Measuring Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety: USDOT Says It Matters

At a recent grantmaking conference, one of the speakers emphasized the role of evaluation by saying that if you can’t measure something, it doesn’t matter.  Thanks to a new rule from the US Department of Transportation, all states will now be required to measure and be held accountable for bicycle and pedestrian safety.   

This new rule is nearly four years in the making, and it lays out how states must benchmark and measure their progress to make it safer for motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians.  This new safety performance measure requires states to set targets each year for reducing deaths and injuries—including for non-motorized users.  This is something that we, along with the League of American Bicyclists and other advocacy organizations, pushed for during the rule-making process.

Under the new rule, each state must look at their five-year rolling averages of safety data in five categories and then set targets (or goals) for improvement.  Those five categories are:

  • Number of fatalities
  • Rate of fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled
  • Number of serious injuries
  • Rate of serious injuries per 100 million vehicle miles traveled
  • Number of non-motorized fatalities and serious injuries.

States will set targets for the whole state, and can also choose to set additional targets for urban areas or non-urban areas.  Once a state sets a target, a metropolitan planning organization (MPO) has six months to then either set its own target for its urban area or to agree to support the state target.

The US Department of Transportation will assess states and they must either achieve 4 out of 5 targets, or ensure that the safety data “significantly improves” in 4 out of the 5 areas. States that fail to meet this standard will be required to spend more of their safety funding on safety projects and prepare a plan demonstrating how they will do better on safety in the future.

Each state must set its first targets by August 2017; this gives advocates a little over a year to work with state departments of transportation to review the data about bicycle and pedestrian deaths and serious injuries and provide input on the state’s target for improvement. 

Also by August 2017, states must submit an updated Strategic Highway Safety Plan.  This plan lays out the state’s key safety needs and their priorities for safety improvement projects.  These plans are usually five years in length and will guide how the state spends its Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) dollars. 

Nationwide, there is three times as much money available for HSIP as there is for the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) – nearly $2.5 billion.  If a state’s Strategic Highway Safety Plan addresses bicycle and pedestrian safety, it can help ensure that some of the HSIP funding will go to bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure like sidewalks, bike lanes, crosswalks and more. This is another important area for advocates to engage, and the new performance measure requirement to measure and seek improvements in bicycle and pedestrian deaths and injuries gives the perfect platform for doing so. 

If advocates work together in states, now that states are required to measure bicycle and pedestrian deaths and injuries, it can matter for the spending of safety dollars.