How to Respond to Citizen Traffic Safety Concerns

“Are you trying to kill me and my kids?!”

123RF - bikersUnfortunately, this question or something similar is not uncommon at a public hearing as neighbors try to stop a new development. It’s a personal, passionate, and often effective plea to the decision-makers like a City Council. Developers need to always be prepared for this type of opposition.

Most governing bodies will make rational decisions when they are presented with all of the facts. Therefore, the best way to get your project approved is to counter the traffic related objections by:

  1. Having a logical, safe plan for the development
  2. Being prepared to discuss the traffic specifics about your development
  3. Having the facts about pedestrian crashes

The Institute of Transportation Engineers has published many guides to help develop more effective roadway networks within developments along with connections to the exterior roadway system, including:  Neighborhood Street Design Guidelines, Transportation and Land Development, and Designing Walkable Urban Thoroughfares: A Context Sensitive Approach. Your site designer should be familiar with these or similar documents to help you develop a sound site plan. It is also helpful to involve a traffic engineer early in the process as you are laying out a site. There are occasionally elements put into site plans that unintentionally violate engineering standards and pose safety issues. It is better to catch these early in the design process so the developer won’t lose credibility with the governing agencies.

After you have a safe roadway system planned for your development, be prepared to discuss the exact traffic expectations for your site. Your trip generation and distribution should have been prepared using standard methodology and guidelines. It’s likely that most people have an exaggerated view of how many cars actually use their street today as well as of how many cars will be associated with the new development. Be prepared with documentation to back-up your discussion of the analysis.

Finally, have the correct statistics for pedestrian/vehicle crashes. Fatal crashes are a significant problem and should not be treated lightly. The good news is that road deaths around the nation are declining, dropping from 50,894 deaths in 1966 to 32,675 in 2014. Not only is this a sizeable drop, but even more significant if we look at the statistics in terms of how many miles Americans are driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in the United States the 2014 fatality rate was 1.08 compared to 5.5 in 1966.

Within neighborhoods, pedestrian crashes are rare and don’t follow a cause/effect pattern that can easily be identified or corrected. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Traffic Safety Facts sheets report that for children age 15 and under there was a 64% decrease in pedestrian fatalities between 1994 (806) and 2012 (292). Even though we are driving more and we are building more subdivisions, we are doing it in a safer manner.

Looking specifically at my state, there were approximately 224,000 vehicle crashes in Minnesota from 2012 through 2014, according to department of transportation data. Of those crashes, 2,532 (or 1.1%) involved pedestrians. Of those 2,532 crashes involving pedestrians, 454 occurred on local urban streets resulting in: 8 fatalities, 443 crashes with injuries and 3 incidences of property damage with no apparent pedestrian injury. This data reinforces the small number of vehicle/pedestrian crashes that occur in neighborhoods.

While development design which incorporates the latest traffic design standards at the outset and having concrete data about the expected traffic can go a long way in diffusing safety concerns, it is often difficult to respond to emotionally charged accusations made at public hearings. It is important for everyone to understand that pedestrian fatalities within neighborhoods are very rare. Hopefully, this information gives you a framework to better respond to concerned citizens and elected officials. And above all, remember to be prepared, explain items in simple terms, and have the facts and documentation to back yourself up.

If you are interested in learning more about how to respond to citizen traffic concerns, check out The Engineer’s Guide to Citizen Traffic Requests.  Download a free preview at Spack Academy.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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