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National Research Group Explores Proactive Approach to Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety

Recently a national research group presented their findings on a more comprehensive approach to preventing pedestrian vs. car crashes in cities. While most cities take a “reactive” approach—looking at crash data to identify dangerous roads or intersections, then working to make them safer, this study is designed to identify those risky roads and intersections before crashes happen.

The Transportation Research Board’s National Cooperative Highway Research Program presented their findings in: Systemic Pedestrian Safety Analysis and Risk-Based Prioritization.

By using this approach, TRB says local transportation officials can identify and prioritize areas where the people walking are most at risk. It involves a 7-step process:

  1. Define study scope – identify a problem type that accounts for a large % of the problem, such as a certain type of crash (left-hand turn crashes, for example)
  2. Compile data – pull additional data other than crash information: vehicle traffic and ped volumes, # of lanes, facility types, transit ridership, etc.
  3. Identify (treatable – recommended method) risk factors – a presence of one or more midblock crosswalks, number of through lanes, on-street parking, etc. (multiple methods to choose from)
  4. Identify potential treatment sites – a combination of risk factors, traffic volume, etc. to prioritize
  5. Select countermeasures – relation to program focus or location, safety effectiveness, cost and feasibility
  6. Refine and implement treatment plan – provides guidances and supplemental resources
  7. Evaluate projects and process – evaluate and improve the data

In a recent webinar, the group gave an overview of their findings and two examples of transportation departments that used this approach, and the results they saw.

Seattle

Seattle officials wanted to focus on certain types of collisions, including: total bicycle and pedestrian collisions, opposite direction bicycle collisions, angle bicycle collisions and angle pedestrian collisions. Seattle analyzed both crash data and how many people are biking and walking in certain areas to identify potentially risky areas. Then officials worked to identify places where street or signal design changes might be needed. They proactively treated the locations with the intention of preventing potential crashes.

Arizona DOT

In Arizona, Department of Transportation officials looked at statistics showing that 20 percent of all fatalities there were pedestrian accidents.

They took pedestrian crash reports and entered data into a system that identified hot-spot and high-risk locations (5 lane roads, 45mph+, etc.) Then they learned almost 50 percent of all the crashes were “crossing roadway” crashes. So officials focused on hot spots and specifically looked at walking conditions—could they be improved to keep people safer? Ultimately, the Arizona DOT was able to create a prioritized list of risky roads and intersections, then create a game plan to make them safer.

In conclusion, TRB researchers were able to show that a systematic or wholistic approach to pedestrian and bicycle safety often works better than a narrow approach based solely on crash data.

They defined it as follows: “A systemic approach is a data-driven, network-wide (or system-level) approach to identifying and treating high-risk roadway features correlated with specific or severe crash types. Systemic approaches seek not only to address locations with prior crash occurrence, but also those locations with similar roadway or environmental crash risk characteristics.”

            When officials can take a number of factors into account and be willing to set aside a “one size fits all” approach of just enforcement or just engineering, they can make more effective changes tailored specifically to certain risky areas—ultimately keeping pedestrians, cyclists and drivers safe.

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