Strategy overview

  • Creating shareable, safe roads: Street safety initiatives seek to maximize the number of people — including drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians — who can safely and efficiently utilize public streets and thoroughfares. Many strategies focus on improving safety in high-traffic areas, such as around schools, transit stations, and commercial areas.
  • Reducing car-related risks: Many broader approaches include specific practices focused on reducing car accidents, risky driving, and traffic. Such practices, like traffic calming and automated speed limit enforcement, can be implemented individually in high-risk areas, or as part of a more comprehensive approach to creating safer and more functional shared space.
  • Increasing walkways and bike lanes: Alongside car-focused initiatives, local jurisdictions can create safer and more efficient spaces for non-drivers with better infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists. These can vary from simply adding new street lines and markings, to creating a protected bike lane and expanding sidewalks. In some cases, increasing walkways and bike lanes may be part of a deliberate strategy to reduce the throughput of traffic on a particular roadway.
  • Incorporating public transit: Traffic and pedestrian safety initiatives are often implemented alongside efforts to increase public transit usage and efficiency. This can result in specific investments to improve public transportation performance, like dedicated bus lanes, and/or help policymakers identify priority locations for interventions, such as near public transit stops and business districts.

Systematic reviews of multiple traffic safety interventions found widespread positive results in increasing both resident safety and healthy behaviors.

  • A systematic review of traffic engineering measures designed to reduce pedestrian-motor vehicle crashes found single-lane roundabouts, sidewalks, exclusive pedestrian signal phasing, pedestrian refuge islands, and increased intensity of roadway lighting all had positive impacts on traffic and street safety.

  • A systematic review of intervention studies of active transportation to school, most of which used quasi-experimental designs, found anywhere from a 3% to 64% increase in usage of active transportation to school, as well as strong effects on physical activity and distance walked.

  • A study of a speed enforcement program in Scottsdale, AZ, found a 45-55% reduction in crashes in enforcement areas. After cameras were removed, excessive speeding increased by a factor of 10.5.

Implementing traffic and street safety improvements has been shown to improve outcomes predictive of upward mobility. These outcomes, identified by the Urban Institute, are transportation access, environmental quality, and safety from trauma.

City and county leaders can assess local conditions for each of these outcomes using the metrics below, identified by the Urban Institute. This assessment can be used to determine whether this strategy is appropriate for their community. (Note: these metrics are a starting point for self-assessment and are not intended to be comprehensive.)

All cities and counties with populations over 75,000 can receive a customized data sheet here.

  • Measuring transportation access in your community: Examine indexes for transit trips and transportation costs. These estimates are available from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Location Affordability Index.

  • Measuring environmental quality in your community: Examine air quality. These data are available from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index.

  • Measuring safety from trauma in your community: Examine the number of deaths due to injury per 100,000 people. These data are available from the National Center for Health Statistics’ Mortality File and the CDC’s WONDER database.

  • Prioritize connectivity: Impactful interventions, especially in a pilot phase, focus on connecting two or more high-traffic areas, such as a train station and a school campus. Creating more efficient, safer routes between even a few key community locations can increase public support and compound the benefits of other public services by reducing barriers to access.
  • Invest in community engagement pre- and post-implementation: During the design phase, community groups, religious centers, businesses, schools, and more can help identify the areas in which interventions will have the highest value. This may also include the specific types of intervention, such as the installation of safety barriers near school sidewalks. After implementation, community engagement remains important; projects often benefit from public awareness campaigns drawing attention to the changes.
  • Incentivize demand by increasing supply: In many local contexts, cycling and walking are rarely considered commute options due to a lack of existing infrastructure. By prioritizing interventions in high-traffic areas, especially within reasonable non-driving distance of public transit stations, policymakers can stimulate pedestrian and cyclist demand on a relatively small scale, which may build public momentum for additional investments.
  • Measure and evaluate financial, public safety, and efficiency impacts: Creating a strong data measurement and evaluation system from an initiative’s launch has significant benefits, including: informing design considerations, such as intervention locations and scale; demonstrating financial impact to policymakers and the public (often in terms of cost savings related to accidents or increased economic activity in business districts); and refining the intensity of a given intervention (such as adding more speed limit cameras). A foundation built on robust analytical practices will allow safety and efficiency efforts to continue to evolve alongside a jurisdiction.

Evidence-based examples

Using cameras to penalize speed violations and automatically generate tickets for offenders
Supportive neighborhoods
Infrastructure initiatives to support biking, walking, and non-automobile options
Supportive neighborhoods
Improvements to streets and roads that seek to make them more inclusive, accessible, and safe for all users
Supportive neighborhoods Stable and healthy families
Federal program promoting walking and biking as modes of transportation to school
Supportive neighborhoods Elementary and middle school success High school graduation
Reducing the negative effects of motor vehicle use, altering driver behavior, and improving conditions for non-motorized street users
Supportive neighborhoods