Vision Zero, Meet VMT Reductions

Todd Littman, Planetizen

Many jurisdictions have vehicle miles traveled (VMT) reduction targets, intended to reduce congestion and pollution. They can also provide large but often overlooked traffic safety benefits.

Many jurisdictions are officially committed to Vision Zero, an ambitious goal to eliminate all traffic deaths and severe injuries. Although some cities are making progress, most jurisdictions are failing. U.S. traffic death rates declined during the last half of the the 20th century, reaching a low of 32,479 in 2014, but subsequently increased, averaging about 37,000 annual deaths during each of the last three years. New strategies are needed to achieve ambitious safety goals.

Several new strategies exist, and are overall very cost effective, considering their total benefits, but are generally overlooked in conventional traffic safety planning. Conventional traffic safety programs tend to assume that motor vehicle travel is overall safe, and so favor targeted strategies that reduce higher-risk driving, such as graduated licenses, senior driver tests, and anti-impaired driving campaigns.

However, such programs generally fail because it is not feasible to reduce high-risk driving alone. It is infeasible for most teenagers, seniors and drinkers to significantly reduce their driving in sprawled, automobile-dependent areas that lack non-auto travel options. Every time we tell somebody to reduce their high-risk driving, we have an obligation to create more accessible and multi-modal communities so they have viable alternatives.

Although the United States has rigorous road and vehicle safety standards, and numerous traffic safety programs, it also has the highest per capita traffic death rate among developed countries. Why? Because people in the United States also drive more than residents in peer countries . . . .

An abundance of research, described in the World Resources Institute report, “Sustainable & Safe: A Vision and Guidance for Zero Road Deaths,” and in my report, “A New Traffic Safety Paradigm,” indicates that, all else being equal, increases in motor vehicle travel increase crashes, and vehicle travel reductions increase safety.

In other words, the new traffic safety paradigm recognizes exposure, the amount that people drive, as a risk factor. Since about 70% of casualty crashes involve multiple vehicles, so vehicle travel reductions provide proportionately large crash reductions. For example, if you reduce your mileage by 10%, your chance of being in a crash declines by 10%, but there is also a reduction in risk to other road users, since your vehicle is no longer vulnerable to other drivers’ errors.

This means that we can increase safety by either reducing per-mile casualty rates through road and vehicle design improvement, and policies that reduce high-risk driving, and by reducing total vehicle travel which reduces total risk exposure. The old safety paradigm only considers the first approach. the new paradigm recognizes both approaches. The table below compares the old and new traffic safety paradigms.

Read more at https://www.planetizen.com/node/108401.

Deadliest Year for Pedestrians and Cyclists in U.S. Since 1990

by Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs (The New York Times)

On average, 17 pedestrians and two cyclists were killed each day in traffic crashes in 2018. Distracted drivers and bigger vehicles may be the culprits, experts say.

More pedestrians and cyclists were killed last year in the United States than in any year since 1990, according to a report released on Tuesday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Most of the news about traffic safety has been good in recent decades, as vehicle manufacturers have added safety features, drunken driving deaths have fallen and seatbelt use has climbed to nearly 90 percent. But in recent years, pedestrian and cyclist deaths have been a disturbing outlier.

The number of pedestrians killed grew by 3.4 percent last year, to 6,283, and the number of cyclists killed rose by 6.3 percent, to 857, even as total traffic deaths decreased. On average, about 17 pedestrians and two cyclists were killed each day in crashes. Together they accounted for one-fifth of traffic deaths.

Kate Kraft, the executive director of America Walks, a group that advocates for walking safety, said she was infuriated by the report’s findings. She expressed hope that the new data would encourage politicians to make their cities safer for walkers by lowering speed limits, improving traffic signal efforts and creating more pedestrian-only public spaces.

“The fact that we have proven interventions, but we are not likely to implement them, is the tragedy,” Ms. Kraft said. “These are senseless deaths.”

Read more for some of the report’s key findings and their implications.

SF to Streamline Approvals for Protected Bike Lanes, Other Safety Improvements

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez, San Francisco Examiner

Proposal could cut as much as three months off time needed to implement projects

San Francisco may soon tear up the red tape delaying the construction of some protected bike lanes.

While some street safety advocates are over the moon about the idea, others worry it doesn’t go far enough to make The City’s deadly streets safe to walk and bike.

A proposal up for approval Tuesday by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors would give city staff the authority to create “quick build” protected bike lanes without the approval of the SFMTA board.

Staff would also be empowered to enact other street changes without going before the SFMTA board, including creating transit boarding islands, designating blue and red parking zones, establishing stop signs, prohibiting right, left or U-turns, establishing restrictions against red-light turns, and establishing multiple turn lanes.

The new proposal comes on the heels of Mayor London Breed’s directive to transit leaders to make walking safer, and build 20 miles of protected bike lanes in two years.

“These policies align with the Mayor’s directive to make our streets safer and to save lives by streamlining the delivery of critically important improvements,” said Jeff Cretan, the mayor’s spokesperson, in a statement.

Quick-build bike lanes usually feature bendable posts separating bike lanes from car lanes, and are easily taken out, an SFMTA staff report said. More permanent concrete bike lanes or bike lanes that use vehicle parking as a barrier, for instance, would still require SFMTA board approval.

As for the less permanent quick-build bike lanes, staff would still need to run those proposals through a City Hall engineering hearing to give the public a chance to voice concerns. But cutting the SFMTA board out of the process would save projects up to three months of time, staff argued in a report.

The Mayor’s Office said that last part is key.

“There will still be a public hearing for people to weigh in, but to make our streets safer for all we can’t continue to slow down public safety projects with layers of bureaucracy,” Cretan said.

Read more at https://www.sfexaminer.com/the-city/sf-to-streamline-approvals-for-protected-bike-lanes-other-safety-improvements/

County Agencies Win State Funds to Reshape Local Pedestrian Safety Programs

by Will Carruthers

After months of suspense, two Sonoma County agencies have been awarded $660,000 to reframe the county’s approach to pedestrian and bicycle safety efforts.

In November, two local agencies – the Sonoma County Transportation Authority and the county’s Department of Health Services – requested state transportation funding to launch an ambitious pedestrian safety program based on a model used in some of the country’s densest cities, including San Francisco and New York.

Vision Zero, the traffic safety framework the Sonoma County program would be based on, was started in Sweden in 1990s and has more recently been implemented in eleven cities in California, according to the Vision Zero Network, a national group representing participating cities.

To gain Vision Zero status a jurisdiction is required to set a goal of eliminating traffic fatalities and severe injuries. Vision Zero programs also reframe the way traffic fatalities are discussed and which solutions are pursued.

“Vision Zero recognizes that people will sometimes make mistakes, so the road system and related policies should be designed to ensure those inevitable mistakes do not result in severe injuries or fatalities,” according to the Vision Zero Network’s website.

The funding will allow local agencies to coordinate efforts to reduce the county’s high rate of fatalities and injuries.

In 2016, there were 8.8 traffic fatalities per 100,000 population in Sonoma County compared with 5.9 in the Bay Area overall, according to data from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission citied in the funding application.

“Between 2010 and 2016 there were 1,163 collisions involving bicycles in the county, with 12 resulting in fatalities, and 855 collisions involving pedestrians, with 52 resulting in fatalities,” according to the application.

Cities with Vision Zero programs. Photo: Vision Zero Network

Cities with Vision Zero programs. Photo: Vision Zero Network

The program would start by improving the way injuries and fatalities are tracked.

“Successful Vision Zero initiatives in other cities cite the importance of having access to accurate, timely, and comprehensive data sets containing injury and crash data. Currently, it’s difficult to get a complete view of the safety issues in Sonoma County due to the lack of a robust data framework,” the county’s funding application states.

Data collected could then be used to more effectively target efforts to improve road safety. For instance, San Francisco’s Vision Zero program splits efforts to eliminate fatalities into four categories: enforcement, education, engineering and evaluation.

Steve Birdlebough, a local transportation activist with the Sonoma County Transportation and Land Use Coalition, agrees that a more data-driven approach could help agencies pursue improvements in a more effective way.

Under the current system, infrastructure improvements seem to be awarded based on how organized and angry neighbors are rather than on which intersection has the highest number of fatalities or injuries, according to Birdlebough.

“No changes are made unless the neighbors get up in arms,” Birdlebough said. “[The process] seems random.”

Brittany Lobo, a health information specialist with the Department of Health Services, says that her department would take the lead on connecting various local departments around the traffic safety goals. SCTA would create an online data dashboard to display information about fatalities.

Although Vision Zero programs have been passed in large cities across the country, Sonoma County’s proposal to include multiple cities and unincorporated county land within the program could be unique.

“This is the only proposal we’ve seen that proposes bringing together multiple jurisdictions,” Lobo said. As well as offering data to small cities, the data dashboard would display information about rural roads where fatality rates can also be high.

Because some transportation funding agencies now ask whether applicants have Vision Zero policies, the program could also make Sonoma County cities more competitive for future funding opportunities, Lobo said.

If the county’s Vision Zero program is successful, it could help the county achieve other transportation goals. For instance, the county intends to reduce carbon emissions by increasing the number of bicycle and pedestrian trips taken from 8.4 percent of total trips in 2010 to 15 percent by 2040.

But, if residents don’t consider active transportation options safe or efficient, they will continue to drive.

However, due to the massive number of variables in any given traffic system, progress under Vision Zero is not quick or guaranteed.

San Francisco launched its own Vision Zero program in 2014 with a goal of eliminating pedestrian deaths by 2024. Although the fatality rate stayed flat for the first two years of the program, the rate dropped significantly in 2017 before rising again this year.

Source: https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/county-agencies-contend-for-funds-to-reshape-pedestrian-safety-programs

Lightning Fast, Dirt Cheap: Five Tips From SF’s Protected Bike Lane Projects

Michael Anderson, Streetsblog USA

f you’d like to cut the project time of a new protected bike lane by 90 percent and the cost by 75 percent, Mike Sallaberry has some advice.

A senior transportation engineer for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, Sallaberry has a short piece in the new issue of ITE Journal sharing useful details on three projects in 2016 and 2017 that used the “quick-build” method. Instead of spending two years getting every detail right and then pouring permanent curbs, SFMTA built first — using paint, plastic and removable concrete islands — and asked questions both before and after.

The result, as Sallaberry explains, is a potentially more inclusive public process and a project that’s far more efficient.

“Common practice in San Francisco has been to identify the ideal result then wait for design, funding, contracting and construction to deliver the design,” says Sallaberry. “While this makes sense for many situations, a new approach was used recently where intermediate designs were implemented in the near term to act as ‘stepping stones’ to a longer term design.”

Maybe most important, the inherent flexibility of the quick-build approach makes it institutionally easier for a public agency to innovate. Without so much “fear of installing something that does not work,” Sallaberry explains, city staff feel free “to try new ideas to solve challenging issues.”

The agile process recalls modern software engineering, so it’s fitting that San Francisco is among the first cities embracing it. Here are five lessons we saw in Sallaberry’s piece for other cities interested in becoming fast followers.

Read more at https://usa.streetsblog.org/2018/02/27/lightning-fast-dirt-cheap-five-tips-from-sfs-protected-bike-lane-projects/

No, Protected Bike Lanes Do Not Need to Cost $1 million Per Mile

Michael Anderson, People for Bikes.org

Putting protected bike lanes on both sides of a street can cost $1 million per mile. The country’s most physically beautiful protected bike lane network, the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, cost several million dollars per mile.

Like most things in life, there are always ways to spend more money to make something more awesome.

But every once in a while, someone will acquire and share the mistaken belief that a protected bike lane, like a sidewalk, has to cost $1 million per mile. This is not true.

To explain, we’ll share three infographics (from past posts) that together tell the story pretty well.

First, here is a visual explanation of the “quick build” method many U.S. cities are using to modernize their project delivery process. Instead of trying to plan something for perfection from the beginning, like you’d need to do if you were building a freeway, cities advance along a spectrum of decreasingly flexible and increasingly durable materials over the course of a decade or so, gradually tweaking a street toward greater safety and comfort and fixing small issues along the way.

quick build spectrum
Tactical Urbanism: The Spectrum of Change, Michael Anderson, People for Bikes, Source.

Read more for “14 ways to make bike lanes better” and “protected bike lanes do not cost $1 million per mile”: https://peopleforbikes.org/blog/protected-bike-lanes-do-not-cost-1-million-per-mile/

New Blueprint Spreads the Gospel of Overnight Bike Lanes

Josh Cohen, Next City

Late last month, the Seattle Department of Transportation began upgrading the Second Avenue “pilot” protected bike lane by replacing plastic bollards with planters, installing new traffic signals and raising the pavement at busy driveway crossings. Unlike the usual multiyear design, review and build process, SDOT took the Second Avenue project from design to installation in just four months. They used paint and easily removable plastic bollards and promised to fix or reverse any problems they encountered after the lanes were on the ground.

That approach is part of a growing trend among city DOTs to quickly design and implement demonstration projects that help advance their bike and pedestrian network goals and illustrate to the public exactly how new types of infrastructure work in the real world. Last week, PeopleForBikes released a new report, “Quick Builds for Better Streets,” looking at lessons from projects in Seattle, New York, Chicago, Austin, Denver, Memphis, Pittsburgh and San Francisco for other cities interested in replicating the concept.

“We observed that a bunch of cities were doing cool stuff and wanted to put a name on this trend, take the lessons about how to make these rapid changes, digest them a little bit, put them into some form of blueprint that another city could replicate,” explains report co-author Michael Andersen, PeopleForBikes Green Lane Project staff writer.

The quick-build trend grew out of small-scale tactical urbanism projects where activists would block off a street or paint their own bike lane or create a protected bike lane with cheap plastic bollards. It was a way to demonstrate to glacially paced bureaucracies that change could be fast and easy.

New York City’s Department of Transportation was one of the first and certainly the most famous city government to adopt quick builds. Under former Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, New York created dozens of pedestrian plazas and pilot bike lanes using bollards and paint. Former NYC DOT Policy Director Jon Orcutt co-authored the PeopleForBikes report.

According to the report, a quick build is defined by four elements. It must be led by a city government or other public agency; installed roughly within a year of the start of planning; planned with the expectation that it may undergo change after installation; and built using materials that allow such changes.

Orcutt and Andersen drew on the experiences of cities experimenting with quick builds to come up with a list of ingredients required for success, which includes a designated team, a system for recognizing and taking advantage of opportunities, reliable funding, plans for speedily hiring contractors, impact metrics and more.

Read more: https://nextcity.org/daily/entry/cities-tactical-urbanism-speed-up-change-peopleforbikes

Walking & Cycling

Most often we speak of pedestrians and bicyclists separately, but more and more their commonality is emphasized in the term “Bi-Ped” — the self-powered person. Long neglected, they are gaining respect. Planning for them has become central to the planning for the SMART rail system, and increasingly routine in the retrofitting of roads and highways originally designed for motor vehicles.

Saving time and losing space
A number of writers have explored the effect of motorization and increased travel speed on culture, nature, and equity, and the associated denigration of self propulsion. In his book, Transport for a Sustainable Future, John Whitelegg has a chapter on “time pollution”, containing a discourse on “the conquest of distance by the destruction of time”. Whitelegg points out that the acquisition of higher speed comes at the increasing destruction of useful space, because higher speed facilities create a safety conflict with low speed travelers, which must somehow be addressed: longer lengths between people for the safety of the users, and wider rights of way for devices to protect the bystanders, slower travelers and others that may wish to cross the facility or travel with its traffic.

The saving of time, which has been used extensively to justify construction of road projects, is an illusion, because in large measure the gain of time is traded by the individual to travel greater distances. Although this may in the short run produce some satisfaction for the individual, it leads to a scattering of many of the most important travel destinations as land uses gradually change. The scattering initially handicaps the Bi-Ped, and eventually erases any advantage attained by motorized travelers. In Sonoma County this process gradually engulfs the natural landscape that is one of its primary attractions.

Road justifying calculations of time saving are based on time saving for the motorist, and neglect the considerable time losses of others. Increases in speed almost always steal time from the non-motorist, and the inducement to travel more even results in one motorist making the other motorists worse off.

In his thirty years of studies of how people use space and time, Torsten Hagerstrand concluded that it is the ability to make contact with people that determines the success of a transport system or location. Access is what we really value, but the transportation system has been giving us mobility. Not mobility for all. Mobility in proportion to wealth, and reduced access for almost all.

Social speed
Whitelegg discusses the concept of “average social speed”, which is the distance covered by an individual in a year, divided by the accumulated time requirements of the specific mode of travel. In addition to the time actually spent in travel, other time requirements include things such as taking the car to the shop, time spent earning the money to pay for the car, insurance, repairs, etc. In other words, all of the time that wouldn’t be needed in the absence of travel by that mode. He credits Ivan Illich for the underlying idea, and a German author D. Siefried for the calculations comparing bicycle at 15 kph, car at 40 kph and car at 60 kph. When external costs are included, the average social speeds for these three examples are 14, 13 and 18 kph, respectively.

Health effects
Of late, the goals of the public health community and the Bi-Ped community have converged in promotions to increase walking and cycling. In a recent paper, “Promoting Safe Walking and Cycling to Improve Public Health: Lessons from the Netherlands and Germany”, John Pucher and Lewis Dijkstra examined the public health consequences of unsafe and inconvenient walking and bicycling conditions in American cities and suggested improvements based on successful policies in The Netherlands and Germany.

They found that, whereas walking and cycling account for less than a tenth of all urban trips in American cities, they account for a third of all trips in Germany and for half of trips in The Netherlands. American pedestrians and cyclists are much more likely to get killed than Dutch and German pedestrians and cyclists, both on a per-trip and per-km basis. They are also far more likely to be injured.

On the basis of Dutch and German experience, they proposed a wide range of measures to improve the safety of walking and cycling in American cities, both to reduce fatalities and injuries and to encourage more walking and cycling, thus providing much needed physical exercise for increasingly overweight Americans.

Safety in numbers
Another recent paper from the public health field answers the question of whether the public health goal of more walking and bicycling conflicts with another public health goal, reducing injuries. According to research by Peter L. Jacobsen, there isn’t a conflict, because as more people cycle and walk, the rate of injuries per participant goes down.

Motivations for change
In a paper presented early this year at the International Pedestrian Conference, Daniel Sauter builds on the platform constructed by Whitelegg for a discussion of a course of action which could overcome the obstacles facing the pedestrian.He would anchor the actions on three basic desires that people have – longings for freedom, for time and for dignity. These would be addressed respectively by encouraging accessibility for pedestrians, reversing the hierarchies in transport policies and acknowledgment of walking as a human right.