No loss of life from traffic fatalities is acceptable


Vision-Zero-logoshoes_0

What Does This Sign and What Do These Shoes Have in Common?  

No Loss of Life from Traffic Deaths is Acceptable 

A traffic safety campaign called Vision Zero, now adopted by Mayors around the world, and a flash mob of dancers dressed in yellow (stay with me…the entertaining video is at the end of this message) at Johns Hopkins are trying to tell us something:  We need to work harder for safer travel.

A new study, Cities Safer by Design by World Resources Institute and the WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities cites seven compelling suggestions to increase travel safety.  

Globally, 1.2 million people are killed in traffic crashes every year.  That’s a tough number to get one’s mind around.   According the WRI study, that number is expected to rise as vehicle fleets grow, to become the 5th largest cause of death by 2030. In the US almost 40,000 people die in car crashes annually, a Vietnam War on our streets and highways each year.

Regionally, there were 66 people who died in traffic-related deaths in the Lehigh Valley, 37 in Lehigh County and 29 in Northampton County in 2014, according to Penn DOT.

We think that even one is too many.  

Too many of us have lost someone we love to a tragic accident.  Just this week a motorcyclist fatality occurred in Emmaus when the motorcyclist collided with a dump truck.

Penn DOT officials say traffic fatalities are down.  That’s good.  They’ve invested $50 million over the past five years for road safety improvements like rumble strips.  But while statistics show that while overall crashes are down, there is still room for improvement. Crashes involving heavy trucks, for instance, increased in Lehigh and Northampton counties from 385 in 2013 to 403 in 2014. This number could prove even more troubling given the fact that the area’s freight economy is expected to double by the year 2040.

What can we do?

The WRI study has seven recommendations to improve safety:

  1. Tap into the expertise of all road users. To build a successful safe and friendly city, consultations with all the road users are imperative. Different users are the experts on their own needs.

Given the fact that pedestrian traffic-related deaths increased in Lehigh County in 2014 – we should be talking to area walkers/runners. PennDOT reports that “pedestrian-related crashes represent 3.3 percent of total reported crashes but account for 13.9 percent of all traffic crash deaths. Bicycle crashes represent 1.1 percent of the total reported crashes and 1.6 percent of all traffic deaths. Although these percentages are small, they still represent  19 bicyclist deaths and 1,298 injuries in 2014.”

  1. Engage multiple sectors. Government cannot do it alone. Encourage public and private partners from multiple sectors to take part in the effort to be more inclusive of all road users, both as a business opportunity and a moral imperative. Museums, theaters, grocery stores, banks, pharmacies, churches, and block associations can all be leaders in creating safe and friendly cities.

Don’t miss opportunities to comment on regional planners’ comprehensive transportation plans.  The Draft LVPC Freight Plan is available for review and comment until Aug. 2nd. 

  1. Recognize that a safe travel environment is a contributor to the economy.

Take a walk down any Main Street and this point becomes crystal clear.  Emmaus, Hellertown, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Macungie and Alburtis all have Main Streets where economic vitality has been demonstrated through improved and safer pedestrian environments.  If you feel like you’re taking your life in your hands when you get out of your car, you’re probably not going to support the businesses on that street.

  1. Ensure that pedestrians, bicyclists, transit and bus passengers know about existing opportunities and resources.

One tool available is The Federal Highway Association’s  The Road Diet Guide.  “Road Diets will be one of FHWA’s 2015 Every Day Counts (EDC) Initiatives, in which FHWA works with state, local, and industry partners to deploy new innovations. Road diets help balance street space between vehicles, pedestrians, bicyclists and transit, and they can improve mobility and access for all road users, reduce crashes and injuries, and improve quality of life.”

  1. Adopt a “safe-in-everything” approach to community planning and the design process. Redesign street intersections with the safety of all road users in mind. Focus on areas near shops and services and on areas with high rates of pedestrian injuries. Add public seating on streets in accordance with location recommendations from pedestrians.

In 2014,  The U.S. Department of Transportation presented a report titled, Safer People, Safer Streets: Summary of U.S. Department of Transportation Action Plan to Increase Walking and Biking and Reduce Pedestrian and Bicyclist Fatalities. The report states: “With the increase in biking and walking, the potential for conflict between motorized and nonmotorized travelers has also increased. Since 2009, fatalities have been increasing for bicyclists and pedestrians. In 2012, bicyclist and pedestrian fatalities were over 16 percent of all traffic-related fatalities.”

  1. Advocate for improvements in public transportation. Focus on making transportation safe, accessible, and welcoming to all users. Good lighting, clear signage, and courteous drivers can be just as important as having an appropriate infrastructure in place.

In the Lehigh Valley, we could do more to “Love the LANta bus” and to advocate for the pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure to link to the transit system.  “Streetscaping” or outfitting commercial “Main Street” communities with decorative street lights, benches, banners, street trees, planters and patterned crosswalks provide traffic calming visual cues that communicate to motorists that they are in a district where they may encounter pedestrians.   Understanding the concept of “complete streets” and encouraging your municipality to join the Complete Streets Coalition and adopt complete street policies will go a long way toward these goals.

  1. Increase accessibility to opportunities that promote health and socialization. Expand efforts to make parks, walking trails, swimming pools, beaches, recreation centers, and public events accessible and welcoming to all groups. Offer fitness and recreational programming designed for and of interest to all users.

The City of Allentown has provided leadership in the Lehigh Valley on this topic with its Connecting Our Community Plan.  More people will use recreational facilities or support the corner store if they can walk or ride their bikes to them.  It’s the interconnectivity of all transportation systems from those at the most local neighborhood level, to the regional level that will increase our quality of life and our mobility.

And, last but not least, plan for safety through mobility plans, city plans, traffic safety action plans, and other plans to prioritize safety in city designs.   

Lower Macungie Township has done some commendable work in that regard that could be emulated with their Hamilton Cooridor Study.

Join with us in support of that radical idea being adopted by Mayors all across the world:  Vision Zero.  It basically says,

No loss of life is acceptable.

Kudos to the good planning work done around the region from the local to the regional level.  However, until we have zero deaths, we need more bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, more connectivity of transportation systems, more education, advocacy, communication and cooperation.  

Let’s work better together until our no one is hurt or killed getting around the Lehigh Valley.  If you want to join forces with others to tackle this issue regionally, contact me at jmarin@renewlv.org.  We have a Smart Transportation Committee that is organizing to make a difference.

Warm regards,

Joyce Marin

Executive Director

RenewLV

P.S.  To see the yellow-clad dancers at Johns Hopkins drawing attention to pedestrian safety:  Check out this Fun Video of their Road Scholar flash mob!

Posted on July 31, 2015, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I agree with the concept that all these traffic deaths are unacceptable and mostly preventable. You describe lots of good ideas in this post, although what FHWA seems to be doing is mostly to plan to do something in the future, with a little bit of catching up with what some cities have been working on for years. Complete Streets has a lot of good programs and policies.

    The figure of 66 traffic deaths reported by PennDoT needs to be increased by about 50% to account for the deaths that are a direct of result of vehicles’ air pollution — the Clean Air Task Force estimates 21 deaths/year in the LV from Diesel pollution alone.

    What can we do to get more state and local legislators to factor these ideas into their decisions? The LV has casualties from traffic every year — and has failed to meet Clean Air Act standards for about 20 years now — but elected officials are still making choices that increase traffic.

    There’s quite a movement these days to increase awareness that almost all government and business decisions have health impacts, but there’s a tendency to focus on investment & revenue & ignore those pesky consequences.

  2. Something that people who care about air quality in the region should do immediately, is review the LVPC’s draft Freight Plan and comment on it by the deadline of August 3rd. That’s Monday.

  3. The ‘road diet’ offer some good ideas for improving our current transportation system, but doesn’t really take on the systemic changes needed. Tweaking the system is good, but only if it doesn’t delay more transformative systems thinking. The ‘complete streets’ approach goes much further and at least lays the groundwork for more meaningful change.

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