Safer Streets Ahead for Bikers and Walkers with New Federal Safety Rule

Posted 03/21/16 by Leeann Sinpatanasakul in Policy

Photo courtesy Green Lane Project

Last Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) released a new and improved set of requirements designed to increase transportation safety—including safety for people who walk or bike.

When USDOT put forth a draft of its safety performance measures in 2014, the proposed rule fell far short of its intended goal of creating policies that would reduce the number of fatalities and serious injuries resulting from crashes. In particular, none of the criteria required states to track pedestrian and bicycle fatalities and severe injuries separately from other incidents, or to make improvements targeted to reduce those numbers.

Photo courtesy ais3n | CC by 2.0

There was an outcry from the walking and biking community, and thousands of people submitted comments supporting a safety performance measure for walking and biking. RTC submitted comments to FHWA that outlined problematic areas in the 2014 safety performance measures and proposed solutions to these issues.

The final rule, published on March 16, addresses many of these concerns, and more thoroughly addresses the safety of people who walk or bike. Important improvements in the rule include the following:

  1. A fifth performance measure has been added to the original four, which requires states to specifically track walking and biking fatalities and injuries. The five measure now include: number of fatalities, rate of fatalities, number of serious injuries, rate of serious injuries and number of combined walking and biking fatalities and serious injuries.
  2. States must meet or make significant progress in meeting at least four of the five safety measures. Under the previous plan, states would only have to meet two out of four measures—only 50 percent!
  3. Progress is measured by whether states meet their target goals to reduce fatalities and injuries. If they don’t meet their goals, they must do no worse than an established baseline for their state. If they do worse, they must spend federal safety money to meet the targets. This holds states more accountable and ensures they are making meaningful progress.

Walking and biking in urban areas present different challenges than in rural areas. RTC would have liked FHWA to require a performance measure that differentiates between injuries and fatalities in urban and rural areas, but it was not included. However, the rule does allow states to set additional targets in urban and rural areas if they wish to do so.

The new safety rule could help significantly improve the walking and biking experience on sidewalks, bike lanes and roads across the country—and could also encourage safer development of trails.

Trails set a “gold standard” for safety because they are set away from the road, but some trails have gaps that force users into the road, and other trails cross busy roads and highways where crashes involving a motor vehicle can occur. The new rule could benefit trail users by improving safety at these dangerous intersections.

Wherever you choose to walk or bike, the improved performance measures and standards to meet them will help make the experience a safer one.

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