A Focused Approach to Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety
FHWA's technical assistance program helps communities protect their most vulnerable road users. Here's how three locations have met the challenge.
In 2015, the most recent year for which data are available, 5,376 pedestrians and 817 bicyclists were killed on U.S. roads—the highest numbers since the mid-1990s. Although pedestrian fatalities had been trending downward for many years, they have been increasing since 2009. Walking and bicycling are vital to all communities, and the Federal Highway Administration recognizes the importance of addressing safety for these vulnerable road users.
For more than a decade, FHWA’s Office of Safety has delivered a targeted training and technical assistance program to cities and States with the highest number of pedestrian fatalities. In 2015, FHWA revised the program to emphasize both pedestrians and bicyclists. FHWA updates the program, known as the Focused Approach, with new focus cities and States approximately every 5 years, based on the most current fatality data. When FHWA most recently reevaluated the program in 2015 (using 2013 data), the focus cities accounted for approximately 18 percent of all pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities in the United States.
As a leader in the conversation, FHWA is helping to create a consensus between State and local transportation agencies about how to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety. FHWA provides training and technical assistance to help demonstrate the need to address safety and determine how to move the conversation forward at the regional and State levels.
No two agencies are alike, and each participating city and State faces distinct challenges that require a tailored approach to identifying and addressing problems. Read on to learn how three participants in the program—the city of Chicago, the North Central Texas Council of Governments, and the State of Florida—have used different strategies for implementing comprehensive, safety-focused programs to reduce pedestrian and bicyclist injuries and fatalities.
2015 Pedestrian-Bicycle Focus Cities and States
In 2016, the city of Chicago announced its citywide Vision Zero Chicago Initiative. This effort expands on the “Zero in Ten” goal set forth in the Chicago Department of Transportation’s (CDOT) 2012 Chicago Pedestrian Plan, which aims to eliminate pedestrian deaths in 10 years. The new initiative has a broader focus on serious and fatal crashes for all transportation modes in Chicago.
“No one person is more important than others,” says Mike Amsden, CDOT’s assistant director of transportation planning, “but people walking and biking are the most vulnerable users of the roadway because [their] crashes are more likely to be serious or fatal.”
Although safety is the primary reason for focusing on pedestrian and bicyclist efforts across the city, the decision is also a matter of popularity. More people are walking and bicycling throughout Chicago than in previous years. Similar to other large cities, walking, bicycling, and neighborhood economies all contribute to Chicago’s character and success. More than 40 percent of work trips in the city are made via modes other than driving—and the city aims to increase that to 50 percent by 2040.
In order to reduce injuries and fatalities from crashes, CDOT focused on strategies that would help garner investment and support for projects and effective countermeasures from local officials, community members, and businesses. The goals: Chicago should be part of the national dialogue and seek investment from leadership, and must develop and maintain useful and effective plans, build strong relationships, and create a culture of safety across the city.
Implementing Vision Zero Chicago
CDOT staff have drawn on their personal experiences with successful initiatives in other cities, as well as their current and previous engagement with FHWA and national organizations, to bring Chicago into the national dialogue on pedestrian and bicycle safety. In addition, Vision Zero complements a growing data-driven approach to support moving people and improving public health and transportation outcomes.
City leadership has supported the program. In September 2016, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the city’s continued commitment to saving lives and preventing serious injuries through the launch of Vision Zero. The initiative involves the coordinated efforts of 10 city departments working at the direction of the Office of the Mayor, including CDOT, the Chicago Police Department, and the Department of Public Health.
Moreover, CDOT has worked to foster stronger relationships with the Illinois Department of Transportation. Approximately 40 percent of arterial streets in Chicago fall under the State DOT’s jurisdiction, requiring frequent coordination between the agencies. CDOT has worked to demonstrate the effectiveness of implemented countermeasures such as road diets and separated bike lanes. It has also shown success over time based on reduced crash rates and active use of facilities. For example, on the Dearborn Street two-way separated bike lane, from 2010 to 2014 total crashes decreased by 30 percent and bicycle ridership increased by 171 percent. The 55th Street separated bike lane saw a 33-percent reduction in total crashes during the same time period.
In order for CDOT staff to be able move from the plan to implementation, strong leadership and coordination with other departments and community groups are critical. The Chicago Pedestrian Plan has many strategies focusing on a variety of initiatives—a number of which involve reinvigorating underutilized spaces, livability, and health outcomes, in addition to improving safety and accessibility. To monitor and implement the goals, CDOT must coordinate with other agencies and organizations. Partners such as the Department of Public Health, Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, local chambers of commerce, Chicago Police Department, Chicago Transit Authority, Department of Planning and Development, and Department of Innovation Technology all have been instrumental in implementing the plan.
Tailoring the Approach
Chicago encompasses many neighborhoods, and the built environment affects how people experience the city. It is important to understand the multifaceted relationships among the transportation system, personal and community health and wellness, access to housing, and economics. To accomplish this, CDOT staff look directly to the communities they serve. Their strategies for winning community support and buy-in differ for all projects.
One approach that CDOT has taken is to hire local community members and young adults to spread awareness of transit options. The program focuses on specific neighborhoods with good access to transit and those with low numbers of people walking, biking, or using transit. The program educates residents on accessing transit, payment options, and route mapping. These educational positions are open to anyone, and CDOT staff members work with community groups and leadership to spread the word about available positions. A travel demand management grant, part of the Federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) program and administered by the city, supports the program. CMAQ grants require a 20 percent local funding match that comes from a variety of sources, including CDOT.
e Federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) program and administered by the city, supports the program. CMAQ grants require a 20 percent local funding match that comes from a variety of sources, including CDOT.
|Investing in Chicago’s Neighborhoods|
Improvements to Chicago’s Argyle Street demonstrate the city’s investment in communities and the people who live there. The street anchors a predominantly Vietnamese and Chinese commercial area on Chicago’s North Side, and it has high pedestrian activity and low vehicular traffic. A recently completed streetscape project involved the conversion of a traditional city street into a shared street in which pedestrians have the right-of-way regardless of where they cross or stroll. The project was constructed in coordination with the city, community, and a local alderman. Good communication with residents, along with local presence and involvement, were critical to the project’s success. The project team held weekly construction meetings to inform residents of progress, the alderman staffed a satellite office onsite to be responsive to residents’ needs, and local champions spoke to residents about how to use the new roadway during and after construction.
Mike Amsden, CDOT
The shared street project on Chicago’s Argyle Street, shown here, included the redesign of the sidewalks and travel lanes so that they are on the same level. Pedestrians have the right-of-way.
In addition, a CDOT ambassador program enables youth and young adults throughout the city to educate people on the benefits of walking and bicycling. This effort focuses on traffic safety and provides information about how to walk and bike safely around the city. In order to spread the word, ambassadors attend popular city events such as the annual Chicago Jazz Festival and the 2017 Lollapalooza.
By meeting the demand for enhanced pedestrian and bicycle facilities, and by working with stakeholders from the community up to the State and Federal levels, CDOT contributes to the effort to build a city that creates a sense of place, offers livable neighborhoods, and attracts people, families, and businesses.
North Central Texas Council of Governments
The jurisdiction of the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) spans 16 counties, and the council also serves as the metropolitan planning organization for the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area. Land use, safety concerns, and traffic volumes and speeds vary across the area. And the population continues to grow—NCTCOG estimates 1,000 new schools will be built by 2040. NCTCOG faces the challenge of predicting where the region is heading in the future and how best to meet the needs of everyone.
“Few regions in the United States are similar to that served by [NCTCOG],” says Karla Weaver, manager of the organization’s sustainable development program. “NCTCOG covers an area larger than the size of Connecticut [with] over 7 million people and is very urban, very suburban, and very rural. The primary focus is on context: One size does not fit all.”
The agency works closely with all municipalities to understand their concerns and needs, and to consider how to foster a culture of safety within the region. NCTCOG uses four key strategies to better facilitate initiatives for pedestrian and bicyclist safety: education and outreach, technical training, funding for engineering solutions, and data collection.
Education and outreach. In order to reach its large and diverse population, NCTCOG has implemented several educational initiatives across the region. For example, a grant from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) funds a campaign called “Look Out Texans—Bike, Walk, Drive Safely.” The effort includes a series of videos that promote the messages that everyone is a pedestrian at some point during the day, and while individuals might not be bicyclists, someone in their social networks may be. The campaign also includes billboards, commercials, radio advertisements, and school and parental resources aimed at encouraging all roadway users to treat one another with respect and to behave safely.
Technical training. NCTCOG plays an important role as a training provider to agencies and cities on the many resources and latest technologies available for transportation planning and safety. Together with FHWA, the agency has offered several well-attended courses on design for pedestrian safety, separated bicycle facilities, complete streets policies and design, and road safety audits, among other topics. Building on these training opportunities, in fall 2017 the city of Fort Worth and NCTCOG will begin development of an active transportation plan as a pilot for the region. The plan will layer the city’s existing pedestrian, bicycling, thoroughfare, and transit plans. This will enable decision-makers to identify and prioritize projects with the greatest impact.
Funding for engineering solutions. Transportation agencies continuously face the challenge of finding funds for engineering solutions. NCTCOG strives to identify various funding sources to support its agencies. In 2014, through a multiyear call for projects, NCTCOG awarded more than $38 million in funds from the CMAQ program for active transportation projects. NCTCOG anticipates an additional $34 million in Transportation Alternatives Set-Aside Program funding in a 2017 call for projects. This funding supplements other ongoing CMAQ funds and other funding sources allocated by the Regional Transportation Council each year to active transportation projects in the region.
Because of the high cost of infrastructure and the number of transportation agencies NCTCOG must serve, the agency focuses on top-down safety policies incentivized with funding opportunities. The current long-range transportation plan, Mobility 2040, includes an appendix with 20 policies pertaining to roadways, travel demand management, safety, air quality, sustainable development, transportation security and traffic operations, transit, freight, and aviation. Cities, counties, transit agencies, school districts, and TxDOT are eligible to have the local match offset on federally funded projects if they “bundle” policies by adopting a minimum of 50 percent of the listed policies, chosen to meet the organization’s specific needs. For example, a city could select complete streets, safe routes to school, clean fleet, and parking management policies, and a county could choose to adopt policies on railroad safety, stormwater management, and unmanned aircraft systems.
Eligible agencies meeting the bundle requirements receive transportation development credits to offset local matching funds that are usually needed on federally funded projects. NCTCOG believes that the short-term cost of offset local funding will result in long-term policies that will improve design and infrastructure in the future.
Data collection. NCTCOG takes the adage “If you are not counted, you do not count” very seriously. Obtaining data for effective decision-making is a top priority, and NCTCOG partners closely with local governments to conduct permanent and mobile counts in various facilities around the region. NCTCOG staff have used that data to pinpoint regional hotspots and determine areas with the highest density of short motor vehicle trips in order to identify alternative and safe transportation options. NCTCOG’s data initiatives have laid the groundwork for a proactive approach to roadway projects and have facilitated interagency collaboration.
The State of Florida relies on responsive transportation systems to support safety, mobility, and economic competitiveness. Although Florida’s diverse and aging population creates many challenges, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) understands the important role that active transportation plays in providing essential mobility for many residents. FDOT recognizes that safe and accessible facilities for walking and biking bolster community mobility, vibrancy, and public health; strengthen local economies; and improve quality of life.
|Older Adults and Intersections|
One example of Florida’s integrated four E’s approach involves older adults crossing at large intersections. Through its research, FDOT found that older adults are easily intimidated by larger intersections and tend to cross midblock, outside of a crosswalk, putting them at greater risk of being struck by a vehicle. To assist these pedestrians, FDOT developed a combined engineering and educational strategy that included implementing leading pedestrian interval phasing, which gives pedestrians a head start of several seconds to begin crossing before the signal turns green for vehicles at larger intersections, enabling pedestrians to cross before vehicles get the green signal. In addition, FDOT circulated educational information to the older population about the benefits of using crosswalks, as well as instructions for safe crossings.
As factors such as travel demand or crash risk increase or change over time, management and operation of Florida’s multimodal transportation system also change. This was the case for pedestrian safety when, in 2004, FHWA designated Florida as a pedestrian focus State because of the high proportion of statewide pedestrian fatalities, and in both 2009 and 2011, when Smart Growth America released the Dangerous by Design report ranking four Florida cities as the most dangerous in the Nation for pedestrians. These rankings led to prioritizing pedestrian and bicycle safety within the State.
Working to cohesively address pedestrian and bicycle safety challenges, FDOT established a plan for resolution. In November 2011, the State convened a focused initiative leadership team and, in partnership with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, conducted an assessment to determine current and future efforts to improve the safety of vulnerable users.
Florida used the assessment results to develop the State’s first Pedestrian and Bicycle Strategic Safety Plan, published in February 2013, and to launch its Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Coalition. The coalition is charged with implementing strategies that improve the safety, mobility, and accessibility of pedestrians and bicyclists in Florida. The coalition’s resulting campaign, Alert Today Alive Tomorrow, promotes a consistent and recognizable safety message that is widely recognized as the pedestrian and bicycle safety program, rather than FDOT’s program. All partners and stakeholders have a sense of investment and ownership.
“Our mission is to provide a safe and accessible transportation system where people of all ages and abilities can walk, bike, or utilize transit safely,” says Trenda McPherson, FDOT’s manager for the Bicycle Pedestrian Safety Program. “We are ultimately improving the quality of life for our residents and visitors while promoting a healthy economy in Florida.”
A Cohesive Program
Florida takes a comprehensive approach to problem resolution, including educating the public, enforcing traffic laws, improving emergency response, and planning, designing, and engineering projects based on the context of the community where the project is located. Unlike other areas, there are no boundaries between the “four E’s” of engineering, enforcement, education, and emergency services. Instead, they are combined and overlapped to provide the greatest opportunity to improve safety at every level.
Engineering is an important factor in the State’s pedestrian and bicyclist strategic safety plan. About half of the roads in Florida are State roads and half are local, so buy-in from local agencies is important. FHWA also has been an integral partner in offering workshops on designing for pedestrian and bicycle safety, road safety audits, and law enforcement trainings to support the effort. In addition, FDOT conducts a free, annual design conference and routinely works with State and local agencies on specific challenges.
Education is not limited to engineering staff. FDOT partners with providers of emergency medical services and trauma centers to identify the most common types of injuries when pedestrians and bicyclists are involved in traffic crashes. Working together, the partners identified strategies for improving emergency response and treatment at various stages of the medical process and delivered training to medical staff in an effort to increase survival rates for these crash victims.
Through FDOT’s Highway Safety Grant program, the University of South Florida’s Center for Urban Transportation Research tests education and communication strategies using focus groups, observations, and surveys to ensure that messages resonate with the intended audience. FDOT then implements a culturally diverse and customized marketing strategy, working with local partners to reach residents in the appropriate language with the appropriate messages.
For example, Alert Tonight Florida’s Can You See Me Now? campaign provides bicycle lights to students in lower socioeconomic areas to improve riders’ safety and visibility.
The Discover Your Role initiative, part of FDOT’s Alert Today Alive Tomorrow campaign, employs an innovative strategy to encourage sharing the road. Developed by Polk County, a local government partner that works with FDOT on the safety initiative, this campaign includes a variety of materials targeting different roadway users and highlighting the need to identify their role in keeping each other safe on the road.
In addition to the fluid overlap and integration of the four E’s, FDOT’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety program considers the context of the community when selecting and implementing countermeasures. More than half of the residents of Miami-Dade County emigrated from another country where traffic laws or customs may have been different. Considering how and where people use the roadway, cultural differences, socioeconomics, and age all play important roles in shifting behavior and improving safety on Florida’s roads.
The focus sites have made great progress in improving pedestrian and bicyclist safety with assistance from FHWA’s Focused Approach program. FHWA’s most recent assessment of the program, in 2016, showed that between 2007 and 2012, Florida’s efforts resulted in a 17-percent reduction in pedestrian crashes, with Miami, Orlando, and Tampa each reducing crashes by 38 to 44 percent. Chicago also reduced pedestrian crashes by 17 percent during the same time period. (Efforts in the Dallas/Fort Worth area are more recent, so data are not currently available.)
“FHWA must continue to adapt to the needs of States and cities charged with protecting the most vulnerable road users, as we have for the past 13 years,” says Elizabeth Alicandri, FHWA’s associate administrator for safety. “For instance, when we began this program, there was more of a focus on States, but we came to realize that cities have greater pedestrian and bicyclist safety challenges.”
FHWA has adapted the approach in other ways as well. Over the years, the agency has developed several courses and workshops, and has added to the menu of training options available based on the needs of the focus cities and States. For example, once bicyclist safety was added to the program, FHWA developed additional training on designing for bicyclist safety, as well as addressing safety for pedestrians and bicyclists in the context of complete streets planning and design. FHWA also is in the process of updating its How to Develop a Pedestrian Safety Action Plan (FHWA-SA-05-12) to help agencies reduce pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities.
As noted in FHWA’s 2016 Strategic Agenda for Pedestrian and Bicycle Transportation (FHWA-HEP-16-086): “USDOT is committed to making all travel modes, including walking and bicycling, safe, accessible, comfortable, and convenient for everyone.”
Tamara Redmon is the pedestrian safety program manager in FHWA’s Office of Safety. She has managed the Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Focused Approach Program for 13 years. She has a B.A. in English from Virginia Tech and an M.A. in human resource management from Marymount University.
Elissa Goughnour is a transportation safety project manager for VHB. She has 15 years of experience in transportation safety, design, and analysis. She holds a B.A. in environmental studies from Gettysburg College and an M.S. in civil engineering from George Mason University.
Kara Peach is a transportation planner at VHB with experience in highway safety and transportation planning. She has a B.A. in psychology from Indiana University and an M.A. in psychology of sport and physical activity from the University of Iowa.