Linda Bailey, Executive Director of the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) issued the following statement in response to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s release of 2015 safety data.
Yesterday we learned that U.S. traffic fatalities went up dramatically in 2015, from a level that was already unacceptably high. As city transportation experts, we say: human error is unavoidable, but good street design can make sure that a mistake or a distraction does not result in a death. Cities must redesign their streets to save lives, and they need to be supported by their state and federal governments as they do so.
In 2015, 35,092 people died while walking, biking, and driving on U.S. roads, a 7.2% increase from 2014. Especially troubling, this national data shows that the most vulnerable road users – people walking and biking, statistically more likely to be old or very young, poor, or of color – are, each year, an increasingly larger proportion of traffic fatalities. These fatalities, and the more than 2.4 million serious and life-altering injuries that happen annually on U.S. streets, are statistically predictable and preventable through better street design and reduced vehicle speeds.
While any increase in fatalities is alarming, focusing on one year’s count ignores that disproportionately high numbers of people have been dying on U.S. streets every year for decades. Even comparing against our safest year in recent history, 2010, the U.S. traffic fatality rate was almost double that of our industrialized peers. For too long, we have accepted traffic fatalities as part of the cost of doing business. But these crashes, and the fatalities, injuries, pain, and heartbreak they cause, are no accident. Federal and state standards incentivize building wide streets that allow cars to go fast but create dangerous conditions for everyone.
NACTO’s 47 member cities have proven that better street design, coupled with smarter, automated speed enforcement, is the best way to increase safety and save lives on U.S. roads. In Seattle, shortening pedestrian crossing distances on Nickerson Street reduced crashes by 23% and brought excessive speeding down from 38% to less than 2%. In New York City, wide avenue redesigns that offered pedestrian refuges and created designated bike and turn lanes reduced crashes with injuries by an average of 17%, with pedestrian and cyclist injuries falling even more: 22% and 75%, respectively. In Santa Monica, a simple reduction of lanes, along with the creation of designated turn and bike lanes on Ocean Park Boulevard resulted in a 65% reduction in collisions.
Similar projects are underway in cities around the country, including in Austin, Chicago, Indianapolis, and Salt Lake City. With 80% of the U.S. population living in urban areas, we should be building streets and designing cities that work for everyone, including those traveling on foot, on bike, or via transit.
Despite the effectiveness of street redesign, cities often make these lifesaving changes to streets against the policies and practices of states and federal oversight agencies. This needs to change. In particular, arterial streets, which represent less than 10% of roadways but are the site of 49% of fatalities, should be prioritized as places where we can quickly make the biggest safety gains, with better design standards like those illustrated in NACTO guides.
All levels of government must do better. Elected officials should be champions for safe street designs. States should give cities local authority to reduce speed limits to levels that are compatible with life on urban streets and remove regulatory hurdles that limit or ban automated speed enforcement. The federal government should update and rethink national standards and performance measures that encourage speed at the cost of human lives.
35,092 lives lost is a wake-up call, yet we know how to stem this epidemic. Better design will save lives and make our streets safer.
August 31, 2016