Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Question of Safety - Neighborhood Traffic Safety

I recently heard from a resident in a Texas community who is working with their neighborhood association to lower limits on neighborhood streets to 25 mph (down from the state mandate of 30 mph).

One piece of research that supports their efforts is a report from the General Database of Police Reported Accidents (NHTSA, 1999) which showed that the death rate for pedestrians in 30 mph zones is 3X that of the death rate in 25 mph. Since neighborhoods are typically where kids play, people of all ages walk and ride bikes, it makes sense to create as safe an environment for all who live and visit. After all, in addition to none of us wishing to experience the injury or death of a loved on due to a traffic incident, none of us would want to be behind the wheel and hit someone as well. Creating the safest roadway environment possible takes a concerted effort on the part of each of us - practicing safe driving, pedestrian, cycling, skateboarding, etc behaviors.

A few questions come to mind to assist neighborhood or city organizations committed to neighborhood traffic safety. Here are a few to consider:

  • What is the purpose of traffic in a neighborhood? Is it to move as quickly as possible or to move us safely to and from our home and family while respecting the lives of all we encounter along the way? (In Europe a concept called "Home Zones" is actively promoted. "Home Zones" see neighborhoods as being safe places for children to play, pedestrians to be out and about, and cyclists to move about safely as well. Motor vehicles are welcome as "guests" into "Home Zones" - that is they are expected to behave as a guest would when visiting your home, taking extra care to be courteous in observing speed limits - and going slower in the presence of people of all ages out and about in the neighborhood- as well as observing stop signs and all rules of the road.) Would your neighborhood want to promote a "Home Zone" type environment that respects pedestrians, children at play, and motorists alike?
  • What kind of environment do residents want to see on neighborhood streets? Do we want one that commits to a quality of life that promotes residents walking, riding bikes, and children out playing?
  • What role does parenting play, alongside motorist behavior, in creating safe environments for all impacted by traffic in the neighborhood?
  • What possibilities exist to engage schools, businesses, and civic organization in supporting neighborhood traffic safety?
  • What opportunities exists to work in collaboration with local law enforcement, public works, and city planning to develop comprehensive approaches to neighborhood traffic safety?

In short, take advantage of opportunities to be proactive in creating a safe traffic/pedestrian environment for all who live in and visit your neighborhood. This certainly beats being reactive. I have worked with dozens of families whose neighborhoods only took up traffic safety concerns in the wake of a tragic death due to speeding, stop-sign running, or other behaviors. Taking action to prevent tragedy may never yield statistical results since it is impossible to know whose life was saved due to diligence in creating a safe traffic environment for the benefit of all. Perhaps a resident, and transportation engineer for the Texas Transportation Institute says it best when he wrote the following one year after his city - Coppell, TX - lowered their residential limit to 25 mph and utilized "Keep Kids Alive Drive 25" as an educational process to engage residents in changing their behaviors in observing the new limit.

"My community – Coppell, Texas – made headlines two years ago as it tackled this issue. As a traffic engineer by training, I was hesitant of lowering the limit and adopting Keep Kids Alive Drive 25. I lobbied the City Council to consider other engineering, enforcement, and education alternatives so that ‘mobility’ was maintained. I have to say that since this program was adopted and the speed limits on our streets lowered (5 mph) I do feel like I am keeping my village’s children safer, that I am more alert, that I am more in control of my vehicle, that I do share those streets with pedestrians, that my ‘mobility’ has not been greatly impeded, and that streets are not for the sole purpose of drivers in vehicles trying to make their way as quickly as they can in our hurried world."

Jason Crawford, P.E -

Texas Transportation Institute

Tom Everson
Keep Kids Alive Drive 25

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