Traffic and street safety improvements

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.
Target Population
Community-wide
Key Stakeholders
Mayor or County Executive's Office, Public Works Department, Planning Department, Police Department, Program Evaluation Team

What evidence supports this strategy?

Proven

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.

How do traffic and street safety improvements impact economic mobility?

  • Protecting public health: Street and transit safety strategies can be associated with a range of positive health outcomes, including increased physical activity and reduced risk of injury. Research demonstrates that good health is a key lever in achieving upward economic mobility, including improved labor market outcomes and reduced catastrophic health care costs.
  • Safer, more reliable commutes: Investments in safe streets and transit can increase access to rapid transit and improve commute reliability. Less burdensome commutes to work are associated with long-term upward increases in income.

Best practices in implementation

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