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WalkBoston Comments on USDOT Highway Safety Performance Measures

WalkBoston Comments on USDOT Highway Safety Performance Measures

May 14, 2014

U.S. Department of Transportation
Docket Operations
M-30, West Building Ground Floor, Room W12-140
1200 New Jersey Avenue SE
Washington, DC 20590

WalkBoston is Massachusetts’ leading pedestrian advocacy organization. We work with urban, suburban and rural communities across the state to improve walking conditions, increase the safety of pedestrians, and encourage people to walk more for transportation, health and recreation. Walking is a critical ingredient of public health, and the capacity of Massachusetts and the United States to get more of our residents walking more will have an enormous impact on the quality of life for Americans, on the health care costs that our country will bear, and on our ability to create sustainable and attractive communities for everyone.

The role of USDOT in walking is vitally important. By setting the ground rules by which states must attend to the safety needs of all roadway users, the Department is declaring the importance of how those roads are designed, operated and maintained. We strongly urge USDOT and FHWA to measure, regulate and demand the safety of pedestrians as part of the country’s transportation system.

WalkBoston is one of the frontline organizations working to make sure that all people in Massachusetts can choose to walk safely in their communities. We work closely with the state’s Departments of Transportation, Public Health and Environment, along with many municipal and grassroots partners. We need the strong support of USDOT as a partner in this effort and a champion for walking safety.

As a member of America Walks we look to our national partner to provide the technical background on USDOT’s rulemaking. As clearly expressed by America Walks, the following improvements are needed in proposed rulemaking on the Highway Safety Improvement Program’s National Performance Management Measures [Docket No. FHWA-2013-0020].

1. States and MPOs must measure the non-motorized users separately from motorized users.

In MAP-21, Congress amended the Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) to clearly support projects, activities, plans, and reports that improve safety for all types of users. In Section 148(a)(8), a road user is defined as a “motorist, passenger, public transportation operator or user, truck driver, bicyclist, motorcyclist, or pedestrian, including a person with disabilities.” Projects included in this program, described in Section 148(a)(4)(B), clearly include a number of changes to the built environment that improve safety for non-motorized users. Congress, in Section 148©(2)(A)(vi), calls for improvement in “the collection of data on non-motorized traffic crashes” and in Section 148(d)(1)(B) requires that states address “motor vehicle crashes that include fatalities or serious injuries to pedestrians and bicyclists”. These changes reflect the growing number of constituents who walk or bicycle as a means of travel and the increasing fatality rate of these modes, even as motorized fatality rates drop. 

Yet, the proposed rule does not require states to measure non-motorized users separately from motorized users. It justifies this decision with two reasons: 1) a lack of data on non-motorized safety and 2) that there are too few non-motorized fatalities and injuries to establish a statistically valid target.

We agree that currently available data sources are imperfect or incomplete, but that should not preclude us from establishing and measuring goals to improve non-motorized safety. The Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) identifies the number and location of both motorized and non-motorized fatalities. FARS is a valid and well-supported source that can easily inform non-motorized safety improvement measures. While injury data is still often unreliable—for all travelers—the proposed rule’s recommendation to link roadway crash data with that from hospitals and emergency responders will provide a more accurate data source than currently available. This data shortcoming does not prevent the establishment of motorized injury reduction targets and should not stop the creation of non-motorized targets either. Several states and numerous cities already participate in a voluntary activity to track travel by foot and bicycle. We believe that the establishment of a separate performance measure for non-motorized users will create a clear incentive for the improved data collection and analysis intended by Congress in MAP-21.

In 2012, pedestrians and bicyclists represented 16 percent of all traffic fatalities – up from 12 percent just a few years prior. In three out of five states, non-motorized crash victims already make up more than 10 percent of fatalities, and in some states, they represent 20 percent or more. This is a significant number of deaths. While the residents of some states are fortunate to have low fatality rates, they should work to bring that number to zero—and keep it there. Statistical validity is an unnecessary qualifier.

Indeed, despite the data concerns, some states already have established specific non-motorized transportation safety targets in statewide bike and/or pedestrian plans and in their Strategic Highway Safety Plans. We urge USDOT to revise the rule to measure progress on non-motorized safety as an independent target from motorized safety.

2. Base success on actual targets set by state DOTs and MPOs, not historical trends.

MAP-21’s first national goal is safety, as demonstrated by a significant reduction in traffic fatalities and serious injuries on all public roads. Over the last ten years for which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has released data, more than 383,000 people died on  our nation’s roads. Fatalities dropped from 42,868 in 2003 to 33,560 in 2012. It is not unreasonable to charge ourselves with further reducing that number—and to bring the incidence of serious injuries down with it.

States and MPOs currently set real targets, based not on trends but on a common understanding that they can act to protect the traveling public. USDOT should evaluate states and MPOs on their progress meeting their targets. If they meet the threshold established by USDOT, states and MPOs would not need any additional analysis on progress. Those agencies that fail to meet that threshold should not be allowed a flexible use of Highway Safety Improvement Program funding, instead those monies should be spent only on safety improvement projects identified in adopted State Highway Strategic Plans. 

3. Charge States and MPOs with meeting all required safety targets but recognize those meeting three-quarters of the safety targets established in MAP-21 and half of any additional, voluntary targets as making significant progress. (Section 490.211 subparagraph (3).

MAP-21 provided clear language and intent of Congress as presented by the Declaration of Policy (23 U.S. Code § 150 (a)). Congress did not provide the opportunity for States to progress on just half of their legislatively mandated measures. In the proposed rulemaking, U.S. DOT created a wholly different system of statistical analysis that does not consider the actual targets that were set by the State or MPO.

States and MPOs should strive for 100 percent success on the safety performance measures established in U.S. law. U.S. DOT should provide some flexibility by recognizing States and MPOs that meet 75 percent of the required measures as having made “significant progress” toward that endpoint. States or MPOs that voluntarily create additional safety measures should be measured against a 50 percent threshold for those targets. By doing so, U.S. DOT balances the extra efforts of such agencies while still holding them accountable to their goals.

We recommend U.S. DOT follow a simplified process for analyzing progress each calendar year:

• A State or MPO that meets all four required targets and at least half of any additional, voluntary targets is not subject to further analysis.

• A State or MPO that achieves three of the four required targets and at least half of additional targets will have made “significant progress” and is not subject to further analysis.

• A State or MPO that fails to achieve three or more of its required targets is required to use its full allocation of Highway Safety Improvement Program funding only on safety projects identified in the State Strategic Highway Safety Plan.

• A State or MPO that fails to meet the same required safety target in successive years cannot be considered to have made “significant progress” and should be required to spend Highway Safety Improvement Program funding only on projects identified in the State Strategic Highway Safety Plan.

• A State or MPO that fails to achieve at least half of its additional voluntary safety targets in successive years should be required to spend at least half of its Highway Safety Improvement Program only on safety projects identified in the State Strategic Highway Safety Plan.

Conclusion 
Safety guides transportation agencies at all levels of governance. A strong, clear safety performance measurement system will align our transportation agencies’ intent with actual outcomes and performance by focusing funding and attention on key issues such as speeding, distracting driving, drinking and driving, and best practices in multimodal roadway planning and design. With leadership from Congress and USDOT through the HSIP’s National Performance Management Measures, we can ensure significant safety improvements in the coming years.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the proposed rulemaking.

Wendy Landman 
Executive Director 

CC: 
Senator Elizabeth Warren 
Senator Edward Markey
Representative Richard Neal, 1st District
Representative Jim McGovern, 2nd District
Representative Niki Tsongas, 3rd District
Representative Joe Kennedy, 4th District
Representative Katherine Clark, 5th District
Representative John Tierney, 6th District
Representative Mike Capuano, 7th District
Representative Stephen Lynch, 8th District
Representative Bill Keating, 9th District
Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation Richard Davey
Massachusetts Commissioner of Public Health Cheryl Bartlett
Boston Mayor Martin Walsh

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