Investments in transit are investments in traffic safety - that was a key takeaway from our most recent webinar, "Aligning Public Transit & Vision Zero for Better Communities." While each presenter approached the topic from a different perspective - data analysis, city planning, transit operations, advocacy - there is unanimity that improving public transit and advancing Vision Zero are mutually beneficial goals, and that even more opportunity exists to align these efforts.
Strengthening the relationship between transit and Vision Zero supports a virtuous cycle of community benefits:
Fewer cars on the roads leads to fewer serious crashes, which increases traffic safety. Increased traffic safety - both real and perceived - encourages more people to walk, bike and use transit, which, in turn, helps to lessen the number of cars on the road, circling back to the benefit of safer conditions for all road users. And, of course, there are also tremendous economic, social and environmental benefits of this cycle.
Analysis recently shared by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) shows that transit is 10x safer per mile than traveling in a car. Rachel Hyden, Executive Director of San Francisco Transit Riders (SFTR), noted that people are 60x less likely to die riding in a bus than riding in a personal vehicle.
As part of its Vision Zero commitment, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s (SFMTA) efforts to redesign city streets for safety are closely linked to improving public transit, and vice versa. Tom Maguire, Director of Sustainable Streets for SFMTA, points out the wisdom and efficiency of focusing on the most problematic areas, based on data. For instance, in San Francisco, 12% of city streets account for over 70% of serious injury and fatality collisions. Many of these same streets also serve as transit corridors, so the agency commits to ensuring transit receives priority [e.g. bus priority lanes] while also investing in safety benefits for the other road users, especially those walking and biking. The SFMTA’s longer-term vision is to make investments that help encourage a "multi-generational mode shift" — promoting more trips by walking, biking and transit, ultimately resulting in safer conditions for all road users.
Boston’s theme for street design, as part of its commitment to Vision Zero, is "Safer Streets, Better Access, Improved Reliability" to ensure "everyone is within walking distance of bus routes, subway stations, bike share and ride share."
According to Vineet Gupta, Director of Planning for Boston’s Transportation Department, progress is being made in combining diverse data sets - such as those measuring bus delays with those showing crash clusters - in order to prioritize work on projects that address both important dimensions.
Aligning transit and Vision Zero involves more than just capital improvements, as pointed out by Rachel Hyden of SFTR. It requires improved public engagement and messaging on the safety benefits of transit. She correctly notes that transit and other city agencies, as well as advocates, should be making a stronger case that transit should be part of any Vision Zero platform and toolkit. "We talk about making streets safe for people walking and biking, but not so much for transit riders," says Hyden.
With new programs such as Safe Routes to Transit and initiatives such as Walk and Ride Audits, SFTR along with partners such as Walk San Francisco, are working to ensure that public transit is fully incorporated into the city’s Vision Zero strategy. Hopefully, this can be a model for communities across the nation.
The Vision Zero Network is pleased to be partnering with APTA to help support leaders in both transportation safety and the world of public transit. APTA’s data analysis highlights measurable safety benefits of transit investments that should be used by practitioners and advocates working in these sectors. According to Darnell Grisby, APTA’s Director of Policy Development and Research:
"Public transportation should be considered a public safety strategy just like airbags and seatbelts. Transit supportive policies such as compact development, improved walking/biking [facilities] near transit, affordable housing near transit, support a safer community. Improved service and speed for transit agencies, better [transit] stations and improved customer information lead to increased mode share and increased safety for an entire community. A modest increase in mode share can significantly increase overall traffic safety of a community. Data shows that transit is an excellent public safety intervention."
To learn more about these issues and how two leading Vision Zero cities are working to better align their public transit investments with public safety, check out the Vision Zero Network’s webinar below.