Collaboration & planning for bicycle and pedestrian safety

By Barb Thoman, Executive Director

Representatives from public health, law enforcement, and local communities, along with bicycle and pedestrian advocates, gathered on September 26 at TLC to discuss ideas to improve safety for people bicycling and walking. Transit for Livable Communities hosted the meeting at the request of the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) and the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS). Those agencies are working collaboratively to develop a new Strategic Highway Safety Plan (SHSP) and were seeking input on ways to improve bicycle and pedestrian safety specifically.

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The new statewide Strategic Highway Safety Plan, and the programs and efforts that result from it, are part of a collaborative ongoing effort called Toward Zero Deaths that aims to reduce death and injury on Minnesota roads. While the new plan will address all road users, it is likely to target some specific efforts to bicycle and pedestrian safety. In Minnesota in 2012, bicyclists and pedestrians were involved in 3 percent of all traffic crashes, but comprised 12 percent of all traffic deaths. Nearly 1,800 vehicle crashes with a bicyclist or pedestrian resulted in 701 severe and moderate injuries and 47 deaths among bicyclists and pedestrians. (See TLC’s Crash Facts Policy Brief.)

MnDOT staff have developed a three-tiered graphic that shows the primary focus areas for the new plan (with 20 in all). The highest priority focus areas as determined by X are represented in the center or top tier. Pedestrian safety falls in the second tier, with bicycle safety in the third tier. Many of the focus areas in the top tier—changing culture and awareness, vehicle speeding, inattentive driving, impaired driving, and intersection safety—also have relevance to improving safety for bicycle and pedestrian travel.

Pages-from-SHSP-Focus-Area-Prioritization-Bulls-Eye-081213-WEBPrimary areas of focus for the new Strategic Highway Safety Plan. Image credit: MnDOT

The SHSP will be the foundation for an annual request for project proposals, and will guide the investment of about $24 million annually in federal highway (roadway) safety funding. The plan is being developed in the context of the new federal transportation law, MAP-21, which retained the Highway Safety Improvement Program and put a new emphasis on data collection and performance. MAP-21 also represents the first time federal law has classified a “road user” as both motorized and “non-motorized”—so people walking and bicycling are explicitly included. Minnesota state law (174.01 Subd 2) is another important consideration as the SHSP plan is developed. This law calls for an increase in bicycling and walking trips and a decrease in fatalities and injuries for all road users.

Participants in the safety meeting at TLC suggested nearly 30 possible strategies for changes to law, policies, and education to increase bicycle and pedestrian safety in conjunction with SHSP. The group will be prioritizing the strategies later this month, but examples of suggestions generated at the meeting include:

  • Implementing road diets (the conversion of four-lane road to three lanes including a center turn lane) when roads have low/moderate traffic volumes.
  • Pushing for state law to allow photo enforcement to ticket drivers running red lights.
  • Stepping up education on bicycle and pedestrian safety in defensive driving classes, with cultural communities, with older drivers.
  • Hosting a best practices summit on snow and ice removal.

Over the next few months, a statewide steering committee, of which I am a member, will advise MnDOT and DPS on priority strategies across all focus areas of the SHSP. After the strategies are identified, action teams will be formed and a draft Strategic Highway Safety Plan will be developed. The public will have the opportunity to review and provide feedback on the plan when it is available as a formal public comment draft—likely in February. Stay tuned!

The last SHSP was updated in 2007. For additional information about the existing plan and the revision process underway see http://www.dot.state.mn.us/trafficeng/safety/shsp/.