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ARC recommends traffic safety design approach with proactive, zero-fatalities tactics

An illustration of pedestrian and bicycle crash risks on a sample street as shown in the Atlanta Regional Commission's Regional Safety Strategy report.

By John Ruch

A new traffic safety design approach favoring proactive tactics and a zero-fatalities goal has been adopted by the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC).

The “Regional Safety Strategy” (RSS) may become influential in Atlanta and the 11 metro counties where the ARC serves as a regional planning agency. Its March 8 adoption comes as Atlanta is launching a survey and public meetings for its similar “Vision Zero Action Plan.” Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens is among the ARC board members.

“Our plan presents a change in how safety is addressed in the region,” said Byron Rushing, manager of the ARC’s Walking and Bicycling Program, in a press release. “Instead of focusing on where crashes have happened in the past, this new approach aims to anticipate where crashes are most likely to happen in the future and make the investments needed to prevent them.”

A big motivator is the annual carnage on the roads that rivals most natural disasters in claiming hundreds of lives. The RSS report says 933 people were killed in crashes in the ARC’s territory, and 4,282 were seriously injured. The long-term trend since 2013 is increasing in both categories.

“This trend is not going in the right direction and it is not going to change course on its own,” says the report.

And those deaths and injuries disproportionately fall on people who are low-income, minorities, children, disabled and/or seniors, according to the report. That’s likely due to inequities such as fewer transportation and transit options and less pedestrian infrastructure.

A companion illustration to the one at the top of this story shows traffic safety countermeasures deployed with the RSS’s focuses on eliminating fatalities and serious injuries, multi-modal approaches, and proactive safety designs.

There’s no surprise about the types of scenarios that produce the most injury-causing crashes: intersections; vehicles hitting pedestrians and cyclists; and vehicles leaving the lane or the road.

The difference is in how to address them. The RSS describes the traditional approach as reactive, uncoordinated and often prioritizing traffic movement over safety. The report calls for an approach that is systemic, coordinates all modes of travel, and prioritizes safety.

The first principle of its “Safe System” says, “Death/serious injury is unacceptable.” That means a “key paradigm shift” that mobility and safety are not “trade-offs … Instead, the level of mobility follows from achieving the desired level of safety.”

The report outlines some other differences from traditional road engineering:

  • Instead of a focus on preventing crashes, a focus on preventing deaths and serious injuries.
  • Instead of a design intent to “improve human behavior,” designs that acknowledge that humans make mistakes and have physical limitations.
  • Instead of just controlling vehicle speed, focus on reducing “system kinetic energy.” That means tackling other factors that make crashes deadlier to humans, such as the angle of a potential collision and multiple structures to lessen their likelihood. In short, the idea is a system that does not allow collisions to be violent enough to kill or injure a human.
  • Instead of assuming “individuals are responsible” for collisions, road designers must “share responsibility” and build safely. That also involves building “countermeasures” for all road users – motor vehicles, pedestrians, bicyclists and so on.
  • Instead of designs that react to crash histories, “proactively identify and address risks.”

Data analysis is a big part of that approach, and one technique is to look for overrepresented problems. One example in the report involves urban, four-lane, main roads owned by the Georgia Department of Transportation. Those roads are the sites of 12.5 percent of “severe” intersection crashes in the ARC region, according to the report, yet make up only 2.7 percent of the lane-miles of roads. That’s not a cause-and-effect proof, the report says, but it suggests something is unusually wrong in their design or use.

The report’s recommendations of “countermeasures” are not novel, ranging from improved traffic lights and crosswalks to roundabouts, bike lanes and median barriers. Ditto for broader, community-level approaches to public transit improvement, mixed-mode urban design, and lower and better-enforced speed limits.

The report also covers ways for communities to perform cost-benefit analyses and fund such projects. “Public and political pressure” are among the factors the report suggests are appropriate to consider, dryly adding, “Deeper engagement may be necessary for controversial improvements.”

The RSS was developed through data analysis; a review of best practices and prior ARC reports; regional surveys and workshops with “stakeholders”; and citizen focus groups. The report was completed by the ARC last year. Consultants involved in its creation included VHB, Gresham Smith, Modern Mobility Partners, and Sycamore Consulting.


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1 Comment

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