Targeted Solutions: Countermeasures for Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety

The US DOT recently enacted a rule that will require states and metropolitan planning organizations to set targets for bicycle and pedestrian safety. Targeted and effective interventions will be needed to achieve desired progress in reducing fatalities and injuries.

How will state and metropolitan transportation stakeholders know what to implement and where funding and resources should be allocated? No need to reinvent the wheel—they can look to proven strategies, called countermeasures.

Countermeasures are safety treatments and programs that have demonstrated success preventing or reducing pedestrian and/or bicyclist fatalities and injuries. Countermeasures target specific factors that can cause crashes, including vehicle speeds, low visibility of pedestrians and bicyclists, poor compliance with traffic laws, intersection or crossing design, and inadequate separation of pedestrians and bicyclists from vehicle traffic. Furthermore, combining countermeasures can provide a comprehensive approach to addressing pedestrian and bicycle safety.

Resources are available to describe countermeasures for specific safety challenges and how to implement them.

Advancing Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety: A Primer for Highway Safety Professionals, published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in March 2016, is a resource for highway safety officials and other partners to identify key countermeasures to promote safer walking and biking. Treatments and programs are categorized by three of the six E’s (engineering, education, and enforcement). Comprehensive approaches combining multiple countermeasures across the E’s are more effective, and this resource highlights how each countermeasure can be integrated with others. Safe Routes to School is categorized as an education and awareness program, but is described as incorporating other components like road safety audits, crossing guard programs, traffic calming, and infrastructure changes.

A complement to this resource is Countermeasures That Work: A Highway Safety Countermeasure Guide for State Highway Safety Offices. This guide adds to the Primer by describing estimated effectiveness, cost, extent of use across communities, and time to implement for each countermeasure based on published research. Safe Routes to School programs are identified as a key pedestrian safety countermeasure. The guide estimates low costs and relatively short time to implementation for educational components. Program effectiveness could vary due to differences in program implementation between communities, and this guide suggests that more research and data collection is needed to capture the safety benefits of SRTS.

These resources are targeted toward highway safety officials, but the Primer encourages bringing other key partners to the table, including transportation planners, law enforcement, public health educators, media, school administrators, and advocacy groups. These partners can help with collecting data, pooling funding and resources, promoting safety initiatives, and advocating for policy change. Common terms and understanding across fields is a first step, and these guides can start the conversation.  These countermeasure guides can also be used by advocates to better understand how to talk about bicycle and pedestrian safety with engineers and transportation officials, hopefully resulting in greater investments in these efforts using safety funds.