Taking to the Streets for Safer Cities

Today’s cities strive for a safer, more effective transportation system for the traveling public. Building that system starts with streets and requires the collaboration of policymakers, engineers, and design technology. To ensure the road network is contributing to the smart and safe objectives of a city, these components must work together across jurisdictions (city, state, county). In this post, I will explore how these three components work to make city streets safer.

Vision Zero
Establishing a culture of safety in cities begins with policy. The Federal Highway Administration, an agency within the U.S. Department of Transportation, is committed to its vision of zero deaths and serious injuries on America’s roadways. The administration believes its role is to exercise leadership throughout the multidisciplinary highway community. This establishes a top down approach to ensuring all roads – from interstates to local streets – are implementing policies to ensure streets and cities are safer. Many of the largest metropolitan areas in the U.S. have adopted the Vision Zero strategy: Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Boston, and Los Angeles.

Street Smarts
How are cities using innovation and cutting-edge technology to make streets safer? Here are a few examples of how cities are reducing congestion and improving safety:

  • Autonomous aerial taxis: This pilot project in Dubai will employ autonomous passenger drones with an aerial taxi service covering distances up to 10 miles, with speeds of up to 60 mph, and at altitudes up to approximately 1,000 feet.

  • Smart streetcar corridor: Kansas City, Missouri, has a two-mile smart streetcar corridor that contains public Wi-Fi, smart lighting, cameras, sensors, and digital information kiosks. The sensors collect data from lights, traffic signals, pavement, and water pipes to more efficiently manage traffic and municipal services, such as snow removal.

  • Real-time data: Columbus, Ohio, will soon leverage data collection and analysis technologies to transmit real-time information about traffic, parking conditions, and transit options to minimize traffic issues associated with major events or incidents. Like Kansas City, it also plans to build smart corridors, starting with bus rapid transit routes that use wireless technology between vehicles and infrastructure to improve safety, efficiency, and usability.

Safe by Design
Cities can adopt design practices to make the streets and city safer. The Complete Streets transportation design approach prescribes street designs that enable safe travel and access for all citizens. Design elements include pedestrian infrastructure such as sidewalks, median crossing islands, and facilities for people with low vision. Traffic calming measures to lower vehicle speeds can also be utilized. These include defined edges of vehicle lanes, shorter curb corner radii, no free flow right turn lanes, speed humps, and curb extensions.

The City of Orlando, Florida, reduced the number of lanes on Edgewater Drive from four to three lanes and incorporated a bike lane. Crashes decreased by 35 percent while biking and walking increased 23 and 30 percent. Charlotte, North Carolina, performed a redesign on East Boulevard from four lanes to three lanes that improved left turn access on intersecting streets. Marin County, California, added bike lanes to the Alameda del Prado roadway. The project area saw a 366 percent increase in weekday bicyclists and 540 percent increase in weekend bicyclists.

Cities across the U.S. and abroad are embracing forward-thinking policies, leveraging new technologies, and implementing safer roadway designs. And the examples I’ve provided are just a sign of things to come. By bringing these elements together, city streets will be safer, and ultimately, cities too.

About Bruce Aquila

Bruce Aquila is a senior transportation consultant for Hexagon Safety & Infrastructure and has been with the company for 33 years. He currently works in the Transportation Business Development group where he is responsible for technical business development, consulting, industry conference presentations and product requirement collection. Aquila works exclusively with State DOTs, Metropolitan Planning Organizations, local governments, and transit agencies in the areas of linear referencing, network and data modelling, and surface transportation analysis applications.