Monday, February 17, 2014

Speed Reduction Case Studies: Chicago, Columbia, New York

As part of a new set of resources on neighborhood speed reduction, Health Resources in Action has provided six case studies describing what cities across the country are doing to lower speeds on their streets. Here is a brief summary of the first three:

Chicago, Illinois: Child Safety Zones 
In Chicago, speed was a significant factor in the 3,000 annual crashes between motor vehicles and pedestrians, with children ages 5–18 most likely to be involved in pedestrian crashes. In response, City leaders made a commitment to reduce serious pedestrian injuries by 50 percent every five years and eliminate pedestrian fatalities within 10 years.

Photo courtesy of HRIA
Key to this strategy was the Child Safety Zone Initiative, which designates the areas within 1/8 mile of all 1,500 schools and parks across the city as “safe zones.” Within these safe zones, the Chicago Department of Transportation used multiple measures to reduce vehicle speeds, including:

  • High-visibility crosswalks
  • Median “refuge islands” for pedestrians crossing streets
  • Curb extensions
  • Speed feedback signs 
  • Automated speed enforcement cameras
  • Speed limits reductions (speeds lowered from 30 mph to 20 mph between 7 am and 7 pm near schools)

Columbia, Missouri: Lowering The Posted Speed Limit On Residential Streets 
In Columbia, speeding on local roads was consistently a top issue for area residents. Based on the success of similar efforts in other Missouri cities, in 2009 Columbia ran a pilot program reducing the default speed limit on residential roads from 30 mph to 25 mph. In some neighborhoods, enhanced posted speed limit signs were placed at the entrances of the neighborhood, indicating the lowered speed limit of 25 mph. An educational campaign to promote the slower speeds was also included as part of the program.

Speed data from both neighborhoods showed reductions in average speeds, reductions that ranged from roughly 1 mph to over 6 mph on roads where speed limits were changed from 30 mph to 25 mph. The new, kid-friendly signage and the educational campaign did not have a greater impact on lowering speeds than merely lowering the posted speed limit and replacing the standard sign, but residents in the neighborhood that received education reported feeling safer riding bikes and walking on their neighborhood streets than residents in the neighborhood without the educational outreach.

The pilot study to evaluate the effect of the speed reduction cost $9,935, and the City used  used $128,000 of its traffic safety funds to cover the cost of installation equipment and temporary salaries for two staffers.

New York City: Neighborhood Slow Zones
Pedestrian crashes in New York City are a serious issue, with crashes the second-most common cause of injury deaths among children 5 to 14 years old and among adults over 45. Many of these crashes (21 percent in 2010) can be attributed to speeding. To address this problem, the City began the the pilot Neighborhood Slow Zones program to slow vehicle speeds on residential streets.
Photo courtesy of HRIA
Improvements in the Neighborhood Slow Zones include:

  • Blue “gateways,”including signs and markings at an intersection to announce the entrance to a Neighborhood Slow Zone
  • Signs and pavement markings to indicate a 20 mph speed limit (reduced from 30 mph) 
  • Additional safety measures such as speed bumps, street markings, and other traffic calming treatments

The creation of Neighborhood Slow Zones is led by residents themselves, who must identify a 5-block area for the zone and gather community support in order to apply. While the City received over 100 applications for its first round of funding, requiring broad community support (though helps once application accepted) may hinder the creation of Slow Zones in neighborhoods without community associations or a strong consensus surrounding speeding.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Resources to Reduce Traffic Speeds in Your Neighborhood

Image courtesy of Health Resources in Action
Health Resources in Action recently created a new webpage of community Speed Reduction resources with plenty of ideas for neighborhoods hoping to slow down traffic on their street.

In addition to two brief fact sheets (Public Health Impact: Community Speed Reduction and Speed Reduction Fact Sheet: Opportunities to Improve Current Practice ), HRIA has put together a more lengthy technical report that provides a nice summary of the state of the practice and outlines key public health concerns related to speeding.

Why is speeding a problem?
Most advocates are aware that higher speeds lead to more severe injuries and fatalities, but the numbers bear repeating: the average risk of severe injury for a pedestrian struck by a vehicle is just 10 percent at an impact speed of 16 mph, but quickly reaches 50 percent at only 31 mph.
There are real costs associated with speeding crashes as well. According to the technical report, the cost of speeding-related crashes is estimated at over $40 billion per year, and a single fatality costs $6 million. Moreover, vulnerable (low-income, minority) communities disproportionately affected, as are young, old, disabled--people less likely to be able to recover from the financial challenges created by a speeding fatality.

What causes speeding?
The report points to three key factors. First, road design: roads that are designed to be "forgiving" to drivers (wide lanes, no on-street parking, no landscaping or street furniture to run into) provide cues that encourage drivers to speed, often without even realizing it. These physical features are far more important to driver than incidental features like, oh, speed limit signs. As the report puts it, "...a road that is designed to be driven at high speeds will be driven at high speeds, despite posted speed limits."

Land use may also play a role in speeding. The report highlighted one study that found that strip malls and big box retailers are major crash risk factors for bikes and pedestrians. On the other hand, commercial areas designed at a pedestrian scale lessen the risk of crashes.

Finally, the report cites a culture of speeding as a major part of the problem. More than 70 percent of drivers speed--despite the fact that most people say they disapprove of speeding. This is particularly true for speeding in residential areas, where nearly 90 percent of people "frown upon" speeding but almost half admit to speeding themselves.

What should we do about it?
Fortunately, there are many ways to combat the problem of speeding. Health Resources in Action recommends four key strategies:

  1. Design and retrofit road networks to ensure safe speeds for all road users (motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians), using techniques such as traffic calming or slow zones.
  2. Use automated technologies to enforce speed limits.
  3. Set speed limits for the safety of all road users.
  4. Improve data collection
They also provide six case studies of communities that are implementing these strategies. Over the next few days we'll review the findings from these studies to learn how you might apply them in your own neighborhood.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Uninspired Oahu Officials Miss a Crosswalk Opportunity

Photo courtesy of KHON
City officials in Oahu are up in arms over markings that have appeared in several local crosswalks in the last few months.Using white paint and a little creativity, someone has altered the city's standard zebra crossings to incorporate the message "Aloha" into the otherwise typical design.

Non-standard crosswalk markings are hardly unique to Hawaii; cities all over the world use crosswalk design to shape community identity, draw extra attention to a pedestrian crossing, or just have a little fun, as in these new "hopscotch crosswalks" in Baltimore.

Photo courtesy of NPR
Nonetheless, Oahu officials insist they must remove these "acts of vandalism" in the name of public safety. According to the City's Facility Maintenance Director, "It can pose a danger to pedestrians because people that are approaching it and driving in vehicles unfamiliar with that area may think it’s a marking on the road and not a crosswalk.” 

I would love to meet the driver who would mistake the above crosswalk for anything other than what it is...because I would immediately take away their driver's license. Someone that obtuse should not be allowed on the road. 

Certainly there are no shortage of by-the-book officials who consistently mistake "innovation" for "danger"--that's one of the key reasons tactical urbanism exists, after all. But at least some cities (Raleigh, for example) are beginning to recognize that the guerrilla tactics of their citizens might actually lead to something good for everyone. 

Many Oahu residents have said they like the new crosswalk design, and the City could choose to work with residents to officially sanction the Aloha crosswalks (and maybe add a little more charm to otherwise dull crossings). Instead, Oahu is choosing to spend $4,000 a pop to "fix" the problem. Sorry Hawaii pedestrians, you're not getting any aloha in your day anytime soon.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Video: The Rise of Open Streets

This short video from Streetfilms has been getting almost as much attention as the Open Streets movement itself lately. Here's a little bit about the film from its creators:

"The Rise of Open Streets" examines the open streets movement from myriad perspectives -- how it began, how events are run, how they shape people's perceptions of their streets, and how creating car-free space, even temporarily, benefits people's lives. And it looks not only at big cities like Los Angeles, but smaller ones like Fargo, Berkeley, and Lexington. We've interviewed some of the most important people in the movement, including former NYC DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and former Chicago DOT Commissioner Gabe Klein, as well as former Bogota Parks Commissioner Gil Penalosa and Enrique Jacoby, from the Pan American Health Organization.

Take a look!

Monday, February 3, 2014

User-Friendly Complete Streets

Image courtesy of

As cities across the country jump on the Complete Streets bandwagon (it's public transportation, after all), they're on the hunt for good examples of Complete Streets documents: why reinvent the wheel, when it's hard enough trying to reinvent the street? One lovely model that any city would do well to emulate is Boston's Complete Streets website.

The site, clearly designed by someone who knows how to do these things, includes a number of features that set it apart from typical municipal websites:

  • Interactive graphics, like the one pictured above, provide detailed information and pictures about complete streets concepts
  • Social media components are integrated into every aspect of the site, encouraging users to tweet, share, and subscribe to stay informed about Complete Streets projects
  • Contact information is easy to find--including direct phone numbers and emails of several staff members responsible for implementing Complete Streets policies, not just the generic (or non-existent) email addresses available on typical sites, that rarely provide an easy connection to an actual person
  • Definitions of key terms in the Complete Streets vision are provided up front, so users are less likely to get lost in a morass of planning jargon
  • A dedicated page highlights opportunities for public participation, and includes a "pitch" describing why users should get involved with Complete Streets issues