Our Transportation Epidemic
Like most of you, I am painfully familiar with the tragedy of roadway deaths. My first exposure to this epidemic was in middle school when a childhood friend I’d known since I was three was killed while riding his bicycle down a two-lane highway. I still think of him when I drive down that road. His mother was my math teacher a few years later, and I remember wondering how difficult it must have been for her to teach her son’s friends. She is now in her late 80s and has lived nearly 50 years with her loss. As a mother of two, I cannot imagine what that would be like. Unfortunately, my list of personal connections to roadway tragedies is lengthy, including our next-door neighbor in high school (my sister was supposed to go with her to a party that evening); my husband’s grandmother, mother, and aunt; a friend’s 16-year-old son; my son’s 8-year-old classmate; and my own aunt. All tragic and nearly all preventable.
Our roadways have seen their fair share of tragedy over many decades. An impressive decade-long reduction in annual traffic fatalities ended around 2014, and crash fatalities are once again on the rise. Even a global pandemic did not put the brakes on the rise in highway deaths. The highest priority for any of us as transportation professionals should be to facilitate change that can result in fewer crashes and more lives saved. We all have a part to play. The Safe System Approach is driven by six principles: humans make mistakes, humans are vulnerable, responsibility is shared, safety is proactive, redundancy is crucial, and death/serious injury is unacceptable.
We have the tools to help us achieve the goal of zero deaths. For example, the FHWA Proven Safety Countermeasures Initiative currently has 28 countermeasures that offer significant, measurable impacts as part of any agency’s data-driven, systemic approach to improving safety. These countermeasures fall into five categories (speed management, roadway departure, intersections, pedestrian/bicyclist, and crosscutting countermeasures) which offer most transportation professionals with the opportunity to make a difference. Complete Streets are also an integral part of the vision of zero deaths. A Complete Street is safe, and feels safe, for everyone using the street, whether pedestrians, bicyclists, public transportation users, children, older individuals, individuals with disabilities, motorists, or freight vehicles.
As discussed during the ITE Annual Meeting in New Orleans by Polly Trottenberg, U.S. Department of Transportation Deputy Secretary of Transportation, and Dr. Shawn Wilson,
Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Transportation, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity in the Infrastructure Bill to make a difference in transportation safety. The Safe Streets and Roads for All Grant Program offers access to $1 billion in discretionary grant funds annually for the next 5 years to prevent roadway deaths and serious injuries. Regional, local, and Tribal entities can apply for money to undertake various safety-related efforts, including the development or update of a comprehensive safety action plan; the conduct planning, design, and development activities in support of an action plan; or to carry out projects and strategies identified in an action plan. What an exciting time to have the chance to truly help move the needle toward zero deaths. Do you have a safety story you want to share? Reach out to me on the ITE e-Community or on Twitter: @BeverlyKuhn.