As we wrote recently, states need to up the ante for roadway safety. Nowhere is bolder, more effective safety action needed – and possible – than at the state level. It is time for changes to the status quo in all 50 states, whose leaders have outsized influence on what happens – or does not happen – for safety on our roadways, sidewalks and bikeways.
Our June 7, 2022 webinar, shared examples of states taking on this challenge – including Massachusetts and Colorado – and opportunities for much more progress on the safety front, especially given increased funding from the new Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and stepped-up safety leadership at the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT).
View the 1-hour program to learn ideas to bring more effective funding and policies to roadway safety efforts in your state.
Examples from Massachusetts
Jackie DeWolfe, Director of Sustainable Mobility at Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT), shared a summary of MassDOT’s efforts to integrate the Safe System approach into their work. This includes establishing target speeds – a change in the DOTs approach to setting speed limits that is rooted in safety. Instead of maximizing speeds and free-flowing traffic, MassDOT is working to bring speeds down to appropriate levels, working with communities to identify areas where traffic speeds should be calmed to prevent serious injuries and fatal collisions.
MassDOT uses a risk-based screening tool to quantify and address sites with the highest risks of fatal or injury crashes related to speeding. With this Safe System approach, MassDOT aims to prevent serious injuries and fatalities before they occur, in contrast to waiting for tragic events to highlight areas where speed is a problem. The tool leverages risk factors identified in the state’s Strategic Highway Safety Plan, including speeding.
Massachusetts also has healthy transportation policy and engineering directives that incorporate walking and biking safety into most projects regardless of the program or funding source.
Massachusetts is also one of the states that has updated the way it incorporates more modern and relevant design standards in its transportation work, especially important for safety of non-motorized road users. For instance, in 2014, it was the second state to endorse the NACTO Urban Street Design Guide, which better supports goals of increasing and improving trips made by bicycling, walking and transit.
In a step forward for cities seeking to streamline design and complete streets processes, the new federal Infrastructure Bill (section 11129) grants cities authority to apply an approved design guide to federally-funded projects on locally-owned streets. If your state has not endorsed, and your city has not adopted NACTO design guides, learn more about how to adopt NACTO design guides.
Recalibrating Transportation in Colorado
The speakers reminded us that states can – and should – modernize their approach to improving safety and addressing the climate impacts of an over-reliance on autos. Rachel Hultin, Director Of Sustainable Transportation at Bicycle Colorado, shared impressive work by a broad range of advocates urging the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) to rebalance transportation investments by shifting money from building new lane miles to active transportation, transit and safety.
Check out their report Recalibrating Transportation: 2030 Roadmap to an Efficient, Equitable, and Safe Future for all Coloradans, which shares a vision for “a transportation system that is efficient, equitable and safe for all Coloradans without needing to rely on a car; a system that preserves Colorado’s environmental health; and a system that provides access to affordable housing, employment and education.”
Colorado is, indeed, upping their ante for roadway safety. Senate Bill 21-260, passed in 2021, could divert billions of dollars to clean transportation projects in the coming decades. This update on early progress, shows how state action allows the Denver Regional Council of Governments to invest in transit and safety. Importantly, the CDOT set a Policy Directive to reduce emissions from the transportation sector and improve air quality.
Strong advocacy and effective collaboration with state and regional agencies and leaders produce results. Bicycle Colorado staff have helped agency partners find safety funding and watchdog progress. One example is this list of funding options developed and shared by advocates.
We encourage you to read more about Recalibrating Transportation: 2030 Roadmap to an Efficient, Equitable, and Safe Future for all Coloradans and think about how this effort could support conversations with your state DOT.
More Ways for States to Up the Ante for Safety
Ken McLeod, Policy Director at the League of American Bicyclists, summarized the Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP), which, despite its name, is not limited to highways. Rather, the program’s purpose is to reduce fatalities and serious injuries on all public roads. With a lot of money – $16.8 billion over the next five years – it is important to ensure spending is directed to meaningful safety projects that center equity and the Safe System approach.
As described in this USDOT resource about integrating Safe Systems within HSIP: “The Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) top priority is safety. FHWA fully supports the vision of zero deaths and serious injuries on the Nation’s roadway system and recognizes that a Safe System is how we get there.”
HSIP funds should be used to implementation a Safe System approach. Walking and biking improvements are included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), including to separate users in time and space, match vehicle speeds to the built environment, and increase visibility (see list above).
Ken encouraged participants to take action, including:
1. Check with your state DOT about their plans for the new Vulnerable Road User (VRU) rule determination — Ask how they plan to meet the requirement and ask to stay updated as this work develops. This is a key opportunity for input.
2. Review the Strategic Highway Safety Plan — Check here to see if your state’s plan includes engineering improvements for biking and walking, and if not, advocate for them to do so.
3. Engage with Vulnerable Road User Safety Assessment process — If there’s no plan for assessment yet, ask when it will start,
4. Reinforce the Safe System approach in every interaction — Prioritize Complete Streets, lower speeds for safety, design separate space for road users on high-speed roads, and use a proactive safety approach rather than waiting for tragedy to address problems.
Some participants asked the question: “What if my State calls what they’re doing Vision Zero, but it really is not genuine safety-oriented work?”
This is a common challenge, as taking a Vision Zero and Safe System approach at the state level entails significant change. We encourage you to share these and other examples from your state’s peer agencies that are moving toward aligning their policies and funding decisions with the Safe System approach. There are also helpful, new USDOT resources to explain the differences and show the strong federal-level endorsement of the approach.
Check out these additional specific actions you can take NOW to advocate effectively to help your state maximize federal funds for safe mobility for all. And, watch the webinar for more ideas on how to up the ante for safety in your state!
Please support the important work of the following organizations, whose expertise and advocacy we depend upon to influence federal funding and policies, and see links to more resources on this topic: Transportation for America, League of American Bicyclists, America Walks, and NACTO. And please support our continued advocacy for safe mobility for all at Vision Zero Network.