is required and may take up to a month to receive, so make this an early action.
  • We encourage you to watch USDOT’s informational webinars here.
  • Sign up for updates with a new Local Infrastructure Hub that will offer towns, cities, and communities of all sizes helpful information, resources, and technical assistance to access funding opportunities of the new Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, including SS4A.

Step #2: Aim for Systems Change

This SS4A grant program is not your same-old, same-old. Instead, it builds on the new National Roadway Safety Strategy, which recognizes the need for a different approach and directs attention and funding to address urgent and often overlooked safety needs. These include the following:

  • Prioritizing safety of people walking, biking, riding transit and micromobility users;
  • Prioritizing safety of underserved communities;
  • Addressing problems of unsafe speeds;
  • Investing in Complete Streets that serve all road users, including those outside motor vehicles; and
  • Using a Safe System approach and evolving beyond the traditional E’s, including lessening the need for law enforcement.

As outlined by USDOT in greater detail, there are two funding categories: PLANNING (40% of funds) and IMPLEMENTATION (60% of funds). And these include some important sub-categories of work that will be especially helpful to make meaningful Vision Zero change.

The PLANNING category, ($400 million/year), includes two sections:

1) the first will fund development or completion of a Vision Zero Action Plan or similar safety plan. This is fundamental to progress and should include key elements, such as developing a High-Injury Network; prioritizing projects, based on safety needs and addressing underserved populations; building community and political buy-in; and pivoting to a Safe System approach to roadway safety work. In addition to USDOT’s official sites, you can learn more from Vision Zero Network’s resources: Where to Start on the Road to Vision Zero and Core Elements for Vision Zero Communities; and Guidelines for an Effective Vision Zero Action Plan. And don’t shy away from setting a date to reach zero in your plan – this is key to making real progress and moving from incremental to more systemic changes. (Read more: Zero matters.)

2) The second type of eligible activity within the SS4A planning category is “supplemental planning,” which can support important, deeper-dive work to priority Vision Zero areas, such as the following:

    • Feasibility studies using quick-build strategies that inform permanent projects in the future (read: pilot projects);
    • Complementary planning efforts, such as speed management plans, accessibility and transition plans, racial and health equity plans, and lighting management plans;
    • Progress report development, and other ways.

We’re especially excited about this type of funding because it can help communities move beyond the basics of an Action Plan and past a rearward review of crash maps to a forward-facing focus on trends and patterns to help identify future problem areas and work to prevent severe crashes before they happen. This means determining, analyzing, and addressing the underlying risk factors that influence dangerous actions: the where, how, and why serious crashes happen. And it means focusing on systemwide (read: citywide or countywide) changes. Check out these encouraging examples from NYC and Seattle.

Perhaps your community already has a road safety, or Vision Zero, plan. But did that plan delve deeply enough into key problem areas, such as speeds? Would your city or town benefit from a full assessment and overhaul of how speeds are set and roads are designed to discourage high speeds? This supplemental planning grant could be a chance to develop a systemwide speed management plan, including piloting some strategies, such as speed cameras (read Livable Streets Alliance’s helpful recommendations on using automated speed enforcement in more effective, equitable ways). We’re impressed with the Austin, Texas speed management program and will feature Vision Zero city leaders in our June 28, 2022 webinar to share examples of their planning process.

Another example: Is your community ready to move beyond the traditional “E’s” of roadway safety (education, enforcement, engineering) in order to implement a meaningful Safe System approach, which among other things, recognizes the need to better invest in self-enforcing roadway design and speed management policies, rather than continuing an over-emphasis on law enforcement measures that have a record of racial and income inequities. This could be your chance to pivot to a Safe System approach: Check out these examples at local, state, and federal levels. Perhaps this is an opportunity to test a restorative justice approach that seeks to increase awareness and meaningful accountability amongst dangerous drivers, rather than focusing on traditional criminalized punishment or inequitable fines and fees.

IMPLEMENTATION is the other major funding category for funding, at $600 million/year. See USDOT’s list of examples. Our suggestion is to think BIG and BOLD. Think systemwide – not just a spot improvement here or there – but a community-wide set of changes (think lower speed limits, traffic-calmed streets, added sidewalks and bikeways) in the places that are already problematic and those expected to be problems because of their similar design/usage (Read more about how We Know How to Fix Deadly Streets).

Check out the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Proven Safety Countermeasures – and take special note of the new items added to manage speeds, improve lighting/visibility, and elevate walking/biking/non-motorized safety. And see this fuller list of USDOT recommended resources.

Step #3: Build Partnerships for Long-term Change

This is a chance to move out of our transportation siloes to engage more stakeholders in the work of investing in safe, accessible, just, and sustainable mobility options and public spaces.

  • So, think about involving your public health professionals as partners in better understanding and addressing the intersectionality of access to transportation, job opportunities, schools, healthy food options, etc., particularly for people of color and others who have been historically underserved, marginalized, and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality.
  • Funding can be used to compensate community leaders and groups for their unique knowledge of and connections with people affected by transportation planning decisions. Some examples of Centering Community in the Public Engagement Process; investing in Community Connectors; and Building Capacity & Empowering People with Funding.
  • Consider combining efforts with other agencies that have a stake in safety. For example, do you have state-owned roads that are part of your High-Injury Network? Invite your State DOT to partner on a proposal to address problems together.
  • For smaller communities, consider teaming up with others, and asking your county transportation agency or MPO to facilitate a joint proposal for planning or implementation for multiple towns. (We’ll feature examples of this in our June 28, 2022 webinar.)

A few more thoughts from Vision Zero Network about how the SS4A grant opportunity can be most valuable to lasting safety efforts:

  • Leverage this opportunity to educate your team members and other key stakeholders, including policymakers, agency leaders, and media, about Vision Zero and the Safe System approach and how they differ from the traditional approach.
  • Emphasize the benefits of evolving beyond the traditional “E’s”, which over-emphasizes an individual behavior-focused approach, including education and enforcement. Meaningfully encouraging safe behaviors rests on the assumption that individuals have safe choices to begin with. And, too often, this just isn’t the case. The SS4A program is a chance to address upstream causes of roadway dangers – street design, lack of safe space for people walking and biking, unsafe speeds, and long-time under-investments of safety in communities of color and low-income neighborhoods.

Note that SS4A is only one funding source in the new BIL that can support Vision Zero roadway safety work at the local, regional, and tribal levels. See our post about another key opportunity, as well as IIJA here.

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