Implement Safety Improvements Equitably
To create a safe and equitable transportation network, transportation funding programs should prioritize safety and focus on underserved communities. An equitable approach distributes investments so people with fewer resources and those who face exclusion and discrimination—on the basis of race, gender, age, disability, or income—will see priority improvements in their health and living conditions.
Funding available through HSIP represents only about 6 percent of funding for the overall Federal-aid apportioned programs under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Therefore, every transportation project should be an opportunity to improve safety for all users.
To eliminate disparities and achieve the vision of zero deaths and serious injuries, all Federal-aid investments and projects, not just those funded under HSIP, should prioritize safety. As discussed in FHWA’s report to Congress, “Moving to a Complete Streets Design Model,” FHWA is in the process of changing its own procedures to ensure that safety for all users is the default approach across all of its Federal funding programs. Existing engineering strategies and countermeasures (including a systemic approach to safety, the implementation of Proven Safety Countermeasures, Complete Streets transformations, and Context-Sensitive Design) can be used to fulfill the specific safety needs and priorities identified by underserved communities in all transportation projects.
Historical underinvestment in underserved communities has contributed to disparities in crash fatalities and serious injuries. Additional investment today is necessary to help eliminate these disparities and reach zero deaths and serious injuries. An equitable approach entails investing a greater share of transportation funding in underserved communities, as established in the government-wide Justice40 initiative under Executive Order 14008: Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad. Justice40 aims to deliver 40 percent of the overall benefits of relevant Federal investments in climate and sustainable transportation to disadvantaged communities. The initiative can help ensure that individuals in these communities will attain similar access to safe, multimodal transportation options as those living in historically higher-served neighborhoods. This will enable safer connections to employment, healthcare, education, food, and recreation.
When determining how transportation funding is distributed, transportation professionals are encouraged to consider:
- Prioritizing equity factors in project prioritization
- Assessing how certain criteria, such as local matching of State funding or complaint-based repairs, may unintentionally exclude underserved communities and widen disparities
- Providing additional resources, including capacity building and safety study funding, to underserved communities
- Linking transportation safety investments with housing and land use policies to actively prevent unintended consequences such as displacement of local residents and businesses
- Developing and revising policies, processes, guidelines, and plans based on the equitable data analysis and public engagement processes
- Collaborating with public health professionals
Virginia DOT (VDOT) is directing more than $60 million in pedestrian safety infrastructure investments to locations VDOT had identified in its 2019 National Roadway Safety Award-winning Pedestrian Safety Action Plan (PSAP). The PSAP includes a comprehensive geographic information system map to determine locations with pedestrian safety concerns. The map uses various predictive data sources that indicate pedestrian presence or risk, including social and demographic data. Indeed, VDOT’s statistical analysis determined that the Virginia Department of Health’s SDOH index, titled the Virginia Health Opportunity Index (HOI), was the strongest predictor of fatal and injury pedestrian crashes, with almost 60 percent of deaths and injuries occurring in locations with low or very low HOI scores. Other strong predictors included zero-vehicle households, transit access, and average annual daily traffic. Read more on the noteworthy practice: “E is for Everybody”: Using Equity to Prioritize Pedestrian Safety Projects and Make the Case for Greater State Funding.
Risks of omitting equity in the decision-making process may include:
- Higher risk of fatal and serious injury crashes in underserved communities, particularly in communities that rely on multimodal infrastructure
- Increasing distrust of government processes and community buy-in
- Delaying or stopping a project
- Inefficient and ineffective use of funding to meet agency safety performance goals
- Lag in investments due to data discrepancies and underreporting
- Continuous exposure for those most vulnerable to environmental burdens and disparities
Intersectionality describes overlapping inequities from race, income, age, geography, disability, English proficiency, and other social structures that compound to impact people’s lives. Individual social vulnerabilities do not impact an individual in isolation. For example, people without a vehicle can be more at risk of dying or being seriously injured in a crash in a car-centric transportation system that lacks complete pedestrian and transit networks. The risk is compounded for people without vehicles and those with disabilities who might be exposed to unsafe and inaccessible pedestrian and transit networks: this is intersectionality.
Transportation professionals may integrate intersectionality at each step of the transportation safety process:
- When conducting data analysis, consider exploring multiple demographic factors, such as SDOH indices, rather than relying only on one factor.
- When engaging with communities, consider conducting outreach to individuals who experience overlapping vulnerabilities and do not assume that one member of an underserved community represents the concerns and vulnerabilities of all members of that community.
- When implementing improvements, consider the needs of individuals who experience compounding disadvantages and include their needs in design decisions.
- When evaluating impacts, consider disaggregating performance metrics to determine if safety and other benefits are shared by individuals experiencing compounding disadvantages.
- Consider how policies, program funding and administration, and design and implementation processes impact underserved communities. Ask:
- Do project prioritization and selection criteria prioritize safety and equity?
- What metrics are being used to determine the location and type of investments? Do these metrics align with the agency’s equity and safety priorities?
- Do contracting processes enable local disadvantaged businesses to meaningfully compete for projects?
- Are funding sources overly restrictive, thereby limiting the agency’s ability to elevate and address equity?
- Where has the agency historically invested the most resources? How can future investments correct or rebalance investments to underserved areas?
- What are current asset management and maintenance processes? Are they complaint-based or prioritized through a systemic approach? Do safety assets and maintenance processes, such as pavement markings, lighting, sidewalk and curb ramps, filling potholes, and repaving, incorporate equitable processes?
- Under current agency policies and practices, who is responsible for maintaining pedestrian and bicyclist infrastructure?
- Does the agency have processes in place to learn about and mitigate unanticipated accessibility challenges?