Last chance to tell USDOT to set real safety goals

Students walk along street with no sidewalks next to automobile traffic.Students walk on Manchester Ave in Upper Providence Township, PA. Photo: Mike Szilagyi

There’s just one week left to tell the US Department of Transportation to get serious about safety and accountability.

In MAP-21, the current federal law governing national transportation investments, Congress directed the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) to set certain measures of progress for the state transportation agencies. In March, USDOT unveiled its proposal for measuring and showing progress in reducing traffic fatalities and serious injuries both as pure numbers and as a function of vehicles miles traveled (VMT). Congress clearly stated that they wanted a “significant reduction” in fatalities and injuries for all users on all roads, and they doubled the amount available through the related safety program to help achieve that goal.

USDOT’s proposal falls short. Send a letter to Secretary Foxx today.

First, states only need to show progress in two of those four goals, which is out of step with Congressional intent.

Second, the process for setting goals and measuring progress is out of line with the goals states already develop—and no where near visionary or inspiring. Instead, USDOT would use a historical trend line to establish targets each year. States make “significant progress” by achieving fatality or injury numbers within a 70 percent confidence interval of that projected trend line. If a state’s target is determined to be 759 fatalities, so long as it sees fewer than 825 fatalities, USDOT will say that it has made progress. More people can die or be seriously injured without consequence.

Our third issue with the rulemaking: it doesn’t separate non-motorized users from motorized. In doing so, states could lose sight of growing safety problems in walking and bicycling among the larger share, and generally downward trending, of vehicular safety.

We ask USDOT to require states to set real targets, not based on trends, for each of the four required measures. They either hit the target, or they don’t. If they don’t hit their targets, they can’t “flex” the money in the designated safety funding stream to non-safety projects. Tell USDOT that we need real targets and improved accountability.

Why does this matter for Complete Streets?

Well, most obviously, because states should be working to keep people safe, regardless of how they’re traveling.

A strong performance measure also could help direct funding to planning and building better streets for walking and bicycling.

Our report on pedestrian safety, Dangerous by Design, looked at a full decade of pedestrian fatalities. More than 47,000 people were killed while walking. That’s 16 times higher than the number of people who were killed over the same period of time in extreme weather—yet the epidemic of pedestrian fatalities saw no where near the level of national response and investment.

Less than one-half of one-percent of funds set aside for road safety were obligated to walking and bicycling projects during FY2009-2014. If states know they have to improve biking and walking safety, and that they have funds to spend, they may begin to plan, build, and operate streets for slower speeds, and with more sidewalks, high visibility crossings, and protected bicycle facilities. By improving streets for walking and bicycling, we also make streets safer for all users—and more inviting for small businesses and welcoming for physical activity.

Strong performance measures also matter because we need to collect better data nationally regarding biking and walking. We hope that by requiring separate non-motorized measures, states will more consistently use the data collection methods that exist or create better ones.

Don’t wait: we have just a few days left to make a difference. Take action now.

Complete Streets